Film.com Staff February 20, 2013
The Academy Awards aren’t exactly known for getting it right. Their official website states that “The Oscars award the previous year’s greatest cinema achievements,” but most film fans agree that it would be more accurate to say “The Oscars recognize the previous year’s most inescapable films, ultimately awarding the one that gives voters the fuzziest feeling, often at the expense of several obvious future classics.” We’re not entirely sure why the Academy doesn’t just come out and say that in their mission statement, but there’s no denying the fact that dozens of masterpieces have been immortalized simply by virtue of receiving a Best Picture nomination.
The list of films that won Best Picture definitely amounts to a pretty solid collection of titles, but the list of films that lost Best Picture naturally offers a far superior compendium of the greatest movies ever made (some of which were even shot – gasp! – in a language that isn’t English!). Pound for pound, you could argue that these Oscar also-rans put the crowned champs to shame.
Picking the Top 50 Movies that Lost The Oscar For Best Picture wasn’t easy, and several classics didn’t make the cut. On the other hand, we certainly didn’t have any trouble identifying all of the truly great films from the list of nominees. If only the Academy could say the same thing. So without further ado, Laremy Legel, Elisabeth Rappe and awards guru Joe Reid count down the best films that didn’t get the Oscar love they deserved.
50. “Nashville” (1975)
To be fair, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” probably deserved The Best Picture win for 1975. Still, Robert Altman’s second best film (after “MASH”) has aged well and seems to be rising in esteem as the years pass. If only “Nashville” could have come out a year later to compete against “Rocky,” it would have made 1976 the snubbiest year of all time! – Laremy Legel
49. “Z” (1969)
The film that won over “Z” in 1969 was “Midnight Cowboy,” which was a solid example of a counter-culture movie (that could never win today). In fact, “Midnight Cowboy” remains the only X-rated film to ever win Best Picture, a streak that’s likely to extend into infinity (and beyond). “Z,” on the other hand, was a stirring protest against the Greek military dictatorship. Costa-Gavras’ masterpiece likely never had a chance due to the fact that it was filmed in French, but it was a great example of how film can at least attempt to change the world. – LL
48. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000)
Ang Lee’s wire-fu dreamscape was a total sensation when it dropped at the end of a somewhat dreary 2000 film year. As an action film with artsy aspirations, it beats the pants (skirts?) off of “Gladiator,” but that reality was not reflected in the Best Picture race. Too bad, because how cool would it have been for the Academy to point to a movie as risky as this one and say, “That. That is what the movies can do. Even if they’re not in English.” – Joe Reid
47. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)
The placement of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” on this list represents an oddity in Oscar history. This time, the popular stars in the comfortable genre with the Hollywood feel got beat by the X-rated, gritty story of seediness and death. Still, it’s a shame that a movie as iconic as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” couldn’t get anointed by the Hollywood inner circle. I guess having an influential film festival named after you isn’t bad, legacy-wise. – JR
46. “The Last Picture Show” (1971)
“The Last Picture Show” is a film that seems tailor made to win Hollywood gold. It’s a forlorn coming-of-age story, full of brilliant young actors, and it’s languid direction is a thing of beauty. Plus, the underpinning of the entire film is the town movie theater, and if there’s one thing Tinseltown usually loves, it’s a salute to cinema screens being a communal heart. But it lost. Sure, it lost well – “The French Connection” is a terrific thing to lose to, and it’s nice to see the Academy favor smart action – but you can’t help feeling that it deserved something. 1971 probably should have been one of those split years, allowing both “Connection” and “Picture” to make off with an award. – Elisabeth Rappe
45. “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943)
No film of ’43 can top “Casablanca.” But “The Ox-Bow Incident” is certainly in its league, and should (in any other year) have been the fourth Western to win Best Picture. This is a dismantling of the Western myth while that myth was still being perpetuated, and it’s a searing condemnation of frontier justice. It’s haunting stuff, almost medieval in its sparse direction, and it’s bolstered by terrific performances (the sad, sad eyes of Henry Fonda really anchor it) and a moral resolve not to soften the message. If it had won best picture back in the day, “Unforgiven” might have seemed like a retread, and Oscar history would be rewritten. – E.R.
