By John H. Foote
It happens, though truly one has to wonder why? How can an Academy made up of film people, experts, one would hope in their field, miss the best films of the year? How do inferior films get a Best Picture nomination over clearly greater films?
Moving through Academy history some of the greatest films in the history of the cinema have been snubbed for Best Picture, and who knows why?
Here are the twenty best films snubbed for nominations as Best Picture, an asteroid marks this that were the best of their year, in my humble opinion.
The King of Kings (1927)
This reverential silent film about Jesus Christ, directed by Cecil B. Demille was the first truly great film about Christ and which set a template for all to follow. Though flawed, one cannot deny the love and craftsmanship with which it was created. Demille studied the paintings of the masters to capture the look and images he wanted in the film, which Scorsese did, to greater effect, sixty one years later with The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988). H.B. Warner, though too old at fifty to portray Jesus does a fine job; he looks otherworldly, a man of peace, he pulls it off. Years later the Academy would honour Demille with a Best Picture award for his circus soap opera, The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)…payback for missing this one.
City Lights (1931)
By 1931, movies were speaking, which might explain why this masterpiece was left out of the Best Picture race. However it does not explain why perhaps the greatest comedy in movie history, directed and starring Chaplin was ignored! This was his masterpiece, his greatest work! Defying Hollywood, he believed in his art which was silent cinema and he believed audiences would come to see him in silent movies. He was right, and Chaplin did not speak in a film until 1940, thirteen years after the creation of sound. The final image of him in this film, smiling through tears of joy is possibly the most moving image in film history. A comedic work of art. A stunner.
King Kong (1933)
Not a single nomination, not even for visual effects??? Not even a special award for achievement, the insult dealt this masterpiece is still stinging today. A huge box office smash, critically acclaimed fantasy film, audiences saw what many could not imagine. A taut, tightly directed masterpiece about the great ape encountered on a lost island, brought back to New York where he wages war on top the Empire State Building. Just superb, and it holds up. The Peter Jackson directed remake of 2005 should have been a Best Picture nominee too.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
They told Disney an animated feature would never sell, audiences wanted live action. So he started his own studio where no one could say no to him, and never did again, and created this wonderful film, filled with colour, songs, magic and little old men who collectively love Snow White. Breathtaking, still, it filled the screen with imagination and beauty, capturing the hearts of generations since.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Said to be, arguably the greatest musical ever made, but the Academy thought not. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen co-directed this wildly entertaining, energetic musical that to this day is a knockout. An entertaining, and accurate depiction of his sound impacted silent cinema stars, the film is both comedy and love story. Kelly’s signature scene, dancing with pure joy in the rain is one of cinema’s most joyous sequences. Donald O’Connor is a stand out in support, his wild, seemingly improvised dancing breathtaking to behold. Incredible.
The Searchers (1956)
Arguably the greatest western ever made, directed by the great cinematic poet John Ford, who was famous for his westerns. Ford beautifully married his characters, his images to the land with an uncanny eye to capture the harsh, rugged beauty of the west. John Wayne, in a grand, towering performance simmering with rage goes against type as a racist, murdering soldier without a war. When his brothers family is slaughtered, his nieces taken by the marauding natives, he gives chase, not knowing how it will twist him morally as a man. For years he searches, intent on killing her when he does, though he does not realize until he sees her, he finds his humanity on this quest. Wayne is astounding in the film, the centre of the hurricane in what might be Ford’s greatest film. Not a single nomination, which is criminal.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Yes really. One of cinema’s greatest comedies was passed over for Best Picture nod despite rave reviews, strong box office, a much loved cast and great filmmaker. A farce, the film deals with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, on the run from the mob, disguising as women musicians and hiding among beautiful girls. Yes we know they are guys, but that is part of the running gag, because no one in the film suspects. Anyone who doubt the talents of Marilyn Monroe might want to see this as she displays dazzling comic timing. Very funny, nicely acted, it stands up as one of the greatest comedy films ever made.
Never been a Hitchcock fan, certainly not a believer of this nonsense he was a genius film director, but he nailed horror with this bold film that would alter the face of the horror genre forevermore. No longer was the monster a supernatural creature, in this film he is a pleasant looking boy next door who runs a quiet hotel. Norman Bates is insane, but no one suspects under they come under his blade. The shower scene is a masterpiece of direction and editing, and Hitchcock’s direction is utterly perfect. Shot in less than thirty days, in black and white for less than $900,000, he learned a great deal from television. Horror was never the same.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Kubrick re-invented the language of the cinema with his stunning images in this science fiction masterpiece that demands much of its audience, all the while inviting them to make of it what they will. Interpretation is everything within this film. Set at various times through history, we watch the dawning of intelligence and its advancements through time. Scored with great classical music, the images of movement in space sing. One of the most visually stunning films ever made, and let’s not forget, man had not yet landed on the moon when Kubrick created this film. It dares, and dares you to go on a journey. Take it.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
With Star Wars (1977) burning up the box office, the film still causing lines around the block six months after its release, the eyes of Hollywood were focused on Steven Spielberg’s new film, his first since Jaws (1975), this epic wonder of a film dealt with man’s first contact with extraterrestrial life. Told from the view of a blue collar worker, all paths lead to Devils Tower where scientists have gathered to greet aliens. The final forty minutes of the film are miraculous, bathed in bright light and wonder, as our race comes face to face with one beyond the stars. Eight nominations, including Best Director, but the best film of 1977, this one, was ignored.
