Influential Hollywood Classics That Were Snubbed by the Oscars
Forget world cinema, the history of the Academy awards is replete with a number of instances when the committee failed to recognise their very own, Hollywood films that went on to become classics. Let’s roll back into the past and check out some of the worst Oscar blunders. Shall we?
The Searchers (1956)
John Ford has many great films to his credit and has won several Oscar trophies too. But the most admired piece in his oeuvre, The Searchers, was not considered for a single nomination by the Academy. Telling the story of a middle-aged Civil War veteran (played by John Wayne) and his nephew, searching for the abducted niece, this deeply nuanced film explored the theme of racial prejudice and sexism in the gorgeous untamed wilderness. It touched a deep chord with filmmakers worldwide for its expansive stroke in storytelling. Countless homages to the classic and its inimitable range of iconic images are strewn all over. It continues to be cited as the best western film ever made.
King Kong (1933)
If the ‘monster movie’ genre is a great business proposition in Hollywood today, it owes a great deal to the giant ape. Retelling the age-old fable of ‘beauty and the beast’, King Kong painted the story of an ancient monster dying in the city of New York, only because he fell for the beautiful blonde. The grandfather of all, from Jurassic Park to Godzilla movies, this film paved the way for all creature features of the future dominated by dazzling special effects to terrorize mere mortals, on and off screen. As a standalone film, it has a little bit of everything - action, adventure, horror, sci-fi, drama, love, even humour. And when you combine all, catastrophic destruction. Since its release, it has grown bigger and bigger in stature and influence, but was denied any nomination by the Academy.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Wins: 1 (Best Original Screenplay)
That stained sign on a black wire fence is the first thing we see in Citizen Kane, and thus began the era of modernism in cinema. Orson Welles’ story of Charles Foster Kane, a young idealistic newspaperman altered by scandal and vice into an isolated and remorseful old man, gasping that enigmatic word ‘Rosebud’ with his last breath, has become a true cinematic legend. Released in 1941, the Academy awarded it only one trophy and made the greatest blunder in history. Over the years, it has been awarded the status of the greatest American film ever made by the American Film Institute (AFI), along with uncountable other critics’ polls worldwide. Every film is an ensemble piece, but Citizen Kane is the coming together of story, acting, dialogue, direction, cinematography, and editing in a way very few movies do.
Bates Motel. Janet Leigh under the shower. And we got one of the most celebrated scenes of cinema history and the most popular piece from the master of suspense. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho told the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) running away with a huge sum of money and taking a room at a quiet motel and meeting the owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). And hell followed. Psycho was the first of its kind in many ways: it killed its lead in the first 45 minutes leaving viewers to fend for themselves, introduced drag as a horror element, broke the censor’s toilet taboo and used unique advertisements of not allowing audiences in the theatre once the film had begun rolling. The forerunner of the slasher genre, this frightening film is one that has defied time and still glows as a masterwork of art and entertainment put together.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Wins: 1 (Best Visual Effects)
No other director has delved into more genres than Stanley Kubrick in film history successfully, and 2001: A Space Odyssey remains one of his paramount achievements. The idea, technique and treatment of experimental cinema was brought into this big budget studio film, and Kubrick surpassed all previous achievements in the sci-fi genre. He didn’t explain much to the audience and let them free in the realm of experience as he commented,
Against Carol Reed’s Oliver!, the meditative chef-d’oeuvre won the visual effects Oscar, the only Oscar he would ever win.
Raging Bull (1980)
Wins: 2 (Best Actor, Best Editing)
Martin Scorsese took the life and times of Jake La Motta, a Middleweight boxer from the 40s and 50s, and developed his story into one of the best character studies in the stadium of films. Unlike the formulaic progression of Rocky and other boxing films, the camera rages into the boxing arena and shoots sequences so close to reality that the visceral intensity becomes too much to handle. With the poignant touch that Scorsese showed in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull’s analysis of evil lying within the self was brutally portrayed by Robert De Niro in one of cinema’s most supreme performances, for which he was awarded. But the film was more than its acting, and over time, by the end of the 1980s, it sealed its reputation as a modern classic. What’s up, dear Academy?
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Wins: 1 (Best Costume Design)
‘Nobody’s perfect’, Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding uttered, and American screwball comedy got its most famous finishing line. The farcical comedy about two out-of-luck musicians posing as women so that they can work in an all-women’s band while escaping a mobster, Billy Wilder made slapstick uproarious with risqué innuendos challenging gender roles. It spoofed Hollywood romance and gangster films with a smartness that’s highly approachable yet difficult to pin down. The wittiest one-liners have become pop culture phenomenon and AFI declared it the best American comedy of all time. If it’s the best comedy, why not the Best Picture?
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Wins: 2 (Best Cinematography, Best Sound)
Inspired by Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Francis Ford Coppola moved the story of Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness from Congo to Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War, and told the story of Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen), a US Army officer in a journey to find and terminate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz. (Marlon Brando). Coppola famously claimed, “This isn’t a film about Vietnam. This film is Vietnam.” And he was successful in taking us into the middle of the unnerving realities of war. Willard’s journey in understanding Kurtz and the latter existing in the world of darkness or half-light uttering T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, it is about moments; moments of horror, madness and the nightmare that war unfolds. Be it the troubled production history, the ambitious treatment, the visual virtuosity or the vast acclaim, Apocalypse Now has become one giant Hollywood myth. Sight and Sound named it as the best film of the last 25 years and it’s now usually considered the best Vietnam film ever made. Cannes gave it its top prize, Hollywood did otherwise.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
The mere mention of the film can bring a smile to the face of any film lover, cutting across all age groups. And the image of Gene Kelly ecstatically dancing and hanging boisterously from a lamppost during a heavy shower has come to represent not only the best of the MGM musical, but the pinnacle of it. When released, it received decent reviews but soon faded from public memory. Years later, the so called escapist American kitsch rose like a phoenix from the ashes of forgotten memories and became the most celebrated American musical ever. The film makes a parody of Hollywood’s troubles in its transition from silent films to talkies, but the wafer thin plot celebrates it with jolly good dancing. But happy movies weren’t really ever the Academy’s cup of tea.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Wins: 1 (Best Original Screenplay)
While the audience was still recuperating from the shock and awe of Reservoir Dogs two years earlier, Quentin Tarantino set the screen on fire by knitting four tales of violence and redemption featuring two hitmen, a boxer, a gangster’s wife and a pair of diner bandits. Like scrambled eggs, the tales were interweaved with allusions and references to numerous films and TV shows with so much style and chutzpah that art and trash fit into each other like hand in glove. The film received tremendously positive reviews, pocketed the Palme d’Or at Cannes and became a box office hit. An odd thriller, it made Tarantino the coolest filmmaker on earth, but the Academy didn’t think much of it, beyond its writing.
(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 2 March 2016.)