44. “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1942)
Quick, how many Best Director Oscars did Orson Welles win? Now add that total the Best Picture Academy Awards he took home! If your answer is “zero” then you’re a student of film history, as poor Mr. Welles couldn’t get a win for “Citizen Kane,” “Touch of Evil” or “The Magnificent Ambersons”. That’s a pretty egregious snubbing, wouldn’t you say? For trivia’s sake, Best Picture in 1942 went to “Mrs. Miniver,” which was likely a rah-rah nod toward World War II ally Britain. – LL
43. “Suspicion” (1941)
Alfred Hitchcock never did have much luck at the Oscars, and the fate of “Suspicion” now looks like a missed opportunity to catch on to his work. Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” had won the year before, and “Suspicion” is very much in that vein – a dark, stylish, sexy and intelligent thriller that should have made the Academy sit up, take notice, and hand him a one-two punch of Best Picture and Director. Had they done so, 1941 wouldn’t necessarily be remembered as the year “Citizen Kane” lost, but the year they saluted Hitchcock as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. But hey, if you had to pick a company of legendary losers, the class of ’41 was the place to be. –E.R.
42. “Top Hat” (1935)
It seems like The Academy was spooked over their 1934 gaffe (“It Happened One Night” over “The Thin Man”) and so they went with a middling “Mutiny on the Bounty” over “Top Hat”. Where a case could be made for the 1934 call, this 1935 decision was fairly inexcusable, as Ginger Rogers may have given the very best performance of her career in “Top Hat.” – LL
41. “The Thin Man” (1934)
There’s no disputing that the Best Picture winner for 1934, “It Happened One Night,” is a monumentally important movie, the film that launched a thousand rom-coms. Still, “The Thin Man” features one of the best and oft-copied methods in cinematic history, the climatic “who done it” dinner scene. For that moment alone it should have triumphed over “It Happened One Night”. – LL
40. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
Let’s not overstate the nature of the upset in 1998. Sure, it was something of a surprise that “Shakespeare in Love” lost the Best Director trophy but pulled out Best Picture. And sure, the heavy hand of Harvey Weinstein was prominently involved, which will always make things seem more notorious. But “Shakespeare in Love” is not a bad movie. It’s not a travesty that it won. But it did leave a very, very good movie in its wake. “Saving Private Ryan” set the standard for the way war would be depicted on film thereafter, and it even manages to be a bit underrated when it comes to its second half. -JR
39. “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
As with “Blood,” it’s not surprising that “A Clockwork Orange” went home without a statue. It’s a nasty and nightmarish piece of work that’s difficult to watch. It’s perhaps more shocking that “Orange” received mainstream attention and acclaim at all, because it seems like a film destined for cult adoration and midnight showings. But there it is, standing proud among the Best Picture nominees, looking smug to be invited to the party amid so much scandal. It’s one of those rare moments when Hollywood lives up to its radical, liberal name and you almost wish they’d gone all the way, and handed it the prize. – E.R.
38. “There Will Be Blood” (2007)
There’s some kind of bitter, hilarious irony that a film directly inspired by a classic Best Picture loser – “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” – would go on to lose the big prize itself. It seems Oscar just doesn’t love cruel and bombastic desert diggers. Who can blame them? “Blood” is a divisive film, and it’s certainly not an easy watch, but it’s one of the most brash and original artistic statements in modern cinema. It demands to be respected, and it was hard to watch it go home empty-handed. Can’t they start awarding Best Pictures in threes, like Olympic medals? – E.R.
