Back in 2020, the night before the Oscar ceremony, Roommate Russ and I watched the Best Picture Nominee Ford Vs. Ferrari together. It was still early when it finished, and we were underwhelmed; so Roommate Russ then suggested we watch The Lighthouse, which had only been nominated for Cinematography. I’d seen it before, but loved it; so watch we did; with me occasionally glancing over at him to see his reaction, smiling to find him watching with rapt attention. We got so engrossed that we forgot to turn on lights as night fell. When the film finally ended, Roommate Russ was silent for several seconds, and then all but shouted: “Ford Vs. Ferrari got nominated for Best Picture but that didn’t?”
This year, he – like many others – issued similar cris-du-couer over the Korean film Decision to Leave getting completely shut out, and over the Indian blockbuster RRR only receiving a nod for Best Original Song. But I’m a bit more cynical; I’ve long since accepted that the Academy’s priorities are different from mine, and this extends to matters of taste; I pay more attention to who wins Best Screenplay, since that’s much more likely to match what I consider the Best Film.
Also, sometimes time reveals the real winners. Steven Spielberg may have been personally inspired by seeing the film The Greatest Show on Earth as a boy, but it often tops “Worst ‘Best Picture’ Winners” critics’ lists, and odds are that most people today wouldn’t have even heard of it if The Fablemans hadn’t given it a mention. On the other hand, one of the films it beat – High Noon – is far, far better known. And that’s a case in which both films were nominated. When it comes to films, directors, and actors who were left out of the running, that can be an even more surprising list:
- The songs from the musical Singin’ In The Rain may have been ineligible for “Best Song” according to Academy rules (most of them were standards from the 1920s), but the film itself was eligible. It didn’t get nominated.
- Gene Kelly didn’t get nominated for Best Actor in that film either.
- Vertigo didn’t get nominated for Best Picture, Jimmy Stewart didn’t get nominated for Best Actor, and Alfred Hitchcock didn’t get nominated for Best Director.
- The Searchers didn’t get nominated for anything.
- Neither did Groundhog Day.
- Or King Kong, not even for Visual Effects.
- Or The Shining. Jack Nicholson also didn’t get a Best Actor nomination.
- Chaplin’s Modern Times also was overlooked.
- Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing only got a Best Screenplay nomination – not Best Picture.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey also was shut out of a Best Picture nomination.
- The documentary Hoop Dreams didn’t receive a nomination (although, the public outcry over its snub was so great that it lead to an overhaul of the Best Documentary nomination process).
- Barbara Streisand’s nomination snub for directing The Prince Of Tides also caused consternation, prompting Oscar ceremony host Billy Crystal to reference it in his musical montage (“Seven nominations on the shelf/Did this film direct itself?”)
- Steven Spielberg was not nominated for directing Jaws.
- Kathleen Turner’s performance in Body Heat was overlooked.
- So was Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
- And Ray Liotta in Goodfellas.
- And Sidney Poitier for In The Heat Of The Night.
- And Denzel Washington’s performance in Philadelphia.
- And Robert Shaw’s performance in Jaws.
- Ingrid Bergman was not nominated for Casablanca.
- Humphrey Bogart was not nominated for The Maltese Falcon.
- Cary Grant was not nominated for his performances in North By Northwest, The Philadelphia Story, and for most of his other roles, actually.
- Robert Mitchum was not nominated for The Night Of The Hunter.
- Diane Keaton did not get nominated for The Godfather, either Part 1 or Part 2.
- Adam Sandler did not get nominated for Punch Drunk Love.
- Jim Carrey did not get nominated for either The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.
- Judy Garland was not nominated for The Wizard Of Oz.
- Mia Farrow has not been nominated for any acting Oscars at all.
There are scores of songs which have also been shut out of nominations, but that’s a bit of a complicated situation: a given song has to have been written specifically for a given film. That rule very nearly disqualified the song “Falling Slowly”, because Glenn Hansard and Marketa Irglova included it on an album that they made while its film Once was still in post-production (the Academy ruled that since it had originally been written for the film, it was still eligible). Also, in the case of movie musicals, producers can only submit three of the movie’s songs for consideration (this explains why Lin-Manuel Miranda was nominated for “Dos Orugitas” last year instead of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”; producers didn’t think “Bruno” was a contender). But even taking those rules into consideration, some Best Song snubs are especially puzzling, like:
- “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, for Dangerous Minds
- “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb for Reality Bites
- “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka And the chocolate Factory
- The theme from “New York, New York”
- “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles
- Pretty much the entire Saturday Night Fever soundtrack
- “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis Presley, from Blue Hawaii
- “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, for Do The Right Thing
- “Purple Rain” by Prince (although he did win for Best Score overall)
Again, though, it was ever thus. History will most likely issue the real rewards that the Academy fails to do.
I’ll leave you with a moment I remembered from the 1979 Oscar Awards Ceremony – Steve Lawrence and Sammy Davis Jr. singing a medley of “songs that weren’t even nominated”.