When the Best Picture Isn’t the “Best Picture”

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Over the last six weeks or so MovieFanFare ran a trio of Academy Award-related polls–on non award-winning foreign films, films that failed to receive a Best Picture nomination, and Best Picture losers that may have deserved the award over the eventual winners–that elicited a number of comments from movie buffs who were, shall we say, less than happy with some…okay, a lot of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ selections over the years. With last week’s upset (to some) win of Kathryn Bigelow’s acclaimed but little-seen The Hurt Locker over James Cameron’s latest box-office champion, Avatar, for Hollywood’s highest honor still fresh in people’s minds, it seems like a good time to talk about what it takes to get a Best Picture nomination, why certain films and genres seem to get no respect, and to review some of the most contentious contests in Oscar history.

It’s pretty much a given at this point that the Academy voters tend to favor drama over comedy, emotional character studies over slam-bang actioners (unless the studio that made it needs a box-office boost), and serious, adult-themed (but not adult: only one X-rated movie has ever taken home the Best Picture award) over children’s or family-oriented fare (again, there’s been only one G-rated winner). Some movies are seen as too controversial to be considered, whole categories such as science fiction and horror tend to be overlooked altogether, and it takes a very special–or popular–foreign-language film to garner a nomination…after all, Oscar Night is known as “the night Hollywood salutes itself” (as opposed to the other 364?). With these limitations working against them, it’s not all that surprising that such cinema notables as A Night at the Opera, Bringing Up Baby, Seven Samurai, Some Like It Hot, King of Hearts, Last Tango in Paris, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Das Boot, The Killer, Trainspotting, The Matrix, and The Hangover, to name just 12, were bypassed.

Second-guessing like this is, of course, easy now that we have decades of history to look back over. Still, let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting campaigns :

1930-31 (Yes, that’s how the first six years were listed):  the early sagebrush rouser Cimarron, RKO’s salute to the settling of the Oklahoma Territory, won out in a field of five that included a film version of the cliched stage tearjerker East Lynne and an adaptation of the then-popular comic strip Skippy. On the outside looking in were Universal’s seminal monster flicks Dracula and Frankenstein; Warner’s groundbreaking gangster tales Little Caesar and The Public Enemy; and the film some consider Charlie Chaplin’s masterwork, City Lights.

1932-33: This is the year that has stumped more than a few “pub quiz” takers trying to name all the Best Picture winners. The golden man went to the barely-remembered Cavalcade, based on a Noel Coward stiff-upper-lip stage play, over fellow nominees 42nd Street, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, and The Private Life of Henry VIII. Not even nominated? How about the MGM all-star comedy/drama Dinner at Eight; the Marx Brothers’ classic Duck Soup; and the original King Kong!

Citizen-Kane11941: Another year cineastes wince at, 1941 saw John Ford’s well-made but hokey mining melodrama How Green Was My Valley finish ahead of perhaps the greatest motion picture ever, Citizen Kane. With the studios still fearful of offending Kane’s barely disguised subject, media mogul William Randolph Hearst, Orson Welles and company were probably lucky to take home the Best Original Screenplay award, their one win out of nine nominations. But even with Kane out of the running, does How Green Was My Valley hold up compared to losers The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York or Suspicion, or the not-nominated Meet John Doe? Not really.

1944: With World War II still going on, dark and moody tales weren’t as good for homefront morale as heartwarming sentimentality. Thus, Going My Way with crooning priest Bing Crosby took home an award that could have just as easily have gone to the proto-film noir dramas Double Indemnity or Gaslight…not to mention the snubbed Laura or one of the finest horror/fantasy works ever, The Curse of the Cat People.

1946: Postwar moviegoers still wanted a return to “normalcy,” which explains the feel-good selection of The Best Years of Our Lives (see, Hollywood cares about returning veterans!) over such darker fare as The Big Sleep, Gilda, and The Postman Always Rings Twice, all overlooked. As for the quintessential “feel-good film,”  Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life,  it was nominated but lost (Sorry, Frank. but you won twice in the ’30s).

