“And The Winner Is”…MoreMentum’s List Of Winners Of The Biggest Oscar Snubs Of All-Time
Hollywood’s top prize was handed out over this past weekend, making and solidifying the careers of actors, actresses, and filmmakers across the board.
But with every big win, comes nearly four losses – make that seven if you count this year’s Best Picture nominees.
Every year, there is a film, star, or director who gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the coveted golden statue.
And for the audience, the real fun and fireworks begin once the first crop of winners are announced (and thusly the Oscar snubs), followed by public outcry via hotly contested Facebook feed explosions and never-ending Twitter rants.
What makes winning films, avoid the dreaded Oscar snubs in the first place? A great story of course, but also cultural relevance, a film’s impact on society, an immersive, and evocative script, and obviously the performances of the cast.
The number of films that were released in 2015 is astounding, so it’s somewhat understandable how certain films miss finding an audience or are overlooked by the industry in general. We may not be able to Marty McFly and Doc Brown our way back into time and change Oscar history, but that doesn’t stop us from wishing we could change Hollywood past so we could witness the repercussions of how different sects of actors, directors, and genres would have benefited today.
Here are 13 of the unluckiest, biggest Oscar snubs of films that I believe broke the cinematic mold.
What was the Academy Thinking!? The Biggest Oscar Snubs
13. Zodiac (2007) | Snubbed for: Best Picture Nomination
David Fincher’s Zodiac is a crime-thriller, based on the true story of the Zodiac killer, who terrorized the Northern California Bay Area in the 1960s & 1970s. In this story, the killer taunted local newspapers, by writing letters boasting about his crimes. In the film, Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. give superb performances as three guys who work at a local newspaper that features high profile stories on the Zodiac murders. The script is also top-notch and the cadenced pace is like a well-written news article that delivers page after page of suspense and dread that another murder may be just around the corner. John Carroll Lynch gives a steadied, frightening and memorable performance as the suspected killer, but like the facts in the actual case, the killer’s identity is never confirmed. Gyllenhaal is an affable cartoonist who becomes obsessed with decoding the killer’s clues and it consumes him completely and subsequently, costs him more than he bargained for. The film is wildly entertaining and chilling at times. By the end of the film, you’ll find yourself thinking like an amateur detective, trying to crack the case. There were only two films in 2007 that were featured in more Top Ten lists than Zodiac being: No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Both of these films were nominated for Best Picture at the 80th Academy Awards. Zodiac did however win the Palme d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, which is the top prize in one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Once you see the movie, you too may have a hard time understanding why this film joined the list of 2007 Best Picture Oscar snubs.
12. Samuel L. Jackson – Pulp Fiction (1994) | Snubbed for: Best Supporting Actor Win
In this Quentin Tarantino classic, Samuel L. Jackson played the wildly unconventional gangster Jules Winnfield. Jackson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Martin Landau who starred in the film Ed Wood of that year. Pulp Fiction is arguably the most important film in the last 30 years. Its story-telling techniques and broad-reaching themes have been emulated and copied since its release. Tarantino and Roger Avary won gold at the 67th Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay, but it was Jackson transforming into Winnfield himself as a sermon-spewing killer and giving the line delivery that made the script an instant classic. Jackson’s reputation as one of the hardest working actors and master of provocative dialogue electrified and mortified moviegoers, making him the pivotal centerpiece and thus allowing the rest of the textured, dark comedy to fall into his orbit. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that only Samuel L. Jackson could deliver the ubiquitous line, SAY WHAT AGAIN!
11. Halloween (1978) | Snubbed for: Best Original Score Nomination
Horror films rarely garner recognition by the Academy, and John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween is no exception. While the merciless thriller and its archetypal boogeyman Michael Myers will go down in history as kicking off the golden age of unflinching horror and slasher movies, the film’s instantly recognizable theme and accompanying score is as iconic and memorable as any score composed outside the genre from the likes of Hans Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams (Williams actually took home the gold in 1979 for Superman, so a nomination for Carpenter would’ve been a heroic super feat, but still…) With minimalism etched in both its soundtrack and murder sequences (there’s very little blood throughout the film), it’s apparent that Carpenter was an early on ‘master of terror’ by opting for an orchestral-free score and instead relying on his own musical instincts. In only one week, Carpenter himself composed the entire score, knowing that – like the monster he created – the filmmaker could only strike fear by creating a portal of anticipation that married his raw directorial efforts with his own gothic composition. The film begins not with the first frame of an eerily lit, hallowed out pumpkin, but with the haunting, repetitive modulated synthesizer and accompanying pulsating drumbeat that shrouds you in fear. Within seconds, the viewer is thrown into the depths of perpetual midnight and child-like vulnerability. John Carpenter composed the theme in 5/4 time to create the elevated, signature tension. That simple, repetitive beat serves as the lure and heartbeat of the film. It’s never-ending, repeatable melody reminds us that both Michael Myers and evil lurk in the shadows and are unstoppable, making it all the more tragic that this landmark and legendary film joined the Oscar snubs, rather than the winner’s table that year.
