The Best Pictures That Weren’t Nominated For Best Picture

This list is twenty-one films that were nominated for multiple Oscars, including several that were nominated for Best Director, yet somehow missed out on a Best Picture nomination. I’m starting in 1951 because I went all the way down to 1927 and mostly, until 1951, the best films managed to get nom’d for Best Picture. I think this mostly had to do with all the years wherein ten films were nominated for the top prize. Although, last year when there were ten slots again there were several films I would have nom’d over say, The Blind Side. I’m not going to talk about any of those though, because that would take up almost the whole post. Instead, I have twenty-one films from 1951 to 2008 that I think should have gotten one of the Best Picture slots of their year.

The first film on my list is 1951’s The African Queen. The film was directed by John Huston and was nominated for four Oscars – Best Director Huston, Best Writing – Screenplay, Best Actress Katharine Hepburn and Best Actor Humphrey Bogart. Bogart won his only Oscar for this film. The films up for Best Picture that year were A Place In The Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, Decision Before Dawn, Quo Vadis and winner An American In Paris. I’ve only seen two of those (Streetcar and the winning film), but The African Queen is largely considered one of the great classic films. It also always baffles me when a film can snag a Best Director nod and not one for Best Picture.

Billy Wilder’s 1953 film Stalag 17 was up for three awards, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor Robert Strauss and Best Actor William Holden. Holden won his only Oscar for his performance in this film. The films up for Best Picture that year were Julius Caesar, Roman Holiday, Shane, The Robe and winner From Here To Eternity. I’ve seen three of those films and completely agree with the winner. Although I haven’t seen either, I think perhaps Julius Caesar and The Robe were there because of Shakespeare for the former (and a solid performance by Marlon Brando) and the latter because it was an epic, as well as one of the first films to be shot in Cinemascope widescreen. Regardless, Stalag 17 remains one of the greatest prisoner of war films in cinema history.

Billy Wilder got snubbed two years in a row, this time for 1954’s Sabrina. It was up for six Oscars – Best Actress Audrey Hepburn, Best Director, Best Writing – Screenplay, Best B&W Cinematography, Best B&W Art Direction, Best B&W Costume Design. The only award it won was for its costumes. The nominated films that year were Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, The Caine Mutiny, The Country Girl, Three Coins in the Fountain and winner On The Waterfront. I guess part of why I feel so defensive of this film is, it’s one of my Top Ten Films of All-Time, but I also think it’s one of the greatest and the most perfect romantic comedies ever filmed. Also it stars Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, how can you say no to that?

Elia Kazan’s 1955 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is masterfully executed and is one of only three films to feature film legend James Dean. It was nominated for Best Actor James Dean (the first ever posthumous nomination, Dean would get a second one the next year for Giant), Best Supporting Actress Jo Van Fleet (she won), Best Director and Best Writing – Screenplay. The films nominated for Best Picture that year were Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, Mister Roberts, Picnic, The Rose Tattoo and winner Marty. I’ve seen three of those films and I would definitely say East of Eden is a far better filmed than Picnic. Strangely that year the only films that were up for both the Best Director award and Best Picture were Picnic and Marty. That completely boggles my mind. I love Marty to death and I think it was definitely the best of all those films, but East of Eden at least deserved a nomination.

I do believe the reason Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho was not nominated for Best Picture was because it was a thriller and a B-picture at heart. But really, it was a B-picture made so perfectly that it was A quality and to this day remains one of the greatest films of all time. It was up for Best Supporting Actress Janet Leigh, Best Director, Best B&W Cinematography and Best B&W Art Direction. How it wasn’t nominated for its editing either is beyond me. The films up for Best Picture that year were The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers, The Sundowners and winner The Apartment. I’ve only see one of those films so I can’t do much comparison, but I can say The Apartment is an absolutely fabulous film. But really, of all six of those films Psycho is definitely the most iconic.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago discussing how shocked I was that In Cold Blood wasn’t nominated for Best Picture in 1967. The film was nominated for Best Director Richard Brooks, Best Adapted Screenplay (also Brooks), Best Cinematography Conrad L. Hall, Best Original Score Quincy Jones. The films nominated for Best Picture that year were Bonnie & Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, The Graduate and winner In The Heat of the Night. I would have swapped out In Cold Blood for Doctor Dolittle (which is how the Best Director race went) and called it good. Like I said in my previous post, Doctor Dolittle was one of Old Hollywood’s last gasps as the musical died and films began to get edgier and edgier.

1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is hard film to watch; but it is an important film, chronicling an aspect of early 20th century American history that is often forgotten. It was nominated for a whopping nine Oscars, including Best Actress Jane Fonda, Best Supporting Actor Gig Young (he won), Best Supporting Actress Susannah York, Best Director Sydney Pollack, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Score. How all of those nominations didn’t culminate in a Best Picture nod is just ridiculous. The films up for the award that year were Anne of a Thousand Days, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hello, Dolly!, Z and winner Midnight Cowboy. I think this was another case of Old Hollywood vs. New Hollywood and a few New Hollywood films made it in the top group, but so did some Old Hollywood types – leaving no room for this great film.

