In Hollywood, the holidays are just around the corner. No, not those holidays—Oscar season! The time of year when actors write impassioned letters to the Academy hoping for a nomination that will raise their profile and their paycheck. Did Bruce Vlanch not once quip “every time an actor wins an Oscar, an agent gets his wings?”
Seriously though, for all the hubbub about the Oscars, how many audience members remember the winners? For that matter, how many remember the movies that were nominated but didn’t win? Actually, the Oscars have a negative side effect: amid all the prestige and pomp, the nominees who don’t win get lost in the shuffle, sometimes even forgotten.
Like the films listed here. All received a Best Picture nomination, but lost to other—and in some cases, lesser—movies. That does not diminish the power, originality or magnificence of these nominees. All deserve to be seen, thus check out 15 Forgotten Best Picture Nominees Worth Seeing!
Warren Beatty won his only Oscar for directing this epic about American communists during the rise of the Soviet Union. In a way, Reds, like Scorsese’s Raging Bull the year before, marks the end of the “New Hollywood” era of director-driven films telling intimate, personal stories. Beatty, being a sort of old school Hollywood/New Hollywood hybrid, makes a sort of hybrid film—a David Lean-style epic with the political and personal elements that make New Hollywood so interesting. It’s also a hybrid in another sense: it combines extensive documentary footage with a staged narrative.
Reds tells the story of John Reed, the American leftist writer who covered the Russian Revolution, and remains the only American buried in the Kremlin. Much as the Baby Boomer generation once espoused idealism only to have their dreams quashed by war and the wealthy, so did Reed’s dream of a worker’s paradise shatter under the yolk of corruption and violence. Reds also features an Oscar-winning powerhouse performance from Maureen Stapleton as anarchist Emma Goldman, who helps keep the movie from becoming a dusty historical epic.
14. The Piano
Anna Paquin won an Oscar at age 11 for her performance as a haughty young daughter to Holly Hunter’s mute pianist. Hunter and writer/director Jane Campion also took home the gold statue in this weird, haunting tale of sexuality and love.
The Piano concerns Ada, a Scottish woman sold to a husband in New Zealand. Ada hasn’t spoken since the age of six, and finds her new husband cruel and repressive. After her husband gives away her precious piano to his friend Baines, Ada and Baines begin an unlikely romance—though always watched by Ada’s daughter, Flora. Flora’s mischief begins to get out of control, and the repressive society threatens to quash Flora and Baines’ budding affection.
The Piano will still alienate some viewers for its unusual style and heavy story. That said, audiences craving something fresh, personal and original will delight in the film and its rich performances by Hunter, Paquin and Harvey Keitel.
13. Hannah and Her Sisters
Critics in 1986 speculated that Woody Allen might take home the Pulitzer Prize for drama for his screenplay to Hannah and Her Sisters. In the end, Allen just took home the Oscar for Best Screenplay, and today, the film looms over Allen’s filmography as his signature masterpiece. Given the director’s output, that says something.
With a cast that includes Allen, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Barbra Hershey, Max Von Sydow, Diane Wiest and Michael Caine—the latter two of which also took home Oscars—Hannah and Her Sisters chronicles the tumultuous lives of three sisters, played by Farrow, Hershey and Wiest over the course of two years. The intricacies of the plot make it difficult to describe in brief, though suffice it to say, the movie packs a hell of an emotional wallop with some unforeseen twists. The cast gives impeccable performances across the board, and as usual, Allen’s dialogue plays like poetry. Hannah and her Sisters is at once dark and uplifting, full of layered characters and genuine feelings that set it apart from most other movies. Quite simply, it feels real.
Gwyneth Paltrow might have taken home the Best Actress Academy Award for her work in Shakespeare in Love, though history will forever remember 1998 as the year that Cate Blanchett hit it big. Blanchett plays the title role in Elizabeth, a sort of biopic of the legendary English monarch. The movie forgoes the usual stuffiness of a costume drama, and while the exquisite costumes do remain, characters wear them in a violent, harrowing film.
