So…the Academy got it ‘wrong’ again. Big deal. Ever since the movie industry closed ranks and decided to reward itself on the “greatest” achievements among their fellow filmmakers, there’s been the same old debate: How could Cary Grant never win an Oscar? How could Katherine Hepburn win so many? Why was Hitchcock snubbed? Why did it take (insert years or decades here) for (insert name and or title here) to finally get recognized? Nowhere is the argument more heated, however, than in the backwards glancing give and take of Best Picture. As a proposed representation of what the artform does right every year, there are many who believe that the members of the AMPAS consistently get this highest honor wrong. In fact, if one looks over the 80 plus winners of the coveted prize (and their competition at the time), one can discover at least 30 instances when the wrong film (arguably) triumphed.
So in order to correct this cruel mistake, we’ve gone back through the list of Best Picture winners and come up with the 10 Films that should have won the Academy’s highest accolade. Now, we have dispensed with some most glaring and obvious omissions (Raging Bull over Ordinary People, Pulp Fiction and a certain Mr. Gump, Goodfellas vs. Dancing with Wolves) while keeping a few which are so flagrant in their wrongheadedness that they require another mention. Also, we aren’t going to jump beyond the actual nominated entries for any given year. Sure, we leap at any chance to mention our undying devotion to 2001: A Space Odyssey or Miller’s Crossing, but since the members of the voting cabal choose not to every recognize them with a nomination, we will do the same (sadly).
Yes, there are many more examples that can be highlighted, and any discussion of slights is still a question of opinion, but sometimes, a mistake is a mistake. Of course, when Oscar makes a misstep, it resonates for a very long time - as with the first selection on our list.
Yes, this is one of those obvious ones. We admit it. But it’s almost impossible to conceive that a film as inventive, as important, and as consistently acclaimed as Kane could walk away with only one Academy Award (for screenplay). The year’s winner was a nice little bit of dry, dated nostalgia, but when compared to what many believe is the best film of all time, the eventual win is laughable. Of course, there was even more politicking and cronyism back then, so the decision is understandable. Historically and aesthetically, it’s indefensible, however.
This is a close call. In truth, we could have picked 1948’s The Red Shoes over Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, or Spellbound over The Lost Weekend, but we choose this example of misguided rewarding since it illustrates a trend that would haunt the AMPAS for decades to come. If there is a perfect example of “Oscar Bait,” Paris is it. Dull, overblown, artsy, and totally locked in its time, it’s a fine film, just not the year’s pinnacle. Sun was superior in every way. And remember, just because it’s beloved doesn’t mean it’s the best.
While this may seem like another no brainer, there are those who passionately defend the Lerner and Loewe musical as a grand, great work of art. We, of course, argue that any film where the main actress can’t actually sing her own role more or less defeats the point of the genre. Besides, Ms. Hepburn’s box office clout was the only reason the original Eliza, Julie Andrews, was dropped from consideration. As he would throughout much of his career, Stanley Kubrick watched from the sidelines as his unquestionable brilliance was marginalized by the members of the Academy. Strangelove should have been the start of a series of wins for him.
The counterculture is breathing down your neck. The other mediums are embracing the change within the country. The post-modern movement is threatening to wipe out the last remaining vestiges of the old Hollywood. So what do you do as the tastemakers for an entire artform? You embrace a pro-war rant about a heroic if pigheaded military man and let the conservatives in your club drop statues all over it. ‘71 also saw M*A*S*H* and Love Story nominated, but for our money, this Bob Rafelson gem deserved the top prize. As the perfect Patton antidote, it probably had no chance.
The debate here is not really over the eventual winner (Rocky remains a rollicking, well made piece of sports pandering) but what would actually be the substitute selection. On the one side is Martin Scorsese’s landmark work of urban alienation. On the other is Paddy Chayefsky’s spot-on denouncement of the trending tabloid television (about 20 years before it’s time). Trying to choose between the two (and for S&Gs, we could throw the equally amazing All the President’s Men into the mix as well) becomes a decision of undeniable difficulty. If it were up to us, the boob tube would trump the loony lone gunman.