Just to clarify, this is NOT a list of Oscar's biggest injustices or snubs, as you'd need a whole separate web site for that. While I'm sure there's little doubt Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz and Robert DeNiro were robbed in their respective years you won't find them anywhere near here. To give you a heads up these mostly start from the 1960's and beyond just because that's the Oscar history and films I'm most familiar with. These are my FAVORITE nominations, where just simply seeing them listed made me so happy I couldn't have cared less about the result (okay, I wish they won). The best news is that maybe only two or three of these would qualify as flat-out injustices and in a few cases what beat it was actually quite deserving. I'll keep the complaining to a minimum and just be grateful these were recognized at all since most years our favorites aren't, which made compiling this easier than it should have been. Below is a list of my favorite losing nominees and the ten I'd hand statues to right now. Here's hoping after Sunday The Social Network won't be joining them.
10. THE TOWERING INFERNO (Best Picture, 1974)
LOST TO: THE GODFATHER PART II
Tell me it isn't cool that they actually nominated The Towering Inferno. Some refer to the flagbearer of 70's disaster movies as the worst Best Picture nominee of all-time. Maybe they've never seen it, or if they have, lack a sense of humor. Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire a burning high rise and O.J. Simpson. What more needs to said? It's three hours of non-stop cheesy excitement and if it went on three hours longer than that I wouldn't have complained. With 10 nominees now I wish The Academy would make more wild, outside-the-box selections like this, provided they're deserving. This is. No shame in losing to The Godfather Part II.
9. HAL HOLBROOK (BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, INTO THE WILD, 2007)
LOST TO: JAVIER BARDEM (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN)
"In 'Into the Wild,' that scene in the truck where Hal Holbrook is asking to adopt the young man, that is one of the best performances I've ever seen. It broke me into pieces. In life, as you grow and become comfortable in your own skin and create who you are you can escape from what you are. Then the whole disguise falls apart and you are just a human being. With a mature actor, you see a face totally naked, someone who is just speaking and being in front of the camera, and that is so powerful. That explains why performing is an art, when somebody shows us the sculpture of the human soul. It hits you and makes you wonder what you are."
That quote comes from Javier Bardem, who beat Holbrook to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for No Country For Old Men and it couldn't be truer. 2007 was the strongest year for film in a while and no one can begrudge The Academy for their selection here in an ultra-competitive category. Had another actor played the aging retiree who befriends Chris McCandliss (the unnominated Emile Hirsch) on the final leg of his journey the film wouldn't have even come close to carrying the same impact it did. His understated, dignified work took the picture exactly where it needed to go in its crucial third act. Classic "support" in every sense.
8. KATE HUDSON (BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, ALMOST FAMOUS, 2000)
LOST TO: MARCIA GAY HARDEN (POLLOCK)
Um....on second thought. Is it possible the Academy knew? That they glimpsed into Hudson's acting future and were trying to protect us. Regardless, we're supposed to be judging the nominated performance not the actress or the embarrassing work that followed. But in a single film she created one of the screen's most indelible female characters in Penny Lane and briefly filled us with hope that we'd witnessed the arrival of a major talent. We didn't. She deserved the win, even if in hindsight they look like geniuses for not giving it to her. The wrong actress came out on top, but Harden can now sleep guilt free.
7. PAT MORITA (BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, THE KARATE KID, 1984)
LOST TO: HAING S. NGOR (THE KILLING FIELDS)
This and Best Original Screenplay tend to be favorite categories of mine year after year as I find that's where the most interesting work is. A nomination that best exemplifies that was the late, great Pat Morita's unforgettable turn as karate teacher Mr. Keisuke Miyagi in the kind of inspiring, mainstream supporting performance that's so good it's in danger of being taken for granted. The role of the old, wise mentor has unfairly been turned into a running joke by inferior performances before and since but that does nothing to diminish what the former Happy Days star was able to do with it. Few are even aware he was nominated, which is proof of how under-appreciated the performance is, as well as how infrequently the Academy actually pays attention. Luckily they did this time.
6. ELISABETH SHUE (BEST ACTRESS, LEAVING LAS VEGAS, 1995)
LOST TO: SUSAN SARANDON (DEAD MAN WALKING)
Nicholas Cage officially won an Oscar that he should cut in half and split with my favorite 80's actress Elisabeth Shue. Both faced with the challenge of playing what's widely regarded as movie stereotypes (the drunk and the hooker with a heart of gold) they transcended those limitations, especially Shue who as the strong-willed Sera transforms it into something much sharper and smarter, free of any cliches. Cage's work was so (justifiably) hyped at the time that voters could have easily snubbed her, falsely assuming she was just along for the ride. But they didn't. By her own admission she made questionable career choices following this and didn't translate the nod into greater success but that's okay. It's good enough for me that she can permanently and deservedly put the title "Academy Award nominated actress" in front of her name.
5. BACK TO THE FUTURE (BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, 1985)
LOST TO: WITNESS
Yep, it was nominated for screenplay. Among the many nominations Back To The Future should have gotten and missed in 1985 (you could make a serious case for Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Original Score) it seems a little strange it got the nod for Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale's original screenplay. Then again, it really isn't at all. It's the story, above everything else, that keeps bringing new fans to the movie and it's almost impossible to believe something so brilliantly constructed wasn't based on previously published material. That said, because it was overlooked in every other category it feels like the Academy's just throwing the film a bone here to make up for it. But it's the thought that counts, so thanks anyway.
4. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (BEST PICTURE, 1971)
LOST TO: THE FRENCH CONNECTION
I know. I can't believe it either. They actually nominated Stanley Kubrick's controversial ultra-violent, sexually graphic, ahead of its time A Clockwork Orange for Best Picture. And even better than that, it lost to a respectable film in good year. I'm shocked they recognized it all, especially considering it was banned in England, released with an "X" rating in the U.S and at the time hardly carried the flawless reputation it does now. They even nominated Kubrick for director. One of the few cases where the term "it's a thrill just to be nominated" actually holds true.
3. DUSTIN HOFFMAN (BEST ACTOR, THE GRADUATE, 1967)
LOST TO: ROD STEIGER (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT)
I had to go back and double check this because I actually assumed Hoffman had won. A lot of people probably did, which tells the story right there. Maybe the most influential nomination ever in this category, its reverberations still being felt this year with Jesse's Eisenberg's performance in The Social Network (and to an even greater extent his work in 2009's Adventureland). Hoffman threw Hollywood for a loop, completely changing perceptions of how a leading man is supposed to look and act. Who even remembers Steiger's performance now?
2. E.T. (BEST PICTURE, 1982)
LOST TO: GANDHI
Let's not even try to pretend Steven Spielberg has made a film since that's equaled what he accomplished with E.T. There's nothing wrong with Gandhi per se but this is one of the few selections here that could reasonably top any list of Oscar's biggest injustices. You know it's bad when even the director of the winning film says he thought E.T. was robbed.
1. STANLEY KUBRICK (BEST DIRECTOR, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, 1968)
LOST TO: CAROL REED (OLIVER!)
On the bright side, let's give credit to the Academy for at least acknowledging the greatest director to never win an Oscar with nominations for this, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon since his films, for all their brilliance, were extremely cold and polarizing, and definitely not for all tastes. His reclusive, press-shy reputation probably didn't do him any favors here, though we probably care more than he did that he lost, if he cared at all. What he cared about was the work and the results were evident on screen. Still... Carol Reed for Oliver!? Oliver! also won Best Picture, while 2001 went unnominated. Even those who hate 2001 would call highway robbery on this. Ironically, this year's big match-up has faint echoes of '68 with an unpopular perfectionist filmmaker attempting to defeat a safe, emotional, audience pleasing "Oscar movie." It'll be interesting to see if the Academy's finally learned from their mistakes.
Best Picture: Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Graduate (1967), Star Wars (Best Picture, 1977), Apocalypse Now (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Babe (1995), Fargo (1996), There Will Be Blood (2007)
Best Actor: Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove, 1964, Being There, 1979), Dustin Hoffman (Midnight Cowboy, 1969), Jack Nicholson (Five Easy Pieces, 1970, Chinatown, 1974), Marlon Brando (Last Tango in Paris, 1973), Robert DeNiro (Taxi Driver, 1976), Woody Allen (Annie Hall, 1977), Burt Lancaster (Atlantic City, 1981), Robin Williams (Good Morning Vietnam, 1987), Tom Cruise (Born on the Fourth of July, 1989), Richard Dreyfuss (Mr. Holland's Opus, 1995), Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, 1996), Robert Duvall (The Apostle, 1997), Nicolas Cage (Adaptation, 2002), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation, 2003), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, 2008)
Best Supporting Actor: Alec Guinness (Star Wars, 1977), Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, 1994), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, 1994), Brad Pitt (12 Monkeys, 1995), William H. Macy (Fargo, 1996), Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights, 1997), Tom Cruise (Magnolia, 1999)
Best Actress: Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967), Audrey Hepburn (Wait Until Dark, 1967) Jane Fonda (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, 1969), Sissy Spacek (Carrie, 1976), Ellen Burstyn (Requiem For a Dream, 2000), Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!, 2001), Diane Lane, (Unfaithful, 2002)
Best Supporting Actress: Janet Leigh (Psycho, 1960), Shelley Winters (The Poseidon Adventure, 1972), Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver, 1976), Melinda Dillon (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977), Anne Ramsey (Throw Momma From the Train, 1987), Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction, 1994), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, 1997), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, 1997)
Best Director: Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, 1960), Stanely Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove, 1964), Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977, Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, 1994), Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, 2007), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008)
Best Cinematography: Robert Surtees (The Graduate, 1967), Roger Deakins (Fargo, 1996, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007, No Country For Old Men, 2007), Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World, 2005)
Best Original Score: John Williams (Superman, 1978, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981), Ennio Morricone (The Mission, 1986)
Best Original Song: "Eye of the Tiger" (Rocky III, 1982), "Ghostbusters" (Ghostbusters, 1984), "The Power of Love" (Back to the Future, 1985), "Blaze of Glory" (Young Guns II, 1990), "Save Me" (Magnolia, 1999)
Best Original Screenplay: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Easy Rider (1969), American Graffiti (1973), Star Wars (1977), E.T. (1982), Brazil (1985), Big (1988), Boogie Nights (1997), The Truman Show (1998), Bulworth (1998), Being John Malkovich (1999), Magnolia (1999), Memento (2001), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Graduate (1967), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Stunt Man (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Field of Dreams (1989), JFK (1991), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Wag The Dog (1997), Out of Sight (1998), Primary Colors (1998), Wonder Boys (2000), Adaptation (2002)