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Top 10 Controversial Award Winners

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Well that didn’t go over well. For this list, we’ll be looking at the most controversial award winners from a wide variety of fields and awards, including the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, and even Nobel Peace Prizes. These are awards that many people see as undeserving, either from a political or artistic standpoint. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Controversial Award Winners.

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Script written by Nathan Sharp

Top 10 Controversial Award Winners

Well that didn’t go over well. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 controversial award winners.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most controversial award winners from a wide variety of fields and awards, including the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, and even Nobel Peace Prizes. These are awards that many people see as undeserving, either from a political or artistic standpoint. For the record, we’re not arguing either for or against these controversies. We’re just relaying the facts.

#10: “Shape of You” Wins Best Pop Solo Performance

“60th Annual Grammy Awards” (2018)
Ed Sheeran often seems to be America’s sweetheart, but he was public enemy number one after winning the 2018 Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance. Sheeran was nominated alongside Kelly Clarkson, Kesha, Lady Gaga, and Pink, and many people felt that his win was undeserved, particularly in the midst of the #MeToo campaign. Although song content shouldn’t be a factor in a performance category, it inevitably was for some in this instance. Sheeran’s song about the curves of a woman’s body simply didn’t compare to Gaga’s “Million Reasons” or Kesha’s “Praying,” which was inspired by her sexual abuse and suicidal thoughts. The announcement was booed, as many saw the win as unwarranted and downright insulting.

#9: Al Gore Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

“Nobel Peace Prize” (2007)
It’s ironic that the Nobel Peace Prize often causes unrest. Barack Obama’s win in 2009 caused its fair share of controversy, but perhaps no win has been more contentious than that of Al Gore. Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the prestigious award in 2007 for their contributions in spreading awareness on the threat of global warming. However, many people criticized the win on political grounds, with some pointing out that the recipients did nothing to actively end a conflict and promote peace. Other arguments against Gore stemmed from his house using much more electricity than the average home and the UK High Court finding scientific errors within “An Inconvenient Truth.”

#8: Steely Dan Wins Album of the Year

“43rd Annual Grammy Awards” (2001)
While the Grammy Awards are typically seen as a popularity contest rather than a prestigious ceremony, the fact that Steely Dan won Album of the Year in 2001 is mystifying to many. 2000 was a fantastic year for music. Eminem was stirring up controversy and topping charts with The Marshall Mathers LP, and Radiohead was basically redefining music with their stellar album Kid A. Either of those two modern masterpieces were shoo-ins for Album of the Year, which is why so many people were left outraged when Steely Dan took the award for Two Against Nature. It left a lot of music fans upset and all but ruined the reputation of the Grammys.

#7: “Shakespeare in Love” Wins Best Picture

“71st Academy Awards” (1999)
Yeah, the Academy gets it wrong sometimes. While “Shakespeare in Love” is undeniably a great film, many people felt that “Saving Private Ryan” was sure to take home the Best Picture trophy. This seemed even more plausible when Steven Spielberg won the award for Best Director, which is usually indicative of an impending Best Picture win. So some were upset, but not surprised, when the Oscar-bait-y “Shakespeare in Love” won instead. Many felt that the heavy campaigning by Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein resulted in its perhaps undeserved win. It is now seen as one of the biggest Best Picture upsets in Academy history.

#6: Macklemore Wins Best Rap Album

“56th Annual Grammy Awards” (2014)
If Steely Dan’s win was the straw that broke the Grammys’ back, this upset buried its reputation in the ground. The 56th Grammys’ Best Rap Album category was absolutely stacked. It featured some great albums like Drake’s Nothing Was the Same and Kanye West’s Yeezus, but the fan favorite was undeniably Kendrick Lamar’s modern masterpiece good kid, m.A.A.d city. However, the award bafflingly went to radio-favorites Macklemore and Ryan Lewis instead. Even Macklemore knew that the award was undeserved, as he texted Kendrick saying, “You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.”

#5: Marisa Tomei Wins Best Supporting Actress

“65th Academy Awards” (1993)
A lot of people love Marisa Tomei, but even some fans think that her Oscar win for “My Cousin Vinny” was perhaps undeserved. At the 65th Academy Awards, Tomei was up against many notable actresses, including Judy Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, and Miranda Richardson. Many people believed that Tomei had no chance. After all, she was up against acting titans and besides, “My Cousin Vinny” was a comedy, a genre largely ignored by the Academy. People were left so shocked at Tomei’s win that a conspiracy theory was started, claiming that the only reason she won was because the presenter read the wrong name. That conspiracy theory haunted Tomei for decades.

#4: “Crash” Wins Best Picture

“78th Academy Awards” (2006)
While the “Shakespeare in Love”/”Saving Private Ryan” debacle is infamous, it has nothing on the “Crash”/”Brokeback Mountain” upset of 2006. Many people thought that “Brokeback Mountain” was the movie to beat, as it had swept the preceding awards season. Even presenter Jack Nicholson
was visibly stunned when “Crash” was announced as the Best Picture winner. It was immediately called the biggest upset in Oscar history, and some people blamed the conservative members of the Academy for choosing the comparatively safer option. A 2015 poll of a portion of voters later crowned “Brokeback Mountain” the winner. The movie’s writer and director Paul Haggis has openly admitted his belief that “Crash” was undeserving of the win.

#3: Adele Wins Album of the Year

“59th Annual Grammy Awards” (2017)
A lot of people love Adele, but they were left upset when she won over Beyoncé at the 2017 Grammy Awards. The Album of the Year category contained Sturgill Simpson, Drake, Justin Bieber, Adele, and fan favorite Beyoncé, whose Lemonade was one of 2017’s biggest pop culture releases. It was Metacritic’s second-highest ranking album of the year, and it won a prestigious Peabody Award in the entertainment category. After Adele won for 25, she stated that she couldn’t accept the award and spent a majority of her acceptance speech praising Beyoncé and Lemonade. Chalk it up as just another egregious Grammys upset.

#2: Casey Affleck Wins Best Actor

“89th Academy Awards” (2017)
In a wide break from tradition, this Best Actor win isn’t controversial because people think it should have gone to someone else, but because of Affleck’s past and personal life. Casey Affleck won the prestigious Oscar in 2017 for his stellar performance in “Manchester by the Sea,” but many people felt it was undeserved due to allegations by co-workers of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse in 2010. Presenter Brie Larson even refused to clap when Affleck won the award, stating that her intentions were obvious. The topic grew even more controversial following the #MeToo campaign, and Affleck pulled out of presenting the Best Actress award at the 2018 Oscars due to the fervent backlash.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- “Suicide Squad” Becomes an Academy Award-Winning Movie
“89th Academy Awards” (2017)

- Jim Parsons Continuously Wins Emmys Over Steve Carell
Various “Primetime Emmy Awards”

- Herbie Hancock Wins Album of the Year Over Amy Winehouse
“50th Annual Grammy Awards” (2008)

#1: Roman Polanski Wins Best Director

“75th Academy Awards” (2003)
Polanski won the award for Best Director in 2003 for his work on the admittedly fantastic “The Pianist.” However, Polanski couldn’t come to the accept the award, due to long-standing charges of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl. In the late ‘70s, Polanski was facing up to 50 years in prison, so he fled to France and was protected from extradition. However, many figures in Hollywood defended Polanski, and he received a standing ovation after winning the Academy Award. Many people saw the win and enthusiastic reaction as one of the most disgusting moments in Hollywood history, and it has been a major target of the #MeToo campaign.


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