I love Steven Spielberg’s 1977 Sci-Fi film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was up for Best Supporting Actress Melinda Dillon, Best Director, Best Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond won the award), Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Score (John Williams was up against himself for this score and won for Star Wars). This was a case of two really great Sci-Fi films in one year and the Academy only being able to handle awarding one. Although both films received Special Achievement awards, Close Encounters for Sound Effects Editing and Star Wars for Sound Effects. The films up for Best Picture that year were The Goodbye Girl, Julia, Star Wars, The Turning Point and winner Annie Hall.

I think Ridley Scott’s 1982 Sci-Fi film Blade Runner is an absolute masterpiece. It was only up for two awards – Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects. I think it was another case of two Sci-Fi films and there only being room for one. The films up for Best Picture that year were E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Missing, The Verdict, Tootsie and winner Gandhi. I think of all those films, Blade Runner is the closest to being a real work of art and I will always love it.

I think the 1988 comedy A Fish Called Wanda is absolutely one of the funniest films I have ever seen. It was up for three Oscars – Best Supporting Actor Kevin Kline (he won), Best Director Charles Crichton and Best Original Screenplay John Cleese and Charles Crichton. The films up for Best Picture that year were The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, Working Girl and winner Rain Man. Now, I’ve seen three of these films and I think Rain Man definitely was the best of them (although Working Girl is one of my favorite films of all time).  I also think A Fish Called Wanda is miles better than The Accidental Tourist.

Woody Allen’s 1994 comedy Bullets Over Broadway is another one of those films that received numerous nominations but somehow not Best Picture. It was up for seven awards including Best Supporting Actor Chazz Palminteri, Best Supporting Actress Diane Weist (she won; this was her second win in this category, both under the direction of Allen), Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Tilly, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. The films up for Best Picture that year were Four Weddings and a Funeral (which was only up for one other award, Original Screenplay), Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption and winner Forrest Gump. I love all of these movies (well, I like Forrest Gump, but not as much as the others), but it’s hard for me to fathom how Four Weddings got the Best Picture nod over Bullets.

1995’s Dead Man Walking is another one of those films that is so hard to watch. I remember when I first saw it I cried so hard while watching it and then cried several times in the weeks after I watched it when I thought about it. It also reaffirmed for me why it is I’m against the death penalty, but that’s a story for another day. It was nominated for Best Actress Susan Sarandon (she won), Best Actor Sean Penn, Best Director Tim Robbins and Best Song. The films up for Best Picture that year were Apollo 13, Babe (which was up for seven Oscars in all),  Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility and winner Braveheart. The thing is I love Babe and I’ve loved Babe since I first saw it in theaters. It was one of the first films I’d seen wherein I’d read the book before seeing it. That being said, I’m still a little confused about how much love it received from the Academy. Also, Il Postino (which I’ve yet to see) somehow managed to get a Best Picture nod without getting a Foreign Film nod (this as to do with the rules for that category), which lead me to think that if it had gotten a Foreign Film nod it might not have gotten the Best Pic one and Dead Man Walking could have gotten its spot.

It is my firm belief that 1998’s The Truman Show is one of the truly great films of the modern era, it is also one of the great snubs in Oscar history. It was only up for three awards that year, Best Supporting Actor Ed Harris, Best Director Peter Weir and Best Original Screenplay. The films up for Best Picture that year were Elizabeth, La vita è bella, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line and winner Shakespeare in Love. 1998 was really an embarrassment of riches kind of year and I’m not sure which film I’d replace with The Truman Show. Maybe we could have a six film year?

Anthony Minghella’s 1999 thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley is a wonderful film, filled with great performances all-around and equally great production value. It was up for five awards including Best Supporting Actor Jude Law, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score. The films up for Best Picture that year were The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense and winner American Beauty. I’ve yet to see The Green Mile, but I hear it is fabulous. However, I love the other four films, so this is another year where I’m not sure what film I’d replace. I’d have liked 1999 to be a year with ten slots, then we could also have Ripley and Sleepy Hollow and The Matrix and Boys Don’t Cry and Being John Malkovich.

Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite directors and his 2000 film Almost Famous is one of my all-time favorites. It was up for four awards – Best Supporting Actress Kate Hudson, Best Supporting Actress Frances McDormand, Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay Cameron Crowe (he won). Again, this was a year where I loved all the Best Picture nominees – Chocolat, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and winner Gladiator. I think, though, that I would replace Erin Brockovich or Chocolat with Almost Famous and call it good.

The 2001 French film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain or Amélie as it’s widely known in America, is one of my favorite films of all-time. It was nominated for five awards including Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Foreign Language Film; it failed to win any. The films nominated for Best Picture that year were Gosford Park, In The Bedroom, Moulin Rouge!, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and winner A Beautiful Mind. I’ve seen four of those films and I love all of them. I’ve yet to see In The Bedroom, however, so I can’t say whether I think it should have gotten the fifth spot or not.

