10 Best Films that Got Snubbed by the Oscars

– by JD Westfall, VW’s film connoisseur –

One of the biggest events of the year for cinephiles is the Academy Awards ceremony, honoring the best films of the year (well, best films with a release in a Los Angeles theater, but let’s not split hairs here … )

Naturally, we tend to get very emotional if our favorites get no recognition (or at least in the major categories). And sometimes, this emotion lasts years or decades after the film’s release.

For example …

  1. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Directed by: Sergio Leone

Starring: Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson

Westerns have a very hit-and-miss track record at the Oscars, with some sweeping the ceremony (Unforgiven, Dances With Wolves) and others coming and going with nary a notice, despite some heavy hitters behind them (The Searchers).

However, the specific Western we’ll zero in on in this list is Sergio Leone’s timeless Once Upon a Time in the West. After having revolutionized the genre with a young Clint Eastwood in their trilogy of The Man With No Name, Leone set his sights on a rather more traditional tale, but still managed to reinvent it.

Charles Bronson stars as a wandering gunslinger who plays the harmonica almost constantly, rarely even speaking. He encounters a young widow named Jill McBain (played by legendary Italian actress Claudia Cardinale) who is caught in a land battle. Her deceased husband had purchased a large plot of land that becomes envied by a railroad tycoon. Said railroad tycoon sends his hired gun (played by an almost career best Henry Fonda) to get control of the land.

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?


What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

Best Picture, naturally, and a Best Director nod for Sergio Leone (a nomination he would never receive in his entire lifetime). Also definite nods for cinematography and musical score, which will stay with you long after the film is over. Most importantly, though, a Best Supporting Actor nod for Henry Fonda, who gives an incredibly chilling performance as the villain. Totally unlike anything else he’d ever done before or would do again.

  1. Airplane! (1980)

Directed by: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker

Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Julie Hagerty

Quick, name the funniest film you’ve ever seen! What, that? That’s your choice? OK, well never mind. I’m going to talk about Airplane instead.

Purportedly fed up with the trend of disaster movies that was overtaking Hollywood at the time, a small group of comedians decided to fight back. Having successfully completed and released their debut Kentucky Fried Movie, they set about ripping the disaster movie genre to pieces.

The film succeeded on so many levels it’s frankly baffling people still make parody films, for fear of comparison. You know how Dark Side of the Moon was so good that basically every other concept album pales in comparison? Airplane is the Dark Side of parody films.

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?

Although the Academy will actually give surprising amounts of attention to comedies, despite the generally accepted pronouncements to the contrary, Airplane received nothing.

What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

The most obvious choice is Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was heavily based on an earlier film titled Zero Hour. The Zuckers using large segments of the original screenplay, albeit ripping it to shreds in the most genius adaptation ever in a mainstream film.

Not to be overlooked are two of the film’s stars, Leslie Nielsen and Julie Hagerty, who do amazing work playing their characters straight in the midst of outright comedic chaos. While comedy performances may not seem like Oscar bait, consider that this does happen more often than you’d think (Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove and Being There, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Peter O’Toole in The Stunt Man and My Favorite Year to name a few)

And speaking of Woody Allen …

  1. Stardust Memories (1980)

Directed by: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen

I can name two directors who had perfect records in the 1970s. One would naturally be Francis Ford Coppola (Patton, The Godfather, American Graffiti, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now), and the other is unquestionably Woody Allen. In that decade he wrote or directed eight films, each one a classic in its own right: Bananas, Play It Again Sam, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), Sleeper, Love and Death, Annie Hall, Interiors, and finally Manhattan. Together these films average an approval rating of 93.3% (based on Rotten Tomatoes method of measuring), and the latter three films garnered Allen himself an impressive six Academy Award nominations. He was poised to take his style of filmmaking into the 1980s.

And by golly did he open the decade with an amazing film. Stardust Memories focuses on the life of a film director who begrudgingly attends a festival featuring a retrospective of his films, causing him to reflect on his life and everything he’s lost and sacrificed. Drawing heavy inspiration from Federico Fellini’s legendary 8½, Allen gives us an insightful look into how art influences the life of the artist.

With all this skill and ingenuity …

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?

No Oscars. No BAFTAs. No Golden Globes. Zilch. Not so much as a nomination. Considering the fact that 16 of Allen’s films have brought him nominations for Best Original Screenplay, one of his most unique and inventive films brought nothing. The only thing that seems to have been proffered was a Writers Guild of America nomination for the screenplay.

What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

Perhaps this is the obvious choice, but Best Original Screenplay for crying out loud. Even if the Academy decided it bore enough similarities to the aforementioned 8½, then why not an Adapted Screenplay nomination? Something Allen has never received as yet.

