Ahead of the Oscars ceremony last month Keira Kneightley asked a pertinent question: “how do you really judge any of it?” Interviewed in The Times, the twice-nominated actress suggested that unless all the players play exactly the same role in exactly the same film, and each director makes exactly the same script, it’s impossible to decide. All you can say, she concluded, is that you like one film better than the other.
While Ms Kneightley was referring mainly to the acting and directing awards the same surely applies to other categories. Take the most prestigious award of all, Best Picture. How, for instance, do you choose between an all-action superhero flick, a tear-jerking drama and a musical biography (viz. this year: Black Panther, Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody)?
As it all comes down to personal taste, these are some of my favourite films that never won the Oscar:
“2001: A Space Odyssey”. Despite regularly being voted the best science fiction film of all time by critics and audiences and its description in Wikipedia as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece wasn’t even nominated. Kubrick himself got a nod in the Best Director category, but the sole statuette “2001” took home was for Special Visual Effects.
“Taxi Driver”. As part of his preparation for the starring role in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 psychological thriller, Robert De Niro lost 35 pounds, obtained a taxi driver’s licence, and when on break would pick up a taxi and drive around New York. The film introduced the world to a 12-year-old Jodie Foster and gave us “You Talkin’ to Me?”, one of cinema’s most quotable quotes. It topped a Time Out poll of the 100 greatest movies set in New York City and was selected for preservation in the US’s National Film Registry in 1994, twelve years before that year’s best picture winner, “Rocky”.
“The Shining”. OK so Kubrick is my favourite director and this is the second of his films featured here, but can anyone reasonably argue that this classic 1980 horror film, set in the Overlook Hotel, wasn’t unforgivably overlooked by the Academy? It wasn’t nominated for a single award, not even for Jack Nicholson’s spellbinding performance as Jack Torrance, the unhinged author who accepts a temporary position as the off-season caretaker of the aforementioned establishment. To add insult to injury Kubrick and Shelley Duvall, who plays Torrance’s scared-witless wife, were nominated for the mock Razzie Awards that recognise the worst in film. And they didn’t even win that.
Forrest Gump was 1994’s worthy winner but my choice would have been director Quentin Tarantino’s follow up to the also critically acclaimed Reservoir Dogs: Pulp Fiction. The review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes describes it as “outrageously violent, time twisting, and in love with language … widely considered the most influential American movie of the 1990s”. It received seven nominations but only took the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Other classic films to miss out on the top award include Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, The Graduate, Apocalypse Now and Raging Bull.
Here’s a few films that are less well known: Don’t Look Now, Paths of Glory, Synecdoche New York, Donnie Darko, Zodiac. What do they all have in common? They’re great – and they didn’t get a single Academy Award nomination between them.
As for this year’s awards, I was pleased to see the unfancied Green Book take Best Picture, but disappointed that seven-times nominee Glenn Close is still waiting for a first Best Actress statuette despite her movingly impeccable performance as an unacknowledged author in “The Wife”.