37. “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
This one hurts. This one is probably always going to hurt. Does it hurt a little less now that Steven Spielberg has finally been given two (maybe three soon?) Oscars and thus no longer seems like the guy always left outside the Academy clubhouse? Maybe? One thing that won’t change with time was that “E.T.” lost to “Gandhi.” The outcome was like a parody of the Academy’s reputation as a stuffy, joy-hating voting body that’s only interested in honoring noble biographies of important people. Sorry, Ben Kingsley. You got right with Spielberg a decade later, it’s fine. -JR
36. “The Conversation” (1974)
No matter how things shook out in the 1974 Best Picture race, one classic Francis Ford Coppola movie was going to get the shaft. Coppola had quite a year, with “The Godfather, Part II” attaining that ultra-rare “better than the original” level and then “The Conversation,” the modest surprise of a movie featuring an all-time great Gene Hackman performance, as well as some of the most wire-tight suspense you will ever have the pleasure of white-knuckling through. -JR
35. “The Social Network” (2010)
This was a year where it was eminently apparent how out of touch The Academy was. You could pretty easily make the case that at least five of the other nominees were superior to “The King’s Speech,” but that’s the direction Oscar went. Is there any chance The Academy will ever give a nod to computers, social networking, and modernism? The “Social Network” snub doesn’t offer much hope in that direction. – LL
34. “Good Will Hunting” (1997)
You know what the best part of my day is? Pretending that “Good Will Hunting” actually won Best Picture. “Titanic” is the modern day equivalent to “Gone with the Wind,” a melodramatic tragedy that was far too acclaimed for having a broad popular appeal. By giving Best Picture to James Cameron’s sinking boat movie, The Academy missed a stronger effort from two future stalwarts. Let there be no mistake, “Good Will Hunting” was a superior narrative in every way – “Titanic” was an amazing effects film, nothing more. – LL
33. “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)
The official film of IMDb, “Shawshank” is a movie whose legend didn’t grow up around it until much later. Sure, it was crowd-pleasing enough to score a Best Picture nomination, but it didn’t even get a corresponding Best Director nomination, and Frank Darabont didn’t exactly get the benefit of the 2012 Ben Affleck sympathy campaign (it happened to him AGAIN in 1999, in fact). As the years have gone by, “Shawshank” has become something of a People’s Choice favorite, but I have a very hard time imagining a universe where it beats out either “Forrest Gump” or “Pulp Fiction.” – JR
32. “Cries and Whispers” (1973)
To date, no foreign film has ever won Best Picture, and Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries & Whispers” probably didn’t have a prayer to break that streak against “The Sting”. I’ll grudgingly admit that “The Sting” was a more entertaining film, though this would have been a great chance for The Academy to recognize a man who never won a Best Director statue despite being one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. – LL
31. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948)
Oh, 1948. What were you thinking? Not only did you snub “The Red Shoes,” but here was “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and you still picked Olivier’s staid “Hamlet.” Admittedly, this is a greedy and grubby watch, but William Shakespeare would have loved it, and saluted it as an honest examination of human nature. He also would have reminded you it packed a moral punch, and you could feel good for heralding it as the best of the year. Ah well. It’s an embarrassing loss, but in the end, gold (even on an Oscar statue) is just so much dust in the wind. – E.R.
30. “Double Indemnity” (1944)
It’s strange to think of now, but there was a period where The Academy was far more likely to reward lighthearted efforts over “serious” filmmaking. “Going My Way” over “Double Indemnity” for Best Picture was a clear case of that phenomenon, perhaps an understandable decision given that the nation was in the throes of World War 2. Still, with the passage of time, it’s clear “Double Indemnity” was the iconic film noir effort, whereas “Going My Way” is easily forgotten. Given both films were from Paramount, it’s likely that the studio heads simply pushed for “Going My Way” over “Double Indemnity” to give everyone a little respite from tumultuous times. – LL
29. “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)
If a film had to beat “Citizen Kane,” it should have been “The Maltese Falcon.” Yet we live in a world where they both lost, and that’s crazy. There’s no doubt “Falcon” deserved the grand prize. It’s the pinnacle of film noir, and while antiheroes like to pretend they were invented in the ‘70s, it’s “Falcon” that made the self-interested gunslinger first became cool. It’s the twisting, turning, snappy mystery every thriller hopes to be. In the end, it was probably just too seedy for 1941, but one suspects it’s the film that everyone at the Academy enjoyed most. They were just too guilty to admit it was the stuff their dreams were made of (come on, you can’t resist using that line either). – E.R.
