The Academy Awards winners are soon to be announced and the controversy continues over this year’s various snubs, omissions and general shortsightedness over what constitutes a truly great film, great direction, or great performance. When you look back at various lists of Greatest Films in cinema history, it’s shocking to discover that some of cinema’s greats, not only didn’t win an Oscar, but were not even nominated, Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Singin’ in the Rain, considered by some to be some of the best in their respective genres didn’t make the list of nominees. It makes you wonder which of today’s non-nominated movies with be tomorrow’s great films.
So without further ado, here are John David and Ari’s top ten most shocking Oscar omissions over the past 88 years.
John David West’s List
1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Considered by many as the greatest movie musical that cinema has produced and, after recently watching this 1952 classic in the theater, it’s no surprise that AFI ranks it as the #5 Greatest American Film in their 2007 list. It holds up beautifully today. Singin’ ranks as the pinnacle of the MGM musicals with all elements in perfect balance including: direction, cinematography, dancing, and acting, and design; its still laugh-out-loud hilarious among today’s cynical audiences. In a year that gave the Oscar to The Greatest Show on Earth and nomination to Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, The Quiet Man, and High Noon, the latter a deserving nominee, Singin’ in the Rain received only one nomination, a supporting actress for Jean Hagen. Rather, it should have been a clean sweep with nominations for Director (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen), Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Best Picture, Screenplay, and Best Picture.
2. Psycho (1960)
Not only a horror, thriller classic, it’s an excellent ground breaking film, one of Hitchcock’s best. Psycho entered the zeitgeist of American culture and change how we view taking a shower. One doesn’t have to see Psycho to be familiar with the infamous shower scene or Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking violins. I may be cheating by slipping in another one, but Anthony Perkins’ performance as the serial killer, with mommy issues, Norman Bates is another notable omission for Best Actor nominee list.
3. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Still one of the biggest controversial omissions in recent Oscar history and Spike Lee’s career best movie was snubbed in favor of the safer, family friendly Driving Miss Daisy, which won the Best Picture Oscar. Watch Do the Right Thing today, and it’s clear how wrong the Academy was in 1989. Lee, who also failed to receive a Best Director nomination, created a superb film with rhythmic dialogue, sharp wit, cinematography that makes you sweat, and in-your-face score. He captures the racial tensions of 1989 America that are, sadly, relevant today.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
It’s shocking to know that as one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema, Stanley Kubrick never won an Academy Award. While he was nominated for directing 2001: A Space Odyssey, the sci-fi masterpiece was not nominated for Best Picture. The Academy chose the traditional route, as they so often do, and went with the more accessible Oliver!, Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel, and Romeo and Juliet.
5. The Third Man (1949)
The Third Man stands today as one of cinema’s most glorious black and white movies, and Robert Krasker was awarded an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Despite a nomination for director Carol Reed, the film failed to receive a Best Picture nomination. The post World War II thriller was left off the list for Best Picture in favor of Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, and King Solomon’s Mines. Nominated for 14 Oscars, All About Eve won Best Picture that year.
6. Vertigo (1958)
Ranked in 2012 as the greatest film ever made, Vertigo knocked Citizen Kane off of the top spot by “Sight & Sound Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time.” Vertigo failed to receive a Best Picture nomination or a Best Director nomination for Alfred Hitchcock. With its emotionally complex themes, dreamy tone, the mystifying Vertigo has proven with time to age well and grow in appreciation among film lovers. With such consistent height praise it’s hard to believe that it was left off of 1958’s Oscar ballot.
7. City of God (2004)
City of God wasn’t completely forgotten in 2004, as the Brazilian masterpiece garnered four Oscar nominations including Best Director (Fernando Meirelles), Best Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, and Cinematography, but it was oddly left off of the short list for Best Foreign Language film. Beyond that City of God should have been listed among the five nominees for Best Picture. That year nominees included a couple forgettable movies including Mystic River and Seabiscuit (!) 2004 was a big year for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King with 11 Oscars.
8. Steven Spielberg for directing Jaws (1975)
It’s true, Spielberg was snubbed for the movie that entered the zeitgeist of America and changed how we experience swimming on the beach. But, let me be clear, he shouldn’t have been nominated for making an unforgettable film, or for making the movie that ushered in the Blockbuster, but rather for making a well-crafted film. It’s well acted with strong performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus, and Robert Shaw (who should have been nominated as well), additionally, movies would not be the same today without one of cinemas most recognizable film scores. John Williams took home his second of five Oscars for Jaws.
