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Ten Amazing Films that did NOT Win the Best Picture Oscar
The best film of the year does not always win the Best Picture Oscar. The oscar process is political and many factors play into the selections. As a result, the winner is often not the best picture of the year. What's more it is often difficult to see which movies will stand the test of time and become one of the best movies of all time. That is how a movie like Citizen Kane loses the battle for Best Picture but is widely seen as the greatest film of all time.
In some years it is just bad luck because there are so many great films and only one can win the Best Picture Academy Award. For instance, imagine making a great film like The Grapes of Wrath only to go up against Hitchcock's brilliant Rebecca, Chaplin's The Great Dictator and one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, The Philadelphia Story, starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart. Wow, how do you pick a winner among that bunch.
Or how about 1962 when Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Longest Day and Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando were all nominated for Best Picture? All four of these films have gone on to become part of the AFI's Top 100 films and they are all classics in their own right. Yet, somehow the Academy had to choose a winner among that group and Lawrence of Arabia came away with the Oscar that year.
While some of the films on our list were bested by another amazing film that was just as worthy, several of these films were flat out robbed by lesser films for reasons that are only known to the Academy. It will be interesting to get your feeling about these great movies and the films they lost to, so please comment in at the end with your thoughts and vote for the best at the end of the list.
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10. East of Eden (1955)
What a Force James Dean was at Such a Young Age
East of Eden is James Dean's first film and my favorite of his three movies. Eden came out the same year as Rebel Without a Cause and somehow neither of them were even nominated for Best Picture. It was directed by Elia Kazan, who won the Best Picture and Best Director the previous year with On The Waterfront. Both Dean and Elia Kazan were nominated for personal categories, but the film was not nominated for Best Picture. Tragically, James Dean died in September 1955 in a car accident. In 1956, Dean's final film, Giant, was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Around the World in 80 Days -- frankly that movie could have made our list also but we only included one James Dean film.
East of Eden is based on the John Steinbeck novel and the story is excellent. It launched Dean with his characteristic angst as Cal Trask, a troubled teen who tracks down his mother (who left when he was born) and learns she is a prostitute in a neighboring town in California. The cast around Dean is outstanding and includes Raymond Massey, Julia Harris and Burl Ives. The winner that year was Marty which is another movie that has not stood the test of time. I had not heard of it previous to this research and I certainly have not ever heard it mentioned as one of the Top 100 Films of all time.
I can only speculate as to why Eden was not nominated, but maybe the Academy did not want to give Kazan the Best Picture honor two years in a row and if Eden were nominated it probably would have won. It is definitely a film that has stood the test of time and one of my Top 50 films of all time.
If you loved East of Eden, you should also check out Dean's other epic, Giant
9. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Probably the Best Prison Movie Ever
Shawshank Redemption is an adaption of a Stephen King novel and likely his finest work. It is the story of a friendship developed in prison between two inmates, both of which are a lot more good than bad. Tim Robbins gives his career performance in Shawshank and Morgan Freeman is incredible as usual.
The film takes some interesting twists as we learn why each man wound up in prison. Ultimately, it is a tale of redemption and seeing beyond someone's outward appearance. One of the finest films ever made it was unfortunately paired against Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction in 1994. Forrest Gump actually won the Oscar, although I think Pulp Fiction should have won, but clearly Shawshank is a film that would have won in many other years.
8. All the President's Men (1976)
Sometimes Life is Stranger than Fiction
In 1976, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman paired up in one of the Best Journalist dramas of all time, All the President's Men. It covered the reporting of two Washington Post reporters uncovering the Watergate Scandal. The cast was truly amazing and also included Martin Balsam, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook and Jack Warden. It dealt with the darkest period in US politics and the story is both exciting and compelling.
However, that same year a low-budget film was released that was written by an unknown actor and starring that same actor. It was a feel good movie about an underdog that rises up and slays the dragon. Of course, America loves the underdog and this story was more compelling for most Americans than a complex legal and political drama. And that is how Rocky took the Best Picture honor in 1976 in one of the craziest Oscar years in memory.
Now I went to and enjoyed Rocky. It was a good film, fun and entertaining. I would put it in the the same category as Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Rudy, but I would not vote for Best Picture for any of those films either. It was exciting, I am glad I saw it and it was worth the money I paid for the ticket. However, in no way is Rocky a Best Picture Oscar winner. The acting was average at best and the cast was marginal. The story is cliché and predictable. I think it won because America loves an underdog and the country was tired of politics. However, in that year the Best Picture in America was All the President's Men but it did not win the Oscar.
If you liked All the President's Men, you should also check out The Insider
7. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Incredible Acting Creates a Stunning Drama
12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama and a specifically the power of persuasion within a jury deliberation room. The film had an outstanding cast including Henry Fonda, EG Marshall, Lee Cobb, Jack Klugman and Martin Balsam. It lives on in history as one of the Top 3 courtroom dramas of all time. While it is hard to believe that a movie set in one room for the entire movie could be exciting, and yet it is truly compelling to watch the drama play out as the evidence is rehashed by the group. We watch the entire group, except for one holdout, start at one conclusion and slowly change over time led by the persuasion of Henry Fonda. It is an outstanding film.
Unfortunately, in some years there are many great films and only one can win the Oscar. In 1957, the Best Picture Oscar went to Bridge over the River Kwai. Bridge is an excellent film and certainly one of the Top 100 films ever made. It is instantly recognizable by the catchy tune whistled by the soldiers while working in a Japanese POW camp. Alec Guinness is outstanding as a British Officer and William Holden is good as the leader of the American POWs.
