5 lovable Oscar losers
by Jodi Berman
Over the last several decades, there have been multiple films that were important, phenomenal, and perfectly executed, and yet despite nominations in several categories, they left at the end of the evening without a single win. These are Oscar’s most underrated.
In some cases when you evaluate by category, it is clear how another nominee became the winner. In some cases, the films were robbed of what should have been their wins. Let’s take a look at 5 of these lovable losers, and call them winners in our hearts.
Nebraska (2014) – 6 nominations
2014 was a tough year. There were many strong films with multiple nominations, and most of the categories seemed locked before the evening began. Nebraska was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Bruce Dern), Best Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Best Cinematography, Best Director (Alexander Payne), and Best Original Screenplay. The film was funny, touching, heartbreaking, and quirky. It was well paced and beautiful. In each category nominated, there was a more beloved or powerful competitor, but in this case, I believe the Cinematographer branch got it wrong. Gravity (the winner of that category) was really more of a hybrid version of effects and cinematography (a new Oscar category, perhaps?). Nebraska was the purest form of the art, and the visual in this movie stuck with me, and it should have won the gold.
The Shawshank Redemption (1995) – 7 nominations
Anyone who saw this film understands how powerful and heartbreaking the story is. It is rooted in our deepest societal fears for our judicial system – how can we live with taking away the freedom of an innocent man? For an even larger theme, how can those who have no freedom experience small bites of humanity, even when they have no power of choice? The performances were outstanding. Shawshank was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Morgan Freeman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Musical Score. Unfortunately, for each of these categories there was another nominee and it was Forrest Gump’s year. In the technical categories, cinematic beauty Legends of the Fall prevailed. The Oscars were like a box of chocolates, and Shawshank got all the gross fruit-filled ones. Still, it remains a phenomenal story unlike those we had seen before.
Broadcast News (1988) – 7 nominations
I’m a huge Albert Brooks fan, and this film lives up to his brilliance. From the moment a child preview of Holly Hunter’s character comes bounding into the room to challenge her father’s characterization of her as “obsessive” by reading him the exact definition from the dictionary, we know that this movie is going to be good. When Albert Brooks’ character jealously describes Hunter’s love interest (William Hurt) as the devil, she counters that she thinks Brooks might be the devil, and he replies, “You know I’m not because if I were I like to think we’re close enough friends that I would tell you.” I was holding my sides from laughter. But the Academy loves epics and the big winner that year was The Last Emperor. Plus, competing in categories that included nominees from Moonstruck, Wall Street, and The Untouchables, made it very difficult to grab the statue. Still, for me, the headline will always read, “Broadcast News Was Robbed.”
I’ve saved the two biggest shockers for last, partly for their sheer number of nominations, and partly for how they were both outstanding films that we can’t shake from the zeitgeist of American filmmaking.
The Color Purple (1986) – 11 nominations
I still remember my horror at the end of the night when not a single name from the production of The Color Purple was read in any category. I loved that movie, I thought the performances were untouchable, I thought the experience was important. At that time, you could only make a very small list of films that had received 11 nominations, and wins seemed inevitable. But it was Out of Africa’s year, and that film took away Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Art and Set Direction from my beloved Color Purple. Geraldine Page beat Whoopi Goldberg (an award that was as much for “life achievement” as it was for A Trip to Bountiful), Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor) trumped Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery for Best Supporting Actress, and “Say You, Say Me” won for Best Original Song over “Miss Celie’s Blues.” By then, losses for Costume Design (Ran won) and Makeup (there was no competing with Mask) were par for the course. To this day, I don’t forgive the Academy members for shutting out The Color Purple.
The Turning Point (1978) – 11 nominations
In 1978, I was nine. So, let’s begin with the premise that the ballet movie wins over every other option when you are a nine-year-old girl. I’m sorry Woody Allen, Annie Hall was good, but The Turning Point was great. I didn’t see one ballerina in all of Annie Hall (remake, anyone?). You’ll be reassured to know that I have since watched both films as an adult, and I stand by my nine-year-old analysis – Annie Hall was funny and one of the great Woody Allen films of all time, but The Turning Point dealt with complex relationships, insecurities, feminist life choices, latent anger, and is at the same time beautiful, graceful, funny, and sad. So the ones to get it wrong were Best Picture, Best Actress (MacLaine and Bancroft were nominated, but I would have given it to MacLaine over Diane Keaton), and Best Director (Herbert Ross over Woody Allen). Other nominations for which I can live with the losses were Best Supporting Actor and Actress. I would let Annie Hall keep Best Original Screenplay because this is the category that often recognizes the brilliance of a story but will not win Best Picture. In the technical awards, Cinematography to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Art Direction, Sound and Film Editing to Star Wars all made sense. But let’s be honest, none of those had any ballerinas either.
To read more of “And The Oscar Goes To…” stories, please click below:
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The most memorable Oscar speeches
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