Star Wars was nominated for Best Picture. Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Avatar were all nominated for Best Picture, but failed to hold the statuette. Oscars rarely celebrate the box-office smash or sci-fi adventure film. They represent films that matter; that mean something more than flippant entertainment. They mean The Godfather and It Happened One Night. We can pine after Some Like it Hot and North by Northwest, but they weren’t even nominated. Let’s take a moment to reflect on movies that came so close – and, looking back, should’ve taken the night.
1941: Citizen Kane (Losing out to How Green Was My Valley)
Generally considered one of the Greatest Films of All-Time (though it did slip to second place in the latest Sight & Sound poll), its loss is a damning criticism of the Oscars. Bowing to the print-press pressure of Randolph Hearst (the Rupert Murdoch of his time) and failing to acknowledge Orson Welles’ achievement was a gross oversight, and reveals the bias that can lurk behind the scenes.
1971: A Clockwork Orange (Losing out to The French Connection)
Stanley Kubrick, famously, never won an Academy Award for Best Picture. He won an award for the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but not as director. Considering his influence on filmmakers today, it’s worth recalling the bold, British-banned A Clockwork Orange as the one that got away. Crime-flick The French Connection is respected for an outstanding car-chase and an unforgettable turn from Gene Hackman, but it fails to come close to A Clockwork Orange. Explicit, wild-eyed and profoundly critical of ‘the system’, A Clockwork Orange was the true winner.
1976: Taxi Driver (Losing out to Rocky)
Who doesn’t love Rocky? The steps, the boomin’ brass soundtrack and “Adrian!” are all unforgettable moments in an established sports classic. Stallone is a legend – but against Travis Bickle? Travis “are-you-talkin’-to-me” Bickle. Scorsese’s seminal piece showing the grimy underside to New York surely has the weight to take down Rocky Balboa. Alas, no. It seems the joy of getting to the final round in Rocky supersedes the horrific finger-to-head finale of Taxi Driver.
1979: Apocalypse Now (Losing out to Kramer vs Kramer)
Dustin Hoffman and divorce was a win-win. In comparison, the small-scale family-drama, may possess a charm that ultimately led to Ordinary People’s win the following year – but now think of the helicopters and the bombs of Vietnam. Think of Brando’s Kurtz and his meandering monologue. Think of Duvall, shades perched on his nose, stating his love for the smell of napalm in the morning. The ambition and criticism of Vietnam has lasted the test of time, and – including director Danny Boyle – remains a favourite film of many young directors working today.
1980: Raging Bull (Losing out to Ordinary People)
Martin Scorsese movies always seem to fall at the last hurdle. Raging Bull was no different. Operatic, brutal and an acting masterclass in De Niro’s performance, this wouldn’t be able to sneak past Ordinary People. Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore are grieving parents in Ordinary People, a film charting the challenges they face. Robert Redford directed the film and it seems that if a picture is led by a successful actor, then awards recognition is inevitable…