By John Young
Updated July 30, 2020 at 06:25 PM EDT
Credit: Hans Gutknecht/WireImage

Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster had all the ingredients to win an Academy Award. First, Theron “went ugly” for the role of prostitute-turned-serial killer Aileen Wuornos, gaining 30 pounds, wearing dentures, and even applying liquid latex to her skin to give it that extra leathery finish. Second, Theron played a real-life person, and the Oscars love them a biographic performance. Third, no one expected Theron, then a 28-year-old actress best known for her eye-candy turns in The Italian Job and Reindeer Games, could deliver a performance as harrowing as this one, and the Oscars often enjoy rewarding unexpected range (see: Berry, Halle). And if these reasons weren’t enough, Theron also had a virtual monopoly on the precursor awards, winning trophies from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, National Society of Film Critics, Broadcast Film Critics Association, and Independent Spirit Awards.

But did Theron deserve the Academy Award over fellow nominees Diane Keaton (Something’s Gotta Give), Naomi Watts (21 Grams), Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), and Samantha Morton (In America)? That’s the question we’ve been asking the entertainment industry in our Recall the Gold survey of all the major Oscars from 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago, and now, PopWatchers, it’s your turn to have a say.

Keaton was probably the only actress who could have stolen the Oscar from Theron. Keaton’s emotionally (and physically) naked performance in Something’s Gotta Give won her the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a musical or comedy (Theron scored the award in the drama category). Keaton, an Academy darling who’s earned nominations in every decade since the 1970s, seemed to relish the opportunity to play an older, sophisticated playwright who attracts the attention of both Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves — double whoa! Yet Oscar voters may have thought the role was a bit inconsequential, especially when compared to the other oh-so-serious nominees.

In 21 Grams, Watts brought a convincing dose of melancholy (read: lots of crying) to a woman who lost her husband and daughters in a car accident. But the film may have been overly morbid and chronologically cluttered for some voters. As for Castle-Hughes and Morton, they weren’t even supposed to make it into the final five. Not only did Castle-Hughes become the youngest Best Actress nominee ever at age 13, but Whale Rider‘s studio had campaigned her as a supporting actress instead of the lead. It turns out that Castle-Hughes’ performance as Pai, a New Zealand girl yearning for acceptance from her manly-men tribe, was enough of a crowd pleaser to bump her into the big girls’ category. Going against her was history: No actress under the age of 21 had ever won Best Actress. Morton’s nomination was as much of a surprise, although it probably shouldn’t have been. In America, about an Irish family’s immigration to Manhattan, earned a loyal following as a sentimental favorite, winning a SAG nomination for its ensemble cast, as well as six Indie Spirt nods and seven Broadcast Critics award nods, both including Morton. Still, in hindsight, the most memorable performers in the film were the family’s two young girls; the nomination for Morton was the award.

So, PopWatchers, take out your Oscar pens and tell us whom you thought should have won in our poll below. If you need a reminder of each performance, check out clips from each film after the jump (some of the language is NSFW). While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, vote in all the other polls from our ongoing walk down Oscar’s memory lane. On Tuesday, Dec. 23, we’ll examine the 1983 Best Picture race and the 1998 Best Director race, and you can check out coverage of this year’s awards contenders in Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.

addCredit(“Hans Gutknecht/WireImage”)

Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider

Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give

Samantha Morton, In America(trailer)

Charlize Theron, Monster(language NSFW)

Naomi Watts, 21 Grams(language NSFW)