Oscar History

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Throwback Thursday FYC: Do The Right Thing (1989)

Could you imagine if this had actually happened in multiple categories including Best Picture, instead of Oscar embracing Driving Miss Daisy's retrograde race relations?

Imagine the 1989 Oscars with 'Spike Lee Joint' fever instead of a just two nominations (Supporting Actor and Screenplay) because they had to give it up somewhere for the critical darling. 

Imagine Rosie Perez dancing furiously to all the Best Original Song nominees !!! Fight the power, Rosie.

Think of the after-effects with Hollywood's most coveted prize going to a black film twenty-four years before 12 Years a Slave (2013).

See Malcolm X ride high in 1992 due to Spike Lee momentum and Denzel Washington clearing Oscar #2 long before Training Day and blocking Al Pacino's "hoo-ah"! (Pfeiffer would also have an Oscar, come to think of it)

Kim Basinger wouldn't have had any snub to get all righteously indignant about as she introduced one of the Best Picture nominees. Or would she have bitched about something else being all feisty that year.

The whole arc of history might have been changed*

*While I am not wholly serious, it's not like these things don't have after effects and during effects. Each Oscar decision affects future Oscar decisions and also the way people think of the movies in the long arc of cinema history.

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Reader Comments (32)

I know that Pacino clearly shouldn't have won for Scent of a Woman, but a world where Al Pacino doesn't have an Oscar would be a truly tragic one.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

All I know is that Skip Lievsay deserved at least 5 Oscars for his work on Do The Right Thing. It's great that he has one for Gravity, but I like to think of that as an apology for not acknowledging his greatness on this and his countless Coen Bros. films.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

John T: Actually, if he hadn't won, the Academy would have paid closer attention to Donnie Brasco in 1997, would've nominated Pacino (very deservingly) and would have beaten out Nicholson's caricature performance in "As Good As It Gets" (and Nicholson didn't really need a 3rd Oscar). The world would've been much better (especially if Pfeiffer had won!!)

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Kim Basinger is all sorts of cray-cray <3

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid


Actually they probably would've put Pacino in supporting for Donnie Brasco given their love of category fraud :)

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTesla

Off Topic - Nate - when will you be updating the oscar charts ? The
Index page indicates a June 24 update...

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark

In this situation does Tandy still get a late career renaissance and perhaps beat out Mercedes Ruehl or (gulp) Dianne Wiest?

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Am I the only person who thinks Driving Miss Daisy is better than Do the Right Thing? Anyway Field of Dreams should have won In 1989 and Glory should have been up for Best Picture.

As for Pacino losing to Denzel in 1992, I can take it only if we give Pacino an Oscar in 1974, 1975 and 1990. He deserves 3 and not Nicholson.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

Interesting they have Danny Aiello and Ossie Davis in the FYC, but not Giancarlo Esposito.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

What was Basinger all righteously indignant about again?

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

Cray-cray Kim was right!

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Rebecca: That's completely bizarre to me too. FYC: The person playing the quiet, dignified and occasionally funny town drunk. FYC: The person playing the half ignorant white pizzareria owner who, even after this all plays out, barely understands what he did wrong. NFYC: The person playing the character who starts the racial conflict that drives the entire last half of the film. (And considering that they wound up citing Brando's "third act only" A Dry White Season work? Giancarlo probably would have had a strong possibility to get in if Universal fought for it.)

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Johnny -- she was complaining that Do The Right Thing was not nominated for Best Picture while introducing Dead Poets Society - very off script!

June 26, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I know she was right, but just seeing that picture of Basinger irritates me. JULIANNE MOORE.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Morons (wink) the real enemy of good taste and Oscar winner over Julianne Moore is Catherine Zeta-Jones!