10. Heat (1995) | Snubbed for: Best Picture Nomination
Twenty years earlier, a film starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino might have been a lock for Oscar consideration, but the 1995 production of Heat didn’t even sniff the awards show. The Michael Mann directed crime drama about cops and robbers has become the model for bank robberies in both the real and fictional worlds. The film is a lengthy three hours, but it’s a master class in acting as two legendary thespians bring the fire and ice to the screen with explosive panache. DeNiro plays the cold-hearted criminal looking for and finally finding love; while Pacino brings the proverbial heat as the volatile, brash cop attempting to save the world and his marriage. Michael Mann skillfully weaves in the city of Los Angeles as an underlying character and each gritty visual helps support and advance each of the main characters’ backstory. Mann artfully directs these two acting legends and together, they deliver an exciting and sexy crime drama filled with nail-biting action sequences, complete with a “high noon” face-off in a coffee shop, that seems to pay homage to old school westerns. Heat is more a fan favorite than a critic’s choice, but compared to the films nominated at the 68th Academy Awards (e.g. Braveheart, Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino: The Postman, Sense and Sensibility), I definitely think Heat is one of the all-time biggest Oscar snubs. It’s an action film that relies on great characters and dialogue, rather than clichés and tropes.
9. Linda Blair – The Exorcist (1973) | Snubbed for: Best Supporting Actress Win
Two words: The Exorcist. Horror films are no stranger to Oscar snubs, but even in broad daylight, and over 40 years later, the film is just as horrifying and unparalleled in every filmmaking facet. Regarded as one of the scariest movies of all time and even being selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved as part of its National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, it’s no wonder ambulances were on stand by during the film’s initial release for shocked moviegoers. Linda Blair should’ve won Oscar gold for Best Supporting actress simply for her 360 head spinning. Ok… so that was a special effect, but still, her performance as a demonic-possessed, 12-year-old, innocent little girl, made Blair’s character of Regan MacNeil all the more hypnotic and masterfully monstrous. Blair transcended acting with William Peter Blatty’s shocking dialogue, disturbing imagery and sheer level of violence, marked by a very real depiction of a child possessed by the devil himself. The Exorcist was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. Ultimately, Blair lost out to Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon) that year. What’s most notable is that O’Neal was really the lead actress in Paper Moon, which is even more reason why we say Blair was snubbed! For Linda Blair, there was no redemption either in sequels to The Exorcist, often panned by audiences and critics alike.
8. Miller’s Crossing (1990) | Snubbed for: Best Picture Nomination
The Coen Brothers have been nominated over the years since this 1990 neo-noir black comedy, gangster film was released. I know that was a mouthful, but that doesn’t even begin to describe this masterful picture. The charm of this movie is its ode to the noir gangster films of the 1940s and 50s, while using more modern technology and techniques to create something new. John Turturro’s performance was arguably the best of his career and the subtle pace of the screenplay is what keeps you watching. Turturro plays a greedy and disloyal gambling bookie who makes the very bad decision to double cross a well-known gangster, played to perfection by Jon Polito. Top rate performances by Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney round out the film’s superb casting. In Coen Brothers signature form, the dialogue is smart and fast-paced, the characters memorable and quirky, and the violence ever present and relentless. Even though the film now receives the critical acclaim it deserves, at the time it performed horribly at the box office and only grossed half of its budget. This might explain why it was a part of the Oscar snubs that night.
