The Oscar Snub

It is a tradition almost as old and rich as the Oscars themselves: The sneaking suspicion, year after year, that maybe, just maybe, the Academy hasn’t chosen the most excellent possible piece of cinema as their Best Picture. Some even go so far as to suggest that Oscar has never actually gotten it right. While I would say this is an exaggeration, it’s only natural that, as time passes and opinions rise and fall, some years should stick out as particularly egregious examples of Oscar getting it dead wrong. Even then, while everyone agrees that the wrong movie won the ultimate prize, there may not be a clear consensus about who the most worthy winner actually was.

In the spirit of this time-honored tradition of second-guessing the biggest film awards show of the year, have a look at this short “Time” piece highlighting what they consider to have been the 10 most significant Best Picture snubs of all-time. And, in honor of the equally prevalent tradition of second-guessing the second-guessers, I present my thoughts on their thoughts. This list is in major need of discussion. After all, they’ve completely missed the three biggest snubs of them all . . .

There’s one very important thing that needs to be said about the Oscars, and awards shows in general, before one begins such a discussion. The entire concept of awards shows and what they are supposed to be about is wrong. Human nature seems to demand a clear winner, but it’s much better to appreciate awards shows as a celebration of excellence that includes not only a winner, but a pool of nominees from which the winner is chosen. Picking the winner is a formality (and if no winner was chosen, what would we argue about?), but the point is, most years, no one movie is the best of the year.

Sometimes, it’s like picking the best slice of a chocolate cake; all of these great films together represent the best the year had to offer, and all of them should be appreciated and enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible. At their best, awards shows and the whole awards process connect audiences with great art that they might not have been aware of otherwise, and get us all talking about them and their relative merits. It’s a magnificent conversation that I always revel in.

With that in mind, I’ve taken a look at each year covered in the “Time” list and pulled out a small selection of films they haven’t mentioned, rather than just one, and added a little commentary on the subject of “relative merits” . . . Enjoy, and feel free to toss in your own thoughts below.

1997 – They say . . .

L.A. Confidential should never have lost to Titanic. I agree, but 1997 was a surprisingly good year for films, both noticed and overlooked. Here are four films I’d submit for the Best Picture ballot alongside L.A. Confidential, any one of which could have easily replaced Titanic, and most of which I would pick over L.A. Confidential (which I quite like):

Gattaca – A brilliant, noir-ish twist on the gene-bending future of Brave New World
The Sweet Hereafter
– Atom Egoyan’s achingly lyrical examination of people confronted with unimaginable tragedy
Jackie Brown
– Quentin Tarantino’s whip-smart homage (okay, one of his homages) to the blaxploitation films of the ’70s
Boogie Nights
– Paul Thomas Anderson delivers a towering epic about one star’s rise and fall in the porn industry during the late ’70s and early ’80s

1989 – They say . . .

Born on the Fourth of July should have beaten Driving Miss Daisy. They may have a point, but by 1989, the Vietnam War film had run its course as sure-fire Oscar bait. Here are four more-deserving candidates:

Crimes and Misdemeanors – Woody Allen’s greatest dramatic achievement; a thought-provoking rumination on the themes raised by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment
Henry V
– Perhaps the best of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptations of Shakespeare
Jesus of Montreal – A fascinating examination of the mutually-transformative power of art and the gospel, each on the other
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – A glorious capstone on what many feel ought to have been only a trilogy of films, and the best cinematic Grail Quest of them all

1990 – They say . . .

Goodfellas ought to have crushed Dances With Wolves. No doubt. But what about . . .

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – A brainy adaptation of an equally brainy play that throws Shakespeare’s Hamlet onto its head by rewriting it through the eyes of a pair of minor characters
Jacob’s Ladder – A mind-bending pseudo-spiritual pseudo-horror film that will bury itself deep into your psyche, and then stay there
Edward Scissorhands – Tim Burton’s masterful suburban fairytale, and the first of many collaborations between Burton and Johnny Depp
Miller’s Crossing – Magnificent early Coen Brothers, and a top-notch gangster flick to boot

1980 They say . . .

That Raging Bull should never have lost to Ordinary People. I mostly agree. I prefer Ordinary People, but Raging Bull is clearly the superior film on pretty much every level. Still, there are some other possibilities:

Airplane! – An iconic disaster spoof that never stops being funny
The Shining – Stanley Kubrick’s disturbingly memorable foray into horror, based on the Stephen King novel
The Elephant Man – David Lynch’s most accessible film, and the direct inspiration for the Best Makeup Oscar
The Empire Strikes Back – The best of the Star Wars films, and an awesome and entertaining movie in its own right

1964 They say . . .

Dr. Strangelove should have gotten the award over My Fair Lady. They are dead on. Dr. Strangelove was the greatest movie of 1964, one of the greatest movies of the 1960s, and perhaps the best comedy of all time. Here are some more ’64 classics:

Mary Poppins – Disney’s greatest live-action success, and a musical with twice the charm of My Fair Lady
– Based on the play, features Peter O’Toole as Henry II, who finds himself butting heads with his best friend Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) after making him Archbishop of Canterbury
Marnie – Lesser Hitchcock is still better than the best of most of the rest, and that remains true of this rather Freudian tale of frigidity, sexual repression, and kleptomania
The Train – A spectacular slow-burn action-thriller in which the French Resistance must delay a Nazi train that is trying to get a huge shipment of stolen art out of Paris ahead of the advancing Allies

1998 – They say . . .

