Great films that never won an Oscar

I think I’ve already established what I think about the Academy Awards in my Oscars Rant post, but since this awards remain to have such an influence on people (and because most people still see an Oscar win as some kind of determinant for a good movie), I’ll try to show you how much this isn’t true. I made a list of films that weren’t awarded with an Oscar (some of them weren’t even nominated!), but are nowadays considered as timeless, cult classics. I also picked some films that were awarded with an Oscar, but have since been completely forgotten. If you’re still getting angry year after year when your favourite film doesn’t win: don’t. The most ideologically “safe” and conservative films are the ones getting nominated – and because our taste is mostly quite different from that, it’s not surprising that our favourite films often get overlooked. So, if you’re choosing what to watch from an Oscar-awarded films list you’ll probably never see anything really good, edgy or fascinating that would stay with you and make you think about it for days.

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A Clockwork Orange – Kubrick was nominated in four categories but lost to Friedkin’s The French Connection – I won’t say this film wasn’t a worthy winner, but it can’t really be compared to the mastery of Kubrick’s satirical dystopian drama.

The Shining – NO NOMINATIONS. What the fuck. I mean, Kubrick’s direction? Jack Nicholson’s performance? Just because it was released as a horror movie – and the Academy isn’t particularly fond of that genre.

Taxi Driver – the Oscar went to Peter Finch’s role in Sydney Lumet’s Network, which was a great role, but I’m not sure it can measure up to the greatness of Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle. This is one of the most iconic roles in film history, after all. Also, Martin Scorsese wasn’t even nominated for Best Director!

Psycho – if there’s one film taught and analysed over and over again in film schools, it’s this one. The direction, the mise en scene, the cinematography. And oh, that shower scene. Hitchcock got nominated and so did Janet Leigh for Best Supporting Actress. Do you remember Shirley Jones in Emler Gantry? No? Well, this is who won over Janet Leigh’s most famous scene in film history.

Mulholland Dr. – the fact that this film got completely overlooked at the Oscars (well, okay, David Lynch got a nod with a nomination) is downright embarrassing. This is one of the best films of the past decade, with Naomi Watts delivering one of her finest performances.

Do The Right Thing – it was surprising that this one even got nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay in 1989. It didn’t won, of course, but has since became one of the most important films about racial relations in contemporary America. It’s often cited as one of the best films ever made – but it caused nothing but controversy when it was released and since it represented the world from the black person’s point of view, it never really stood a chance of winning an Oscar. However, as Spike Lee recently commented (when they asked him about the similarities between his Oscar snub in 1989, and this year’s Selma’s snubs): “You don’t see Driving Miss Daisy being taught in film schools all across the world like Do the Right Thing is. Nobody’s discussing Driving Miss Daisy.” So much about the relevance of winning an Oscar.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – it is unforgivable that this film lost to MY FAIR LADY. I still can’t comprehend the fact that something like this ever happened.

Vertigo – do I really need to explain why this one should have won? It was nominated only for Art Decoration and Sound, even though it’s considered one of the best films of all time (and is quite possibly Hitchcock’s fines achievement!).

Singin’ in the Rain – this is one of the greatest American films (and the greatest American musical, period) ever produced. It features the legend himself, Gene Kelly, in one of his best, most widely known performances. It was, however, nominated only for Best Supporting Actress and Best Score. It won neither.

The Tree of Life – this Malick’s masterpiece won Cannes’ Palme d’Or. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director and Cinematography. It won none – but please, do find me a film that is more aesthetically assured than this one. It certainly isn’t The Artist, who won Best Cinematography instead.

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Badlands –  A debut film feature by the brilliant Terrence Malick, with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in the main roles. An absolute cult classic. That got no nominations.

Paris, Texas – Wim Wender’s masterpiece that won him the Palme d’Or at 1984 Cannes. It received no Oscar nominations – anyhow, it deserved to win Best Director, Best Actor or even Best Picture. Actually, it deserved to win all three of them.

Harold and Maude – this is the best black comedy I’ve ever seen. The screenplay is brilliant and Ruth Gordon is amazing as Maude. It’s considered a classic today, but it was probably too unconventional for the Academy back in the early 70’s., since they chose to completely overlook it.

The Big Lebowski – no nominations! I mean, best screenplay? Not just of 1998, but like, ever? If there’s any film where I know almost all the lines by heart, it’s definitely this cult classic written and directed by the Coen brothers. Jeff Bridges for Best Actor? And Goodman should get at least a nomination for a Supporting Actor.

The Night of the Hunter – this should win Best Cinematography and Best Actor. Maybe even Best Picture. However, film’s subject matter obviously didn’t sit too well with the Academy members, since they didn’t nominate it in a single category.

It’s a Wonderful Life – if there’s one film that is universally re-watched on every Christmas, it’s this one. (Well, besides Home Alone). It got five nominations, but no wins. Even though it features one of Jimmy Stewart’s most iconic performances.

Rear Window – Hitchcock lost to Elia Kazan that year and I won’t say anything against it, because On the Waterfront is an amazing film and it deserved a win. But how it’s possible that this one didn’t win Best Screenplay? The award went to The Country Girl. Which is simply ridiculous.

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Mean Streets – one of Scorsese’s early films and his first collaboration with DeNiro (they filmed Taxi Driver only three years later). It got no nominations whatsoever – even though DeNiro absolutely excels in his supporting role of psychotic Johnny Boy.

