…And the Movies That DID Win!
Of course, this is all ENTIRELY subjective! But there have been years that just failed at crowning a Best Picture Oscar Winner! ‘Rocky’ beat ‘Taxi Driver’? And ‘Annie Hall’ won over ‘Star Wars’? What the whaaaat? So, below I’ve compiled what I believe are (to me) the 10 greatest injustices in the history of the Academy Awards! And YOU’RE out of order, and YOU’RE out of order!
1.) 49th Academy Awards: 1976
Lost: ‘Taxi Driver’
In 1976, the feel-good picture of the year told the story of a scrappy boxer who rises from obscurity, fights the champ — and loses! (oops! Spoiler, if you haven’t seen ‘Rocky’. Sorry.) Mr. Balboa won a moral victory in the process. Such was the spirit of the times. But Rocky Balboa’s journey looks downright triumphant next to that of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), the alienated cabbie for whom New York has become a living hell in ‘Taxi Driver’. Director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader take the film to the sort of dark places few movies dare to go. Especially in ’76! The Academy responded with a nomination, but no award. Its vision of one disturbed man’s plumbing of the lower depths has proved enduring.
2.) 50th Academy Awards: 1977
Lost: ‘Star Wars’
Won: ‘Annie Hall’
The ill-defined Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film idea may or may not return in the future. But even if it’s a bad idea, there is some logic to it. Films that capture the public imagination via sensation, action, and special effects tend not to win Best Picture even when they become one of their era’s defining moments. There’s no better example of that than the films of 1977, when Star Wars helped define blockbuster filmmaking, became a pop-culture phenomenon, and took over the imaginations of a whole generation — only to see the top honor go to Woody Allen’s bittersweet story of an on-again, off-again love affair. (Star Wars didn’t exactly fade into obscurity due to the loss, however.)
3.) 56th Academy Awards: 1983
Lost: ‘The Right Stuff’
Won: ‘Terms of Endearment’
Adapting Tom Wolfe’s book about the early days of the American space program, Philip Kaufman delivered a movie equal parts epic and irreverent, capturing the danger of spaceflight (and the test-pilot programs that preceded it) and the absurdity of a political environment that pushed it into existence and the media circus surrounding the original astronauts and their wives. In other words, it stays true to the tone cultivated by Wolfe, a movie equally at home depicting awesome achievements and the flawed men and women who made it possible.
4.) 63rd Academy Awards: 1990
Won: ‘Dances With Wolves’
Are you kiddin’ me over here? OHHH!!
5.) 67th Academy Awards: 1994
Lost: ‘Pulp Fiction’
Won: ‘Forrest Gump’
Quentin Tarantino (and co-writer Roger Avary) had to settle for the Best Original Screenplay trophy for the era-defining Pulp Fiction. But whether you see Forrest Gump as a sentimental celebration of all things boomer or a sly send-up of the same, Pulp Fiction had more to say about where we were headed as a culture than where we’d been. Which isn’t to say that Pulp Fiction isn’t as rooted in the past in its own way as the Robert Zemeckis–directed winner, but its attempts to get beneath the surface of genre tropes and B-movie thrills through a mix of earnest admiration and irony helped reinvent them for a new generation.
6.) 72nd Academy Awards: 1999
Lost: ‘The Sixth Sense’
Won: ‘American Beauty’
1999 was a wild year at the movies, yielding one singular film after another, from Three Kings to Fight Club to Magnolia to Being John Malkovich to The Blair Witch Project to The Matrix. Some of these confirmed emerging directors like Spike Jonze and David O. Russell as major talents. Others, like The Matrix, broke new ground with stunning special effects. The year’s Best Picture nominees, however, barely reflected any of this. American Beauty wasn’t exactly a safe choice for the winner, but it was hardly the most inventive offering of the year. Nor were The Cider House Rules or The Green Mile, or even The Insider, a fantastic Michael Mann movie, but one from an established director challenging himself to bring the same sort of tension to a docudrama that he had previously brought to crime films. Of the nominees, The Sixth Sense provided the best indication of what was happening elsewhere in the film world. A seemingly out-of-nowhere supernatural drama crafted with discipline by M. Night Shyamalan, a filmmaker most moviegoers had never heard of, it became a cultural phenomenon by taking viewers by surprise — but the twist never would have worked without the patience Shyamalan invested in the film-making or the careful performances by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment.
7.) 75th Academy Awards: 2002
Lost: ‘Gangs of New York’
Again….whaaaaat? You freakin’ kiddin’ me? Man, those Oscar Folks sure do love anything with songs & dances in it. *sigh*
8.) 76th Academy Awards: 2003
Lost: ‘Lost in Translation’
Won: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’
Okay, this one may be a personal taste issue. *BUT* – Any skepticism still lingering about Sofia Coppola after her 1999 debut The Virgin Suicides dissipated with this story of a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) who doesn’t know what to do with herself or her life, and who, left to her own devices in Tokyo, crosses paths with a middle-aged movie star (Bill Murray) in the midst of a midlife crisis. Their relationship keeps shifting the more time they spend together, and the two find an undeniable connection, even if they can’t quite decide what form that connection should take. Coppola’s assured sophomore effort revels in that ambiguity, and in the between-worlds state of its main characters, two people who may never meet again but who come to understand that their chance encounter will reshape how they look at the world for the rest of their lives. And, full disclosure, I -LOVED- all the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies!
9.) 87th Academy Awards: 2014
This one really made me mad! I mean..I realize that Birdman was all ‘Indie’ and ‘Weird’ and stuff. But Boyhood? It was a 12-year long story! Richard Linklater spent 12 years making it! The actors all aged 12 years! Naturally! With no makeup tricks….just Mother Nature. Plus, it was “LIFE”. Things that actually happen to us..the people. *sigh*
10.) 90th Academy Awards: 2017
Lost: ‘Lady Bird’
Won: ‘The Shape of Water’
Finally, the 2017 Best Picture nominees suggest another year defined by abundance and variety. The nomination of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (which won) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out (a serious contender by most prognosticators’ estimations) signaled that the lines between prestige and genre films had gotten blurrier. Meanwhile, the continued presence of Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan in the running confirmed that they remained some of our most reliably ambitious auteurs; their nominations could be seen coming the moment each of their respective films was announced. Not so for our suggested alternative. Greta Gerwig had co-written several previous films and co-directed one, but Lady Bird, her solo debut as a writer and director, still came as a surprise, with its disarmingly personal take on growing up in a certain time and place (Sacramento in the early ‘00s), making an autobiographical coming-of-age story feel at once specific and universal. Gerwig’s film filled the screen with funny, moving performances from the whole cast, but especially from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, as a mother and daughter whose relationship is as fractious as it is loving. Where other nominees went as big as possible, Gerwig proved small could be equally powerful.
I hope I don’t have another problematic winner to add this year! But….you never know until all the little statues get handed out. I guess we’ll find out soon!