The Oscars may represent the pinnacle of movie-making, but the Academy has overlooked many classics while celebrating relative trash. Read on for the most-robbed movies!
In case you missed our many podcasts about the Oscars, you know that Academy Award season means a lot to Laser Time. This time of year is when Hollywood gets caught up in rewarding itself for making great PR campaigns – oops, I mean cinema. Not to burst the bubble on the fun of competing for a golden statue, but Oscar voters aren’t always infallible. In fact, they can really screw up when choosing the winners.
It’s true – the Oscar voters have been known to make a mistake or 100. Now, we could focus on every person of color or woman overlooked in Oscar, but honestly, that can’t be written by limiting ourselves to only seven entries. So, we’re going to focus on the most egregious examples of wrong-headed Oscar votes over the show’s history that overlooked iconic films, instead awarding forgettable treacle. Such as…
7. Saving Private Ryan loses to Shakespeare In Love
You could say Gwyneth Paltrow never had it better than in 1998, but as the daughter of a Hollywood producer and movie starlet, I’m betting she’s had more exponentially good days than bad. I don’t mean to hate on Paltrow; she clearly likes to be in a certain kind of film. Those happen to be ones I rarely see, so I only really know her for taking unremarkable supporting parts in ensemble films (Royal Tenenbaums, Contagion) and being Iron Man’s girlfriend. Again, I don’t wanna hate, but her head was the catalyst for Kevin Spacey’s murder in Seven, so perhaps I’ve never forgiven her. ‘
Anywho, Gwyneth has never made movies for me, and 1998 was the year that she was rewarded by her fellow Hollywood royalty for playing all those characters who get introduced on horseback whilst wearing enormous old-timey hats. Many of said royalty probably hadn’t gotten her anything since her 12th birthday party, so hey, maybe she was due! I had no dog in the 1998 Best Actress fight, so if the 71st Academy Awards ended with her taking home a statue, that’d been fine by me.
But it didn’t end there. Look, people: I can think of ten Steven Spielberg movies that should’ve won Best Picture Oscars, and the Academy was running out of time to make that right all the way back in 1998. Saving Private Ryan had everything in the world working in its favor as one of Senior Spielbergo’s best contenders yet, besides the one that makes us all feel real sad about the Holocaust.
Maybe Hollywood was sick of World War II that year, as 60% of the Best Picture nominees that year were set in dubya dubya two. Maybe the Academy felt John Madden was due for a win after a two decade drought, but they would’ve had to have been thinking of the famous football coach/announcer/video game character, because the director John Madden had only done three OTHER films under his belt; all of them period pieces that you’ve never fucking heard of. Or maybe executive producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein did a great job of schmoozing the Hollywood elite. Whatever the reason, Shakespeare in Love won. Again, I can only blame Paltrow.
I’ve never heard Shakespeare in Love brought up in any Oscar conversation as anything other than a punchline. The mere mention of the title elicits groans from most movie buffs. Whereas Saving Private Ryan… turn on a TV, it’s probably on right now. Sure, feel free to watch the rest of it. Saving Private Ryan works as well now as it did then, for almost everyone at any age, I dare anybody to say that about any movie nominated for Best Picture that year. But Shakespeare in Love won, so fuck that movie just a little more than the rest.
Let’s end this diatribe saying something nice about the films that should’ve won, shall we? In addition to making your dad cry for almost two decades, Saving Private Ryan featured fantastic performances from Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, and even Tom fucking Sizemore, and furthermore turned Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper and Vin Diesel into overnight stars (for better, for worse, or for family). As for Shakespeare in Love, I didn’t so much as see Joseph Fiennes’ name written in print for almost twenty years, not until he was recently cast as Michael Jackson. You wish I was joking. – Chris Antista
6.Citizen Kane loses to How Green Was My Valley
Even if new film students roll their eyes at most black and white films, Citizen Kane rarely fails to grab attention. It was so far ahead of its time, with cinematography that’s still ahead of most films, an unmatched script, and an acting tour de force by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater colleagues. Then there’s the winner in 1941. No offense to the esteemed careers of actors like Maureen O’Hara and Roddy McDowall, or the work of director John Ford, but I’m assuming most readers are unaware that How Green Was My Valley even featured those folks.
How Green Was My Valley is a classic definition of a safe Oscar winner: based on a period piece novel, about the struggles of Anglo-Saxons. Very staid compared to the provocative Citizen Kane, which riled up the very powerful Hearst family. Kane wasn’t all that successful at the box office, but reports say that most still expected it to win back in ’41. However, Welles seemed such a hated figure in Hollywood back then that he couldn’t get the votes from certain guilds and was even booed at the Oscar ceremony (not that Orson heard it, because he didn’t attend). It would be a number of years before Citizen Kane was truly recognized by the world at large as one of the best films ever made, while Valley’s tale of Welsh coal miners vanishes into the ether.
5. Everything in 1999 loses to American Beauty
Label us as a product of our times, but 1999 was one of the best years in cinema history, filled with iconic movies that still influence filmmakers to this day. The Matrix, Fight Club, Election, Three Kings, The Sixth Sense, Being John Malkovich, Office Space, Boys Don’t Cry, Magnolia, and The Blair Witch Project all came out within the final year of the previous millennium. Unfortunately, all that youthful energy from a new generation of filmmakers must’ve frightened Oscar voters, because most of those were overlooked in the nominations. ’99 belonged to American Beauty which hasn’t aged well.
Ironically, American Beauty expresses similar dissatisfaction with middle class existence as The Matrix, Fight Club, Office Space, Election, and Being John Malkovich, but in much more banal ways. Perhaps the Academy could handle it better when those concerns were being expressed by a guy in his 40s who wants to get high and screw a high schooler, but now American Beauty’s themes feel as painfully obvious as a theater major’s first attempt at satire. Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey give great performances, and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall’s composition is pretty famous, but all would go on to do better work. Hell, screenwriter Alan Ball would go on to tell many of these tales of malaise far better on Six Feet Under. It all makes American Beauty feel redundant at best, especially compared to how influential its competition became.