Shame – Steve McQueen’s masterpiece that addresses sex addiction at it’s worst. Obviously too uncomfortable to watch for the Academy. It didn’t matter that Fassbender gave one of the bravest, most affecting performances of 2011 (or ever?). Cinematography was also stunning.

The Shop Around the Corner – this is quite possibly my favourite romantic comedy of all time. It hasn’t received a single nomination – it did however get an adaptation with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks that hardly does any justice to the original.

The Big Sleep – this is quite possibly my favourite film noir, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (they met on the set and married not long after). It hasn’t received a single nomination, even though it has an absolutely fabulous dialogues (it was written by William Faulkner).

City Lights – just like Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin never won a single Oscar.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – Leonardo DiCaprio’s first Oscar nomination when he was only 19 years old. He should have won. He hasn’t. Not then and not ever in the next 22 years.

Fight Club – I’m not as crazy about this film as most people, but I can’t deny it’s an ultimate classic and one of Fincher’s best films. It’s quite possibly also one of the best roles in Brad Pitt’s career. The only nomination it got was for Best Effects – there was no nomination for Cinematography or for Helena Bonham Carter’s great performance.

And then there are films that are quite awful or average at best, but were somehow worthy of an Oscar (or Oscars even):

Avatar – a recycled Pocahontas, moved to another planet and filmed in 3D. The most overrated film since… ever.

Forrest Gump – this one beat Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction for Best Picture. Erm, what?

The Help – this one thankfully only won Best Supporting Actress, but it also got a nomination for Best Picture. Best Picture? It’s about a white, middle-class journalist fresh out of college who is trying to build her career by convincing black maids to speak up about their oppression at work. How perverse is that? The point that this film (adapted from a best-selling novel) makes is that black people have to thank white generous individuals for everything that they accomplished in the last couple of decades in terms of equality. It was a white person behind every black person who ever raised their voice towards the racial inequality. This is how white people see their history – and this are the films that get awarded, while Selma, on the other hand, gets snubed and accused of “unfair portrayal of a white president!” The march in Selma was LBJ’s idea, after all! Martin Luther King was just a puppet, doing what the white guy in a white house wanted. (By the way, all the offended white people who watched Selma – have you ever considered how offensive this film was to black people? I don’t remember a film that would make me want to barf so much as this one.)

Argo – this won Best Picture? Of course it did. Over Michael Haneke’s Amour. Beasts of the Southern Wild would also be a much more deserving win.

Shakespeare in Love – Best Picture win in 1998. Instead of Malick’s The Thin Red Line. This makes no sense whatsoever. The Academy seems to really dislike Terrence Malick.

The English Patient – this won Best Picture over Fargo. FARGO. (Mike Leigh’s Secret & Lies was also nominated. It won Palme d’Or that year, but was obviously not good enough for the Oscars).

Kramer vs Kramer – I will never understand what people see in this film. It won a bunch of Oscars, including Best Picture, even though it was nominated alongside Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

Chicago – Best Picture. It won over The Pianist and Gangs of New York. It isn’t an awful movie (it’s quite good as far as Hollywood musicals go – compare this to Nine, Les Miserables and Into the Woods and you’ll know what I mean), but it became universally hated because of this win.

My Fair Lady – it won Best Picture over Dr. Strangelove, which is unforgivable.

There are also films like Titanic, Braveheart, Crash etc. – I could go on forever. But you get the point – winning an Oscar really doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean the film is in any way good, it doesn’t mean it will be interesting to the next generations. It mostly means just the opposite – a film that wins an Oscar is rarely in any way groundbreaking. It probably won’t inspire any future filmmakers or film theorists. It’s an over-hyped annual event that doesn’t carry much artistic weight. So, next time when you get angry because your favourite director, actress or Leo DiCaprio didn’t win, ask yourself: is that really such a bad thing? Maybe it just means that the film or the performance will still be remembered and quoted 50 years from now, while no one will know that a film named Avatar or Argo was ever even filmed 10 years from now.

I won’t even try and guess which films will win this year. There’s no point. An awards show that didn’t nominate Winter Sleep or Under the Skin in a single category doesn’t really deserve much of our attention.

That being said, I hope you have a great weekend watching great films, instead of trying to see every single meaningless movie nominated for this year’s Oscar. Cheers!

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6 thoughts on “Great films that never won an Oscar”

    1. I think that Shawshank Redemption gets enough attention already, it has the highest rating on IMDb and it’s not THAT good. I think it’s very over-rated, so I decided to focus on other films that I consider better (and that may not be so universally known to be snubbed of an Oscar).

      Kramer vs Kramer isn’t a bad movie, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a pretty average drama about a couple going through a divorce and I can’t understand that it won Best Picture over Apocalypse Now. I didn’t want to depreciate it, but it wasn’t nearly as good as some other films released in 1979 (Apocalypse Now and Woody Allen’s Manhattan were both much better and if we look outside of America there was Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Herzog’s Nosferatu. Compare those films to Kramer vs Kramer and is not such a fascinating movie anymore).

      Anyhow, this list is completely subjective and I get that everyone’s taste is different. 😉 I respect that you don’t agree with all of the choices and I didn’t mean to offend you (or anyone else) by leaving out some of the films!

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