1951: A Streetcar Named Desire took three out of the four acting awards, with relative newcomer Marlon Brando losing out to veteran Humphrey Bogart, who perhaps won for a body of work more than his admittedly good performance in The African Queen. Neither film took home the night’s top prize, though (Queen wasn’t even nominated). That honor went to the so-so musical An American in Paris, with Gene Kelly. Which is funny, because…

1952: …the musical that would become synonymous with Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain, didn’t make the final five the following year.  What’s more, the landmark frontier drama High Noon (whose anti-Red Scare undercurrent may have hit a wrong note with nervous voters) lost out to Cecil B. DeMille’s cotton candy circus opus The Greatest Show on Earth.

1955:  Starting a still-extant trend of ignoring films aimed at the then-nascent youth market, two James Dean films–East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause–are skipped over for Marty, a low-budget adaptation of a written-for-TV drama (and still one of my all-time favorite movies, regardless).

1958: Did Hollywood ever take the suspense genre seriously?  Apparently not, because Touch of Evil and Vertigo didn’t even compete for the Oscar that went to Gigi, a cheery and upbeat musical about a young French girl whose family raises her to be a high-priced mistress (no kidding).

1960/1963: Speaking of Hitchcock, those nominations he might have gotten for his shock classics Psycho and The Birds went, respectively, to the big-budget disappointments The Alamo and Cleopatra, in hopes of boosting their take at the ticket booth.

1967-1969: Similarly, how did the beastly musical Doctor Dolittle get the nomination that The Dirty Dozen and In Cold Blood didn’t, did the next year’s winner Oliver! deserve it over an out-of-the-running 2001: A Space Odyssey, and did no one at the Academy even see Easy Rider, whose rightful nomination went to…Hello, Dolly!?

1973: The Sting was a fun and charming caper comedy…but was it the equal of American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, or The Exorcist (all nominated)? How about The Last Detail, Last Tango in Paris, or Mean Streets (the first true Martin Scorsese oversight)? The betting money says not.

1976: Scorsese’s second snub came three years later,  as Taxi Driver joined All the President’s Men and Network in losing to literal and figurative underdog Rocky.

Star-Wars11977: Okay, maybe Star Wars isn’t a perfect movie (George is, after all, still tinkering with it), but to ignore it for Annie Hall? Again, Woody Allen’s best film was still two years in the future…

1979: …when Manhattan wouldn’t even get nominated, and when Apocalypse Now would lose to the two-hanky divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer.

1980-1989: Ordinary People won over Raging Bull, Chariots of Fire over Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gandhi over E.T., Terms of Endearment over both The Big Chill and The Right Stuff, and Driving Miss Daisy over Do the Right Thing.  Quite a decade, huh?

1990: Scorsese again, with his mobster magnum opus Goodfellas coming up short against Kevin Costner’s revisionist Western, Dances with Wolves.

1994: Pulp Fiction was bold, innovative, raw and violent. Forrest Gump was safe, predictably heartwarming, and had a mentally challenged lead role;  Which do you think the Academy went with?

1995: Academy voters seem to always be impressed when actors turn director (see Oridnary People and Dances with Wolves above), which some say is the main reason Mel Gibson’s Braveheart beat out Apollo 13 and Babe, not to mention the overlooked Se7en, Toy Story and The Usual Suspects.

Fargo-Poster1996/1998: The “sweeping period romance” vote cannot be underestimated. How else could one explain The English Patient winning over nominee Fargo (by Joel and Ethan Coen) and reject Trainspotting, or Shakespeare in Love’s triumph against rival WWII sagas Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line and the overlooked future cult classic The Big Lewbowski (also from the Coen Brothers)?

1999: It’s still kind of premature to say that the year’s top film, American Beauty, won’t have much staying power with movie fans’ affections, but it doesn’t seem to have made as big an impression as two equally adventurous ’99 titles–Being John Malkovich and The Matrix–that couldn’t even make it into the final five nominees.

And if the verdict is still out on American’s Beauty’s future, it’s probably too early to say much about the first decade of the 21st century…except that no one seems to be able to figure out how Crash managed its 2005 win over Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Walk the Line, or even Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. One thing is clear, though. There are certain types of movies that have the Oscar odds stacked against them before their premiere, and while the Academy Awards have managed to do a relatively good job of rewarding the best in cinema over their history, there will always be room for disagreement…even with 10 Best Picture nominees a year.

For a complete listing of Academy Award winners and nominees available on home video, click here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=582832218 Mike Hartman

    I still don’t get what was so great about Avatar, I just didn’t feel connected. Maybe all that flashy technology pushed me away from the story..

    Any MFF buffs want to weigh in?

