They Wuz Robbed! 1994
Won: Forrest Gump
Robbed: Heavenly Creatures
The Oscar ritual exists primarily for two reasons: To honor fiscal gain, and to congratulate the industry for what it likes to believe itself to be--liberal, artistically progressive, provocative (but not too provocative). In 1994, one movie merged these traditions and was swept to Best Picture glory: the box-office heavyweight Forrest Gump, which encouraged us to embrace the unquestioning stupidity of its title character as the most American of goals. The New Zealand-made Heavenly Creatures, on the other hand, had nothing going for it but brilliance. Its near-total neglect by the Academy powerfully demonstrates how little room there is for artistry in the ascendant monoculture of post-corporate movies.
Gump was a perfect Clinton-era diversion. Its multigenerational tale of a mysteriously blessed imbecile (Tom Hanks) oozed taffy-brained, feel-good liberalism that obfuscated its true, staunchly reactionary politics (a woman in Gump contracts AIDS for being sexually independent; black characters worship Hanks' idiot savant). Six Academy Awards were duly parceled out.
Although nominated for Best Original Screenplay (the winner was the clever pop-culture truffle Pulp Fiction), Heavenly Creatures was anti-Oscar in every conceivable way. Its fact-based story of two teenaged girls (perfectly portrayed by Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet) who eventually kill one of their mothers was used by director/co-screenwriter Peter Jackson as a means to explore the essential mysteries and possibly innate destructiveness of youth. The two girls grow close, and as their intimacy incrementally creates a hermetic, fantasy-fueled universe of two, adult loathing of their suspected lesbianism threatens to separate them from one another--which, with terrible irony, convinces them that nothing short of matricide will succeed in reuniting them. Heavenly Creatures is film as delightful/disturbing literature. Reality and the fevers of imagination fluidly glide into one another to unforgettable effect. It's what the movies are all about. Except on Oscar night.