It’s often said that hindsight is 20/20, and that by looking to the past we’re able to see things with perfect clarity. When it comes to the Oscars, hindsight is often used to criticize choices that were made by Academy members in a given moment. By looking over the entire history of the Academy Awards, one can nitpick their selections for days: How Green Was My Valley over Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane for Best Picture (1941)? A crime! Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 2001: A Space Odyssey not even nominated for Best Picture (1968)? A travesty! Jimmy Stewart left off the ballot for his career-best performance in Vertigo (1958)? An abomination! Hoop Dreams – arguably the greatest documentary film ever made – not nominated for Best Doc (1994)? Wha? What!? WHAT?!?! …Well, you get my point with this. Thanks to hindsight, we can go on and on looking back at past mistakes.
Read more after the jump.
However, there are times when hindsight isn’t necessary to recognize a tremendous omission made by the voters. These are the moments when the nominees are announced and an astonished gasp emits from the gathered press – an instantaneous mistake that takes no time to be known as one. When the favorite to win the Oscar in any given category ends up losing to a less-deserving nominee, the impact the voters’ decision has can resonate for decades. But the bigger infraction is when the presumed favorite (or even just your personal pick) to win the Oscar doesn’t get nominated at all.
Unfortunately, this happens quite often. As I compiled my list of the 10 biggest Oscar omissions, I realized I better shorten the field down a bit. So what you are about to see is my personal selection of the 10 biggest Oscar exclusions in the major categories (Picture, Director, Acting, and Screenplay) since the year 2000. As mentioned, there are plenty to choose from, so I’d love to see your list as well. However, I encourage you to look back at what was nominated in that field before calling out Oscar. Sometimes a category is just loaded with great choices, and therefore someone or something great misses out. There are only so many slots to fill, after all. For example, I wanted to include the absence of Tilda Swinton’s career-best performance in 2010’s I Am Love, but when seeing the field she lost out to (Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right; Natalie Portman – Black Swan; Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole; Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone; and Michelle Williams – Blue Valentine) it’s hard to say who she should’ve replaced. So I’ll give her my Honorable Mention, in what was an absolute power-house year for the Lead Actress race.
10. Michael Fassbender (Shame) and Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) for Lead Actor (2011).
Nominees: Demián Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Jean Dujardin (The Artist).
I love Gary Oldman as much as the next guy, and had this list been for the 1980s you could’ve expected to see his snub for Sid and Nancy (1986) among my 10, but I have a hard time seeing Fassbender and Shannon replaced by any of the other five nominated performances. This race should’ve been between the two Michaels, and yet neither found their way on the ballot. I would’ve swapped out Oldman and Bichir to have included them. And then I would’ve given the Oscar to Fassbender.
9. Adaptation for Best Picture (2002).
Nominees: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Pianist, The Hours, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Selecting Chicago, The Pianist, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers continues to sit well with me here. However, leaving off Charlie Kaufman’s hilarious, wild, and inventive Adaptation in favor of The Hours and Gangs of New York still sticks in my craw.
8. The Passion of the Christ for Best Picture (2004).
Nominees: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, and Sideways.
I know I just lost half my audience, but as Ezra Pound once said, “If a man isn’t willing to take some risk for his opinions, either his opinions are no good or he’s no good.” And so I’m not afraid to admit that I feel Mel Gibson’s film was the best of 2004 (*ducks out of the way of flying eggs and tomatoes). I certainly wouldn’t argue against Sideways, or even Million Dollar Baby, but The Aviator, Finding Neverland, and Ray are films that are destined to be forgotten. The Passion of the Christ feels like a film that will be watched for generations. If only Mel weren’t Mel…
7. (500) Days of Summer for Original Screenplay (Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, 2009).
Nominees: The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The Messenger, A Serious Man, and Up.
I wouldn’t think of removing Locker, Basterds, or Up, but there’s no way I would’ve left off one of the most heartbreakingly true screenplays about love that was ever written.
6. Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) for Lead Actress (2009).
Nominees: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), and Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia).
I think this one is easy. Apparently, the Academy felt otherwise. Sub Laurent for the Oscar-winning Bullock and you have an outstanding slate of nominees. And then maybe you can give the Oscar to Streep here instead of last year over Viola Davis (The Help). See how it all trickles down?