Of course, Best Supporting Actress would have been Charlotte Rampling (who just recently got her first Oscar nomination for 45 Years) as Allen’s emotionally unstable ex-girlfriend. She pulls off a truly impressive role, managing to be relatable, frightening and genuinely funny all at the same time.

  1. King Kong (1933)

Directed by: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot

Despite dating back to the 1930s, despite outdated special effects, despite an old-fashioned acting method, nearly everyone I know has seen the film ­­– and enjoyed it. It certainly isn’t difficult to see why. Even though the story is as simple as Big Monkey + City = Carnage, no other monster film has so effectively captivated audiences (especially not the two remakes we’ve had).

Not only has this film endured for nearly a century, even upon its initial release the response was enthusiastic, selling out 40 shows straight at its premiere theater. After all that fuss, surely it at least got some kind of awards response?

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?


What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

I suppose we can’t be too terribly surprised as the still-young Academy didn’t yet have a category for visual effects. Producer David O. Selznick reportedly tried to get the FX crew a Special Award mention for their groundbreaking (and still influential) visual effects.

However, the Academy did have a category for Best Sound Recording … and come on, how did they neglect the stunning work of King Kong‘s sound crew, who lovingly recorded and replayed every single one of Fay Wray’s iconic screams?

Speaking of, I would love to have seen Fay Wray get a Best Actress nomination. Only three slots were made available at the time, but surely Diana Wynyard (starring in that year’s Best Picture winner Cavalcade) could’ve been dropped. I mean, the fewer nominations for Cavalcade the better.

  1. Eraserhead (1977)

Directed by: David Lynch

Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart

We live in a good era for film. The advent of the Internet has allowed us to see works by so many aspiring, independent filmmakers that frankly we’re all rather spoiled. But back in the 1970s it was much harder to discover young talent. Which is why we all should be especially thankful that David Lynch’s debut saw the light of day.

Eraserhead tells the thoroughly baffling tale of Henry Spencer. who hastily marries his girlfriend when they learn she’s pregnant. Upon the baby’s birth they realize it’s hideously disfigured and won’t sleep, instead keeping them awake all through the night with its incessant screaming and crying. The film beautifully straggles the line between horror (the baby and generally bleak tone) and surrealism, mostly due to the Lady in the Radiator, a lady who, um, lives in Henry’s radiator, and occasionally sings to him at night.

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?

Nope. The film wasn’t a success on initial release, only gaining fame later on through midnight movie screenings.

What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

More than anything, it should’ve been nominated in the sound categories (Sound Mixing and Sound Editing). No other film has made such amazing use of sound in helping to set the tone and even tell the story. Watch this with good headphones or surround sound, or you’ll miss a great deal.

Additionally, the art direction is astounding. Everything from the sets to the prop design (people still debate how they made the baby), all is top notch and absolutely merited a mention by the Academy. Finally, and perhaps the most extreme long shot of this article, I believe “In Heaven” as sung by the Lady in the Radiator should’ve received a nomination for Best Original Song. I remember it far better than half the winners in this category, and better than three-quarters of the nominees.

  1. The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)

Directed by: Powell + Pressburger

Starring: Moira Shearer, Robert Rounseville


I apologize. Usually I try not to let my personal feelings get in the way of objective critical analysis, but in some cases that can be very difficult. Case in point, my blistering love for Tales of Hoffmann.

If you’ve never heard of directing/producing/writing duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, I pity you. No other directing duo outside of the Coen brothers has had such an incredible run of films, tackling every genre imaginable with equal success. In addition to churning out a ballet (The Red Shoes), a psychological thriller (Black Narcissus), a war film (Life and Death of Colonel Blimp), romance (A Canterbury Tale), comedy (I Know Where I’m Going!), and Powell even handling a horror film solo (Peeping Tom), they also brought out one of the most unique and delightful studio films ever made, an adaptation of the beloved opéra fantastique, Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. It maintained the operatic libretto, albeit translated into English, and used the theatrical style to full effect. This film is perfect in every single way.

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?

Thankfully, this film did appear at the Academy Awards that year, but with only two mentions, one nomination for the Art Direction and another for Costume Design. However, overseas it got the treatment it deserved, being nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival (forerunner of today’s Palme d’Or)

What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

Freakin’ everything. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Every eligible category. The whole shebang.

Most strongly, though, I feel this film deserved a nod in the Best Supporting Actor field for Robert Helpmann (better known to most of you as the Child Snatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) who tackles the impressive task of playing four different characters throughout the film, each one a villain. He plays across the whole range, going from the strong silent type to a maniacal toymaker. (It just occurred to me this guy would’ve been perfect as the Joker.)

  1. The Shining (1980)

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall

In a typical discussion of the most frightening movies ever made, it never fails that three movies’ names come up: Silence of the Lambs, Alie, and The Shining. This last one is hardly surprising, seeing as it comes from one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed film directors in history, Stanley Kubrick. His attention (or obsession) to detail is well known, but it paid off impressively. Every film he ever released opened to huge acclaim. So when he tackled a big screen version of a beloved book by a beloved author (Stephen King), surely it was going to be a huge hit, right?