  • ron

    I went into The Hurt Locker with great expectations and came out of it seriously disappointed. I served in Vietnam and I didn’t appreciate the main character’s individuality in regards to those in his squad. His shameless disregard for their safety was reprehensible and someone with those characteristics would not have lasted long with his fellow soldiers. It was disgusting to watch him “perform” with utter comtempt for the rest of the squad. Lousy movie!!!

  • Sandra

    I’m disappointed every year. I don’t know why I even bother to look.

  • Greg

    Although I am a big fan of Goodfellas, I believe Dances with Wolves was correctly chosen as Best Picture. I am also one the few people I know who are not fans of Pulp Fiction. I believe the Academy got it right, when they chose Forest Gump as Best Picture. It is my favorite film. Pulp Fiction is the only Quinton Tarantino, I do not enjoy.

  • Greg

    That was supossed to read the only Quintin Taratino film I do not enjoy.

  • Darrell

    Inglorious Bastards was the best film of the year!

  • Ellen Urie

    I lost interest in watching the Awards when Johnny Depp was passed over in “Pirates” for Sean Penn. Someone told me it was because Penn was passed over the year before, so they were making that up to him. What difference does it make if a film is a comedy? It was a gigantic hit, & ha should have won.

  • Sandra

    In my humble opinion, I think “Marty” was the better movie. Maybe Dean would have been oscar material someday, but he seemed like a kid throwing tantrums in “Rebel Without a Cause” and “East of Eden”.

    I think “Goodfellas” had it all over “Dances with Wolves”.

    And as for 2001: a Space Odyssey, well we all know that Hollywood likes its science fiction only in cartoons and/or animations. (think avatar)

  • Rob Bresler

    It may be hard for another generation to appreciate Best Years of Our Lives (1946). It is neither dark nor vulgar, but a painfully honest telling of the difficulties men faced returning from war to country that they couldn’t completely recognize. What makes a great picture? In Best Years you have the crisp direction of William Wyler, the superb cinematography of Gregg Toland, the script of Robert E. Sherwood, the fine understated acting of the entire cast, and musical score of Hugo Friedhofer. The film touched and inspired audiences in 1946 to hope that despite the tragedy and horror of WWII, we could make this a better country. If that is what you call “feel-good,” so be it. I’ll admit it wasn’t Pulp Fiction, that must have thrilled and delighted you in 1994.

  • William Sommerwerck

    A “snub” is largely in the eye of the beholder, but it’s hard /not/ to see Gloria Swanson’s failure to win Best Actress for “Sunset Blvd.” as a snub, possibly because Hollywood felt Billy Wilder was biting the hand that fed him. It could have been a shallow one-note performance, but its subtlety and depth mark it as one of /the/ all-time great performances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1027776703 Joe OBrien

    Raiders of the Lost Ark shouldve won best picture for 1981…NO CONTEST!!! Ive lost ALL respect for the Academy Awards. Theyre a joke! pure politics, nothing more!!

  • BK

    I can’t imagine picking just one film as ‘Best Picture’. At times, is there really a ‘Best Picture’ worthy of a nomination or win? or is a film picked to have a finale to the show? In 1939, the year of so many classic films, ‘Gone With The Wind’ swept the awards, although so many other films of great quality could have been rewarded w/Best Picture; but why did ‘Titanic’ win over ‘LA Confidential’ or were there any films deserving in 1997? Subtle performances or films are not acknowledged by the Academy as often as the big budget epics especially in this era of supersized technical special effects, booming noise, or big money makers. The category, nomination or award should be skipped if there is not a film or performance of calibre to deserve it. Did anyone else notice that this yr. the “PC” announcement of, ‘The Oscar Goes To’ was changed back to, ‘The Winner Is’? As for the 1946 winner, ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’, it was a era, the men had just come back from another war & it was the first film to dramatize the adjustments of returning Vets. It is a POWERFUL film as are some of the others mentioned in the article. As Rob mentioned, the Best Picture is a combination of all the professionals & elements required to make a film. Although it has been going on since the creation of the Academy Awards by the Movie Moguls, there has been honest voting, tribute voting, popularity voting, and voting for the nominee who got the most promotion by the distributors or studios. What’s sad is the Golden Globes which were given w/a just & risky selection, have gone the way of the Oscars; having no balls in voting & selecton anymore!! Getting more & more BORING every year. PS: Ralph Finnes should have won the supporting actor award in ‘Schindler’s List’ as his performance was as chilling & terrifying as Anthony Hopkins in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. However, he was playing a real life Nazi, therefore the character could not be rewarded. This year a Nazi character did win, but from a dark comedy, which gave it permission. The voting should have nothing to do w/politics but the performance of a character by the actor. Although, I abhor violence & cruelty to man, animal, or environment; when I am at the cinema, I am affected by the plot & performances.