28. “The Great Dictator” (1940)
It’s difficult to speak ill of Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” so I won’t do it other than to say “The Great Dictator” was a far more important film for the time (and for all time). Only one of these films skewered Adolf Hitler and condemned anti-Semitism. Speaking truth to power, especially in the period before The United States was actually at war with Germany, was a courageous stand on principle, truly more vital than Hitchcock’s well-executed thriller. – LL
27. “Ninotchka” (1939)
“Ninotchka” has been unfairly boiled down to one cheesy marketing phrase – “Garbo laughs!” – which is a shame. It’s a delicate and enjoyable romance, tinged with just enough darkness to really earn its happy ending. The Soviet Union of “Ninotchka” is grim stuff – absolutely on point for ’39 – and the way the film teases out themes of personal freedom is adroit and poignant without being over-baked. (If this had been made in 1980, Garbo wouldn’t have laughed, but soapboxed.) If it hadn’t come out in 1939 – the year of the most incredible, iconic losers – it would have earned its Best Picture statue without a doubt. – E.R.
26. “Grand Illusion” (1938)
The Academy used to be a far more xenophobic entity, so “You Can’t Take it With You” taking Best Picture over Jean Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece makes perfect sense within that context. Anything director Frank Capra put his name on turned into little golden men, and “You Can’t Take it With You” proved to be no exception. “La Grande Illusion” was a prime early example of a delightfully open-ended conclusion, whereas “You Can’t Take it With You” was basically the great-grandfather to “Meet the Fockers”. – LL
25. “Sideways” (2004)
“Sideways” steamrolled through the critics’ awards season in 2004, winning pretty much every available citation from anyone with a notepad. It was so dominant, in fact, that a decent-sized backlash built up against it. Critics only like it, the backlash went, because they over-identify with Paul Giamatti’s shlubby, depressive snob who ends up scoring with the pretty girl anyway. At the end of the day, Alexander Payne’s movie probably never had a title shot, considering that it was up against Clint Eastwood’s manly weepie “Million Dollar Baby” and Martin Scorsese’s personal epic, “The Aviator.” – JR
24. “Raging Bull” (1980)
If “Citizen Kane” has a best friend in Oscar infamy, it’s “Raging Bull.” Here’s a chance for the Academy to admit 1976 was a tough call, and shower Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro with every statue they had. It’s not as though this is a consolation prize, either. It’s a furious and explosive exposé, and never flinches from the spectacle of Jake LaMotta. It’s acting at its best, filmmaking at its bravest (Scorsese expected it to be his last film), and storytelling at its most raw. How anyone watched it, and promptly chickened out with “Ordinary People” is beyond understanding. –E.R.
23. “All the President’s Men” (1976)
This was the year that “Rocky” triumphed over “Network” and “All the President’s Men”. Could this have been a case of two serious films splitting the vote? I certainly hope so, because there’s no way “Rocky” is better than the definitive movie about the Watergate scandal. – LL
22. “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)
The 1967 Oscar race was compelling enough – and came at a crucial enough time in film history – that Mark Harris went and wrote a book about it. “Bonnie and Clyde” was a violent jolt to the Hollywood community in 1967, and the fact that it even crashed the Best Picture lineup to begin with shows that the community was ready to be jolted. Warren Beatty would go on to become entrenched Hollywood royalty, but back then, he was the young buck, denied by a more traditional studio story, “In the Heat of the Night.” – JR
21. “Roman Holiday” (1953)
It is hard to argue against “From Here to Eternity” as the most deserving winner of 1953, but let’s play devil’s advocate. It’s a film we’re supposed to like, quietly applaud, and discuss after. But in the end, all we remember is the steamy love scene on the beach, and – if we’re being honest – we’ll never pop it into the DVD player. “Roman Holiday” is the film we constantly go back to, and it’s that rare exception of cast and direction elevating fluff into a heartbreaking tale of duty versus desire, rather like “Eternity,” but in a cuter, neater package. Maybe we go about Best Picture winners all wrong. Perhaps they should be the films that we unabashedly love, like “Holiday, “and not the ones we coolly respect from a distance. – E.R.
