There’s a serious problem with the Academy Awards in that they often fail to recognize truly great cinema. Obviously the whole point of the Academy Awards is to weed out the very best movies of the year and the various elements of them – acting, directing, writing, cinematography etc. – and put a label on them that classifies them as the best. They do that every year and, in theory, it sounds like a good idea. But there’s a problem with that, because sometimes more than one of the greatest movies ever made come out in the same year. When Network, All the President’s Men, and Taxi Driver all come out in the same year, two of them are going to be disgraceful snubs, simply because – to quote Highlander, which was also snubbed at the Oscars – there can only be one. Plus, there’s this idea that the Oscar voters like to be political. So, they gave a bunch of nominations to The Post, a movie that wasn’t really all that great but did reflect the current political climate. Or there was that big standoff between Brokeback Mountain and Crash – one was about the struggles of gay people, the other was about the struggles of people of color. But Crash won because Crash was an ‘issues’ movie, whereas Brokeback Mountain – although it was a far finer film – was more progressive in that it was a regular romantic drama that just happened to be about a same sex couple. There’s a lot of problems with the Oscars system, which means a lot of great movies slip through the cracks. Here are the 10 worst snubs in Academy Award history.
10. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
Even Richard Attenborough said that E.T. should have won Best Picture – and he directed the movie that beat it, Gandhi. With E.T., Steven Spielberg gives us a beautiful coming of age story about a young boy who struggles with his personal life who has the empty void in his life filled by the arrival of a new friend. If that new friend wasn’t an alien and this small, quiet, touching drama film wasn’t a science fiction adventure blockbuster, then this movie would’ve been showered with Oscars. But the Academy’s voters frown upon aliens and science fiction and blockbusters. Why, though? This is a great movie. Spielberg draws on some of the common themes of his film in this touching sci-fi drama, such as family and parenthood and the lack of a father figure. It might be a movie about an alien, but it tells a very relatable human story. It might have gone on to become the highest grossing movie of all time (at the time), but it’s not a big blockbuster spectacle. It’s an alien movie like no other. The alien isn’t killing anyone or invading Earth with the rest of his species. For once, the alien is a nice guy who touches the hearts of the people he meets (and the people who watch the movie). No Oscars? Gimme a break!
9. Annette Bening for American Beauty
American Beauty was the big cheese at the 72nd Academy Awards. It won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, but it also should’ve won Best Actress. The movie is really about Lester Burnham, the frustrated office worker played by Kevin Spacey who is fed up with his life and goes through a midlife crisis. But the movie is also about Annette Bening’s character, his wife Carolyn, who is nowhere near the callous witch that Lester makes her out to be. She has feelings, too! She’s just as frustrated and fed up with her life as Lester. She buys a gun and has an affair. Bening carries her performance in the movie to perfection. To be fair, the reason that Bening lost out on the award was because Hilary Swank won for Boys Don’t Cry, a movie that is intense, powerful, moving, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and made huge strides in society for the treatment and acceptance of transgender people, so they can be excused for that. But still, Bening’s performance was phenomenal. If only either of the two movies was released in a different year or the Academy was allowed to hand out a joint award. It’s a real shame that Bening didn’t win.
8. Stand By Me
Stephen King adaptations tend to be horror movies, because Stephen King stories tend to be horror stories. But occasionally, one of the non-horror stories he has written will be used as the basis for a truly beautiful drama film. It happened with The Shawshank Redemption, and it happened with Stand By Me. Stand By Me is easily one of the greatest coming of age films of all time. It captures, not only the feeling of being a kid with the best friends you’ll ever have, spending your days hanging out and finding yourself, but also the sense of nostalgia that you get from looking back on those days. It must have been nearly impossible to strike that balance – most movies can’t even accurately represent one of those emotional spectrums, let alone both! And yet, the only Academy Award nomination that this timeless classic got was for Best Adapted Screenplay – and it didn’t even win. The movie deserved that award and a bunch of others. Rob Reiner should’ve been given Best Director for his terrific work behind the camera and the unorthodox methods he used to make his four lead actors become friends in real life (that wording makes him sound like a creep – it wasn’t creepy, he just put them together for two weeks to play theater games). River Phoenix should’ve won for acting, too.
Many moviegoers complained about Drive, because it was marketed by the studio as an action thriller in the vein of The Fast and the Furious to get asses in seats. They showed the very few shots of cars driving fast and weapons being used for violence. So, what audiences weren’t expecting was a slick crime thriller with elements of the neo noir genre about a skilled getaway driver who becomes infatuated with his pretty neighbor and dedicates his life to protecting her and her son from her dangerous husband, who’s recently been released from prison. It’s a devilishly dark, beautifully shot, deeply engaging movie, regardless of whether or not it has as much action or shootouts or explosions as The Fast and the Furious movies. The only downside is the extent of graphic violence in the movie, but if that sort of thing is your cup of tea, then it’s not a downside at all! Drive not only failed to win any Oscars, but it was only nominated for one. Do you know which category it was? Best Sound Editing! You’re kidding! What about Best Director, Best Actor for Ryan Gosling for bringing a new icon to the screen, Best Adapted Screenplay – hell, Best Picture, for God’s sake! Come on, man!
6. Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese’s big debut movie Mean Streets deserved to win a raft of Oscars. It is one of the finest films of all time, as it captures the dangerous lifestyle of small time crooks and the look and feel of its Little Italy setting perfectly. These are the kinds of people and situations around which Scorsese spent his whole childhood, and when he finally had the funding to make a feature length movie, he poured all of those experiences into a masterful work of cinematic art. He filled Mean Streets with all the themes that would permeate through his later work, in a very raw and personal way: Catholic guilt, troubled romantic relationships, troubled family dynamics, all of his favorites. Mean Streets was so raw and real and powerful and honest that it changed the face of America cinema. After that, all films strived for that. None of that fake Hollywood crap. How could the Academy, in their right minds, neglect to reward it for that? It makes no sense! James Gandolfini ranked it among his greatest influences. He said, “I saw that ten times in a row…” Entertainment Weekly ranked Mean Streets as the seventh greatest movie of all time – and it didn’t get a single nomination at the Oscars! Come on!