  • Dave

    The fact that Doris Day was not nominated for Love Me or Leave Me in 1955 still smarts and Judy Garland losing for A Star is Born the year before only because they hated her. Garland and the film were flawless as was James Mason.Sometimes it may be smart to lose Oscar but for DD never to have been nominated for her finest movie sucks big time. I understand it’s a club of snobs but a nomination for that kind of work was so obvious and to this day Love Me or Leave Me is DD’s and Cagney’s best work. They were a match made in Heaven with a script to match.

  • Dave

    One more horrible omission….Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, simply brilliant work by Marilyn. They are just so filled with self importance and it’s laughable at times. It’s no wonder more people watch the Golden Globes. If your going to wanna see glamour and forget the politics in Hollywood, Globes beats them hands down.

  • kathan

    I will never get over “TRASH” winning best picture (?) of 2005. Brokeback Mountain is one of the finest films ever made; it won best picture awards, etc. all over the world – oh, but in CA!! That “academy” deliberately denied BBM best picture/acting awards due to a vile and disgusting whispering campaigns by voters who did not even see it, critics’ w/their own agendas, and has beens yelling against it. Oh – and don’t forget homophobia – that played a LARGE part of it. BBM is a classic and will remain so. “TRASH” is nothing but a joke, forever known for stealing best picture from BBM. To give best picture to something sooo bad and unworthy is a disgrace which will never be forgotten.

  • billyb34usa

    My favorites who lost. Doris Day for Love Me or Leave Me, Judy Garland for A Star Is Born, Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard, Clark Gable for Gone With the Wind, James Dean for East of Eden, and others. Mrs. Miniver? Try watching that one. The Hurt Locker? It should have been Up In the Air…that hurt.

  • Mike

    You guys missed one in 1979. Bette Midler not getting the award for THE ROSE was a terrible crime.

  • Merlin

    In my opinion the film Color Purple should have taken the Oscar for best film over Out of Africa. It moved me in so many more ways than the winner. Another black film pushed aside.

  • Butch Knouse

    1973 is a perfect example. American Graffitti is still on the cable channels, while The Sting has dropped off of the earth.

    • Bruce Reber

      It seems that TCM shows that piece of dreck “The Way We Were”, with political opposites Babs and Bob living, loving and arguing from the 30′ to the 50′s more than either “American Graffiti” or “The Sting”, two of my favorites form ’73.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1421983987 Tony Hernandez

    The overlooked classics are part of what makes the Oscars so interesting. And what about the great movies that racked up nominations in all the major categories without getting a Best Picture nod? My Man Godfrey, Detective Story, Some Like It Hot, They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Aliens (ok only one major category, but certainly deserving of a nod), to name just a few.

  • Gary Koca

    I agree with about 1942 and 1944. Laura, for example, was a terrific film noir with Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney.

  • Robert

    Gloria Jean an actress in the 1940′s. How come NONE of her films are on DVD, VHS or anywhere??? She isn’t even listed in Maltins’ books. Why not.

  • richard Schiro

    in regards to Citizen Kane losing in 1941 to “How Green was My Valley”…what planet are you on??
    John Ford’s masterpiece won because it’s timeless and has THE main ingredient Kane lacked…LOVE

  • Wayne F.

    I can always find an excuse for why one picture beat another, but when I see three that outlasted another one I start to wonder. For me that’s 1952 and The Greatest Show on Earth. I would take Singin in the Rain, High Noon or The Quiet Man over that one. Cecil must have had some dirty pictures on somebody.

  • Melinda

    What about Gangs of New York. Why is Scorsese (spelling ?) always passed over?

  • Sam Fletcher

    I haven’t seen any of the 10 films nominated for the most recent Academy Awards but based on the reviews I read, awards from other groups, Hollywood buzz, and Las Vegas odds, I correctly picked in another online forum the winners of best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best song (having heard none of the nominees), best cinematography, and a couple of the other smaller rewards.