20. “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)
If ever there was a film tailor-made to win Best Picture, it’s “Streetcar.” An adaptation of Tennessee Williams, penned by the playwright himself, the film was directed by Elia Kazan and stars all but one member of the original Broadway cast. Though it bowed to Hollywood in casting a Blanche with more star-power, it’s not as though Vivien Leigh was an acting slouch (In retrospect, the casting of Leigh was inspired. Who better to play a broken Southern belle than the actress who was legendary for her Scarlett O’Hara?). While the play was softened for Hollywood, it’s nevertheless a searing, sweaty, and taut adaptation full of incredible and iconic performances. It’s the kind of film they created the Best Picture category for, yet it lost to “An American in Paris.” While “Paris” is a delight, it was a willfully shallow choice that makes you wonder if the Academy truly understands what makes a film great. – E.R.
19. “Pulp Fiction” (1994)
Time to get personal: the “Pulp Fiction” / “Forrest Gump” Oscar race is what made me the Oscar obsessive I am today. It’s my origin story. A radioactive spider-bite in the form of the Jackrabbit Slims twist contest. The totemic nature of Indie/Tarantino/”Say ‘What’ Again, Motherf*cker” vs. Studio/Hanks/”Life is like a box of chocolates” could not have been clearer, and Gump’s triumph laid down the law for me at age 14: The “dangerous” movie finishes second. The legacy and influence of “Pulp Fiction” speak for themselves, but so does this truth: If the 1994 lineup were put up to the Academy to vote again, the outcome probably wouldn’t change. – JR
18. “Fargo” (1996)
This is one of the biggest injustices on the board, as a film that should have won for “Most Ponderous” instead won for Best Picture. I speak of course of “The English Patient,” a movie that takes glee in showing an audience nothing at all. “Fargo” smokes “The English Patient” in both entertainment and artistic value, and Ethan and Joel Coen keep releasing great films, making The Academy’s decision look even more terrible in hindsight. – LL
17. “Lost in Translation” (2003)
It takes one hell of a “story” for an indie movie to outlast bigger studio heft and pull off a Best Picture win. Think Kathryn Bigelow’s history-making directorial effort on “The Hurt Locker,” or (and trust me, I’m making no claims of quality here) the “it says so much about race relations in Los Angeles” narrative of “Crash.” If any film had a strong Oscar narrative, it was “Lost in Translation.” Sofia Coppola, Hollywood royalty but famous scourge of cineastes for her performance in “The Godfather: Part III,” goes behind the camera and makes good. Unfortunately for Sofia, sometimes even the best narratives run into brick walls. Or stone walls. Like, say, the white stone of Minas Tirith. – JR
16. “Stagecoach” (1939)
1939 is often cited as the greatest year in the history of American film, and you can’t label any single one of the Best Picture nominees as undeserving, and not one hasn’t stood the test of time. But let’s be honest, and admit that “Stagecoach” wouldn’t have stood a chance even in a lesser year. It’s a Western, and those have never been big winners. “Stagecoach” is one of those deceptively simple films, a hodgepodge of genre staples – the prostitute, the outlaw, the Indian attack, the marshal – but mixed up and served so perfectly that it seems incredibly innovative. It’s also the rare film in which an acting legend strides, fully formed, to claim his place in pop culture (the camera even wobbles when John Wayne walks in, as if doing a double take.) “Stagecoach” is a film Orson Welles declared perfect, and how can you argue against praise like that? – E.R.