I truly enjoyed Bridge over the River Kwai, however, when measuring the two films I believe 12 Angry Men was a more thought provoking film with the better overall acting performances. In the legion of time, I think it is the more important film and should have won the Best Picture Oscar.
6. Mystic River (2003)
Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Laurence Fishburne!!!
In 2003, the Academy decided to reward Peter Jackson with the Best Picture oscar for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Now I am a fantasy buff and enjoyed the LOTR series as much as the next guy, but I did not think any of the three deserved to win Best Picture. What's worse is that Return of the King was the worst of the three movies in my opinion.
However, the real problem with LOTR winning the oscar was that Mystic River did not win the oscar. Mystic River is one of the best films of all time with incredible acting by Sean Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Laura Linney and Kevin Bacon and based on a gripping true story. Clint Eastwood forever established himself as an excellent director with this film. At least, he was awarded the Best Picture oscar the next year for equally good, Million Dollar Baby.
If you liked Mystic River, you should also see Eastwood's Gran Torino
5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Gregory Peck's Greatest Performance in an Epic Role
Talk about bad luck, some years have to stretch to find a Best Picture winner because no movie is a lasting gem, but in 1962 there were three movies nominated that would make most critics Top 100 movies of all time. To Kill a Mockingbird, Lawrence of Arabia and The Longest Day were all nominated for Best Picture. Lawrence of Arabia won the oscar and it is hard to argue against this wonderful film.
Rather, I will just say it was an absolute shame that To Kill a Mockingbird was released in 1962. It would have won for sure in 1963, when Tom Jones took the Oscar and probably would have beat West Side Story in 1961, but in 1962 it was second best.
When rating movies though I would include To Kill a Mockingbird as one my personal Top 25 favorite films of all time. BTW, Lawrence would not make my top 25 film list.
If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, you should also see Judgement at Nuremburg
4. Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Most Original Gangster Film of All Time
Sometimes travesty befalls the Academy and I would say that happened in 1994 when Forrest Gump won the Best Picture oscar over Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption. I have to say I still scratch my head over the critical acclaim for Forrest Gump. I did not even like the film and certainly would not included it on any list of great movies. It would have worked better as a parody film than a drama film. Maybe everybody felt they had to have sympathy for this movie because Forrest was "slow". I just don't see it. I would not have nominated this film for an award much less give it the Best Picture Oscar.
In the meantime, Tarantino invented a completely new style of film with Pulp Fiction with multiple story lines that all connect at the end of the film. It was a brilliant cast with phenomenal performances by Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Harvey Keitel and Uma Thurman. This film deserved to win Best Picture and is one of the Top 50 films of all time.
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
The Grandaddy of Cinema was not even Respected in its Day
What a year in film 1941 was! One of my favorite films of all time, Meet John Doe (starring Gary Cooper), was not even one of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture that year. Nominated films that year included , The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York and Suspicion. However, the film that took the oscar that year was How Green was my Valley, directed by John Ford. Now, I am sure Valley was a fine film, but really now, better than Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon --- really? Citizen Kane
The controversy at the time of Kane's release was with William Randolph Hearst, the most powerful man in print media and one of the richest men in the world. Since the lead role of Charles Foster Kane was largely based on Hearst, he was furious about the movies release and actually kept it out of many theater chains. As a result, the movie was a box office loser. More importantly though, Hearst threatened to ban any movie advertising in his papers if the film was released. That did not come to pass, but the movie was booed when mentioned at the Academy Awards ceremonies. It is clear that the Academy members cowed to their fears rather than stand up and vote for the real Best Picture in that year. They were angry at Welles for jeopardizing their livelihood and did not award one of the Top 10 films of all time a Best Picture Oscar.
2. Goodfellas (1990)
A Gangster Movie Based on a True Story
In exactly the opposite fashion of our previous example, in 1990 a film directed by first time director Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves, took the best picture oscar over Goodfellas, The Godfather III, Ghost and Awakenings. Dances was a beautifully shot movie with rolling vistas in the far west, but hardly an acting clinic for serious students of film. I enjoyed the movie but would not even list it as one of my Top 20 Westerns of all time, let alone a Best Picture winner.
I think the fluke of having two gangster movies in the same year, probably split many votes for that genre between Goodfellas and The Godfather III allowing Dances to slip in for the win. The main knock on Goodfellas was the violence, which is somewhat justified, but you will still find Goodfellas in many ranked categories of best films at Rankography, and yet it did not pull down the oscar in 1990.
Get a Goodfellas movie poster.
If you loved Goodfellas, you should also see lesser known Eastern Promises
1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
A Superb Cast on an Impossible Mission
In 1998, a unique historical fiction comedy, Shakespeare in Love, stole the Best Picture oscar from Saving Private Ryan. I really enjoyed Shakespeare in Love. I thought it was a very original comedy based on historical fiction. I thought it was an excellent screenplay and it was a fun romantic comedy, but I did not think it was the Best Picture of the year. Like most that saw the opening 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, I was touched forever.
We finally had true appreciation for what our veterans went through as they landed on the Normandy beaches. Like no other war movie in history, nor any since, Saving Private Ryan took you inside the actual battle and gave you a real-world flavor for the incredible fear that must have been going through everyone one of the soldiers minds. While I understand that some people thought the ultimate storyline was far fetched and exaggerated, this movie was made for veterans. It was the movie that finally gave the rest of us civilians an appreciation of what they went through for our country. Our admiration for veterans grew and I am sure that they could all walk a bit taller after this movie was released.
It is a true crime that SPR lost the oscar to a romantic comedy, no matter how good the romantic comedy.