    That’s because you don’t have to see the films to figure out what is politically correct in Hollywood in a particular year.

  • Sam Fletcher

    The Big Sleep, Gilda, and The Postman Always Rings Twice are well made film noirs with strong scripts and performances. It’s A Wonderful Life is also a classic. But The Best Years of Our Life, suggested by a magazine article on returning GIs, was about this country adjusting to peace after 4 hard years of war that had affected every US citizen to one degree or another. That film spoke to the US and its veterans. Plus it’s a great film that still holds up well in the aftermath of subsequent wars. Best Years won its Oscar fair and square.

  • JS Randol

    Every time I hear Citizen Kane is best I get sick.
    A great movie from 1973 never mention is Day Of The Jackal – has everything. How about Mr. Roberts or Caine Mutiny. Best Years.. great choice. To Kill a Mocking Bird flys over Lawrance of Arabia. 1939 – great year but Gone With the Wind simply had a better subject but is not loved over Oa or Mr. Chips. It is too bad the awards do not take place 5 years after the year films first appear. A lot of winner would not stand the test of time. I always have time to watch Hannibal or anything with Newman.

  • Nubia775

    I’ll never understand why The Color Purple never won an award. That’s it, I don’t have a critique. It was an excellent film.

  • John Primavera

    No question about it, Brokeback Mountain was the
    real Best Picture winner. Compared to Crash, it’s
    an amazing movie of stature that will be regarded
    as a cutting edge piece of cinema. There never was
    a better character study in the Heath Ledger gay
    whose pain is mostly self-inflicted. He should
    have been awarded Best Actor prize as well. Those
    who derided this awesome movie without even seeing
    it are to be pitied. Their tunnel vision makes them losers for missing this brilliant film.
    Bravo to both male leads for having the courage
    to make this film. History will forever reward
    both Heath & Jake. They gave us truth.

  • Scottie Ferguson

    And the Winner should have been…
    “Blackmail” in 1929, “Libeled Lady” in 1936, “The Awful Truth” in 1937, “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1940, “Shadow of a Doubt” in 1943, “Laura” in 1944, “Boomerang” in 1947, “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” in 1948, “Sunset Boulevard” in 1950, “The Bad and the Beautiful” in 1952, “Giant” in 1956, “Vertigo” in 1958, “Anatomy of a Murder” in 1959, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in 1969, “The Godfather” in 1972, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” in 1973, “All the President’s Men” in 1976, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in 1978, “All That Jazz” in 1979, “Raging Bull” in 1980, and “Zodiac” in 2008.

  • Name Shane

    I will never get over 2 slights. One Bette Davis’ loss in the role of her career to Judy Holiday in 1950 is very disappointing. Secondly. Crash over Brokeback mountain. The Academy is too full of conservative members over 60 to appreciate any film that veers to far off their highway!

  • Name Shane

    Nubia775 – Color Purple still holds the record for most Acad nominations ( 13) with NO WIN!

  • Victor

    Trying to find the movie Samson & Delilah with Victor Mature do you have it?

  • Carl

    SAMSON & DELILAH will run on Turner Classic Movies on September 23. Check your schdule for time. It’s still not available on DVD.

  • Greg_M

    “2001: a space Odyssey” wasn’t nominated. It’s a great film, but many don’t like it and many of those voting that year didn’t get it. Many also feel it’s not a complete film with a story – and it isn’t. But it did have stunning visuals

    “Oliver” is a work of art – one of the best films musicals – the musical numbers alone are up their with the best of MGM and a much better film than “Funny Girl” which loses it’s steam in act two. Musicals are hard to pull off, and “Oliver” succeed beautifully at the same time being superior to the stage original.

    “Lion in Winter” is also very good – Peter O’Toole was robbed – he should have won the Best Actor award in 68.

  • Blair

    Best. Worst. Good. Bad. It’s all subjective. But, do you really have to be a writer to know when you just read a bad book? By the same token, you don’t have to be a director to recognize the relative merits of a given film. “Avatar” may have earned a ton of money, but is it truly a good film? I suspect that it wouldn’t be hard to tear its less than thoughtful messages to shreds. When it comes to political and/or social commentary, “Avatar” is nothing but intellectually hollow propaganda. This sort of thing has been a huge problem in Hollywood for many years. Meaningless crap pretending to be something that it clearly is not: Significant. Important. Meaningful. Of course, none of it is true. The reason the movie going public no longer cares about the Academy Awards is very simple… For their own dumb reasons (political, social, and otherwise), Academy members tend to give the award to the wrong people and films. Eventually, this sad fact became obvious to everyone. Bottom line: No one cares about those things that just don’t make any sense. This includes the so-called Academy Awards.