15. “Inglourious Basterds” (2009)
There’s been some revisionist history happening around “The Hurt Locker,” the winner for Best Picture from 2009. Because Kathryn Bigelow’s film corrected a historical injustice – the appalling lack of female winners – the superior “Inglourious Basterds” had to take it on the chin. Somehow, “The Hurt Locker” was given a pass for being completely apolitical about a massively controversial subject. “Inglourious Basterds” will eventually be regarded as Quentin Tarantino’s best film, but we already know that “The Hurt Locker” isn’t even Bigelow’s best collaboration with Mark Boal. For shame, Academy. – LL
14. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939)
You won’t find a bigger “Gone with the Wind” fan than myself, but real talk, “Gone with the Wind” is a complete spectacle. There are definite structural problems with the Civil War epic. Even though it was one of the first films in Technicolor, it can’t match up to the excellent dialogue and plot of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. Actually, we desperately need James Stewart to head to Washington right this minute! – LL
13. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005)
The Academy is often more fond of making statements with their winners – about the industry, about film, about the world, about history – than they are about coolly assessing the best of the crop. In a lucky year, a statement and a stunning film can coincide, and everyone goes home happy. 2005 was one of them, and “Brokeback Mountain” was the brilliant film that spoke volumes about love and prejudice. It’s haunting and heartbreaking, moving even the most stolid and skeptical of viewers to tears. It gently subverted our perception of the western, and the hardbitten types you’ll find on the plains. “Brokeback Mountain” was the best picture of 2005, and the stunned confusion that followed the announcement of “Crash” will always be there to prove it. –E.R.
12. “Goodfellas” (1990)
“The Godfather” made you see the Mafia as family. “Goodfellas” reminded us they were gangsters, but in such a dazzling, intoxicating way that we wanted to risk it all right alongside Henry Hill. There’s not a moment of Martin Scorsese’s modern classic that isn’t quotable, not a frame that isn’t recognizable, and not a single performance that undercuts this messy, energetic epic. Even the music is perfect. It remains one of the most irritating losses in Oscar history, and while everyone loves a good Western saga – here’s looking at you “Dances with Wolves” – there’s no doubt this was the more authentic and honest American film. –E.R.
11. “Broadcast News” (1987)
Romantic comedies have never gotten a fair shake with the Academy. From “Bringing Up Baby” to “Some Like It Hot” and “When Harry Met Sally,” Oscar voters don’t appreciate the genre like they do “important” dramas (fine, “It Happened One Night,” enjoy living in 1934). At least James L. Brooks’s look at the intersection of love and work and the compromises we make for both got a nomination. It didn’t have the grand scope of “The Last Emperor,” though, leaving it the consolation prize that everybody who would subsequently watch it would ask “How could this not win?” – JR
10. “Network” (1976)
“Network” was one of the rare cases where The Academy went populist to deny a film its rightful Best Picture. Oscar went with “Rocky,” which c’mon, even though it out-earned “Network” by a factor of five, is nowhere near as important a movie. “Rocky” invented the modern sports film, but “Network” gave voice to a generation fed up with mass corporate media. Which of those topics do you think still resonates today? – LL
9. “12 Angry Men” (1957)
For some of the films on this list, the Academy must be breathing a sigh of relief, because as good as the films are, there are sometimes better movies (or at least just as good) that beat them. Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” is an unquestionable classic, fusing courtroom drama and character study and cramming it into one steadily constricting room. Of course, 1957 was also the year of “Bridge on the River Kwai,” David Lean’s equally legendary World War II epic. “Look,” your hypothetical Oscar voter might say, “you can’t argue with a movie that’s a lyric in ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’” – JR
8. “The Red Shoes” (1948)
A Best Picture should dazzle you. It should be something you’ve never seen before. It should be unique, astonishing, and memorable. “The Red Shoes” is all of these things and more, and so lush on the eyes that it makes you feel like it may be one of the only color films you’ve ever watched. It’s impossible to believe that the Academy could watch this, and then promptly select “Hamlet” as the Best Picture. With all due respect to Sir Laurence Olivier and William Shakespeare, “Hamlet” had been done before (and better). It’s as if the Academy feared it would disappear if they didn’t honor it, or that Shakespeare would haunt them for the snub. “The Red Shoes” could have used the love and recognition, and as films go, it’s one of the best you’ll find. –E.R.
