Fargo vs. The English Patient (1996)
The Coen brothers made an edgy go for a Best Picture Oscar with "Fargo," a small-town crime caper about a pregnant cop and the bumbling car salesman she takes down for kidnapping and murder. Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her folksy portrayal of the cop and the Coens won for their chatty screenplay. But all that gory business with the bad guys getting thrown in the wood chipper in the end - not to mention the blithe murder of the kidnap victim, the car salesman's wife - must've made the Academy squirm. Too many people got killed while we chuckled. The Best Picture winner, "The English Patient," must've seemed morally comforting in comparison. It bathed the Academy in feel-bad goodness with its sweeping look at a Second World War-era romance between a married British woman and a Hungarian Count who sells out his country to the Nazis in a doomed effort to save her. She feels guilty about their affair and dies tragically. He pays for his many moral transgressions with his life, too. The sweet nurse who helps end his suffering is rewarded with true love of her own. All is right in the world again - unlike in "Fargo," where death is doled out liberally and capriciously.