  • William Sommerwerck

    In deciding which film will win Best Picture, remember the two esses — Spectacle and Sentiment — with the former (I think) having a slight edge over the latter. Any film combining large amounts of both (such as “Breaks Wind with Beavers”) is virtually a shoe-in.

  • William Sommerwerck

    With respect to “Gangs of New York” — it’s a film with magnificent production design and some great peformances — but the script is mostly compounded of lame clichés. Certainly not one of Scorsese’s best efforts.

  • Cindy Urban

    Ghandi won over Shawshank Redemtion?! I still have trouble with that one.

    • kp22kc

      You should have trouble with that one because Ghandi was in 1982 and Shawshank was in 1994. You’re not even in the same decade.

      • kp22kc

        I just noticed your comment was 3 years ago. Sorry to be so late to the convo.

  • Tlynette

    “Doris Day for Love Me or Leave Me, Judy Garland for A Star Is Born, Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard, Clark Gable for Gone With the Wind”

    Yup–totally agree. They were sensational. I’m still trying to figure out why “Lawrence of Arabia” won best picture.

  • David Berkin

    2001- Halle Berry in that horrible movie “Monster’s Ball” over Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge?”

    1998- Gwyneth Paltrow over Cate Blanchett should never had happened

    2001- Beautiful Mind over Lord of the Rings Fellowship

    2002- Chicago over Lord of the Rings Two towers

    • nicolas

      I did not see Moulin Rouge, but the film looked so silly and cliched to me. I don’t want to say that you are wrong about Hallie Berry, because what other great works of acting has she done. But the film was not horrible at all, and that isn’t because of her no clothing scene either. As I recall, the main male character, the actors name escapes me now, throws up, and the director is sly here, because he does not show the a cut to why he is throwing up, but has the picture in the image with the actor, so that we have to discover that. The film just worked for me, and was very moving. Until films like Kung Fu Hustle and Inception came along, I felt kind of sad thinking that Monster’s Ball might be the best film I had seen so far in the 21st century.

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  • Julesburg

    Seriously though, folks–Annie Hall over Star Wars?? Is that choice supposed to make the Academy more sophisticated or something? I suppose it comes down to a matter of taste. If a piece of trash like The English Patient can win (watching that one is truly an agonizing experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy) then any movie can win.

  • William Sommerwerck

    The Academy tends to rank pictures according to the three esses: (perceived) Seriousness; Spectacle; and Sentiment. The first S explains why comedies rarely receive Best Picture. A film which delivers the latter two (“Dances with Wolves” is a good example) has a long leg up. This also explains why far too many musicals have gotten the Oscar.

    My major disagreement with many Best Picture nominations (and wins) is that the Academy doesn’t seem to pay attention to whether the film will be /of lasting interest/. The Academy is too-likely to give the Oscar to films that are immediately appealing. Whether a film will still have an audience 50 years on is difficult to predict, but a fair number of Best Picture films are forgotten, while hundreds that were never nominated are considered classics.

  • John Desy

    Annie Hall is a much better film than Star Wars. While it is a huge fan favorite, Star Wars really isn’t that good. Have you watched it lately? It was very entertaining when it came out and was a return to the old action/adventure genre which had died out by the 70′s, but it’s avery simplistic story and not that well told. Annie Hall is still a well written, funny and touching film today.

  • Evie

    Gangs of New York lost to The Pianist?!!!!
    Definitely Daniel Day Lewis’ finest work.
    My heart was broken….

    • William Sommerwerck

      “Gangs of New York” is atypical Scorsese — despite the quality of acting and directing, the script is nothing more than a string of dramatic clichés.

  • hockeyfan

    I do not watch any awards shows. This piece only confirms that they are a complete waste of time.
    Movies and actors/producers/directors should stand on their own without any comparisons required. I like so many differing styles that there is no way to pick favourites that can exclude others. My favourites probably number somewhere around 75 different movies with everything from Ugetsu to Pyscho to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

    Go figure and just enjoy whatever you like….

