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Citizen Kane

The Worst of the Best: A History of Oscar Snubs

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The relationship between audience and Academy has a long history of being anything but copacetic. Even when they seem to get it right, the public finds a way to get it wrong, which they will certainly do this year, according to that one guy who works with your friend’s friend and has a random Twitter account they treat as gospel. What has become the pinnacle of international filmmaking awards, the Academy Awards (Oscars) has consistently gotten one thing right year after year: the award for ticking off the majority of the filmgoing public.

The following list could’ve easily chronicled this year’s ceremony and the so-called “snubs” for nominations. However, the author has not quite finished their viewing of all films. Therefore, what follows is a brief history of the Academy’s all-time affronts and snubs. You may have your own list, but this is mine. I could’ve written for days on end, but for the sake of brevity, I am presenting five omissions or instances of stolen valor that need to be recognized at least once a year – not only to humble ourselves but to also give us something to agreeably argue about while distracting ourselves from those still hating on Crash for winning Best Picture. (Crash is a good movie. Deal with it.)

So, whether you routinely watch the ceremony or if you scour the internet for a list of winners the night of or day after, we can all find common ground in knowing that nobody ever bats 1.000.

Do The Right Thing PosterDo The Right Thing Gets Nothing

Is it considered a snub if the film wasn’t even in contention to begin with? According to this author, it certainly is. This list of Oscar snubs may have a primary focus on the results of the Awards ceremony itself, but what if you never even had a chance at the podium to begin with? Such is the case with the iconic, impactful, and instrumental work that is Do the Right Thing. Widely considered one of the best pieces of American filmmaking in the… well, of all time, Do the Right Thing was almost too forward in its approach and had its ear essentially on the ground itself with a story that resonates just as much now as it did upon the time of its release.

Here’s the kicker: Do the Right Thing wasn’t even awarded a Best Picture or Best Director nomination at the 62nd Academy Awards. Who won that final prize that year, you may ask? Well, that award went to none other than Driving Miss Daisy, a film that essentially has a place on the complete opposite spectrum of what Spike Lee was trying to say and do with his magnum opus.

Nominations for Danny Aiello and Spike Lee’s original screenplay shine bright in an otherwise gloomy showing for Do the Right Thing. Lee was able to obtain his golden statue with an adapted screenplay win for 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, but the snub is an everlasting one of severe Academy negligence. When watching it next, I suggest you stock up on D batteries and turn that box to 11 in order to fight the power with one of the medium’s greatest auteurs.

How Green Was My Valley PosterHow Did How Green Was
My Valley
Get Away With It?

It’s overrated!” “It’s boring!” “I couldn’t even finish it.” These common criticisms about the Orson Wells’ masterpiece, Citizen Kane, are oftentimes heard from those who likely haven’t sat down and truly watched history unfold, both narratively and practically. While now widely considered as one of the greatest films of all time, there was a time when Citizen Kane wasn’t even considered the best film in the year of its release.

Don’t get me wrong, How Green Was My Valley is a fine piece of filmmaking, and truly great film, but it doesn’t even crack AFI’s top 100 films of all time, a list that routinely features Citizen Kane at the top. Critics may waver, but time is the ultimate measure of success. Over 80 years later, we’re still routinely learning and talking about one and not the other. The usage of a non-routine linear structure, the advancements shown through the cinematography and grandiose set pieces, and an adherence to real-life-based subjects are responsible for an everlasting piece of art that transcends time.

Cinematic innovators are more prevalent now that ever. Just look at the works of filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Jordan Peele, and Wes Anderson. But if the 42nd Academy Awards showed us anything, it’s that the Academy may be omnipresent, but history favors the bold. Don’t forget, this was the same year The Maltese Falcon was also up for the award. Say what you want about Crash winning the award in 2006, but nothing is quite egregious as the omission of Citizen Kane from winning top honors.