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Rebecca & Volvagia -- it comes down to momentum/fame. Giancarlo was not at all famous and then mostly a TV guest actor with bit roles in movies and Danny Aiello was inarguably at the peak of his career having already appeared in a Best Picture (The Godfather Part 2), Woody Allen movies, and just off of a huge role in a really big hit (Moonstruck) and appearing in virtually every movie made in the late 80s

June 26, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nat: I think we're far more questioning why they pushed Ossie Davis over him, especially considering Giancarlo's character had a far more important role in the plot and, because Universal wasn't fighting for the right horse, a mid-grade, late period, only in act 3, Brando managed to get a slot. Giancarlo'd have never been able to WIN (Aiello had the respect, the momentum and a more than deserving performance (though without a big "clip" moment) and Denzel had "the scene" and if there was a fight for the win, those were probably the two fighting for it), but if they pushed for him, I'd almost think the nom wouldn't have been out of the question.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I miss the times when stars were not afraid to speak their minds during the telecast.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I wonder if Kim Basinger was/still is actually surprised how many people find her own Oscar win undeserving these days. (I exclude myself because I didn't think she was bad at all)
And I actually think her dress is great, maybe in a weird way, but still great.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Peggy Sue--

You are right!! Remember how fun it was when people like Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins would just take over the stuff that was on the teleprompter and talk about a war overseas or something lol.

It's cringe-worthy sometimes but I love off-scripted moments!

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I wonder if Kim Basinger was/still is actually surprised how many people find her own Oscar win undeserving these days.

Internet people? Who are opinionated about all. And have contrarian opinions about all. Moore fans are the most vocal about Basinger's win. Understandable. Because her Boogie Nights character is the most iconic of her nominated roles. But as far as unpopular Supporting Actress wins from the nineties Kim would be number four after Tomei, Sorvino, and Ruehl.

Helen Hunt was the real controversial win of the night. Her Best Actress victory played a huge role in the quickie makeup Oscar victory for Judi Dench that has kept her in the Supporting Actress ghetto. Winslet and Christie have their Best Actress trophies. Helena is waiting for another nomination. Most likely in Supporting so she can actually win one.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

3rtful: Really? Basinger and Tomei over Whoopi (Against Bening, Bracco, Ladd) or Jolie (against Colette, Keener and Sevigny). Newsflash: Its likely NO ONE would have been that popular a winner in the 1991 field (MAYBE Linda Hamilton could have won if they category frauded her Sarah Connor), so I'd guess Ruehl was probably the best of that weak field. 1992? Tomei might not have been popular AT THE TIME, but under the current "hindsight" that I think most serious net commentators have worked under, her career has been the ultimate refutal of her "not deserving it." Sure, it kind of sucks it wasn't Judy Davis, but that's a solid "second best of the year" choice, as is Basinger in 1997. Plus, Basinger's win ALSO works more as a symbolic "LA Confidential had to win SOMETHING" win.

My guess of the hierarchy from most to least popular?

1. Juliette Binoche, The English Patient
2. Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love
3. Kim Basinger, LA Confidential (A symbolic win for LA Confidential is still a symbolic win for LA CONFIDENTIAL. Sometimes the popularity of a win can have NOTHING to do with the actress or her performance. Sure, slight rabid Julianne Moore fan backlash prevents it from being higher, but still. Love of the movie it's within goes a long way.)
4. Anna Paquin, The Piano
5. Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny (Like I said, there's one better kind of iconic performance it won over, but her career offers a refutation and there's two winners who have won over MULTIPLE more deserving winners. Those are the bottom two.)
6. Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway
7. Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King (the movie helps a bit, but this is still a pretty weak year for the category and NO ONE would have been a popular winner.)
8. Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite (Winslet was kind of robbed, this is a fairly clear Hollywood nepotism win and the movie's not really that well remembered.)
9. Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost (Yes, Whoopi is a personality worthy of NOMINATION, but the best you can say about this as a win is that it's not Mary McDonnell. Bracco, Bening and Ladd were all more worthy and, when THREE nominated performances can be said to be more worthy, that's how you identify a winner with a rock bottom reputation.)
10. Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted (And we close the decade with another performance winning over THREE more worthy pieces of work, in this case Toni Collette, Catherine Keener and Chloe Sevigny.)