That Shakespeare in Love shouldn’t have beaten Saving Private Ryan. I say I didn’t know anyone was still lauding that propagandist bit of Greatest Generation fetishism. I actually prefer Shakespeare in Love, despite its flaws. Not that Spielberg made a bad movie, it’s just not the best. It’s not even the best WWII movie to come out that year. In fact, a boatload of amazing films come to mind when I think of 1998, and I probably wouldn’t even put Saving Private Ryan on my top 10 above movies like Rushmore, Pleasantville, or The Red Violin . . . To say nothing of the five I would have chosen to fill the nominee slots:

The Truman Show – Jim Carrey does great dramatic work in a fable about the ultimate reality TV show that has only gotten more relevant with the passage of time
American History X – A hard-hitting examination of racism in America which, though limited in scope and a bit facile in resolution, remains incredibly powerful
The Big Lebowski – The best and most philosophical of the Coen Brothers’ comedies, and probably their most quotable film to date
Run Lola Run – A non-stop, hyper-kinetic adrenaline shot that never gets old, even after several repeated viewings
The Thin Red Line – Recently a tagline for Inglourious Basterds informed us that we had “never seen war” until we’d seen it through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino . . . this movie shows that that claim is actually true of Terrence Malick

1944 – They say . . .

Double Indemnity shouldn’t have lost, and especially not to Going My Way. Hear, hear. Despite what I said above, I probably would put this one in the top 3 worst upsets in Oscar history. Double Indemnity was the best movie of the year, and maybe even the best film noir of them all. 1944 also brought us:

Laura – Another lovely little noir classic with some startling twists throughout
Lifeboat – Hitchcock’s love of technical challenges is on full display in this film set entirely inside of a small boat adrift on the open sea
Meet Me in St. Louis – Vincent Minelli’s spectacular Judy Garland musical is raucous turn-of-the-century fun
Gaslight – a spectacular psychological thriller that features an incredible cast and a spooky Victorian setting

1941 – They say . . .

How Green Was My Valley shouldn’t have beaten Citizen Kane. That’s almost too obvious to even say. Everyone knows that, even if they’ve never seen Citizen Kane (but how many today have seen How Green Was My Valley?). I wouldn’t dare to question the conventional wisdom about Kane, but 1941 was a pretty good year for other reasons as well:

Sullivan’s Travels – A classic social dramedy that manages to be both a great examination of Depression-era America, and a philosophical statement about the purpose of the film industry
The Maltese Falcon – The first really great film noir, and an archetype of the genre, featuring iconic roles for Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet
Dumbo – A short but sweet Disney animation classic, featuring a winsome protagonist who doesn’t have a single line of spoken dialogue
The Lady Eve – Preston Sturges produced not one, but two amazing films in 1941: Sullivan’s Travels and this, a hilarious screwball comedy with Henry Fonda and Barabara Stanwyck

1981 – They say . . .

Chariots of Fire should have lost to Reds. I’m not so sure that’s true, and at the very least, they’re doing Chariots a gross injustice. Plus, they’re overlooking another pair of worthy contenders (okay, yes, I couldn’t find a lot going in ’81):

Das Boot – The ultimate submarine movie, and Wolfgang Petersen’s masterpiece
Raiders of the Lost Ark – The one movie of 1981 that everyone has seen and loved should have taken the prize

1976 – They say . . .

Rocky should have lost to Taxi Driver, Network, All the President’s Men, or Bound for Glory. I’ve only seen the first three of those, but I’d definitely agree with any of them. Of course, the trouble is, they’ve picked too many candidates on this one, and I couldn’t nose up anymore worthy contenders. Of those choices, I’d have gone with Taxi Driver.

So that’s “Time” and their top ten Oscar snubs . . . Here are the three that they forgot. How could they?

1956The Searchers loses to Around the World in Eighty Days. The latter had length, budget, and a boatload of celebrities going for it, but the former is the greatest Western ever made, and the movie John Ford and John Wayne should have won their Oscars for.

1958Vertigo loses to Gigi. Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest thriller not only went unnominated for Best Picture, it lost one of its only two nominations to the shallow, utterly insipid and lackluster Gigi, which won an outrageous nine awards. The Academy will never live that one down.

1994Forrest Gump wins over Ed Wood, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption, and Pulp Fiction. I mean, sure, Forrest Gump is cute and all, but come on. Maybe the voters just freaked out because they were drowning in too much quality cinema to make any kind of reasonable decision. I don’t know what happened. I just know it was wrong.

~ by Jared on March 2, 2011.

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