Top Seven Oscar Long Shots: Marisa Tomei, Anna Paquin and More

Marion Cotillard, Roberto Benigni and others prove underdogs can have their day.

March 4, 2010 — -- In the run-up to Sunday's Oscars, nominees should remember: it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

Film critics, industry insiders and movie fans have speculated for months about who will win Hollywood's most prized trophy, and they've come up with a widely-accepted list of favorites.

But nominees who didn't make the short list shouldn't fear: the race for the statue is anybody's game.

This year, most think the best picture Oscar will come down to either "Avatar" or "The Hurt Locker."

But "An Education" and "Inglourious Basterds," among others, have received their fair share of critical acclaim and certainly have a chance at winning the title.

While the entertainment world can't get enough of the best actress battle between Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock, the performances of Gabourey Sidibe as an abuse victim in "Precious" and Carey Mulligan as a teenager trying to find herself in "An Education" shouldn't be overlooked.

And even though Jeff Bridges won the Golden Globe for best actor for his role in "Crazy Heart," the quietly inspiring performance of George Clooney as a lost businessman in "Up in the Air" and Jeremy Renner as a member of an Army bomb squad in enemy territory in "The Hurt Locker" could give Bridges a run for his money.

There have been bigger upsets at the Academy Awards. Below is a list of seven of the most famous Oscar-winning long shots.

Geraldine Page

After losing seven previous Oscars, Geraldine Page couldn't have been very hopeful when she was nominated as best actress in 1985 for her role as Carrie Watts in "The Trip to Bountiful." The movie was about the elderly Watts' journey from Houston and her overprotective son to her small Texas birthplace.

She was up against three of the decade's biggest heavyweights: Meryl Streep for the box office smash "Out of Africa;" Whoopi Goldberg for the moving epic "The Color Purple;" and Jessica Lange in "Sweet Dreams," a biopic about America's Sweetheart Patsy Cline.

While Page may have been the long shot, the academy and audience certainly thought the award was overdue. When opening the envelope, the best actress presenter F. Murray Abraham said, "I consider this woman to be the greatest actress in the English Language," and the audience immediately erupted into a standing ovation. Page found herself a bit tongue-tied in the acceptance speech, but never put down the statue, caressing it the whole time.

Page died a year later while starring in a Broadway revival of "Blithe Spirit."

Roberto Benigni

Benigni is probably most remembered for his joyous antics -- walking on the back of the seats in the audience at the Oscars -- but Benigni was one of the academy's great long shots when he won 1998's best actor statue.

The film "Life is Beautiful," written and directed by Benigni, was widely celebrated for its story about an Italian-Jewish man who comforts his son at a Nazi concentration camp by telling him their time there is just a game that has very specific rules. Going into the 1999 ceremony, there was little doubt that the movie would win best foreign language film, but no one expected Benigni would win best leading actor.

Benigni won against stiff competition, including Tom Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan" and Edward Norton in "American History X." It was the first time an Oscar had been given to an actor in a non-English-speaking role. When he accepted he said, "This is a terrible mistake because I have used up all my English!"

Benigni's next feature was the 2002 version of "Pinocchio" -- which has a 0 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and, ironically, earned him the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor in 2002.

Hattie McDaniel

In 1939, the segregation of the South kept Hattie McDaniel from attending the Atlanta premiere of "Gone with the Wind," but it didn't keep her from winning and accepting the best supporting actress award for her role as Mammy.

Given the racial climate at the time, McDaniel certainly wasn't one of the favorites to win an Oscar. In her category she was up against four well-known women including her "Gone with the Wind" co-star Olivia de Havilland.

In her acceptance speech, she said winning was "one of the happiest moments" of her life.

"I sincerely hope I will be a credit to my race and the motion picture industry," she said.

Marisa Tomei

Marisa Tomei's win at the 1992 Oscars was so unexpected, a rumor surfaced -- that the presenter, Jack Palance, had announced the wrong name. The academy has denied the claim and insists that no Oscars have ever been mistakenly awarded.

Tomei won best supporting actress for playing Mona Lisa Vito in "My Cousin Vinny," a movie about two young New Yorkers traveling through Alabama who are convicted of a murder they didn't commit. They call in "cousin" Vinny, played by Joe Pesci, a new lawyer who doesn't have many cases under his belt. Tomei played Pesci's combative girlfriend -- and star witness.

The category favorite was Joan Plowright of "Enchanted April." Other famous actresses nominated in the category included Vanessa Redgrave and Judy Davis. The Golden Globe that year went to Plowright; Tomei wasn't nominated at all.

Tomei has never publically commented about the mistaken Oscar rumor, but she got the last laugh when she was nominated as best supporting actress again in 2008. She played a stripper who wins the heart of a down-and-out wrester, played by Mickey Rourke, in "The Wrestler."

Beatrice Straight

It takes a lot to win an Oscar for five minutes and 40 seconds of screen time.

Beatrice Straight won the 1976 best supporting actress Oscar for her role as Louise Schumacher in "Network." In her only scene, she tearfully confronts her husband (William Holden) over his infidelity. Straight's performance is the shortest ever to win an Oscar.

Straight was up against Jane Alexander in "All the President's Men," Piper Laurie in "Carrie" and Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver."

Before her win, Straight had done mostly stage and television work. She continued to work on the small screen after the Oscar. In one of her last film roles, she played Dr. Martha Lesh, a paranormal investigator, in 1982's "Poltergeist."

Marion Cotillard

Even in 2007's year of foreign Oscar winners, (Daniel Day-Lewis for best actor, Javier Bardem for best supporting actor and Tilda Swinton for best supporting actress) Marion Cotillard was a long shot to win the best actress statue.

Cotillard won for her role in "La Vie en Rose," playing the French songstress Edith Piaf, who climbs from poverty to become arguably France's most popular singer. She beat out the critics' favorite, Julie Christie, who played a women dealing with Alzheimer's in "Away from Her." The other nominees were all in higher grossing films -- Ellen Page in "Juno," Laura Linney in "The Savages" and Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

This win marked the first time an actress had won for a role in a French-language film. Cotillard seemed as surprised as everyone else; she held her face in her hands on the whole walk up to the stage.

When she accepted her award, she said, "I am speechless. It is true that there must be some angels in this city."

This year, Cotillard starred alongside Penelope Cruz and Daniel Day-Lewis in "Nine." The movie was not well received by critics, but her role earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Cotillard will also star with Leonardo Dicaprio in the upcoming Christopher Nolan picture "Inception."

Anna Paquin

Anna Paquin was only 11 when she won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 1993 for her role as Flora in "The Piano," making her the second-youngest person to ever receive the honor.

She was up against some of the best female actresses of her time, including Rosie Perez for "Fearless;" Winona Ryder, who had already won a Golden Globe for "The Age of Innocence;" and Emma Thompson for "In the Name of the Father." The fifth actress in the category was Holly Hunter, who was nominated for her role in "The Firm," and would go on to win best actress for her role opposite Paquin in "The Piano."

The story of how Paquin got her breakthrough role is almost as cute as her sheepish smile during her acceptance speech. Paquin told the Los Angles Times that she went along with her sister on an open audition for the role, even though she had never acted before. Five thousand girls showed up and Paquin was chosen.

Post-win, Paquin has had a recurring role as Rogue in the "X-Men" franchise and is currently the star of the hit HBO show "True Blood."