5. Alfred Hitchcock
There’s a long history of the Academy neglecting to reward immensely talented directors, because by focusing on the films by year and taking each film on its individual merits, they can lose sight of a director’s full wardrobe of talents that are displayed across their entire body of work. They end up panicking that they’ve failed to recognize this director’s talents and award them for a movie that is far from their best. Martin Scorsese, who was snubbed for Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas, finally won Best Director for The Departed, and it was seen more as a lifetime achievement award than a recognition of his finest individual work. People thought the same about Steven Spielberg’s victory for Saving Private Ryan. Unfortunately, there are some directors who don’t even get this honor, and among them is the great Alfred Hitchcock – the first name that is brought up in any film studies course. Hitchcock was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director no less than five times – for Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, and Psycho – but he never won, which is a tragic shame. He made so many other great movies, too, that he wasn’t even nominated for: Dial M for Murder, Vertigo, The Birds, a whole bunch of them.
4. The Shawshank Redemption
It’s hard to picture a world that doesn’t love The Shawshank Redemption – since it is now a lot of people’s favorite movie of all time and it’s long been listed on IMDb as the greatest movie ever made – but when it was first released back in 1994, the movie was both a critical and commercial flop. The initial failure of the film was attributed to competition from fellow movie releases Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction (seriously, 1994 was a hell of a year for film – Clerks came out, too!) and a general decline in interest in prison films. But there’s clearly been a pivot on that in the last few years, since the movie has gone on to become a delayed classic. It may not have won any Academy Awards when it failed critically and commercially, but it was nominated for more than you’d think from a movie considered to be a flop. It was nominated for seven Oscars, which was the most nods for any Stephen King movie adaptation at the time. This included nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor for the great Morgan Freeman, Best Adapted Screenplay for Frank Darabont (who also directed), and Best Cinematography for Roger Deakins (who’s been the best cinematographer in the game for decades and only finally won his first Oscar this year for Blade Runner 2049) – but it won none of them.
3. Stanley Kubrick
Can you believe this? Stanley Kubrick never won an Oscar! His name is synonymous with beautiful cinematography and painstaking attention to detail in order to create intricate masterpieces. Over the course of almost forty years of hard work, he directed the swords and sandals epic Spartacus, the darkly comic Vladimir Nabokov adaptation Lolita, the timely Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove, the science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, the harrowing dystopian shocker A Clockwork Orange, the underrated historical gem Barry Lyndon, the frightful, cold-hearted Stephen King adaptation The Shining, the Vietnam War black comedy Full Metal Jacket, and the disturbing erotic thriller Eyes Wide Shut, and he should’ve won the Academy Award for Best Director for every single one of them – especially his true masterpieces, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon. All of Kubrick’s movies use color and light and dark humor and unusual cinematography techniques to evoke certain emotions and tell stories in a way they’ve never been told before. He’s one of the most uniquely talented and influential and ingenious directors who has ever lived, and during his life, the Academy should’ve rewarded him for that, at least once. Come on, you could’ve given him one! He made audiences question reality with 2001 and instead, the Academy gave the Best Director award to Carol Reed for helming Oliver!.
2. The Godfather for Best Supporting Actor
Sometimes at the Oscars, there’s a clear frontrunner that you just know will take home most of the awards. In 1997, this was Titanic. In 2003, it was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. But sometimes there are two frontrunners, and the awards ceremony becomes an intense race between the two to see which categories they’ll take home the gold for. In 1998, it was Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love. In 2005, it was Crash and Brokeback Mountain (and many critics say that the wrong film won Best Picture in that case). And in 1972, it was Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic masterpiece The Godfather and Bob Fosse’s glitzy musical Cabaret. Now, Cabaret is fine, but The Godfather is now widely regarded to be the greatest movie ever made. Marlon Brando deservingly got the Academy Award for Best Actor, but Joel Grey from Cabaret won Best Supporting Actor when three terrific performances from The Godfather – Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and James Caan, who all easily deserved the award – were also nominated in the category. So, even for breathing life into the iconic characters of Michael Corleone, Sonny Corleone, and Tom Hagen, neither actor was rewarded.
1. Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver was nominated for Best Picture at the 49th Academy Awards, but lost to Rocky. Rocky is great, but dammit, Taxi Driver is one of the most disturbing, powerful, socially relevant, and engaging masterpieces in the history of cinema. Robert De Niro was nominated for Best Actor for breathing life in Travis Bickle, one of the most deeply compelling and unsettlingly watchable antiheroes ever put on film, but he failed to win. At the age of just 14, Jodie Foster became one of the youngest ever nominees for Best Supporting Actress for her dark, gritty, tragically realistic portrayal of a teenage prostitute on the dangerous streets of New York, but she failed to win. Bernard Herrmann’s iconic music was nominated for Best Original Score, shortly after his death, but he failed to win. Are you seeing a pattern here? Taxi Driver got totally snubbed, through and through. Taxi Driver is one of the best movies to never win an Oscar. Martin Scorsese didn’t even get nominated – what the hell is that all about? It won the Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, it’s been preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry, it has a near-perfect Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%, it’s on the lists of the greatest movies of all time compiled by Time magazine, the AFI, Empire magazine, the Writers Guild of America ranked Paul Schrader’s screenplay among the best ever written – so why no Oscars?