The Oscar for Best Picture is the biggest prize awarded in the film industry. But do the Academy voters get it right every year? Here are 10 films that deserved to win but didn’t.
Winning the Academy Award for Best Picture is the biggest prize available in the film industry. But choosing the “best film” of the year is a tough task – everyone has their opinion and while the general consensus may reveal an overall winner, it is inevitable not all will agree. Ultimately, the principle concern with any such accolade is: what constitutes a “great” film? It’s a dilemma that continually plays on my mind while writing a top 10 list.
Yet, a “Best Picture” will be singled out every year at the glamorous Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles which first chose its best film in 1929 when the prize was known as “Outstanding Picture”. The first Academy Awards, held in 1929 to celebrate movies released in 1927 and 1928, chose William A. Wellman’s Wings as its Outstanding Picture.
Looking back over the Academy’s choices for Best Picture makes for interesting reading; not least because the term “great” connotes a sense of longevity. The greatest films endure; they either have a timeless appeal or defy their age to resonate with audiences ten, twenty, even fifty years since release. Therefore it is easier to pick holes in the Academy voters’ choices thanks to hindsight. In fairness to the Oscars, it has awarded its top prize to many of the best films since it first began celebrating the film industry’s finest work. Both those movies winning the prize and the selection nominated alongside them, for the most part, have continued to enthrall audiences.
Of course, the Oscars has its detractors. The biggest argument against it cites the presence of films with big studio backing prompting The Exorcist and The French Connection director William Friedkin to say the Oscars are “the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever devised for itself.” The Academy voters are also a mysterious bunch of industry professionals whose names remain largely anonymous.
Yet despite the criticisms the Academy Awards usually gets it right. Films such as Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Annie Hall and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest have all won Best Picture. In recent memory the likes of Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Unforgiven, The Silence of the Lambs, Rain Man, The Lord of the Rings and American Beauty have also triumphed in the category.
However, from time to time, a film nominated for Best Picture surprisingly fails to get its hands on the shiny statuette. The following ten selections would have been my choice for Best Picture. These movies, in my opinion, are better than the overall Best Picture winner at the corresponding year’s ceremony. These are the Top 10 Films to be snubbed for Best Picture at the Oscars!
10. The Pianist (Lost to Chicago) – 2002
The Academy Awards’ love for the musical showed its ugly side at the 75th ceremony. It snubbed Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Scorsese’s Gangs of New York for Rob Marshall’s Chicago. However, the prize should have gone to Roman Polanski’s gritty interpretation of the Warsaw ghetto during Nazi occupation in World War II. Based on Polish-Jewish musician Władysław Szpilman true story, The Pianist features a staggering performance from Adrien Brody.
9. L.A. Confidential (Lost to Titanic) – 1997
Titanic made a lot of money. Its tale of the doomed debut voyage of ocean liner the Titanic was built on an impressive parade of special-effects and a tragic Romeo and Juliet-style love story. However, despite winning the hearts of millions of cinemagoers, L.A. Confidential is a far better film.
8. The Exorcist (Lost to The Sting) – 1973
One thing we can take from looking at the winners and losers throughout the history of the Academy Awards is: musicals are loved (or were for a considerable length of time), while horror hardly registers at all. The Exorcist is the closest any supernatural horror film has come to winning the top prize. Jaws was another nominated Best Picture loser while The Silence of the Lambs won the Academy’s most illustrious accolade in the name of the suspense thriller.
7. Apocalypse Now (Lost to Kramer Versus Kramer) – 1979
At the 52nd Academy Awards you could have quite easily picked two winners. Kramer vs. Kramer is a great film but many see Apocalypse Now has Francis Ford Coppola’s best work.
6. Dr. Strangelove (Lost to My Fair Lady) – 1964
Stanley Kubrick didn’t make films that warmed the hearts of Academy voters. It isn’t surprising therefore to see the darkly comic Dr. Strangelove lose out to safe choice musical My Fair Lady at the 37th Academy Awards
5. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe (lost to A Man For All Seasons) – 1966
The ferocious performances of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton weren’t enough to see the film beat A Man For All Seasons to the top prize. Taylor did however win in the Best Actress category.
4. A Streetcar Named Desire (Lost to An American In Paris) – 1951
Elia Kazan’s brilliant film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play features staggering performances from a cast that includes Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. It lost to musical An American In Paris.
3. Double Indemnity (Lost to Going My Way) – 1944
Billy Wilder didn’t have much luck at the Oscars when it came to winning the top prize. In the 17th Academy Awards, his brilliant film noir Double Indemnity lost out to musical comedy Going My Way.
2. Raging Bull (Lost to Ordinary People) – 1980
In many people’s view Raging Bull is Scorsese’s best film of all time. It lost to Robert Redford’s directorial debut Ordinary People.
1. Citizen Kane (Lost to How Green Was My Valley) – 1941
Yes, the “greatest film ever made” didn’t win Best Picture. How Green Was My Valley has its fans but its stature within film history is hardly that of the influential, awe-inspiring, innovative and, in many people’s eyes, flawless Citizen Kane. Indeed, How Green Was My Valley’s notoriety is more due to it being the movie that beat Citizen Kane to the Best Picture Oscar than its merits as a piece of cinematic history.
Other personal favourites that were beaten by admittedly fantastic films include: 12 Angry Men (lost to The Bridge of the River Kwai), Jaws (lost to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), Network and Taxi Driver (both losing to Rocky), Hannah and Her Sisters (lost to Platoon), Working Girl (lost to Rain Man).
Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.
Your turn – what are your favourite Oscars Winners and Loses?
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