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  • eddie moscone

    why in 1941 citizen kain lost to how green was my valley also same year grapes of wrath who directed that one too, john ford. personally i watched the fords more often than citizen kane because thought was better movies based on books. still got more emotion impact than citizen’s kane sled burning. as wells once said 3 best american directers are john ford, john ford and john ford

  • BadGnx2

    This is one that can be debated from now until the cows come home!!! I don’t think there’s a movie or an actor or actress out there that didn’t get ripped off.

    On one occasion, I had an actor friend ask me to fill out his ballot for that years Screen Actors Guild Awards. He had been too busy during the year and hadn’t been involved with movies or TV and thus had not seen anything the nominees were in. Since I had, I filled out his ballot for him and he submitted it under his own name.

    I mention this because I AM SURE that this practice is repeated EVERY YEAR BY SOMEONE. And THAT would help to explain why so many undeserving people get awards and many others DON’T.
    And don’t forget the fact that politics/friendhships/enemies/money/jealousy and other factors are involved too.

  • Bob C

    “The Hurt Locker” is timely, topical and gut-wrenching. A monumental film of this time and will probably be a classic. “Avatar” is smart, controversial and imaginative, but it is gimmicky. As much as I liked it, I’d have to go with the critics, film historians and the Academy: the right film won Best Picture. Bigger bucks to make and pull in at the box office shouldn’t be the barometer for a “great” movie.

  • David

    It’s amazing that someone like Kathan (and the author of this article) can be so ignorant about movies. “Crash” was far and away superior to “Brokeback Mountain”. “Crash” explores interactions and selfishness amoung it’s charactrs and was inrense. “Brokeback Mountain” was nominated ONLY because of the ‘politically correct’ forces in this country and elsewhere. You say it was do to homophobia; it was really p.c. run wild. I was so glad when it lost and pissed off all of the p.c. fascists. And author: “Wallace & Grommett”??? Seriously???
    And “E.T’ should have won over “Ghandi”??? Really??? love “E.T.” but, come on…!!!

  • Dave

    I collect best picture winners and nominees on US DVD and have for a long time. Having watched all of them I have at this point, that a great deal of winners, easily 50 percent, over the last 30 years or so, aren’t very good movies. Tried to watch Crash but gave it up as a bad job. English Patient was OK, but forgettable. The list goes on and on.

    The Academy is famous, or infamous (take your pick), for dropping the ball year after year, and spawning reams of controversy. Snubs, omissions, snobbery, politics, graft; you want it, the Academy Awards gives it, stunning so many. Though it’s NOT the answer it’d be better for fans to pick the winner than the Academy, at least most years.

    I find, when my family and I pick a movie to watch 9 times out of ten it’s a nominee rather than the winner of the academy award.


  • Jim Crawford

    I never watch the awards, it’s a load of old rubbish We have our favourites, that’s what matters. As regards James Dean, I didnt think he was very good, I dont know what all the fuss was about him. Maybe if he hadnt killed himself he would be virtually unknown today.

  • Sly

    Why bother!! I think the Oscars is a joke and has no worth. Just enjoy the movies and never mind what they think is the best. I learn to ignore it many years ago and I am better off.

  • John C

    The Academy is not what it used to be. It is littered with politically correct elitists who couldn’t recognize a good picture if it got up and bit them. Once in a while they get it right, but only because the general public’s outcry over shadows their own proclivities. The Color Purple should have won, it is still talked about today. Star Wars should have won because it was the most original idea of its time. People are clamoring to watch Shawshank Redemption, but I don’t see any upticks in Ghandi. Of course if you look at the leanings of the Academy members you can see why most forgettable movies have won the Oscar. It is not about cinematic majesty, but rather who you know or slept with.

    • Nicolas

      ‘The Academy is not what it used to be’? It has always been a place where they did not recognize a really good picture even back in the sixties, and before. Even as an eleven year old in 69, I realized something was wrong when 2001 was not nominated for best picture. i enjoyed Star Wars, but really have never had a desire to see it again since its release. Perhaps I am a minority here, but find Annie Hall worth watching again, and for me brings some kind of nostalgia for the 70′s. Finally on Star Wars, yes perhaps original, but in many ways a damaging film. Why, because it started the idea of Hollywood wanting always to make that big block buster that would bring these studios also a higher stock price. In many ways it destroyed the possibility of any original of film being made. George Lucas also the clever man, the idea of other residuals from a film, such as toys etc. Lucas and Spielberg in many ways did great harm to the idea of others perhaps being creative people. Had Scorcese come after Lucas and Spielberg, perhaps he would not have been able to make some of his great works. Spielberg to his credit though did make Schindler’s list, one of my top seven films of all time, and finally showed what a great film maker he really could be.