9. City Lights (1931)
Charles Chaplin may have been considered behind the times when he released his masterpiece City Lights in 1931, after all the “talkies” were the rage and his silent movie was from a fading time. Cimarron won the Best Picture that year, but City Lights remains a timeless classic.
10. Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage (1934)
It’s her performance as the cruel waitress in Of Human Bondage that remains as one of Miss Davis’ most unforgettable and deserving Oscar nominations—and the first of many memorable Davis’ lines, “wipe my mouth.” Academy voters somehow didn’t see fit to honor her with the year’s Best Actress Oscar or a nomination, so many outraged members wrote in her name instead of voting among the nominees. That year Claudette Colbert won (along with Best Actor costar Clark Gable) for It Happened One Night. Next year Davis won (a consolation Oscar?) for her work in Dangerous.
11. Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierre Madre (1948)
It’s hard to believe that one of cinema’s most beloved actors wasn’t nominated for some of his most iconic performances including The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, but it’s his performance as the down and out American in Mexico who, upon finding gold with his partners, become increasingly paranoid and mistrustful. The Treasure of the Sierre Madre remains one of his best performances. While the film won Oscars for both John Huston as Director and his father Walter Huston for Best Supporting Actor, Bogart was left off the nomination list. Lawrence Olivier took home the trophy that year for work in that year’s Best Picture winner Hamlet. As a consolation prize for his work three years earlier Bogart would later win a Best Actor award for The African Queen in 1951. That year the Oscar should have gone to Marl0n Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire.
Ari Ansbro’s List
1. Best Actor: Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips (2013)
Most of the entries on this list are for films that were made long before I was born. Perhaps that is why this one stings so much. Two years ago, Tom Hanks was primed to get his sixth Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Captain Richard Phillips, the real-life captain whose cargo ship was taken over by Somali pirates. Throughout the entire film, Hanks shows both a strength and vulnerability that this man exhibited through the five most frightening days of his life. This is clearly shown during the final scene of the film in which a wordless Phillips is examined by a Navy doctor. For this scene alone, Hanks deserved a nomination. Watch it here. Seriously. I personally feel that the reason for the lack of love for Hanks boiled down to two things: 1.) the feeling that he can play a heroic everyman like a pro, so why give him more accolades for that, and 2.) the Academy was in the process of showing David O. Russell how much they love him by nominating the four main actors in American Hustle for Oscars. This included Christian Bale, who was not as deserving as Hanks.
2. Best Actor: Anthony Perkins, Psycho (1960)
SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen Psycho do not read skip on to the next entry. I realize this is a 55 year old movie, but it still has one of the most amazing endings of all time and I would never want to spoil that for anyone.
Anthony Perkins was nominated for one Academy Award in his entire career. That was for playing the son in a Quaker family who still feels that he must fight in the American Civil War in The Friendly Persuasion. However, most of you reading that last sentence are amazed that his nomination was for a mostly forgotten movie, and not for his career-defining role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Perkins enters the film as a sweet and vulnerable doormat, eager to help the stranded Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, who did receive an Oscar nomination for her role). He then morphs into an emotionally stunted “Mama’s boy” who needs saving from his wicked mother. Next he is the accomplice to his mother’s horrific crime. The audience finds themselves worried for Norman as he sinks Marion’s car (with her body in the trunk) into a swamp behind his house. When it is finally revealed that Norman’s fractured psyche had been disassociating and becoming “Mother”, the audience is shocked. We then feel a bit complicit, since we had such sympathy for this young man, caught under his mother’s thumb. How was this complex interpretation not nominated for an Oscar? Click here to see what should have been his Oscar clip.