7. Stanley Kubrick – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) | Snubbed for: Best Director Win
It’s hard to believe that Stanley Kubrick never won an Oscar for Best Director. He was easily one of the Top 10 directors in the history of American cinema—one might even argue the Top 5. In my and many other film lovers’ opinion, 2001: A Space Odyssey (2001) is Kubrick’s masterpiece, an epic space fantasy about a trip to Jupiter, resulting in a discovery that threatens human evolution. Kubrick had his hands in every aspect of the film, from production design and editing, to selecting the fabrics for the costumes of the characters. Not only was this film a tour de force in filmmaking, but it was truly a visual marvel. The breathtaking cinematography still holds up today and the genius of Kubrick shines through every element of the sound editing, scoring, as well as some of the most stunning visual effects in cinematic history. The shot of the spaceship connecting to the docking station makes you feel as though you were watching a NASA documentary and not a movie that swirled around in Kubrick’s wormhole imagination for years before being made. And “HAL 9000”, the onboard computer highlighted in the film, just reinforces Kubrick’s forward-thinking and timeless genius. Kubrick lost at the 41st Academy Awards to Carol Reed for Oliver! which was a good film, but had nowhere near the impact of 2001; which can be found on many Top 10 lists for the greatest films of all time. I think it’s safe to say that we probably wouldn’t have Star Wars if it wasn’t for 2001. Ironically, Stanley Kubrick was actually afraid of flying, but I guess there was no need because in 2001: A Space Odyssey his brilliance soars throughout infinity.
6. Touch of Evil (1958) | Snubbed for: Best Picture Nomination
This Orson Welles classic crime thriller is #64 on AFI’s list of “100 years, 100 Thrills”. The film has one of the most iconic opening shots in film history and has been selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. The movie has been referenced in more than two dozen films and TV shows since its release. Orson Welles both directs and stars in this thrilling noir masterpiece. He plays a brutish and corrupt police officer in Mexico who will stop at nothing to make an arrest, even if that means planting evidence or murder. The thorn in his side and arch nemesis is played to perfection by Charlton Heston, who matches Welles’ thundering bravado line for line. Heston plays a Mexican-born police officer who happens to be visiting the town on his honeymoon, but agrees to help with the investigation of a bomb explosion. This causes more than a little fireworks between he and Welles’ crooked character and the cinematic magic commences. Welles uses deep and ominous shadows and sharp angles as characters, and it only adds to the suspense of a well-written and deftly acted classic film. Rounding out the superb cast are Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich and Dennis Weaver. With a stellar cast and overall critical acclaim, the film still failed to be recognized at the 31st Academy Awards. Of all the films nominated that year, Touch of Evil will undoubtedly live in the minds of film historians longer than any of them and forever be considered one of the most notable Oscar snubs.
5. Orson Welles – Citizen Kane (1941) | Snubbed for: Best Director Win
Orson Welles, like Kubrick, never won an Oscar for Best Director; which also like Kubrick… is a crime. When you look at Welles’ resume, there are a few films you can pick for the golden statue, but the obvious choice is the movie many critics and fans acknowledge as the greatest film of all time: Citizen Kane. I could go on and on about the camera techniques, story telling elements, and overall direction that makes Citizen Kane a gem, but then this article would resemble a mile-long critical essay and you’d wish for your own deathbed, snuggled up next to a snow-globe and a beloved sled named “Rosebud”. But, it’s hard not to heap praises on Orson Welles because he was the quintessential Director’s “Director”. In other words, he made films that set standards, raised the filmmaking bar, and created cinematic lanes that hadn’t existed before he set them ablaze. Welles gets a double nod in this blog with Touch of Evil and this groundbreaking film classic. Citizen Kane follows the life of a newspaper tycoon played ever so masterfully by Welles himself. In the line of the century, his character utters the name “Rosebud” and from that iconic moment, that name has become synonymous with filmmaking mastery. In the movie, “Rosebud” was the name of a sled that had once been the childhood toy of the millionaire magnate, but it and his innocence had long been destroyed. Welles based this searing and still-relevant-today story on the life of William Randolph Hearst, the real-life media mogul and flamboyant political puppeteer who was known for breaking as many people as he was purported to help. The memorable cast also included Joseph Cotton and Agnes Moorehead. Let’s just say, you can’t call yourself a movie buff if you haven’t seen this film more than once. That statement alone makes Welles the best director in 1941, but like most master artists, he didn’t get the credit he deserved until it was too late.
