Could the 2014 Academy Awards Ceremony Be the Most Controversial Ever?

By  · Published on February 9th, 2014

All we need now is for Shia Labeouf to streak across the stage of the Dolby Theatre during the 2014 Academy Awards, copying Robert Opel’s famous stunt of 40 years ago as a bold bit of promotion for Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, to make this year’s event possibly the most controversy-laden of all time. Or throw in an honorary Oscar for Roman Polanski, give another special tribute to Elia Kazan or give Best Picture to a Frank Capra film. Let Michael Moore on stage to criticize Obama, Sacheen Littlefeather to protest The Lone Ranger’s nomination and have Rob Lowe back to ruin his resurrected career by dancing this time with all of the Disney princesses.

Actually, we’re probably pretty set with controversies for the 86th Academy Awards show, which will be held only three weeks from now. From a nominee’s disqualification to the usual issues with documentary contenders, from complaints about a specific drama’s depiction of and its actors’ sensitivity to the LGBT population to problems with one of the Academy’s most recognized filmmakers, we might be in store for some extra picketing or contentious remarks or any number of other surprises on March 2nd. Let’s look at what we’ve got so far in the controversy basket below.

Woody Allen’s Molestation Charges — Following the resurrection of a claim against Allen that he sexually abused his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, in 1992, many are now wondering how the accusation, the back and forth statements and the public debate on the incident’s validity will affect Oscar voting, which begins Friday. The whole story was initially tied to both Allen’s celebration at the Golden Globes last month and his latest, record-breaking nomination for the award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). There is concern that Best Actress frontrunner Cate Blanchett might lose some favor by association (Sally Hawkins, too, though she doesn’t have as high odds for a win). I wonder if not only could it cost Allen votes for his own Oscar but also maybe earn him some extra points, as well, from Academy members who wish to show that personal matters don’t relate to whether or not Blue Jasmine is a well-written movie. Interestingly enough, Allen was also nominated in the category in 1993 as the investigation of the incident was in the news just days before that year’s ceremony.

Dallas Buyers Club Misrepresents the LGBT Community and the AIDS Epidemic — Whether the main criticism against the film and its recognition is that it tells the story of the AIDS epidemic through the triumph of a straight hero or that it excludes the fact that this hero was actually probably not straight or that movies should hire real transgender people to play transgender characters or how that transgender woman is represented as undistinguishable from a cross-dressing man or the way Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have offensively commented on their roles in interviews and acceptance speeches, there will be plenty of further backlash if it wins any of the six Oscars it’s nominated for. Especially if there’s still no mention of AIDS when any winner from the film gets up in front of the podium and the entire world that’s watching.

The Wolf of Wall Street Glorifies Its Criminal Protagonist — Martin Scorsese’s movie has been undeservedly attacked for celebrating and glorifying the crimes and misogyny of its main character, real-life “Wolf of Wall Street” Jordan Belfort. The fact that Leonardo DiCaprio appeared in one of Belfort’s motivational speaker videos as what seems to be an endorsement of the man adds to the controversy. There has also been misinformation about whether Belfort is making money off the movie directly and complaints that he will be making money by way of the movie indirectly.

Philomena’s Villainization of One Particular Dead Catholic Nun — The Catholic Church in general has taken issues with this film’s misleading portrayal of the infamous Magdalene laundries but more specifically there’s the complaint that one nun who died long before the events of the movie take place is not only portrayed posthumously but is done so as the movie’s villain, as an embodied representative of the Church’s evils.

Best Original Song Disqualification — A two-pronged controversy that started as questions regarding a nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” the title tune from Alone Yet Not Alone that was co-written by former Academy Governor and former music branch chief Bruce Broughton, who apparently led an unfair emailing campaign for himself in order to get his friends and peers to vote for his work. Next were the complaints that the Academy, following its decision to rescind the nomination, wouldn’t be replacing the disqualified song with another contender that should have earned the slot in the first place. And now there are the protests from the other side accusing the Academy of picking on this song and movie because it’s a Christian production, demanding that it be reinstated in the category.

Documentary Nominees Fail to Show Everything — While it would have been even more notable had Blackfish been nominated, this year’s contenders for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar are still filled with a good share of controversy, from the criticisms about The Act of Killing not providing enough context or representation of the Indonesian genocide victims and that it’s an obscene, exploitative fantasy that gives voice to some of the world’s worst real-life villains, to The Square, for which the New York Times just covered the typical complaints of it not being exhaustive enough in its record of the ongoing Egyptian Revolution. Surprisingly, Dirty Wars, which deals with controversial military operations by the United States, does not seem to be receiving much media attention ahead of the awards.

And of course there have been criticisms against the portrayals of the heroes of The Wind Rises, Saving Mr. Banks and Captain Phillips, but nothing on a level that will likely bring protests outside the Dolby. Have I missed anything else? Will anything more come about before the Oscars take place?

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.