  • Watt Hyer

    I was managing a theatre when Crash and Brokeback Mountain were competing against each other. And it was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, not too far from the setting of BBM. Of course there was a lot of homophobic prejudice against BBM amongst the real cowboy crowd. (They were SHEEP boys, not cowboys, OK??) And ALL Wyomingites were pissed that the movie was filmed in Canada, much less, not in the Lander area, much much less not even in our state. The producers had no problem using a copyrighted picture of the Tetons in Jackson Hole in the posters, however. But that happens regularly. I felt the people that did come to see BBM realized what a fine film it really is.
    Crash also did very well at our box office and was very popular. I never got tired of watching it, and enjoying audience reactions to some of the best scenes. Ultimately, I was satisfied with its winning of Best Picture.
    BUT, there certainly was one TITANIC Oscar robbery involving Brokeback Mountain: Michelle Williams losing out to Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener. TCG was, indeed, a well acted film, but Ms. Williams broke new ground with her performance, portraying emotions and reactions to a situation rarely seen on the big screen. I found her scenes to be mesmerizing and profoundly moving. Ledger’s last scene with the parents is also extraordinary.

  • Nicolas

    Citizen Kane of course should have won best picture over How Green Was My Valley. However, I find the Maltese Falcon the most overrated movie ever made. John Huston would go on to make far better films, as would Bogart. For Greenstreet and Lorre, I prefer Mask Of Demetrius. Annie Hall I actually like better than Star Wars, even though at first I might not have. I think Empire Strikes Back is better that Star Wars. I just find Star Wars while somewhat entertaining, just too much fluff. Annie Hall for me nowardays just makes the 1970′s look nostalgic.

    • blah blah blah

      Star Wars never on Best Picture


    The most jaw-dropping example of Oscar malfeasance was the snubbing of Saving Private Ryan in favor of Shakespeare In Love for best picture. The former is a masterpiece while the latter barely qualifies as “pleasing.” Obviously, Mr. Weinstein’s power at play.

    • John Fraraccio

      Interesting. I saw both on the big screen, and during the end credits of Shakespeare in Love, turned to my friend and said, “That’s going to win Best Picture. It’s ABOUT acting.” In contrast I didn’t dare tell an uncle who’d landed at Omaha (and never, ever mentioned that in my presence) about Saving Private Ryan.

  • Lucius

    The last Oscar nite: Argo……best pic should have gone to life of pi

  • Tom K.

    There is so much goofy politics in the Oscar voting that we tune out ” Oscar Night ” and watch an old Hollywood Classic movie that may or may not have won an Oscar. How can you trust the judgement of the same voters that elected Obama TWICE ?

    • Jan

      I wouldn’t trust the judgement of the same voters that elected Obama ONCE – so pop some corn and which movie are we watching that night?

  • Johnny Sherman

    Despite the hype, I was unimpressed with ‘Avatar’ when I realized the plot was a ripoff of Costner’s ‘Dances With Wolves.’

  • W. C Awards

    Worst choice for best picture “Slumdog Millionare

  • Nicolas

    From what I have heard, if they had allowed only the people who are allowed to vote for the Academy Awards now back in 42, Citizen Kane would have won. Many actors who were not getting a major break were allowed to vote back then, and they were resentful that these upstarts like Joseph Cotton from the eastcoast were getting the roles in Citizen Kane, and not them. I found the English Patient to be a great picture. Other points that the author makes regarding what should have won, and what did, I can’t entirely agree with. But we all have our preferences.

  • rocky-o

    worst call…cuba gooding jr. (from the worst movie ever made, “jerry macguire”) winning best suporting actor over william macy (from the brilliant “fargo”)…show me the injustice…

  • roger lynn

    Towering Inferno,The Exorcist,To Kill A Mockingbird,True Grit,,The Poseidon Adventure,,Farewell My Lovely,The Guns of Navarone,Les Miserable,,some of the greatest films that did not win best Picture

  • BarryBD

    Hitchcock lead actors never got the respect they deserved. Not Cary Grant, and certainly not Jimmy Stewart whose performance in Vertigo was one of his best.