Much as the real Elizabeth I stood at the center of multifaceted political chaos, so does Blanchett carry a complex political story, which makes her performance all the more impressive. Director Shekhar Kapur moves his camera through long hallways and shadows to give the film an atmosphere of intrigue and uncertainty. Richard Attenborough, Joseph Finnes and Christopher Eccelson all give fine supporting performances as well, though the film belongs to Blanchett. She makes Elizabeth I into a relatable woman of insecurity, intelligence and valiant determination. Even if the real monarch never existed, Blanchett’s performance would still be one for the ages.
Also known as the movie that bumped The Dark Knight out of the Best Picture running, Frost/Nixon remains director Ron Howard’s most mature and thoughtful film to date. Based on Peter Morgan’s acclaimed play of the same title, the film details the explosive interviews between disgraced former president Richard Nixon, and entertainment personality David Frost, the Ryan Seacrest of his day. In real life Frost became the only interviewer to ever grill Nixon on his use of power during his presidency, as well as his involvement in the Watergate Scandal.
Frost/Nixon plays almost like a boxing match, with two fighters trying to break one another on national television. It helps that Morgan adapted his own play to the screen, and that Howard fought to retain original stage stars Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in the title roles. Sheen gives a wonderful performance, though Langella scored the Oscar nomination for his work. His Nixon is a bastion of hate, ambition and regret, all masking a whimpering insecurity at his core. In a time of controversial presidential candidates, corruption, and questions over the role of the media in politics, Frost/Nixon has a certain relevance few other movies ever can.
The Godfather might have snagged the Best Picture Oscar in 1972, but director Bob Fosse beat out Francis Ford Coppola for the directing statue, thanks to his work in Cabaret. Fosse makes a non-musical musical, loaded with songs and dance that never feel out of place—a quality that other musicals have only recently begun to emulate. The rise of Nazism in decadent 1931 Berlin wouldn’t seem like a great idea for a musical, but Fosse makes it into a riveting one thanks to incredible music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and some megawatt performances.
Joel Grey took home the Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the puckish Master of Ceremonies, a character that seems aware of the audience as much as he seems aware of the events of the film. In a lesser film, that couldn’t work, but Grey’s commitment and Fosse’s direction make the character into an eerie, post-modern narrator. Michael York gives his best performance as Brian Roberts, a bisexual English writer, though the film belongs to Liza Minnelli as the cabaret singer Sally Bowles. That the actress has become known for her odd behavior and tabloid-worthy personal life is a cruel joke. Minnelli excels as a dancer, a force of nature as a singer and spellbinding as an actress. Hers is one of the great performances in movies—so good, in fact, that Christopher Isherwood, author of I Am a Camera—the novel upon which the film is based—actually said she was too good for the part. In this case, that’s a compliment.
9. The Color Purple
How, exactly, did a movie as great as The Color Purple receive 11 Oscar nominations and not win any?! Critics will long debate the reasons for the slight, and the world will consider Whoopi Goldberg not taking home the Best Actress statue one of the biggest robberies in movie history. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple tells the story of an abused African-American woman living in the American south at the beginning of the 20th century. The film chronicles the obstacles that faced women and people of color at the time, and how faith and love can save the human spirit.
The Color Purple is, quite simply, one of the most tear-jerking films in history, full of harrowing scenes of pain and joy. Goldberg is a revelation in the lead, though she also gets help from some other incredible performances. Danny Glover gives the performance of his life as Goldberg’s abusive husband, while Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey—yes, the talk show host—also scored Oscar noms for their work as Goldberg’s friends and sometime lover. If The Color Purple makes one mistake, it’s that the film plays a lesbian relationship between Goldberg and Avery’s characters too subtly. Still, the movie pours out love as few others ever could. While not as flashy or acclaimed as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Schindler’s List, The Color Purple remains yet another masterpiece from director Steven Spielberg.