The Shining (1980)
When The Shining was released in the summer of 1980, I am not sure that audiences knew what to make of it. Kubrick has taken Stephen King’s great novel and turned it into a great film, but he did so by altering much of the book. Kubrick tells his horror story patiently, with deliberation as the hotel closes in on Jack Nicholson, slowly being driven insane by the ghosts who reside there year-round. Nicholson is brilliant, walking the line of frightening and over the top without stepping over. What makes the film frightening is the perversity within, which original audiences mistook for comedy. They might laugh when Nicholson comes through the door, axe in hand screaming “Here’s Johnny” but how funny is it if they are inside that room with him? A great film, ahead of its time.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars (1977) was nominated for ten and won seven Academy Awards. How is it the sequel, critically acclaimed, hailed as superior to the first, darker with a drop dead brilliant twist is not a Best Picture nominee? The sequel, directed by Irvin Kershner not Lucas, jumps from ice planet Hoth, the swamp planet Degobah, to the city in the clouds, thrilling audiences with its look, its action, and yes, the story. It moves faster than the first, is darker at its core, and altogether brilliant. This empire was robbed.
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Steven Spielberg, smarting from being snubbed for the inferior The Color Purple (1985), licked his wounds making this film at the suggestion of David Lean. Based on the book by Ballard, an account of his experiences in a Japanese POW camp. Jim, a tow headed arrogant ten-year-old child born into immense wealth, is separated from his parents and left behind when they flee. Forced to eke out an existence in the camp, he spends four years conning, running, making deals to feed himself and stay within the inner circle. Beautifully filmed, acted, directed, written and scored, the picture is one of his greatest, yet least seen works.
The Lion King (1994)
Surpassing the nominated Best Picture, Beauty and the Beast (1994) but incredibly not a Best Picture nominee, The Lion King (1994) is a grand, sweeping adventure drawing on Hamlet and Richard III for its narrative. There are so many homages within the film, the best of them the startling Riefenstahl sequence with Scar and his army of hyena minions. The song score is perfect, the voice work among the best in the history of animation. Just a stunning work of art that impacted generations, and will do so for years to come.
Toy Story (1995)
The first feature length computer generated image movie was this beautifully created fairy tale. When humans are not around, our toys come to life, well they are always alive but have their own world when alone. In this world Woody the Cowboy (Tom Hanks) is toy number one until he is replaced by Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). Toys from all of our childhoods are in the film, except Barbie who finally showed up in Part 3. The animation is breathtaking, the story crisp and original and the voice talents bring it all to vivid life. Embraced by a generation, destined to be so for years to come, each sequel surpassed the previous with the third film, finally nominated for Best Picture.
Paul Thomas Anderson takes a risk with each new film, yet manages to make it work. He might be the greatest director under fifty working today. That was never more accurate a statement than in describing Magnolia (1999), his brash, gutsy film about the interconnected lives of a group of people live in Los Angeles, all connected somehow to a game show host dying of cancer. A sensational cast headed by an electrifying, never better Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Melora Waters, and Jason Robards brings this superb film to life. You might not believe what you see, but it has all been foretold to you, pay attention to the Binlical quotes in the bar. The camera never seems to stop moving as it prowls LA.
Far from Heaven (2002)
Todd Haynes pays homage to the superb films of Douglas Sirk in this outstanding film anchored by an astounding Julianne Moore performance. Set in affluent fifties suburbia, Cathy (Moore) has it all, great marriage, children, nice home, money earning husband and loyal friends. Her world crashes in when she finds her husband, a haunted Dennis Quaid, in the arms of another man. Lonely, afraid she finds solace in her friendship with her towering, gentle black landscaper, portrayed with quiet dignity by Dennis Haysbert. She then makes the mistake of falling in love with the man. Unsettling, powerful and deeply heartbreaking because two soulmates cannot have each other. Beautifully acted, directed, designed and scored.
Into the Wild (2007)
Seeing this film for the first time at TIFF, I knew I was watching something very special, a searing work of art. Based on the true story of Christopher McCandless, who dropped out of life and society to live off the land, heading for Alaska, the film follows that narrative very closely. Sean Penn directed the film and wrote the script, casting Emile Hirsch in the role of a lifetime as Chris. Though we might admire his integrity and dedication to his fierce morals, it is his ego that undoes him in the the wild. Beautiful supporting work for Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart, Marcia Gay Harden, and William Hurt, who is devastating in his final scene. Hirsch, snubbed for Best Actor is miraculous as Chris, as astonishing performance. Easily among the best five I saw in 2007, it should have been there with eight or nine nominations.
How does a bonafide masterpiece, and Zodiac is a masterpiece, such as this get completely ignored? Not a single nomination? This film, directed by David Fincher, is among the greatest crime dramas ever made as well as being the finest film about newspaper reporting since the masterful All the Presidents Men (1976). In the late sixties a taunting serial killer began slaughtering citizens in and around SAN Francisco. He sent notes to the press, taunted the police looking for him, and was never caught. However, a young cartoonist became obsessed with the killer and hunted him down, finally coming face to face with him in a hardware store, a free man. Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhall and Mark Ruffalo are outstanding in this masterful film. That it received not a single nomination is downright criminal.
The Dark Knight (2008)
The first comic book adaptation that was art actually was the reason the Academy went from five Best Picture nominees to as many as ten, to include blockbusters! The Dark Knight was sensational on every level, a tight, pulse pounding film about Batman trying to stop the Joker from creating chaos in Gotham City. Heath Ledger won an Oscar as the Joker, one of the great supporting performances in film history, while Christian Bale nailed Batman. Gary Oldman gave the film great heart as Gordon while Michael Caine was soulful as Alfred. A perfect film experience, it is shameful it was not nominated, worse that it did not win. Slumdog Millionaire? Seriously?
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.