Predicting the choices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when it comes to the annual Academy Awards is generally more guesswork than science or art, but recognition matters, and when it comes to recognizing movies that the market might otherwise overlook, nothing carries more weight than that tiny gold statuette. Which is why it likewise matters when the Oscars fail, fail to recognize the talent or work that history has vindicated.
In the worst of worst cases, great films, actors or directors don’t even get nominated. As a new Oscar season gets under way and the outcry over what the Academy has ignored is especially strong (hint: #OscarsSoWhite), we take a look at the notable Oscar misses that have stood the test of time a lot better than their contemporaries. At this juncture, we should mention that our choices weren’t even nominated for an Oscar. Meaning that they Academy didn’t miss the mark by an inch, but by a mile.
Here are the 12 Worst Oscar Snubs of All Time.
12. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Quirky comedy still isn’t the Academy’s strong suit after all these years, and the Coen Brothers’ genre-bending approach has often left it saying “What even is this?” While their No Country for Old Men scored four wins and Fargo two, with several other films nominated, their lighter fare – including, most likely, the upcoming Hail, Caesar – tends to fall under the radar.
The Big Lebowski, the story of The Dude, a slacker bowler commissioned by a millionaire who shares his name to ransom the millionaire’s wife. It redefined Jeff Bridges’ whole career (many of his later roles seemed to be variations of The Dude) and is now considered a classic, but neither critics nor audiences, nor apparently the Academy, knew quite what to make of the Dude as the 20th century came to a close.
11. Pam Grier, Jackie Brown (1997)
Despite Pam Grier’s powerful presence, the Academy can be excused for not paying too much attention to the “blaxploitation” films that made her name. But she was the first African-American to headline an action film, and that was no accident of history. Tarantino, whose fondness for old film genres and unapologetic violence has few peers, made his third film into a comeback vehicle for Grier, adapting an Elmore Leonard novel, Rum Punch.
As in the book, a flight attendant who dabbles in smuggling gets mixed up in some dangerous business, though Leonard’s flight attendant was originally white and male. The movie, and Grier in particular, racked up nominations from many other awards ceremonies, but the only nomination it got from the academy was for Robert Forster, one of Grier’s costars… and a blaxploitation fixture in his own right, but come on, the film isn’t called Jack Brown.
10. The Marx Brothers, Duck Soup (1933)
When it comes to the language of laughter, the Oscars’ ignorance is less excusable. This adventure, probably the Marx Brothers’ finest, features Groucho Marx in fine form as the dictator of Freedonia. But Oscar was already tending to favor dramas: the only straight-up comedy on the nominees list was Mae West’s She Done Him Wrong.
They’re now recognized as some of the most important architects of film comedy, but none of the brothers, nor any of the films they starred in, ever won an Oscar during their careers. Only A Day at the Races was even nominated in a single category – for its dance direction. The Academy finally gave them an honorary Oscar in 1973, but only Groucho lived to accept it, and at his age, he wasn’t exactly dancing to the podium.
9. Sidney Poitier, In The Heat of the Night (1967)
Poitier had won Best Actor in 1964 for Lilies in the Field, but in 1967 he starred in three race-conscious critical darlings: To Sir, with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and this hard-boiled police procedural set in racist smalltown Mississippi. In The Heat of the Night featured police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) working with a black veteran homicide detective, Virgil Tibbs (Sydney Poitier).
Poitier got billing over Steiger in the film’s advertising, and certainly got the most memorable quote: “They call me Mister Tibbs!” The Academy liked the film enough to give it seven nominations and five wins – including Best Actor, which went to Steiger, not Poitier. Poitier wasn’t even nominated for Best Supporting Actor, either. Aside from a 2002 honorary Oscar, the Academy seems to have felt that once was enough for Poitier. You know, let’s let the white guys have a turn!
7-8. Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson, The Shining (1980)
Kubrick didn’t win nearly as many awards as you’d expect from a director of his standing today, but his films usually scored at least a nomination or two. Jack Nicholson is the most-nominated actor in Oscar history, with two wins for Best Actor and one for Best Supporting. So the way the Academy treated this film, nominating it for nothing whatsoever, seems almost like a punishment.