4. The Incredibles (2004) | Snubbed for: Best Original Screenplay Win
This computer-animated classic is arguably the best Pixar movie ever, and in my opinion, this family friendly flick picks up where The Lion King left off, in that it also resonated with adults. This film won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature and Best Sound Editing, but I believe its greatest accomplishment was the script. From the dialogue to the structure, this wasn’t your average animated film. It challenged its audience to be more than cinema babysitters for children and offered adult dialogue that mirrored the ups and downs of families in the real, live action world. The family dynamics were also well-crafted and felt familiar. It wasn’t a stretch for viewing adults to put themselves in the place of the animated father or mom when dealing with teenagers coming of age or little ones trying to find their own voice and place in the world and in the family. The script was skillfully written and had many heartwarming and cheer-out-loud moments. Audiences have now become more accustomed to adult-centered animated films, but at the time, it wasn’t as common place. The Incredibles changed that dynamic forever, but the film was ahead of its time and ultimately, that led to it being boxed in and snubbed for the screenplay statue.
3. Alfred Hitchcock – Rear Window (1954) | Snubbed for: Best Director Win
Now this is a tough one. Hitchcock is our third great director on this list that has never won an Oscar. Yes, Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense has never won an Oscar… another travesty! Like Kubrick and Welles, you can pick from a number of films that could have won him the Award, but in my opinion, Rear Window is the obvious choice and for one reason: the entire film takes place in one location. This movie will turn you into a voyeur, and raise your suspense level to a 13, on a scale of 1-10. In the film, a photojournalist, played by the always amazing James Stewart, has broken his leg and is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment for weeks of rest and recovery. Out of utter boredom, he decides to spy on his neighbors through his ultra-zoom camera lens. As he scans the windows of the neighboring high-rise, he sees honeymooners canoodling, a woman chasing after her dog, and a very lonely woman in desperate need of companionship. Those visuals were merely the entrée because the main course is served when his lens stops on the window of a man—played with frightening fervor by Raymond Burr—who appears to have murdered his wife. Hitchcock masterfully weaves all of the pieces of the story together like fine pieces of silk and each level of the story builds to a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat game of cat and mouse. James Stewart is inspiring and does most of the heavy lifting from a chair, but his co-stars Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr and of course, the other “voyeur” stars we see through the windows, also deliver standout and unforgettable performances. That being said, it’s tough because that year, Hitchcock lost to Elia Kazan for On the Waterfront, which is also one of my favorite movies ever! But I’m more a fan of Brando’s performance in that film than the directing. If I was on the panel of voters, I would have to give the Oscar to Hitchcock.
2. Martin Scorsese – Taxi Driver (1976) | Snubbed for: Best Director Nomination
For a long time, Scorsese was on the list of directors who never won an Oscar, until he won for the film The Departed, one of the best works of his career. However, it’s this 70s classic about a troubled Vietnam war veteran and his struggles to exist in the backdrop of era of urban decay in New York City that was nothing short of a masterpiece. Travis Bickle is the quintessential anti-hero who was driven mad by the ugliness that resides in the world and inside the deep recesses of all of our psyches. But, in this instance, between the ravages of war in Vietnam and the internal war Bickle faced as a cab driver in New York City, it caused the lines of reality to converge and blur in Bickle’s mind. But, it was his sincere desire to save a child from prostitution and his longing to find true love in a sometimes unlovable world, that led Bickle to murder and redemption. His subsequent vigilantism and complete nervous breakdown actually saved his life and allowed his mind to recalibrate and finally reconcile his past traumas. The story of Travis Bickle is a metaphor for America and the Vietnam War in the 70s. In a way, the film serves as a time capsule, and the edgy, non-relenting direction by Scorsese makes this a film you don’t want to miss. I believe that Scorsese should have won the prize in 1976, but alas, he wasn’t even nominated, making it one of the harshest Oscar snubs.
1. Denzel Washington – Malcolm X (1992) | Snubbed for: Best Actor Win
I wasn’t born when the great Malcolm X was alive. However, when I think of one of the most influential African Americans in history, I think of Denzel Washington. I’ve never witnessed a film where an actor literally becomes the person he is portraying. In my opinion, it’s the best performance by an actor/actress in a biopic ever. Washington was later given the top prize for his performance in Training Day (which he also deserved) but that performance doesn’t even come close to what he did as one of the most influential civil rights leaders in American history. Roger Ebert called Malcolm X the best film of 1992 and with Spike Lee’s incredible direction, Washington’s snub might go down as the biggest Oscar snub in history.