Thursday Five: Oscar Snubs

In the wake of a fairly predictable and uneventful Oscars ceremony last Sunday where the majority of awards were sent in the right directions, this week’s Thursday Five spares a thought for those infamous moments when certain pictures or performers aren’t recognised by the Academy, and this column highlights some of the most notable Oscar snubs of all time.

1. Citizen Kane (losing Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley in 1941)

Kicking off with one of the more obvious snubs, the 1941 Academy Awards will go into the history books with a substantial amount of controversy as a result of the triumph of John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley over the celebrated Citizen Kane starring Orson Welles. While both films were drenched in critical praise from the Academy, with How Green… and Citizen Kane garnering ten and nine nominations respectively, and the films were received well by audiences, the failure for the seminal work of Welles to capture the Best Picture award is one of the finest examples of an Oscar snub.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest pictures of all time, Citizen Kane is renowned for the mercurial performance of Welles as the selfish and desperately unhappy Charles Kane as well as some of the most glorious illustrations of cinematic imagery that still hold up extremely well to today’s standards, perhaps this snub is as shocking purely because of the reputation gained by the picture in hindsight. While How Green… doesn’t stand up as well against the test of time in the present day, perhaps a lot of conjecture surrounding Citizen Kane missing out on the Best Picture award is largely due to its firm position within the company of the greatest films of all time by present standards. Though this still makes this a clear instance of an Oscar snub, it is perhaps made far more dramatic an omission due to the influence of decades of acclaimed legacy.


2. Raging Bull/The Shining (losing Best Picture to Ordinary People in 1980)

1980 was a productive and critically successful year for cinema, with this article not even having the space to include the loss suffered by David Lynch’s atmospheric noir The Elephant Man based on the life and times of Joseph Merrick. With the esteemed Robert Redford’s family drama Ordinary People clinching the crown for the year, it is clear that there was a bevy of films that were hurt by the sting of the snub from the Academy.

Robert DeNiro will feel less aggrieved for the superlative Raging Bull missing out on the Best Picture award, as his success in the Best Actor field will do more than anything else to placate the wounds felt here. A savage, powerhouse performance equalled a gritty and often uncomfortable character study of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta, and is often lauded amongst lists of best films by movie buffs and critics alike. In addition to this, consider the concept of the adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining not even gracing either the Best Picture or Best Leading Actor categories for Jack Nicholson’s incomparable slide into homicidal madness and you have the conundrum of the 1980 Academy Awards in a nutshell.


3. Brokeback Mountain (losing Best Picture to Crash in 2005)

The 2005 Academy Awards ceremony will go down in history as one of the prime examples of how reputation and media hype does not influence those making the decisions at the ceremony, as the Best Picture award announcement and the audience’s reaction to it indicates how unpredictable the event can truly be. The year was heavily strewn towards people’s favourite and critically acclaimed masterpiece Brokeback Mountain running away with the Best Picture gong and leaving the other pictures in its dust. This perhaps explains the reaction of the audience and presenter Jack Nicholson when the winner’s name was uttered.

Eliciting gasps from the audience and a raise of the eyebrows from Nicholson, weeks of speculation and media postulation surrounding Brokeback Mountain scooping the award were undermined as the epitome of an underdog can through and snatched the gong in Paul Haggis’ Crash. Generally perceived as a reasonably average film in regards to making the Best Picture list, the announcement of Crash as the winner of the award in favour of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain remains one of the more controversial and outlandish results in Oscar history. Speculation remains over whether this decision lies in an attempt to rejuvenate interest in the ceremony as well as television ratings by establishing an any-thing-can-happen mentality, but the bottom line of this result is that sometimes the Academy purely disagrees with the opinion of the majority.


4. Black Swan/Inception (losing Best Picture to The King’s Speech in 2010)

The King’s Speech sweeping the major prizes at the 2010 Oscars ceremony is an example of a film designed and released on a particular date in order to goad the Academy into bestowing its finest honours upon it. Though a widely acclaimed film and certainly worthy of winning the main awards for the narrative and powerful performance by the talented and esteemed Colin Firth, the biopic was all anybody could talk about in Oscar season partially because of the quality of the film but more transparently due to the movie being widely released at cinemas just one month prior to the nominations and ceremony.

In this sense, the film wasn’t so much organically destined to grab the major honours of Best Picture and Best Leading Actor among other awards but far more artificially tailored to play on the shorter attention span of modern society. While this tactic of releasing a potential Best Picture candidate in such close proximity to the nominations and award ceremony is by no means a new phenomenon in regards to the Oscars, it becomes hollower when considering the strong foundation of solid competition in Black Swan and Inception that were all but ignored when picking a winner. Though both films were nominated, the hype behind Inception upon its release in the summer would indicate that its loss was predominately due to its absence from the short term memory of those casting the ballots. In contrast, while Black Swan was released within Oscar season like The King’s Speech, it is arguable that it is a more complete and rounded film, only failing in its quest for Best Picture as a result more for the media furore and widespread label of Colin Firth’s turn in the eventual winner as the best film of the year rather than on the actual merits of both pictures. In this context, though The King’s Speech is a deserving winner of the main prize, it remains a testament to the transparent benefits of releasing the movie within throwing distance of the nominations for garnering success at the ceremony.


5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (failure to be nominated for anything other than a Best Visual Effects award in 2011)

I am aware that this will seem quite an outlandish and bizarre inclusion for this list, but the very idea of Oscar snubs is to court certain controversies and differences of opinion. After playing around with the idea of bestowing the awards on unlikely winners for a few years in the mid-2000s, the Academy had returned to the tried and true path of giving the awards to the most deserving films, as indicated by The Artist sweeping the board this past Sunday night. However, this conservatism in the nomination process is a hindrance in that it regularly features films of a similar scope and genre, in that it strictly highlights films that are all-encompassed within the same dramatic sphere. That is why I believe that it can be considered a snub that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was likely not even contemplated for any of the more prestigious of awards.

Before you laugh me out the room, let me preface this by stating right now that I do not believe in any way that Rise… should have triumphed over The Artist in any shape or form, as that is a thoroughly ludicrous idea to envisage. However, Rise… was one of my favourite films of the year for its combination of sympathetic, well-drawn characters with a plot that was entirely relatable. Putting aside the distraction of the motion-captured apes in the film for a moment and considering the strengths of the narrative, Rise… draws a lot of parallels to The Shining from 1980 as both were omitted as they were likely deemed as a genre unsuitable for top billing at the Oscars. However, I ascertain that Rise… was one of the finest examples of the modern experience of cinema, in that we decidedly have a film here that is clearly concerned with technologically-enhanced visuals and exciting action scenes, but is using these aspects to significantly improve the experience of the movie. In this context, the motion capture and CGI of the apes on the screen are only truly relevant for the aesthetic authenticity of the film, and is an aspect that shouldn’t distract from the quality of the narrative and work on the flick as a piece of cinematic art. Again, I’m not suggesting Rise… should have even been in the top three of Academy vote grabbers, yet if the Academy was truly driven to celebrate the absolute best in film over the course of the year, it has to recognise that this would ultimately result in competition between genres and a deviation from the norm of strictly nominating the same films year in and year out. Ignoring films on the basis of genre is a slap in the face of excellent writing, directing and performance and is how I consider Rise…’s omission from any of the meaningful categories as the most recent snub within the Academy.



Let me know what you think in the comments section, as I’m sure the last two inclusions will likely raise some eyebrows and it’d be interesting to see what other people think.


~ by jrhett on March 1, 2012.

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