The biggest Oscar snub last year came with Anthony Hopkins winning Best Actor over Chadwick Boseman. The Academy often makes mistakes that are hard to acquit. Most of these are erroneous judgments in the Best Picture category. As much as we remember films that take home the prestigious Oscar, it’s hard to forget those that are unfairly overlooked. Oscars have had a long history of not recognizing films that truly deserved Best Picture. From Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey to Roma, the list is long. In fact, most of these films that were controversially ignored went on to become more memorable than those that received the Oscar statuette. Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas, Saving Private Ryan, Brokeback Mountain, and Amour are some that are still revered, while those that won the Best Picture in the respective years have largely been forgotten.
Of course, a film’s worth isn’t always determined by the trophies it wins. Moreover, the reputation Oscar awards carry often leads to one controversy after another. No doubt, the Academy has awarded the deserving on numerous instances — Casablanca, The Godfather, Amadeus, Unforgiven, No Country for Old Men, and Parasite. But it’s frustrating when the most prestigious award of the night is handed over to a less deserving film. There have been several such infamous omissions in the past. Here go the 10 biggest Oscar Best Picture snubs in the history of Academy Awards:
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1. Citizen Kane (1941)
Acknowledged as the bedrock of modern cinema, Citizen Kane was Orson Welles’ masterpiece. It was one of those classics that every cinephile needs to revisit again and again. At a time when Hollywood wasn’t experimenting much in terms of aesthetic innovation, Welles tried to do something different. He brought upon a novel approach to filmmaking, highlighting the significant difference made to a film by good editing and cinematography.
Though Citizen Kane was respected by critics during its time, it didn’t receive the kind of acclaim later bestowed upon by cine enthusiasts and film scholars. Moreover, William Randolph Hearst, the real-life newspaper magnate who was the inspiration behind Kane’s characterization, attacked the movie, and subsequently led to the film’s failure at the box-office. Oscars more often choose people’s favorite movies of the year. In that manner, John Ford’s social drama How Green Was My Valley, did the right politicking and campaigning to win the top award.
2. The Third Man (1949)
Eight years after the release of Citizen Kane, its helmer played the pivotal role in Carol Reed’s British film noir. Orson Welles also penned the script alongside Reed and novelist Graham Greene. Recognized as one of the best British films of all time, Carol Reed’s The Third Man was a thrilling as well as a brilliantly shot post-war noir. Mocking the tragedy of Vienna, it was about three men who were responsible for some guy’s murder. As the title hints, the story revolved around the third person, whom we were never briefed about, until the final act. Unfortunately, it didn’t even get a nomination in the Best Picture category.
Only a handful of times British movies have won a Best Picture Oscar. In fact, in the 93 year-history of Oscars, Parasite was the first non-English film to collect the topmost prize. It’s also important to note that 1948 is the year a British film won its first Best Picture Oscar (Hamlet). So though a great masterpiece that’s still revered across the globe, the odds were not in favor of The Third Man.
3. Singin’ in the Rain (1951)
Taking into consideration the perennial love of the Academy for musicals, it’s baffling to comprehend why Singin’ in the Rain wasn’t rewarded. Anyone who has seen the film will think twice before calling La La Land an original piece of work. Damien Chazelle’s 2016 Oscar favorite was hugely inspired from Stanley Donen’s work. Precise in portraying the transition of Hollywood from silent films to talkies, it depicted the concealed truth of the industry, albeit in a comical way, padded by phenomenal performances (Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds). Tragically, the award went to Cecil DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, one of the least deserving Oscar winners.
Till 2021, ten musicals have won the Best Picture. Interestingly, only a year before Singin’ in the Rain, a musical comedy a musical comedy got the top prize (An American in Paris). And so it’s shocking the Academy didn’t even consider a nomination for the film.
4. Vertigo (1958)
Hitchcock and The Academy were always at odds with each other. Therefore, it doesn’t come across as a big surprise that one of the master’s finest films didn’t get nominated for the Best Picture. Before you begin to question the reputation of the jury, know that Vertigo did win a couple of awards in the technical department. The film opened to mixed reactions, with critics complaining about its exceeded runtime for a murder mystery. That marred its chances of getting recognition. It was only a few years later when Alfred’s tour de force was reevaluated and earned universal acclaim.
That year the Best Picture Oscar went to the forgettable, light-weight musical Gigi. It’s amusing the rest of the films nominated in the category couldn’t even match up to the caliber of Hitchcock’s mastery. Unfailingly then, Vertigo goes down as the greatest snub in Oscar history.
5. Spartacus/Psycho (1960)
The Academy continued to dishearten Hitchcock fans as they snubbed another excellent Alfred Hitchcock film. Psycho, as we know, was an ingenious film. The very first and imaginative ‘slasher-flick’ of our time, it redefined the horror genre. But perhaps it was too vague for the jury’s liking. The other film released that year was Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.
If the former deserved at least a nomination, the latter deserved to win it. The Academy often overlooked Kubrick, one of the most visionary and influential directors we’ve ever had, several times. With Spartacus, he was comparatively more unfortunate than Hitchcock. Going more classical and less experimental, his film was about the Roman Servile Wars (starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis). While it won four awards of the six nominations it received, it also didn’t receive a nomination in the Best Picture category. Nevertheless, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment which won the award was a fascinating romance drama.
6. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
The Cold War confrontation between America and Russia reached its threshold in the 1960s. The fear over nuclear warfare was ubiquitous. Master craftsman Stanley Kubrick reflected on this atmosphere of paranoia through his 1964 dark comedy. It’s an ingenious political satire that unfortunately stays relevant. There’s no victory in nuclear warfare, and that is brilliantly emphasized through the absurdly funny behavior of ruling men.
Dr. Strangelove was nominated in the Best Picture category. Nevertheless, it was predominantly a fight between My Fair Lady (which eventually won) and Mary Poppins. More infuriating was the fact that Dr. Strangelove wasn’t even nominated for Best Screenplay. In fact, after Hitchcock, Kubrick became The Academy’s most snubbed great filmmaker. His 2001: A Space Odyssey which re-defined sci-fi genre didn’t receive the Best Picture nomination.
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
As I mentioned above, 2001 is a superlative sci-fi film that was way ahead of its time, and has been an inspiration for many. Becoming a cornerstone in the history of cinema, it was a fine example of a man’s reach and potential in the space-age. Kubrick questioned the possibilities of human evolution in the ever-expanding cosmos without ever making it sound conventional. The script, the characters (HAL 9000), the music and obviously, the visuals were all unforgettable.
Sci-fi cinema never had a chance in winning the Best Picture Oscar. E.T. and Star Wars received a nomination. Guillermo del Toro’s science fantasy, The Shape of Water (2017) set a new record in the Best Picture category. But back in 1968, The Academy wasn’t ready to bestow its top prize to an abstract sci-fi movie that subverted all the narrative conventions. Naturally, it went with an easy choice. Carol Reed’s musical Oliver! It’s interesting how the masterful British filmmaker received an award for his least deserving work.