7. “Taxi Driver” (1976)
There are watershed years of film, and 1976 was one of them. But if you steel your heart against Rocky’s cries (and remember that “Rocky” eventually beget “Rocky V,”) you’d know that “Taxi Driver” should have been the winner. It is the anti-“Rocky,” where the urban loser doesn’t climb up out of the depths, but goes beyond the pale of reason and normality. In truth, our streets are filled with Bickles, not Balboas, and there’s probably no other film that better captures the broken psyche of our major cities than “Taxi Driver.” As much as we like rooting and crying for Rocky, the Oscars should have been brave enough to recognize the reflection in Travis’ mirror, and what he was saying about the modern man. – E.R.
6. “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)
Released on Christmas Day in 1962, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was a gift to cinema. Interestingly enough, the film that “To Kill a Mockingbird” lost to, “Lawrence of Arabia,” is ranked one position higher on IMDB’s Top 250 listing, as voted upon by fans. That said, while “Lawrence of Arabia” is an excellent treatise on a man’s emotional turmoil around warfare, “To Kill a Mockingbird” holds up better as we’re still dealing with discrimination to this day. – LL
5. “Chinatown” (1974)
Pity the Oscar voters in 1974. What an embarrassment of riches that year provided. Nix “The Towering Inferno” (your typical mainstream blockbuster that Oscar likes to support) and you have some incredibly vital and memorable classics. “The Godfather, Part II” won it all that year, and rightly so. But in winning, it left another classic out in the cold: Roman Polanski’s pristine noir callback, featuring Robert Towne’s legendary screenplay. The fact that you could call this a Top 20 movie of all time (as AFI did) and STILL be unable to say it got robbed? What a year. – JR
4. “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)
Some films are too weird to win in their given year, but if all was right in the world, “Dr. Strangelove” would have nabbed the big prize. It was a year of strange nominees – only in the ‘60s would you find “Mary Poppins” snuggling up with “Becket” – and the Academy should have embraced the antiwar and satirical sentiments of the times, and handed it to “Strangelove.” Such a bold move would have been a timely stake in the heart to those lingering remnants of McCarthyism, and would have put Hollywood ahead of the political and social climate. It’s preposterous to say that a Best Picture could change the world, but a bigger spotlight on “Strangelove” might have made more people recognize their Cold War follies. – E.R.
3. “Sunset Blvd” (1950)
The Best Picture winner for 1950 was “All About Eve,” clearly a very solid film, likely among the top 100 films ever made. The problem was the film that it triumphed over, “Sunset Blvd.” is in the Top 50 ever made. The Academy wasn’t completely in the wrong, they just weren’t as right as they could have been. As both films dealt with the darker side of Hollywood, it was likely one of the closest Best Picture races ever. – LL
2. “Apocalypse Now” (1979)
There were nearly five years of anticipation in the years between the Best Picture triumph of “The Godfather, Part II” and the release of Apocalypse Now, including a production that was troubled enough to warrant a feature-length documentary about how crazy things got. The fact that “Apocalypse Now” was nominated at all was a victory in itself. They were never going to give Coppola three consecutive Best Picture victories, but in the decades since, the legend around the hunt for Colonel Kurtz has grown to eclipse even greats like “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “All That Jazz.” – JR
1. “Citizen Kane” (1941)
There’s no question about what should have won Best Picture in 1941: “Citizen Kane.” It’s innovative in every way, endlessly imitated, forever quoted, and unceasingly worshipped by filmmakers great and small. It was recognized (albeit in a sort of cowering-under-the-fear-of-Hearst way) at the time as something special and worthy of praise and discussion, but it’s chances of Oscar glory were sunk under scandal and the insipidness of “How Green Was My Valley” (Really, if it had to lose, couldn’t it have lost to “The Maltese Falcon” or “Suspicion”?). It remains the gold standard of Oscar snubs, and q comfort blanket of trivia on which every Oscar loser can dry their disappointed tears. “Kane” is the king of films that should have won, but didn’t. – E.R.
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