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

It still amazes me that Do the Right Thing didn't even get a Best Picture nomination. The Malcolm X omission is even crazier since it's a little more conventional (I still love it). Is there a more important film from anywhere near that timeframe than Do the Right Thing? Of course, my question assumes that Oscars have anything to do with that topic.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDan Heaton

Volvagia -- You're definitely mistaking your personal opinion for overall reputation (people LOVE Whoopi in Ghost. Period. That win doesn't have a bad rap *at all*). For example my preference order of the supporting winners is like so...

1. Dianne Wiest
2. Anna Paquin
3. Mercedes Reuhl
4. Marisa Tomei
5. Judi Dench
6. Whoopi Goldberg
7. Juliette Binoche
8. Kim Basinger
9. Angelina Jolie
10 Mira Sorvino

but I would never in a million years suggest this is the order of the general consensus which I would definitely argue places Whoopi & Marisa & Juliette & Dianne at the tippity top and the rest are more divisive with Mira Sorvino and Judi Dench near the bottom (people love Judi but continually snipe on "a cameo" winning.

But back to DO THE RIGHT THING... lol.

June 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Tomei's win remains controversial. Hence not much will alter its standing in the list of WTF wins. Sorvino has turned into a Cuba Gooding Jr. level joke. Ruehl has the misfortune of being shut out of the movies before she had a run post win due to a lack of suitable material for her particular skill set. The Fisher King is very much a transitional product of its time. Don't forget this was Juliette Lewis' one shot at Oscar. Goldberg was the people's champ. Her win is less prestigious because her comedic performance was on the low brow of the spectrum compared to the high brow of the spectrum with Dianne Wiest.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful


Of course internet people.
Some wins will always be seen as controversal, that's why I'm wondering if Basinger is surprised her own win is seen that way (more on the negative side).

Sadly I haven't seen "Do the rightThing" yet. I hope to do so asap.
But having seen Driving Miss Daisy.... I understand why the Academy fell for it.
Though I don't know why it also won Make Up. Like... how?

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Nathaniel - I understand not pushing for Esposito from a business perspective, but it's kind of ludicrous to me from watching the movie and considering who had the most impact character-wise. Based on this movie, I always call my mental list of talented charismatic black actors who are not given roles to match their talent (hi, Anthony Mackie) 'The Giancarlo Esposito List'.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

@ Rebecca

The ensemble is too big to campaign everyone who could be argued as a significant contributor to the cast. The three actors campaigned were the veterans who had roles that could be sympathetic to the older and more conservative voter bloc.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Sonja - I don't think people think Basinger was BAD, just that it's pretty much a nothing stock role that she was adequate in. She did her job. But Oscar? No. It was just so clearly a "welp, gotta give LA Confidential SOMETHING" and everyone knows it.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Just for the record, I agree that Basinger was a more deserving winner than Jolie. Julianne shoulda won her Oscar, too!

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Best Picture and Director snub aside, I'm actually of the mind the Academy missed an opportunity to jointly honor Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis with Supporting nominations in their respective categories, I find them both the big acting standouts of the film and was surprised how diverse and contrasting their two performances were.

Danny Aiello was very good and that nomination was a nice culmination of his work and acclaim in the late '80s but, to borrow a phrase that someone once said of Alan Arkin's work in Little Miss Sunshine, he wasn't even his own movie's best supporting actor.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

@Philip H.

Well, there are enough cases of "Oh, we must give this movie SOMETHING."
Still a lot of movies get tons of noms and then win nothing. Like American Hustle just recently.
Basinger won the Globe and the SAG, so it was quite clear she'd win.
I agree it was nothing special, but a lot of wins were for performances that were nothing special. It's subjective, because I find enough performances nothing special that are highly raited on film boards.
But however people despise the wins of Basinger, Buba Gooding Jr., Benigni, Bullock, Meryl's third or whatever.... they stay wins.
I know bitching about them passes some time, but nothing changes... Whatever. It will always be fun to bitch about that. :P

June 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

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