Rear Window PosterAlfred Hitchcock:
A Master of All and Winner of None

It’s widely known and accepted by now that the Academy tends to stray from genre filmmaking regardless of the film or quality. Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs and Jordan Peele’s Get Out showed us that there is still hope for audiences and lovers of films that delve into the macabre, but the master of suspense himself wasn’t immune to the tribulations of what can be considered close-minded tendencies.

Psycho, Rear Window, Spellbound, Lifeboat and Rebecca all rewarded the lauded filmmaker with nominations for direction, but Hitchcock was never able to break through. Still, the nominations are a testament to a master of his craft who paved the way for other genre and niche creators. Don’t get me wrong, Hitchcock went up against some stiff competition, such as Elia Kazan and Billy Wilder, in those years, but if Leonardo DiCaprio can get his career Oscar for a lesser praised role (same as Denzel Washington), then leaving Alfred Hitchcock in the dust seems borderline criminal. And don’t even get me started on Al Pacino’s win for Scent of a Woman.

Awards are by no means indicative of legacy but to the common viewer, they may be indicative of success. Time heals all Oscar snubs, as the saying goes, and such is the case with Hitchcock. A memory of Best Picture winners is great for trivia, but it’s the films and works that still puncture the realms of relevancy that are the ones that will be seen and taught for generations to come.

Shakespeare In Love PosterShakespeare in Love Did WHAT?

This selection goes without saying for a variety of reasons. If you don’t know by now, all you need to do is look up the producer of the film. Enough said from the name alone, but the news and background about Shakespeare in Love’s Oscar campaign is essentially what the public has complained about for decades. For context, Shakespeare in Love beat out an all-time great war epic in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, a masterclass in war sequences and epic filmmaking.

What took place in late 1998 and early 1999 contributed to today’s current model of awards campaigning. Press junkets, radio shows, and borderline slam campaigns have almost become the norm for awards season. “For Your Consideration” billboards are fine and dandy, but producers went cutthroat with their attempt to bring down their stiffest competition.

Outside of its Best Picture win, Gwyenth Paltrow took home the statuette for Best Actress. While I find nothing wrong with the actress in question, the resume is a bit questionable when compared to other nominees in the category like Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep.

Call it a smear campaign or call it good press, but Shakespeare in Love’s unusual dominance over the Oscars is one that is equal parts head-scratching, frustrating, and also fascinating.

Ordinary People PosterOrdinary People Is… Ordinary

In a year that featured films from Martin Scorsese and David Lynch, the big honor went to none other than *drumroll please* Robert Redford in his directorial debut! Cue the audience groans. A fine film, Redford’s Ordinary People tells the story of a wealthy family dealing with the loss of one son and the attempted suicide of another.  Displaying all the elements of a typical drama, Ordinary People’s win wouldn’t be so eye-opening except that it beat out classics like The Elephant Man and the beyond iconic Raging Bull. What makes this win a snub to others comes down to the subject matter itself. While a semi-strong story, Ordinary People fails to touch on anyone not of the upper class, not even at all. Whereas John Merrick speaks to an entire audience of the misunderstood and Jake Lamotta tunes into the blue-collar working class, Redford’s film feels almost tone deaf in the greater sense of the phrase.

The reason this film seems relevant to this year’s awards is due to another actor turned filmmaker in Bradley Cooper. A Star is Born was a solid, albeit unoriginal, take on a classic story, but this year’s ceremony features Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein biopic, Maestro. Now, don’t get me wrong, actors-turned-filmmakers have produced some fantastic films, but I can’t help but wonder if Ordinary People would have succeeded without the star power of Redford.

This is not to say I don’t like the film. I do. I really do, but comparing it to the other films nominated that year and the snubs are seemingly everywhere. When’s the last time you heard someone mention Ordinary People? Exactly.

Dishonorable Mentions: Dances with Wolves beating out Goodfellas in 1990, Jack Nicholson not winning for Chinatown (1974), Viola Davis for The Help (2011), and most recently, Teyana Taylor’s omission in A Thousand and One (2023)


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