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?

Not exactly. Rather than opening to Academy Award love, it got exactly the opposite. You’ve heard of the Golden Raspberry Awards? It’s the “awards” given to the worst films of the year. In its year of release, The Shining took in Razzies (nickname for the Golden Raspberries) for Worst Actress and Worst Director!

Razzies (worst actress and worst director)

What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

Far from the Razzie for Worst Director, Kubrick really should’ve received (yet another) Oscar nomination for Best Director, while Jack Nicholson … wow, has he ever been better? His performance in this film is one of the most memorable bad-guy roles ever put on celluloid, and stands right up there with Chinatown and Cuckoo’s Nest as Nicholson’s best.

While I admit the Best Actor race that year was super tight (Robert De Niro, Peter O’Toole, Jack Lemmon, Robert Duvall, and John Hurt) ask yourself which film has better stood the test of time? The Great Santini or The Shining?

  1. City Lights (1931)

Directed by: Charlie Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill

How to keep this review to less than 500 words? I’ve written entire essays about this genius, masterful work of cinema. Let’s see how brief I can be.

Charlie Chaplin is unquestionably the single most important figure in the history of comedic cinema, and no film better expresses this than 1931’s City Lights. While most of mainstream cinema was stuffing itself full of dialogue (thanks to newly developed “talkie” technology) Chaplin brought out yet another silent film. With a twist.

City Lights did use sound, but only to heighten comedic moments. No dialogue was recorded, but instead clever use of music and sound effects throughout. Rather than overshadowing the film, it quietly and subtly served to move it forward.

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?

The National Board of Review named it one of the top 10 films of that year. So at least someone had some sense.

What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

Aside from the excellent use of sound mentioned before, I have a few suggestions. Virginia Cherrill for Best Actress instead of Irene Dunne (for Cimarron). Charlie Chaplin for Best Actor instead of Richard Dix (for Cimarron). Charlie Chaplin again for Best Director instead of Wesley Ruggles (for Cimarron).

And naturally, City Lights for Best Picture. Instead of, naturally, Cimarron.

  1. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Directed by: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish

Charles Laughton was a beloved actor of stage and screen, scoring an Oscar for Best Actor early in his career and getting two more nominations later in life. In an unusual shift, in 1955 he directed a thriller that out-Hitchcocks Hitchcock. It tells the story of a homicidal priest who believes God is directing him to rich widows he can murder and rob. When he murders a young mother, her children flee, leading to a cross-country pursuit.

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?

The Academy seems to trip over itself giving awards to actors-turned-directors (Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner spring immediately to mind). So it seems unusual that this, the single best example I know of, received absolutely nothing.

What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

The film is shot in a beautiful manner that’s strongly reminiscent of German Expressionism, so the cinematography certainly deserved a mention at the Oscars. Laughton himself should’ve received a nod for his directorial work, which is more than ably handled (all the more surprising as this was his first and only directing job).

But more than anything, Robert Mitchum should’ve got a nomination for his terrifying performance as Harry Powell with the infamous L-O-V-E H-A-T-E tattoos on his knuckles. Everything about him is frightening, even while he’s delivering speeches that could’ve been groan inducing if done by a lesser actor.

Would you like me to tell you the little story of right hand/left hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low!

  1. Vertigo (1958)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak

Every 10 years, the magazine Sight & Sound carries out a worldwide poll to determine which films are considered the greatest of all time. The scope of this survey is awe inspiring, and results in one of the most gloriously diverse “Best Films” charts. It’s been said that the Sight and Sound poll is the only one paid attention to by serious movie buffs.

Since 1952, Sight & Sound has consistently ranked Citizen Kane as the best film of all time, until 2012 when an upset occurred. Hitchcock’s seminal Vertigo took the top spot. Frankly, this isn’t shocking when one considers how blasted amazing Vertigo is. Its intricate plot, stellar performances by cast, tight scripting, unusual structure, and symbolic use of colors and shapes has left many a filmgoer poring over the film time and time again to fully unravel the plot and all those lovely details that had been lovingly placed there 59 years ago.

Did It Get Nominated For Anything At All?

One Oscar mention, for Art Direction. Additionally, Hitchcock received a nomination by the Directors Guild of America, which is customarily a sign of an impending Oscar.

What Should It Have Been Nominated For?

Literally everything. Seriously, I cannot think of a single category that Vertigo didn’t deserve a nomination in … I mean, categories it actually qualified for. Best Documentary Feature wouldn’t really fit. Unless of course you view Vertigo as a documentary on Hitchcock’s treatment of actresses, but never mind that.

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