2003’s Cidade de Deus (City of God) is a fabulous film and is one of the most acclaimed films of the previous decade. It was up for four Oscars including Best Director Fernando Meirelles, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Editing. The films that were up for Best Picture that year were Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit and winner The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I’ve only seen Seabiscuit and ROTK, so I’ve no basis for comparison for the other three films. Regardless, I’d go with City of God over Seabiscuit, however the latter is based on a Great American Story and we all know how much the Academy loves those.

The omission of 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind from the Best Picture category is one of the greatest snubs from the previous decade. The film was only nominated for two awards Best Actress Kate Winslet and Best Original Screenplay Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth (they won). The films up for Best Picture that year were The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways and winner Million Dollar Baby. I’ve yet to see Ray, but out of the other four I really, really hate Sideways and would easily give its spot to Eternal Sunshine.

If the Academy hadn’t pissed me off enough in 2004, their treatment of 2006’s masterpiece Children of Men pushed me over the edge (although, to be fair, I also blame poor marketing on Universal’s part  as well). In my opinion, this was the best film of that year, as well as one of the best films of the decade. It was up for only three awards – Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. It left empty-handed and I’m still not over it. The films up for Best Picture that year were Babel, Letter From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen and winner The Departed. I could rant for days about how much of a better film Children of Men is than the pretentious piece of crap snooze-fest that is Babel, but I won’t.

I really love 2007’s Le scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). It is one of the few films that are even better than the book on which it is based. Looking at this film is like looking at a piece of art and it’s no wonder too, being directed by artist in his own right Julian Schnabel. It was up for four awards – Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. The films up for Best Picture that year were Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood and winner No Country For Old Men. Possibly unpopular opinion: I would have given Juno‘s spot to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2008, as well as of the decade, and perhaps the most shocking omission for Best Picture of the last decade. It had received so much critical and guild laude that the odds were in its favor and had the Academy began having ten slots a year earlier, it would most definitely gotten a nod. Regardless, the film was up for eight awards, including Best Supporting Actor Heath Ledger (he won), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing (which it won), Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup. The films up for Best Picture that year were Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader and winner Slumdog Millionaire. Personally, I loved The Reader and I know a lot of people though TDK should have had its spot. For me, I would have given Benjamin Button‘s spot to TDK. It was a good film for sure, but nowhere near as great as Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac (which received ZERO Oscar nominations). But really, if we’d had a ten film year, we could have had the five nom’d films, as well as The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, Doubt, In Bruges and Changeling. That would have been a great list.

If you’re interested in buying any of these films, you can do so here.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on July 25, 2010, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. i think you’re right on every film, particularly on Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind. it was a master piece. let me tell you, you rule!

  2. Well you started with one of my favorite movies with my favorite actress – a film that came out the year I was born. This is an impressive list of impressive films and it really spotlights some of the fickle actions of the Academy. I have seen many many of the films on this list both the snubbed and the winners and you have done a great job of highlighting these odd decisions.

    I would only disagree with your problem finding a slot for the diving bell and the butterfly. I saw all 5 nominated films. I loved Michael Clayton. I despised Atonement. I was bored shitless by There Will Be Blood. I felt his performance consisted entirely of screaming and facial twitches. And No County For Old Men. Enjoyed it. Apparently I am the only person who found the evil bad guy hilarious instead of scary.

    Anyway I am side tracked. Would very much like to see Diving Bell.

    I also adore Stalag 17 and hope to direct a stage production next year.

    And Blade Runner! OMG Watching it a couple of weeks ago I was blown away by how fantastic it is all over again.

    So the Academy has a problem with Sci-Fi. I don’t understand that – its just another way to tell morality tales and have action just like Westerns or any other Genre. I believe that eventually Sci-Fi will get the respect is deserves.

    Good job. Thanks

  3. I know you don’t agree, but I probably would have given There Will Be Blood’s spot to Diving Bell. I thought the performances in Blood were awesome, but I didn’t love the film. That being said, I do love Juno, but could happily have seen that go without a nomination too. And I would have been much happier if Atonement or Diving Bell had won Adapted Screenplay that year. I really thought both those screenplays took ok/good books and made them something so much greater, whereas No Country was a great book and a great screenplay.

    I didn’t love The Reader, but I hated Benjamin Button, so we’re basically in agreement there.

    I really liked In the Bedroom. I’d probably give up Moulin Rouge! that year, because I think the first half is kind of weak, even though I love the second half fiercely.

    In conclusion, They Shoot Horses is a goddamn masterpiece. MASTERPIECE.

  4. wow, we have insanely similar movie taste. I agree on all accounts, for the movies I’ve seen at least. The Truman Show is one of my favorite movies, easily. and yeah, Babel is a snooze-fest. great post.

  5. Totally agree about Children of Men. I barely heard about it the year it was out (no marketing, no oscars) and when I saw it two years later I was astounded that it went virtually unnoticed when it was released. The Departed was nothing compared to it.

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