3. Best Actress: Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady (1964)
Warner Brothers bought the rights to the hugely popular stage musical My Fair Lady, they signed Rex Harrison to reprise his role as Professor Henry Higgins. Producer Jack Warner was not keen to also cast then unknown Julie Andrews to reprise her role as Eliza Doolittle. Instead, Warner cast Audrey Hepburn. For a woman who made a career of playing well-groomed, alluring characters, this was a departure for Hepburn. Determined to do justice to the part, Hepburn worked tirelessly to learn the songs and sing as best she could. Unfortunately, the studio was unimpressed and had her singing voiced dubbed with that of Marni Nixon. This information was leaked to the press and the movie was slammed for not having cast Andrews, a singer, and instead casting an established star. What is very much forgotten is that Hepburn is excellent in this role. Her transformation from Cockney flower girl to a well-spoken lady is truly spectacular. However, the Academy, in its infinite wisdom, punished Hepburn by not nominating her for this role. To add insult to injury, Julie Andrews was nominated and won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Mary Poppins. See the a clip of the film here.
4. Best Actress: Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage (1934)
By 1934 Bette Davis had been in dozens of films, but Of Human Bondage is the first one where she commanded the screen. Playing the truly horrid waitress Mildred Rogers, she is disdainful of a young medical student with a club foot who has fallen in love with her (Leslie Howard). Davis is truly vile in this role, but her performance also has an undercurrent of vulnerability. When the Academy Award nominations were announced for 1934, surprisingly, Davis was not listed among the honorees. Voters were so incensed that they wrote her name on the ballot in protest. Even without being officially nominated, Davis came in third, after Claudette Colbert for It Happened One Night and Norma Shearer for The Barretts of Wimpole Street. This “scandal” led to the tradition of having the votes secretly counted by PriceWaterhouse Cooper. The following year, Davis was given a consolation Oscar for her role in Dangerous. Watch Bette Davis deliver the film’s most memorable line.
5. Best Actor: Cary Grant, His Girl Friday (1940)
It has been said that it is much harder for an actor to play a comedic role than a dramatic one. Regardless, the Academy consistently overlooks comedic performances when nominating actors and films each year. A great example of this ridiculous habit is the lack of Oscar love for Cary Grant. Grant received only two Academy Award nominations in his 30+ year career, which is outrageous. Grant was a fantastic actor who made it look easy. Because it looked easy, the Academy assumed it must have been. One of Grant’s most pitch-perfect performances is as the newspaper editor Walter Burns in Howard Hawkes’ His Girl Friday. Perfectly teamed with Rosalind Russell, Grant expertly fires off quips and charms his ex-wife (Russell) while trying to save an innocent man from being executed. Knowing how good both Grant and Russell were at improvisation, Hawks purposely kept their rehearsals to a minimum to encourage improvisation. It pays off. Grant is at his best in a role like this. Too bad the Academy didn’t notice. Click here to see Grant spar with Russell.
6. Best Actor: Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine (2010)
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams stared in this depressing story of a married couple whose marriage is falling apart. The present day portion of the story takes place during one evening, where Williams and Gosling decide if their marriage is worth saving. This is interspersed with flashbacks to the beginning of the relationship, showing how far they have come and how different they are. Williams, deservedly, was nominated for her role in this film. For some reason that I may never understand, Gosling was not. Gosling perfectly embodies the suave young guy who wants to impress a girl, as well as the aging worn out father trying to save his marriage. Gosling was passed over in favor of Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), and James Franco (127 Hours). To me, the weak link in this category was James Franco. Ryan Gosling was much better and more deserving. Yup, I said it. You can watch the sweetest scene from this movie here.
7. Best Supporting Actor: Robert Walker, Strangers on a Train (1951)
Strangers on a Train is the classic story of two men, Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) and Guy Haines (Farley Granger), meeting by chance, and during their initial conversation Bruno suggests that they swap murders. Bruno will kill Guy’s estranged wife who is refusing to divorce him, and Guy will kill Bruno’s overbearing father so Bruno can inherit his fortune. Even though Guy does not actually agree to anything, Bruno takes it upon himself to murder Guy’s wife. Robert Walker is so good at playing the sociopath in this film, that it is hard to realize that he ever played a sweet, romantic lead (see The Clock and Since You Went Away). The sing-song voice that he uses as he taunts Guy with veiled threats, the fact that every calculated move he makes is traps the other characters so completely make for one of the best villains in the annals of film. How was this man not nominated for this role? As you can see by now, Alfred Hitchcock’s films were ignored in a huge way by the Academy. This was partially because he saw the genius of television and started his own show. The film industry felt, at the time, that television was a lesser medium, and that anyone who worked on TV was obviously not worthy of notice. Sadly, for Walker, this was his last chance to be nominated for an Academy Award. He died eight months after the release of the film due to an allergic reaction to medication. Click here to see Walker lay out his murderous plan.
