When it comes to figuring out who will get nominated for an Oscar, it's often pretty easy to choose. Like if you're predicting the 2016 Academy Award nominees, it's likely we'll hear names like Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence, and Leonardo DiCaprio called. Not only because they've been in the forefront of the race all awards season long, but also because we've become accustomed to what is considered "Oscar bait." Unlike say, the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Academy often stays pretty middle of the road with their nominees. But, sometimes — and only sometimes — the Oscar nominees are surprising or, even, controversial.
No one's surprised when a new Steven Spielberg movie is nominated for an award, or if Meryl Streep lands on the ballot. It would almost be more newsworthy if they didn't. This is often because, with such a big group of people voting, the more mainstream, acceptable choice ends up getting the majority of the votes. But, every once in a while, the Academy nominates someone or something that doesn't seem like their usual fare. We're talking actors or actresses in horror movies or raunchy comedies. Bizarro nominees choices that make you say "huh?" and don't often take home the award — even if, in hindsight, they seem like the best choice.
While we may not always agree with the Academy's choices, it's always nice to see them go a little outside the box. Here are nine times they happened to do just that.
1. Johnny Depp, Best Actor For Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
After not being nominated for roles he probably should have been nominated for (Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), the Academy threw everyone a curveball and decided to nominate Depp for playing Captain Jack Sparrow. Even funnier, this was Depp's first ever nomination. The comedic turn, which had him channeling Keith Richards, was definitely not the usual pick, which was probably why it didn't really have much chance of winning. That year, Sean Penn took home the prize for Mystic River, a much more Oscar-like performance. But, since then, Depp has been nominated twice more, including for his role as a murderous barber in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd — which could also be a contender for this list.
2. Melissa McCarthy, Best Supporting Actress For Bridesmaids (2012)
The Oscars have never been too kind to out-and-out comedies, especially when they're raunchy. (Perhaps, it doesn't scream "class" to them?) Which is what makes McCarthy's nomination for her hilarious role in this female comedy, in which she defecates into a sink, all the more surprising. It was a scene-stealing performance, but it wasn't enough to steal the Oscar away from The Help's Octavia Spencer, who, oddly enough, happened to have her own excrement-filled scene to contend with.
3. Sylvester Stallone, Best Actor For Rocky (1977)
Rocky Balboa is a beloved character now, but, back in 1977, when Stallone was the new guy on the scene, the idea of him winning Best Actor was preposterous. Like Rocky, people didn't think Stallone had much of a chance, but, boy, were they wrong. He didn't take home the statue for Best Actor — that went to Peter Finch in Network, who earned the first posthumous Oscar— or Best Screenplay, but the underdog film about an underdog did win Best Picture. And, this year, Stallone could earn a repeat nomination for that same character thanks to Creed. Let's just hope that, if he wins, he remembers to thank his co-star Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler this time.
4. Lana Turner, Best Actress For Peyton Place (1957)
The legendary Turner earned her first and only nomination for her role in this soap opera that looked at the lives of those living in a bucolic New England town. The book of the same name by Grace Metalious was a bit steamy, but this movie was a little more hokey, ending with a teachable moment about mothers and daughters. As the podcast You Must Remember This recently explained, Turner took this role (which sadly seemed to resemble her own life) just to pay the bills, not for accolades. Since the Oscars have always prided themselves on being purveyors of good taste, this seemed a bit schlocky for them. In the end, that may have been what ruined their chances. Turner didn't win Best Actress, and the nine-time nominated film went home empty handed — tying a then-record for the biggest shut-out.
5. Midnight Cowboy, Best Picture (1969)
This John Schlesinger film about two New York street hustlers was the first X rated movie to ever be nominated. And also the first to win. The film's frank talk of sex and homosexuality made it a pretty edgy choice for the Academy. It was so edgy that it had a lasting effect over the following decade, in which the Academy seemed to be able to see the art in non-mainstream movies.
6. Linda Blair, Best Supporting Actress For The Exorcist (1973)
It's very rare that horror movies get nominated for Oscars, but this horror movie in particular was a doozy at that time. Religious leaders like Billy Graham condemned the film for being "satanic," but, even with all that, Blair was able to pick up a nomination for her head spinning, green vomiting, crucifx crotch-stabbing portrayal of a little girl possessed. No surprise, Blair didn't win — the prize went to another young actress, Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon — but this proved that even something this depraved could be worth the Academy's attention.
7. Jon Bon Jovi, Best Original Song For Young Guns II (1990)
When you think Bon Jovi, you don't think Oscar. But, in 1990, the New Jersey singer was nominated for his pop song that appeared in Young Guns II, a western starring Emilio Estevez, Christian Slater, and Kiefer Sutherland. This was certainly not what you'd consider an Academy Award-worthy film — and it wasn't, since this was its only nomination. Bon Jovi didn't win, losing out to Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim for a song from Dick Tracy. But it was the first (and last time) a hair band was nominated for an Oscar.
8. Burt Reynolds, Best Supporting Actor For Boogie Nights (1998)
Reynolds has said that he believes that he hurt his film Deliverance's Oscar chances by posing naked for a 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan. How ironic then that his first and only nomination would be for a Paul Thomas Anderson movie in which he played a porn director. He, unfortunately, couldn't fully bask in the irony; he lost the award to Robin Williams for Williams' part in Good Will Hunting.
9. Three 6 Mafia, Best Original Song For Hustle & Flow (2005)
Eminem won an Oscar in 2002 for the song "Lose Yourself," which definitely seemed a bit crazy. But, three years later, something even crazier would happen. A song called "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" by the Memphis hip-hop group, Three 6 Mafia, went home with this prize too. What makes it even more mind-blowing is that, unlike Eminem, who was and is a superstar, these guys are mostly unknown to anyone who isn't a hip-hop fan. And the film it was nominated for — one about a pimp and drug dealer who decides to get into the music business — is also not a film you expect to get any Oscar love. But, even with all those strikes against it, it still beat out Dolly Parton and the song from that year's eventual Best Picture winner Crash. No surprise that this was a first time nomination for all three of the songwriters, who got up there and thanked Ludacris and George Clooney. The best part about this win, though, was it made the words "Academy Award winner, Juicy J" a thing.
Keep this as a friendly reminder that the Academy's picks aren't always as predictable as you may think.
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