A great article by Rob Nijman.
Compiling a short and particularly subjective list of five of the all-time best movies ever to be overlooked by the Academy in the Best Picture category is, frankly, all too easy when you incorporate the works of one Martin Scorsese. He would irrevocably appear at least three times, and that’s going easy on the lot that allocates those little golden figurines. His first picture – or rather masterpiece, and probably defining work of the decade – to receive a much-deserved nomination neatly jump-started the long and tragic relationship between the director and the Academy of Motion Pictures And Arts And Stuff that was to brush him aside for years to come, was of course Taxi Driver (1976).
In the very year Travis Bickle lost out to the posthumously awarded Peter Finch, Scorsese’s unnerving tale of an afflicted loner in the mean streets of New York City lost out to, you’ve guessed it, a boxer named Balboa. Indeed, the story of the underdog who nearly came out on top in an inspiring match against the world’s greatest was grossly misinterpreted by our friends with the envelopes, as they decided to stuff as much as three (!) Oscars in Rocky’s leathery mittens – to Taxi Driver’s zero. (You would half expect Oscar (1991) to be buried in statues in a similarly misguided and hideously derailed train of thought).
In an epic attempt to one-up that snub however, the Academy did Scorsese one better a few years later and decided to pick the one movie in this world that might actually be a bigger masterpiece of his, only to have it then lose out to a story about a bunch of ordinary people doing all kinds of random stuff. Yep, when Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (1980) won four Oscars, Raging Bull only collected two – none of which where for either the movie or the director. This, of course, was pretty outrageous. The Academy was far from done, though.
Almost ten years later, when the one crime saga that could possibly rival The Godfather – both parts one and two – was a shoo-in for that year’s title, they crowned their potentially deliberate streak of snubbyness by ignoring Goodfellas (1990) altogether – save Joe Pesci’s supporting role – and literally showering Kevin Costner’s hobby project Dances with Wolves with golden statues, many of which could, would and should have been on the windowsills of Marty’s New York offices. But, you know, one musn’t frown. It’s only an additional 16 years before some justice was brought, when the powers that were saw it fit to pick The Departed (2006) as the proverbial Johnny-come-lately.
So. Anyway. Scorsese isn’t part of this list, is what I’m saying. Neither is Orson Welles, for similar reasons. Because why would you give one of the best movies ever an Academy Award for Best Picture? It makes no sense. Only history can be the judge of that, why burden the poor members of the Academy..
5. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)
Remember An American in Paris (1951), the gallivanting musical that earned its place in a long and reputable list of Hollywood musicals to receive tons of Oscars? Neither do I. Well, I do, but that’s besides the point. Not until the two-figure Oscar fest that was West Side Story (1961) were the Hollywood Hills so alive with the sound of music as when Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron shone in the Paris based love story, scooping up as much as six of those little golden fellas. And that’s just fine, obviously – I’m not against musicals per se. However, when Marlon Brando, possibly the finest actor of all time, graced the stages of A Streetcar Named Desire, it would appear the Academy did nearly everything to ignore the fact his Stanley Kowalski literally lit the screens on fire* (not, in fact, literally – although it has been rumoured). They even went so far as handing out acting statuettes for Karl Malden, Vivien Leigh and Kim Hunter (who all starred in Streetcar), but left out the Grand Prize for Brando. And that’s also fine I guess, as the Academy has always been known for not rewarding the actual best performance which potentially made them even more legendary (see, for instance, the ridiculously various snubs received by Newman and Pacino). But when one of the most memorable movies of the decade is overlooked, it’s nice to see at least the lead actor got what was coming to him (see, for instance, De Niro in Raging Bull and Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood). Or, you know, the other way around – when a single performance is hailed as the best thing to happen to movies since Technicolor, at the very least reward the resulting movie. With A Streetcar Named Desire, the Academy failed at both.
4. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
The most interesting writer/director working these last few years? The best written crime saga since Goodfellas? The most memorable supporting role of the past decades? Well, it’s all here, and then some. Combined it’s probably one the best movies of the entire 21st century, and one hell of a contender for the 2009 Awards..
But wait, don’t you have to be nominated to compete for that ultimate movie honour? That’s right, the 2009 Academy Awards were a Curious Case indeed. Between some old guy being interviewed by some posh dude, a gay guy trying to run for office, a verleptes Nazi woman being read to in between nude scenes, and some Indian kid who wanted to be with Freida Pinto, there apparently was no room for knights, dark or otherwise. The Academy, ultimately ashamed of their shortcomings that year, decided to stretch the shortlist for Best Pictures nominees from five to ten for the 2010 Awards – just so it wouldn’t happen again. In other words, they wanted to present their honourable jury members with an honest chance to do the snubbing, the ignoring and the general abandoning of those movies actually nominated, instead of getting rid of the year’s best prior to the ceremonies.
Let’s not blame the Indian kid though
3. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
If 1942 taught us anything, besides your obvious life lessons from the hubbub of the contemporary geopolitical world, it was this: the Academy doth frown on film-noir. Flagrantly all too busy with ignoring Citizen Kane that year, the assorted ladies and gentlemen (probably mostly gentlemen, it being the forties and all) of the honorary membership organization (finally, an Academy synonym!), in their epic wisdom, decided not only to give the majority vote to How Green Was My Valley, but did so to the detriment of The Maltese Falcon (1941). That’s right, if Sam Spade couldn’t beat a Welsh family of miners (!), what were Orson Welles’s chances – honestly? The Academy didn’t stop there though. No sir. Wait for the 1945 Awards. When the venerable Edward G. Robinson starred in none other than Billy Wilder’s much-appraised Double Indemnity (1944), a movie many consider to be top of the film-noir list, they decided to go with Bing Crosby musical Going My Way – a title that suggests they were just showing off that year.
2. BLADE RUNNER (1982)
Remember the truly great of the year 1982? The ones worth watching and re-watching ‘till the animated cows come home? We had Steven Spielberg rendering entire generations speechless and sobbing by having a three-foot troll flying bikes and phoning home, Paul Newman making a strong case for the ball dropping tradition of the Academy when it comes to dispensing Best Actor awards in The Verdict, and Sir Richard Attenborough making a really, really strong case for quarrying your own salt in Gandhi. Yeah, tough nut to crack, that one. The real question however, is “Who Cares!?” With Blade Runner incomprehensibly without so much as a nomination, they might as well have declared the 1983 Academy Awards Missing. A proper drag, that one. And not the good kind, like Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie.
1. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
The 1995 Academy Awards probably had the toughest of choices to date, though. Between the near-flawless follow-up to a debut that saw Tarantino become the most influential (and pop culturally worshipped) director of the 1990’s, and the impeccable Darabont-translated Stephen King novella that would go on to be all-time number one as chosen by both Empire readers and IMDb voters, this show had the most interesting bout since Chinatown faced off against Part 2 of The Godfather. Shawshank or Pulp Fiction, Pulp Fiction or Shawshank – movie fans around the world would soon find out. Ladies and gentlemen, the envelope please. The 1995 Best Picture Oscar goes to…
*inexplicably missing here: Saving Private Ryan‘s loss to Shakespeare in Love. What happened there?!