The world best remembers Rock Hudson, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor as movie stars—performers who conquered Hollywood through a mix of good looks, great fashion sense and really great public relations. While all three deserve their star reputations, they come at a high cost—all three performers were also damn fine actors.
Giant depicts the evils of racism in turn of the century Texas, as witnessed by a wealthy family of ranchers. Hudson and Taylor play a young married couple that, over the course of 40 years, copes with parenthood, war, love triangles and bitter racism. Somehow, through make-up and tremendous performances, the two manage to pass for a couple in their late teens and in their 60s. Dean too plays his character over four decades, first as a rebel teenager, and later, as an irascible, boozy adult. He also has long harbored affection for Taylor’s character… so he starts shagging her daughter instead!
Giant’s plot skews into melodrama for sure, though the film is more than just a soapy tearjerker. It’s also a film about family, destiny, changing times, and how a life becomes a legacy. Besides Hudson, Taylor and Dean, an impressive supporting cast which includes Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Caroll Baker and Sal Mineo make Giant a powerful, utterly compelling drama.
7. Elmer Gantry
Burt Lancaster scored a Best Actor Oscar for Elmer Gantry, the film version of the Sinclair Lewis novel. Lewis wrote the book to criticize—possibly even parody—the growing religious right movement in the 1920s. As a womanizing, boozy salesman, Gantry slinks from town to town, swindling money and sex where he can, until he meets Sister Sharon Falconer, a beautiful evangelist. Gantry becomes obsessed with bedding Sharon, to the point where he actually becomes a fellow evangelist too!
Elmer Gantry had a sting when it opened in 1960, and in 2016 it still has teeth. Lancaster revels in his character’s wicked duplicity—preaching the Bible and judgment, while reaping the benefits of the collection plates. Simmons too hits a career high as Sharon, as does Shirley Jones (yes, the mom from The Partridge Family) who also won an Oscar for her role as a prostitute, and former girlfriend of Gantry. Funny, biting and always entertaining, Elmer Gantry remains as relevant as ever.
6. Judgment at Nuremberg
Director Stanley Kramer became known for his ability to employ elephantine casts of actors in mega-epics to great effect. One of his best outings, Judgment at Nuremberg recounted the dark days following World War II, as the Allied powers began trying and sentencing Nazi war criminals. Spencer Tracy plays a retired American judge called back to work during the Nuremberg Trials, and who witnesses the horrific effects of the Nazis, as well as the denial of the German people.
Tracy would score an Oscar nomination for his work, though the statue would go to his costar Maximilian Schell, who plays a young defense attorney. Schell spits poison in his performance, stealing scenes from Tracy, Richard Widmark, Burt Lancaster and a very young William Shatner. Tracy’s work is matched by Montgomery Clift as a sterilized victim of Nazi experiments, and by Marlene Deitrich, as the widow of a Nazi officer. Judy Garland too has a brief but powerful role as woman who befriended an elderly Jewish man…and saw him executed as a result. Poignant and powerful, Judgment at Nuremberg offers a great example of old Hollywood confronting real life horror.
5. All the President’s Men
Watergate has become emblematic of corruption within the United States, especially within the Executive Branch. Few remember just how long the Watergate scandal dragged on, however, and beyond their names, just how Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought it to light. Based upon their book of the same name, All The President’s Men recounts the days of the scandal between the burglaries at the Democratic National Committee’s office to Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford play the two reporters who begin to connect a seemingly minor burglary to a much larger conspiracy of corruption. With the help of the notorious “Deep Throat,” the two reporters keep the story alive, uncovering a trail of intrigue and bribery that leads to the Oval Office. Redford and Hoffman are both in peak form, as is Jason Robards, who plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. Thoughtful, authentic and riveting, professors should make All The President’s Men required viewing for every American history class…and every film class too.