But critics in general were not too kind to the film upon release: the movie “won” Kubrick a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director. Hard to believe, given that today it’s a widely recognized horror classic, with an actual documentary, Room 237, dedicated just to interpreting it. Stephen King was probably happy, though: he never liked Kubrick’s version of his novel and, years later, produced a version himself, which nobody remembers.
6. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Pulp Fiction, released a couple of years later, got plenty of Academy attention (seven nominations and one win), but Reservoir Dogs, which Empire magazine named “The Greatest Independent Film of All Time?” Nary a blip. Now, the general audience didn’t have much knowledge of Reservoir Dogs either, which made initial box-office revenues of less than $3 million – profitable on its $1.2 million budget, but still.
It was only after the release of Pulp Fiction that Quentin Tarantino started becoming an Oscar magnet, and attention started really falling on this thriller about the consequences of a diamond heist gone wrong (with some important parallels to The Hateful Eight, including its own hateful eight and [possible spoiler warning] a similar main-character survival rate).
5. Groundhog Day (1993)
This Bill Murray gem about a day lived and relived (until Murray finally figures out how to live it right) got nothin’ from the Academy: not Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress (though Andie McDowell did get a Saturn Award for her role in it), Best Screenplay, or even Best Editing, which you’d think might be relevant, given the way such a story needs to repeat footage and events. It did, however, enter the language as a synonym for a time loop, which is something that can’t be said for the similarly themed Edge of Tomorrow.
None of that year’s winners – Schindler’s List, The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano or The Remains of the Day – have entered the language, either. “I really Schindler’s Listed that Fugitive!” See? It doesn’t work.
4. Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Speaking of early all-time great screwball comedies, the Academy completely ignored this tale of a paleontologist (Grant) getting into all kinds of trouble with a ditzy woman (Katherine Hepburn), and a leopard named Baby. Instead, the year belonged to Frank Capra’s ironically titled You Can’t Take It With You (with 7 nominations and 2 wins, making him the first three-time Best Director award-winner) and Jezebel (winning Best Actor and Best Actress).
Still, Hepburn went on to win a record-setting four Best Actress awards for later roles, which prrrrobably took some of the sting out. Grant was nominated for two later films, but never won, unless you count his honorary 1970 statuette.
3. Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic (1997)
“And the Oscar for Best Picture goes to… Titanic. Also, Best Director. Also Original Song, Original Dramatic Score, Sound Effects Editing, Sound, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, and Visual Effects. And what the hell, we’ll also give it nominations for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Makeup. But not Best Actor. Who would we even give that to, Billy Zane? Don’t worry, Leo, you’re young, kind of a pretty boy, and the Oscars prefer people who’ve been around a little while and earned their bona fides. Keep starring in inarguably great movies. You’ll probably get some statuette before you’re 40.”
Except he didn’t, and had to freeze his tuchus off in The Revenant just to have a chance at finally breaking that no-Oscar streak this year. But come to think of it, he froze it off in Titanic, too, and look how that worked out.
2. M (1931)
M was a German film released when the Oscars were young and the Best Foreign Language Film award was decades away. M wasn’t even released in America until 1933, and an American version made in 1951. Still, it’s a special kind of tragedy that this gem of early cinema, a harrowing story of a serial killer and street justice, is sometimes overlooked even today, just because the Academy wasn’t ready for subtitles or, you know, actually knowing a foreign language.
The same can be said of many early foreign-language films: The Rules of the Game, Grand Illusion, Vampyr, Children of Paradise, The Blue Angel, Dracula… and lots of others you probably haven’t heard of. Thanks, Oscar.
1. Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958)
If you went only by Oscars, you would assume Hitchcock peaked with 1940’s Rebecca, his only film to win Best Picture (then called Best Production). Yet he’s widely regarded as Britain’s greatest filmmaker, and his peak decade was 1953-1963, the period where he gave us Psycho, North by Northwest, Rear Window, The Birds… and Vertigo, which many count among the greatest films of all time, about an acrophobic private detective mixed up in a murder plot involving two women who may be one woman.
Hitch got four Best Production nominations in the 1940s and five Best Director noms overall, for which he didn’t win any. (Vertigo was nominated, but only for sound recording and art direction, so it’s not like voters hadn’t heard of it.) The Academy did give him a “memorial award” (while he was still working) in 1968. His acceptance speech was a terse “Thank you.” And oh, what those words didn’t say.
Any other snubs you know of that have gone down in history? Let us know in the comments!
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