8. Best Actress: Carole Lombard, To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Carole Lombard did not start out in Hollywood as a comedienne. As a matter of fact, she was in Hollywood a full ten years before she was given a comedic role. Once she had it, she and everyone else knew it was what she was meant to be. At 33, with her career in need of a jump start, Lombard starred in the very edgy (for the time) Ernst Lubitch film, To Be or Not to Be, costarring Jack Benny. Lombard plays a stage actress in Warsaw, Poland in early 1938. She and her husband, Jack Benny, are staring in a play that is satirizing the Nazi regime. Even though this film was a show piece for Benny, Lombard skillfully brings her earnest comedic skill to the roll of the “straight man”. Sadly, that year Lombard was not honored with a nomination, as there were other “important” war films to be honored, such as Mrs. Miniver. She would never have another opportunity to earn a nomination, as she was killed returning home from a war bond promotional tour in a plane crash prior to the film’s release. Watch Lombard go toe-to-toe with Benny in this scene. Lombard enters at 3:48.
9. Best Director: Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
A satisfying romantic comedy can be an elusive thing. There are many romantic comedies that try too hard and fall too deep into clichés to be satisfying. When that rare romcom comes along that works on every level, it should be treasured. When Harry Met Sally… came along in 1989, it immediately became a hit for all of the reasons I mentioned above. Rob Reiner directed the story of a man and woman who become friends before falling in love. Even though the film stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, the third star is the city of New York. Every exterior scene is shot in such a way that it makes New York look like the perfect city to fall in love. This is an extreme feat considering it was filmed during a time when the city was extremely crime ridden with over 1,000 murders that year. For all of this, Rob Reiner should have received some recognition by the Academy for directing this world and these people who were so relatable, regardless of their neuroses. Unfortunately, the only nomination the film received was for Nora Ephron’s hilarious script. Watch the most famous scene from the movie, which was filmed in Katz’s Deli here.
10. Best Picture: Rear Window (1954)
For most fans of Alfred Hitchcock, the omission of Vertigo by the Academy is blasphemy. I am not one of those fans. For some reason Vertigo rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I have watched it numerous times and even paid to see it at BAM a few years ago, but I fear that the love for it is overhyped. For me, Hitchcock’s Rear Window is the real masterpiece. Filmed on one set, the audience becomes an accomplice of Jimmy Stewart’s wheelchair bound voyeristic protagonist. Whenever we see what is going on outside of the window, it is done specifically from Stewart’s point of view. Did the salesman murder his wife in the middle of the night? We know only as much as Stewart. This is the genius of this film. Hitchcock was, deservedly, nominated for Best Director for his work on this film, (don’t get me started on the fact that he lost, even if it was to Elia Kazan for On the Waterfront) but the film itself was should have been nominated for Best Picture. Period. End of story. See a scene from the film by clicking here.
11. Best Picture: Notorious (1946)
Alfred Hitchcock was a true master, not just the master of suspense. Now, I do realize that on my list alone, there are four entries about how some aspect of an Alfred Hitchcock film was snubbed by the Academy. However, many of his films from 1938 to 1963 are today considered classics that were not given their due. Therefore, I close my list with one of the sexiest thrillers to be made during the Hayes Code era, Notorious. This is the story of the daughter of a Nazi spy who is recruited by, what would eventually become the CIA, to infiltrate a fascist spy ring in South America. Ingrid Bergman smolders as Alicia, the newly recruited spy. Her handler is played by an equally tempting Cary Grant. As you probably guessed, they fall in love, but when Bergman is encouraged to marry their target, played by Claude Raines, their affair comes to an end. Grant and Bergman continue to work together, creating a suspicious and dangerous Raines. Everything about this film is spectacular, from the technical to the artistic. Isn’t that what is supposed to define a Best Picture (and Best Director) nominee? Hitchcock did his best to get around the Hayes code’s strict edict that no on screen kiss could last longer than two seconds. Want to see how Hitchcock made a 2:40 second kiss? Click here.