As film junkies, we all know it happens. Usually every single year there are one or more films the Academy passes over for Best Picture consideration, in some cases because there are, after all, just five slots available, but in others because, well — they blew it.
Like the rest of you, I sit and listen to the nominees announced live every January and have never had a year when I did not roll my head and ask to no one in particular, “Where is such and such or so and so?”
I mean for me, the great honor is the nomination, because when “Kramer vs. Kramer” defeats “Apocalypse Now” for Best Picture, how can you possibly take the winners seriously? However, a nomination — that is decidedly different.
Where was the Best Picture nod for John Ford’s masterful “The Searchers,” arguably the greatest American western ever made? And Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” which redefined the horror genre?
Since 1980 there have been a number of truly brilliant films passed over, leaving this critic often shaking his head in disgust, though I get over quick enough to watch the damned awards…talk about hooked. But it amazes me how “The Empire Strikes Back” can be a better film than “Star Wars,” yet not be nominated in the big race. Ditto Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out,” possibly the finest film of his career, ignored in every category despite its artistic mastery. The very same year Milos Forman gave us “Ragtime,” a much stronger film than “Chariots of Fire,” which won the Oscar, or even “On Golden Pond,” one of the five nominees!
Nothing for “Under Fire,” one the greatest political films ever made, nor “Once Upon a Time in America,” the great Sergio Leone masterpiece that plays like a grand symphony and contains the last truly great performance from Robert De Niro.
Though Rob Reiner was up for a Directors Guild award for “Stand By Me,” Oscar looked the other way, as they did with James Foley’s “At Close Range.” Do I even need to mention Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun,” one of his greatest films, snubbed by the Academy in favor of something like “Fatal Attraction!”
Though I believed Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” should have been nominated, I understand why it was not, for the same reasons, however gutless, that “The Passion of the Christ” was similarly snubbed.
Spike Lee was more than a little vocal when his “Do the Right Thing” was ignored, but not half as vocal as an obviously drunk Kim Basinger, who took it upon herself to discuss the film’s lack of a nomination while presenting an Oscar. The very fact that “The Godfather Part III” was nominated over “The Grifters” or Warren Beatty’s wildly imaginative “Dick Tracy” is an abomination to me, and though “Beauty and the Beast” was lovely, was it a greater film than “Thelma and Louise?”
How was Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” passed over? Or further into the 1990s, “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Seven,” “The Usual Suspects?” Long touted as an Oscar contender, “The Crucible” was terribly midhandled by the studio, and though brilliant: D.O.A.
Paul Thomnas Anderson finally had a film nominated last year, after watching “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” ignored for Best Picture nods despite being among the best of their respective years. And though Atom Egoyan was up for a Best Director nomination in 1997, his “The Sweet Hereafter” named best of the year by the Los Angeles Times and runner-up for the New York Film Critics Circle award, the film was snubbed in the big race. One year later, how did Warren Beatty’s lacerating political satire “Bulworth” get left out?
More recently, “Road to Perdition,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Minority Report,” “Cold Mountain,” “Far From Heaven,” “The Passion of the Christ” and “King Kong” (shoot me, I love it) are among the films deserving of Best Picture notice but sadly ignored. Just last year we witnessed the terrible snub of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” a masterful western that richly deserved to be among the nominees for, certainly in place of “Juno” or “Michael Clayton.”
Again in many cases, the simple answer can be embarrassment of riches. Too many good films to whittle down to a five picture slate. But more often than not, I’d say it all boils down to terrible misfires.