When it comes to honoring filmmakers, actors, and even the technicians who work in the industry, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—the folks who hand out the Oscars—sometimes miss. Badly. It’s one thing to be nominated and lose—after all, the Academy Awards are often dictated by backstage politics, current preferences, and the whims of the film gods.
But for a film (or any of the cast and crew for that matter) that is seemingly deserving of a nomination and to be snubbed completely, that’s a different matter altogether. In recent years, the Academy has tried to rectify a few of their past transgressions by increasing the number of Best Picture nominees to 10 (of course they still have managed to mishandle this as well) but there will always be those left behind that left us scratching our heads.
In anticipation for the upcoming Academy Awards, Film Slate Magazine presents the 10 greatest movies never nominated for an Oscar that deserved at least a nod of recognition, but for whatever reason, were left completely out of contention.
“Rushmore” – As Wes Anderson’s breakthrough film, it’s a shame that “Rushmore” didn’t garner a single Oscar nomination for Anderson, either for his exhilarating direction or his original screenplay (co-written with Owen Wilson), or for the original score by Mark Mothersbaugh. But the real crime was leaving Bill Murray out of the Best Supporting Actor category. Murray completely reinvented his reputation as an actor and showed that he had considerable dramatic chops with his bittersweet portrayal of wealthy industrialist Herman Blume. Murray injected Blume with a level of pathos and world weariness that made you accept any surrealistic situation that Anderson and Wilson may have come up with for the man who had to battle a high school student for the affections of a teacher.
“Shaun of the Dead” – The Academy doesn’t do well with comedies. As a matter of fact, they pretty much completely ignore them, unless the nomination has something to do with the score. And in the grand tradition of movies like “The Naked Gun,” films that not only tweak a genre but offer up something completely fresh and original, “Shaun of the Dead” was snubbed. The film earned three BAFTA nominations, including one for Best British Film. But there were no Oscar nominations to be found for this hilarious take on the Zombie Apocalypse and the two slackers who have to lead a group of survivors to safety.
“The Big Lebowski” – The Coen Brothers are no strangers to the Oscars. The list of their films that have been nominated—and the ones that have won, as well—is impressive, and well deserved. But how on earth did Jeff Bridges not get nominated in the Best Actor category for playing The Dude? Bridges finally snared his Oscar (on his fifth try; he would be nominated for a sixth a year later) in 2010 for his role in “Crazy Heart,” but it’s the deadpan, laconic Dude that is his defining role. The movie could have been nominated for a number of other Oscars as well: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and even Best Editing. “The Big Lebowski” defied description, which is perhaps why the Academy just completely ignored it.
“28 Days Later” – When this movie was released in 2002, zombies hadn’t become the cottage industry they would less than 10 years later. The image we had in our heads was that of George Romero’s lumbering undead. But in the hands of screenwriter Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle (who won an Oscar in 2009 for “Slumdog Millionaire”), “28 Days Later” put the genre on its head. The editing of this film is magnificently frantic; the score ratchets up the tension, especially in the climactic scene where Selena (Naomie Harris) takes an extra beat before she buries a knife in Jim’s (Cillian Murphy) head. The fact that neither actor was nominated escapes logic. The movie was nominated by several sci-fi and horror organizations, so maybe the Academy didn’t view it as a serious achievement in filmmaking. But oh, it was.
“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” – You’ll get no argument from us if you feel that “Snatch” was also unfairly snubbed by the Oscars—which it was. But “Lock, Stock” is the movie that put Guy Ritchie on the map and introduced the world to a collection of losers, thugs, and crime bosses whose actions are just a beat behind their mouths. The plot of this film becomes incredibly dense but never boring or too obtuse. The British seem to understand these things—“Lock, Stock” was nominated for Best British Film at the 1999 BAFTA Awards. This film should have gotten a Best Original Screenplay nod at the very least and a Best Director nomination for Ritchie.
“The Limey” – Once again, an Oscar-winning director (Steven Soderbergh, who won Best Director for 2000’s “Traffic”) helms a movie that should have at least sniffed an Oscar nomination. While the movie won’t win any points for originality, Terence Stamp turns in one of the best performances of his career as a father hell-bent on revenge, destroying everything in his path as he hunts down the people he holds responsible for his daughter’s death. It’s his balancing act as a recently released felon who is also trying to make up for missing out on most of his daughter’s life on which this film hinges. Nicky Katt also deserved recognition in a supporting role for bringing life to what could have been a clichéd, loser hitman.
“The Getaway” – There is no doubt that director Sam Peckinpah was hardly an Academy darling. His only Oscar nomination came with a Best Screenwriting nod (which he shared with two others) for “The Wild Bunch.” But Peckinpah raises “The Getaway” up from usual action fare with a deft hand and a gritty world view. Walter Hill’s screenplay (adapted from the Jim Thompson novel) practically invented the genre of the modern action thriller. Quincy Jones’ score was nominated for a Golden Globe, but no Oscar. With all of these possible nominations, there are two that stick out: Al Lettieri and Sally Struthers should have been nominated in their respective Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories. Lettieri is menacing and chilling as the sociopathic Rudy, and Struthers is magnetic as Fran, who turns from Rudy’s hostage to his willing paramour over the course of the film.
“Harold and Maude” – With the dawn of the 1970s, moviegoers were seeing things on the big screen that wouldn’t even have been tiptoed around just a few years before. Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon were both nominated for Golden Globes, but strangely shut out at the Oscars. Both turn in tour-de-force performances. Cort is perfect as the death-obsessed Harold. His penchant for attending funerals allows him to meet Maude (Gordon), and the two embark on a strange but gratifying friendship. Perhaps the Academy was still adjusting to the new mores of the decade, but Cort and Gordon should have each been nominated.
“Something Wild” – Once again, actors nominated for Golden Globes—which is usually a pretty good Oscar indication—are shut out by the Academy. It would be one thing if one, or even two of the main actors who were nominated for Golden Globes from “Something Wild” weren’t nominated for Academy Awards. But Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, and Ray Liotta were all snubbed. Each turns in an Oscar-nomination worthy performance in this manic, hard edged Jonathan Demme comedy, but it’s Liotta, as the psychopathic Ray Sinclair, who completely owns this film. Liotta failed to garner the Best Supporting Actor nomination that he deserved; this role was his feature breakout, and served as the template for many of the quintessential Liotta “crazy-eyed” characters that would make him famous.
“To Live and Die in L.A.” – To say that William Friedkin is one of the most influential, but ultimately misunderstood, directors in the industry would be an understatement. Friedkin won a Best Director Oscar for “The French Connection” and was nominated again for “The Exorcist.” The next 30 years saw him working on projects of varying quality as his relationship with the industry changed. But in “To Live and Die in L.A.,” Friedkin created an absolute air of tension in this tale of a Secret Service agent played by William Petersen trying desperately to stay one step ahead of a master forger (Willem Dafoe—super creepy and deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nod) and his own schemes. Petersen delivers a nuanced performance as a man right on the edge of sanity and legality; that he didn’t even earn a Best Actor nomination is a pity. The editing by Scott Smith and even the score from Wang Chung (yes, Wang Chung, dammit) also should have been nominated.