Snubbed. If you’re a follower of the Academy Awards – or movies in general – it’s a term that is hard to avoid. Each and every year, film enthusiasts argue over which actors and actresses were unfairly passed over, which films were disrespected, and which winners had no business staking their claim to history. And like most things in Hollywood, the prestige of the Oscars boils down to one word: money. An Oscar nomination – or a victory, if you’re lucky – can be a major boon to actors, directors, and films themselves, leading to more prestigious and lucrative roles for actors and actresses. For better or worse, the Oscars can make or break careers, and snubs can have massive ramifications.
2014’s Academy Awards – the 86th such celebration – are just around the corner, and that seems like an appropriate time to examine the most puzzling, most shocking, and most deplorable decisions in Academy history. From all-time great movies that should have won to actors and films that weren’t even nominated, this is the very worst that the Oscars have to offer: the 10 worst Oscar snubs in history.
10 Double Indemnity and Billy Wilder lose to Going My Way and Leo McCarey (1944)
Double Indemnity is not a film that many casual moviegoers have heard of, but to hardcore film lovers and critics, it’s genuine Hollywood magic. Directed by legendary director Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment), Double Indemnity is a seedy tale of sex, money, and murder, and stands as perhaps the best example of the film noir style that caused a sensation in the 1940s and 50s. Wilder and his film were both nominated for Oscars, but on award night, Academy voters instead went with the lightweight Bing Crosby musical Going My Way for Best Picture. And to add insult to injury, Going My Way’s director, Leo McCarey, edged out Wilder for the Best Director award. Perhaps sensing that they’d made a huge mistake, the Academy awarded the Best Director and Best Picture awards to Wilder and his film The Lost Weekend the very next year.
9 Sunset Boulevard’s Gloria Swanson snubbed for Best Actress (1950)
Speaking of Billy Wilder and film noir, perhaps the single most legendary performance of the noir era belongs to Gloria Swanson, a former silent film start who returned to prominence playing former silent film star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. (You can see why she was perfect for the part.) Swanson’s role added such memorable lines as “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” and “I am big; it’s the pictures that got small” to the Hollywood lexicon, but on Oscar night, the Academy instead gave the award to Judy Holliday for the musical Born Yesterday.
8 The Godfather’s Francis Ford Coppola loses Best Director to Cabaret’s Bob Fosse (1972)
Let’s be clear, here: Bob Fosse is a genuine legend. His direction and choreography on Broadway and in the film version of Cabaret are remarkable achievements. But c’mon… it’s The Godfather, a film widely (and correctly) viewed as one of the greatest ever made. The decision was a curious one even at the time, as the Best Director award usually goes to the director of the film that wins Best Picture, an award that The Godfather did win. The Best Picture statuette always goes to a film’s producer rather than its director, however, and in the end Coppola would only walk away with one Academy Award for his masterpiece, a screenwriting Oscar that he shared with co-writer Mario Puzo.
7 Peter O’Toole doesn’t win for Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
In the annals of Oscar lore, one of the most oft-quoted and stunning facts is that Peter O’Toole never won a competitive acting award despite having been nominated an incredible seven times. (O’Toole was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2003.) His first such nomination came for his most famous role, that of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia. That year, however, the award for Best Actor went to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird – a memorable and deserving performance to be sure, but not at the expense of O’Toole’s rightful place in history.
6 Do the Right Thing doesn’t even get nominated for Best Picture (1989)
Spike Lee’s masterpiece stands a landmark of both African American cinema and American cinema in general, but that apparently wasn’t enough for the overwhelmingly old and overwhelmingly white Academy. The story of a young black man’s experiences in 1980s Brooklyn, Do the Right Thing raises important questions about race relations and police brutality, and despite having been lauded by critics, the film was passed over for a Best Picture nomination in favor of Driving Miss Daisy, the story of a white southern woman and her African American driver. Not a good look, Academy. And to make matters worse, the Oscar snub came after Do the Right Thing had already been passed over for the top prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, which went to Stephen Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
5 Goodfellas and Martin Scorsese lose to Dances with Wolves and Kevin Costner (1990)
Oh boy. In a post-Waterworld world, in which Kevin Costner effectively no longer has a movie career, this looks especially egregious, but it was pretty bad at the time as well. By 1990, Martin Scorsese was already a directing legend, having helmed such classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull (more on that first one later). Goodfellas, his first mob movie since 1973’s Mean Streets, was seen as the film that he was destined to direct, and the project that would finally bring him the elusive Oscar for Best Director, which he had been previously denied on several occasions. Well, no dice. Instead, the Academy snubbed both Scorsese and his film, choosing Costner for Best Director and his film, Dances with Wolves, an epic Western that relatively few people seem to even like, for Best Picture. Scorsese would have to wait until 2006’s The Departed before he would get his Oscar.
4 Alfred Hitchcock snubbed for, well, everything
No, this isn't one specific snub, but you can't have a list like this without including the Academy’s greatest shame. Alfred Hitchcock, perhaps the most legendary director in the history of cinema, never won the Oscar for Best Director, and over the course of several decades his work was consistently ignored by the Academy. The list of snubs now reads like a Best Films of the 20th Century list: North by Northwest (not nominated for either Picture or Director), Rear Window (Hitchcock nominated for Best Director but lost, not nominated for Best Picture), Psycho (ditto), and the most egregious omission, 1958’s Vertigo, which won last year’s British Film Institute poll of the greatest films of all-time and yet wasn’t nominated for either Best Director or Best Picture.
3 The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction lose Best Picture to Forrest Gump (1994)
The most recent item on this list wasn’t a huge surprise at the time, but it looks downright silly in retrospect. Forrest Gump is and was a wildly popular film, but it is not to be mentioned in the same category as The Shawshank Redemption, perhaps the most popular film of the last twenty-five years, or Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece and perhaps the most critically acclaimed American film of the past two decades. It's a matter of taste as to which you think should have won, but just about everyone would agree that at least one of these two movies was more deserving.
2 Citizen Kane loses Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley (1941)
This one’s pretty simple: Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane is, by critical consensus, one of the two or three greatest films of all time – a stunning and seminal achievement in cinema that represented a great leap forward in visual storytelling. How Green Was My Valley is none of those things.
1 All the President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver all lose Best Picture to Rocky (1976)
Why is this #1 rather than Citizen Kane? Because How Green Was My Valley only beat one all-time great film. Rocky beat three.
1976 was a great year in Hollywood history. Coming at the height of the New Hollywood era of young directors, gritty storytelling, and photographic realism, that year saw three legitimate cinematic classics get nominated for Best Picture: All the President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver. Any of those films would have been a deserving winner. Instead, the Academy did what it does all too often: it chose the gooey, heartwarming alternative. Rocky's victory stands as perhaps the best example of the role money plays in the Academy Awards; All the President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver all did decent business, but Rocky was a box office phenomenon, and that – along with its unequivocally happy ending – was enough to push it over the top.
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