5. The Lives of Others, Pan’s Labyrinth, Little Children, and United 93 for Best Picture (2006).
Nominees: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen.
Only once before in my life-long love affair with Oscar have we drifted so far apart as we did with the announcement of the Best Picture nominees in 2006 (see #8, #4, and #2 to see the other time). The Departed was the sole nomination I would’ve kept in place that year. The big surprise here though was omitting Paul Greengrass’ 9/11 drama, United 93. Released only 5 years after the tragic event, perhaps it was too soon for most voters to sit through the film. Greengrass still managed a Best Director nomination for his magnificent achievement.
4. Animated features unable to break into the Best Picture field – Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), and Wall-E (2008).
Nominees: I won’t list all 20 Best Picture nominees covering these four years; instead I’ll just mention which I would’ve subbed out in order to include each of these soon-to-be-if-not-already legendary Disney/Pixar films.
Before the Best Picture field expanded to 10 movies in 2009, only one animated feature film had been able to call itself a Best Picture nominee (Beauty and the Beast, 1991). Even a cutting-edge film like Toy Story (1995) was left in the dust. It simply was a genre the Academy refused to embrace. Then, in 2001, the genre received an Oscar category all its own. But this worked like a double-edged sword. Finally, an animated film had a spot to receive Oscar recognition, but with its own grouping, voters felt less inclined to include these films among the best of the year. That doesn’t mean they weren’t deserving of such honor. For example, in 2003 Finding Nemo should have found Oscar over Seabiscuit. In 2004, The Incredibles should have joined The Passion of the Christ (*ducks again) over The Aviator, Finding Neverland, and/or Ray. In 2007, Ratatouille should’ve cooked up the perfect recipe for a nomination over Atonement and/or Juno. In 2008, Wall-E should’ve rolled over Milk, The Reader, and/or Frost/Nixon. If the expansion to 10 Best Picture nominees in 2009 did anything at all, it at least gave Up – my personal favorite – the chance to join Beauty and the Beast as a Best Picture nominee.
3. The Dark Knight for Best Picture (2008).
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, The Reader, and Frost/Nixon.
Speaking of expanding to 10 films in 2009, many people still credit the exclusion of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight as the source for such a change. Oscar never felt as out of touch as it did in 2008, and you can easily replace The Reader and Frost/Nixon to include Wall-E and The Dark Knight.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for Best Picture (2004).
Nominees: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, and Sideways.
Yeah, we’re back here again. Good old 2004… I think I’ve spoken enough on including Wall-E and The Passion of the Christ (*enters bomb shelter) over the likes of The Aviator, Finding Neverland, and Ray, but the dismissal of Michel Gondry’s exceptionally thought-provoking sci-fi/drama was absolutely preposterous. Throw in the snubbing of Jim Carrey for the performance of his life and you almost get my #1 spot on this list. Almost.
1. Paul Giamatti for Lead Actor (American Splendor, 2003, and Sideways, 2004).
Nominees: In 2003 – Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl), Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog), Jude Law (Cold Mountain), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), and Sean Penn (Mystic River). In 2004 – Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator), Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), and Jamie Foxx (Ray).
The fact that it happened once – strike one. The fact that it happened twice – strike two. The fact that it happened in back-to-back years – strike three, you end up #1 on a list of the worst Oscar snubs. Giamatti would’ve faced tough competition in 2003 for his intense performance as Harvey Pekar in American Splendor. So I’m not going to tell you he should’ve won over Penn, or even Murray for that matter. And to tell you he should’ve been nominated over Kingsley or Depp is to compare apples to apples. But I sure as hell would have picked him over Law.
The following year is a different matter altogether. I not only think he should’ve been nominated over the actors in his place, I think he should’ve won for his penetrating performance as Miles, a lonely, middle-aged, wine lover who suffers from a heavy mix of depression and anxiety. If ever an actor nailed a role, certainly it was Giamatti in Sideways. The fact that he didn’t even get nominated for an award he also deserved to win is a scar on the Academy’s history.
And it doesn’t require hindsight to see that.
What omissions would make your list?