4. The Last Picture Show
Critics hailed Peter Bogdanovich as the next Orson Wells when his early directorial effort The Last Picture Show hit cinemas in 1971. Based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, the film centers on the residents of a small Texas town, and in particular, the lives of the graduating high school class. Shot in glorious black and white, the movie introduced audiences to a number of megastars on the rise including Jeff Bridges, Cybil Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, Timothy Bottoms and Randy Quaid. Popular western star Ben Johnson scored an Oscar, as did Cloris Leachman, who ascended from her status as a TV star to a major character actress.
The Last Picture Show features frank examination of sexuality and life in a small town, as well as the hypocrisies of the people that live there. For all the white picket fences and perfect families, there’s an awful lot of infidelity, drinking and scheming going on! Ultimately though, that’s the point: the character of The Last Picture Show have so little aspiration or direction in their lives, all they can do is bicker and wait to die.
Rocky remains the great sports film of all time, but did it really deserve the Best Picture Oscar over Network? Director Sidney Lumet, working from an Oscar-winning script (often cited as one of the best ever written) by Paddy Chayefsky, crafted an act of cinematic revolution with the film, which denounces the existence of television, and its effects on human beings.
News anchor Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch, who also won an Oscar) has a nervous breakdown, and vows to kill himself on the air. The proclamation causes a spike in ratings, and programming head Diana Christiansen (Faye Dunaway, who also won the gold) conspires with corporate owners of the network to keep Beale on the air. News exec Max Schumacher fears the exploitation and madness of his friend Beale, and fights for his friend’s dignity, even as he begins an affair with Diana.
Network subverts and smashes just about every cinematic convention with its rich dialogue, complex characters and political sentiments. Even more astonishing, the 1976 movie not only predicted the rise of tabloid cable news, but also reality television, fringe political movements started by TV celebs and the profound recklessness of television executives… as well as their viewers.
2. Fatal Attraction
First things first: Fatal Attraction shouldn’t work as a film. The movie, which stars Michael Douglas as a publishing executive who cheats on his wife (Anne Archer) with a coworker, played by Glenn Close, acts like a powerful relationship drama through the first two thirds of the plot. In the final act, however, the movie becomes a heart-pounding thriller, as Close’s character descends into madness, and Douglas’ character races to protect his family. In a sense, the final act desecrates the outstanding and sensitive writing of the first two!
And yet, Fatal Attraction isn’t just a thriller, it’s one of the thrillers—the kind that dozens of other movies since have tried to emulate. That has a good deal to do with the writing, which builds with emotional tension like a pressure cooker. It also testifies to the excellence of the actors. Archer gives the performance of her life, and Douglas gives one of his best as well. Close, however, gives a tour-de-force as Alex Forrest, the madwoman mistress. It’s her performance that makes the film work, even when it shouldn’t—she makes Alex into a monster, though one cannot control her own actions, and one of the most pitiful characters to ever hit the screen.
1. Little Miss Sunshine
Michael Arndt had a meteoric rise from personal assistant to golden boy screenwriter thanks to the script for Little Miss Sunshine, which earned Ardnt a golden boy of another sort—an Oscar. The comedy also scored a Best Picture nomination, and helped launch the careers of Abigail Breslin (who was also nominated), Paul Dano and Steve Carell as serious actors.
A road comedy in the best sense, Little Miss Sunshine follows the misadventures of a family on the road to the titular kiddie beauty pageant. A gay uncle and a junkie grandpa come along for the ride, as the family encounters one setback to another driving their antique Volkswagen van across the country.
While its premise might sound odd, even depressing, Little Miss Sunshine provides a good deal of hilarity over the course of its runtime. Alan Arkin picked up an Oscar for his fine work as the grandfather, and the eclectic ensemble cast which also includes Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear has a rare chemistry that makes the family hauntingly authentic. Fun, weird, funny and unexpectedly touching, Little Miss Sunshine deserves more credit than another also-ran. It’s one of the best movies of the 21st century.