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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

Best Pictures
That Never Won
Best Picture Oscar

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Oscar will be allowed out of his Chicago vault for the annual trip to Hollywood on February 26th. He'll be 89 years old this year and we'd like to know who his plastic surgeon is. You can't tell us he hasn't had a butt lift.
Speaking of butts, actors as well as backless, frontless, mindless media-created celebs will wave to fans and stop for fashion interviews, looking over their shoulders and pointing their backs and butts directly at us while secretly trying to figure out why actresses wanted to be called actors and now they're stuck with female actors.

Everyone's making book on who'll return their borrowed dresses and tuxes to the designers and the jewels to Harry Winston's. The track record for the return of borrowed clothing is dismal. Every time a star tells the media whose dress she's wearing, it's Hollywoodspeak for, "Try and get it back."

We can hope our favorite movie will come away with the big prize, but in the long run, some of the best pictures ever made did not receive Best Picture Oscars. A good example would be the AFI's choice for number one movie of all time, Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane: Though Citizen Kane was nominated in nine categories in 1941, it won only Best Original Screenplay by Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. It has been said that boos were heard whenever the name Citizen Kane was mentioned because powerful newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, on whose life the film was alleged to be based, threatened voters with the old chestnut, "You'll never work in this town again." An interesting note: Kane's editor was future Oscar-winning director Robert Wise.

Psycho: In 1960, this iconic film was not nominated for Best Picture. Hitchcock was at least nominated, though he did not win either. Bernard Hermann wasn't even nominated for one of the most frightening of all film scores. The screech alone should've won. Fans, smarter than Oscar voters, disagreed and voted Psycho #2 on their list of Best Movies.

The Shawshank Redemption: The Shawshank Redemption never got an Oscar, despite seven nominations. Pulp Fiction was also knocked out of the box by Forrest Gump in 1994. Fans ultimately avenged Shawshank by voting it the Number One film of all time on IMdB. Shawshank is also the highest rated film on Yahoo Movies. It was voted the best film never to have won Best Picture in a 2005 BBC poll.

Vertigo: One of fans' favorite Alfred Hitchcock films is the psychological thriller, Vertigo. It wasn't even nominated for Best Picture, only for set design and sound. Didn't win those either. To add insult to injury, Hitchcock himself ... I can hardly bear to write it ... never won an Oscar. HITCHCOCK NEVER WON AN OSCAR!!! And only one of his films (Rebecca) won Best Picture. Hitchcock was the best filmmaker never to have been handed an Oscar, according to a poll of British movie viewers.

2001: A Space Odyssey: Hard to believe it didn't win Best Picture, isn't it? The Best Picture award in 1968 instead went to Oliver. Like who remembers Oliver now? 2001 was nominated for four awards that year, not including best picture, but only won for visual FX. Today, 2001 is widely recognized by critics and audiences alike as one of the greatest movies of all time.

Star Wars: Despite a surprising loss of Best Picture to Annie Hall in 1977, Star Wars unleashed a series of films which earned $4.5 billion to date. It won only Best Visual FX (big deal). George Lucas cites Hardware Wars, a 1977 spoof, as his favorite of all the Star Wars parodies, with Mel Brooks' Spaceballs a close second choice. Lucas made no comment about SNL's parody with Kevin Spacey doing Christopher Walken auditioning for the role of Hans Solo.

Apocalypse Now: Can someone tell us how Apocalypse could have lost out to Kramer vs. Kramer? What's up with that? With more memorable quotes than nearly any other film in history, this masterpiece is rated by fans at #8, by the AFI as #30. Fanboys rule!

Fargo: Another Coen Brothers masterpiece which didn't get an Oscar. In 1996, Fargo lost out to the sob-sister story, The English Patient. The Coens are famous for movies which come from dark places they want to take you to, whether you want to go there or not. Voters must have felt a romantic crying jag was better than the certainty of Coenesque quality and longevity.

Philadelphia: Never won Best Picture which went instead, in 1993, to Schindler's List. Sure Philadelphia won for Tom Hanks as actor and Bruce Springsteen as songwriter, but it wasn't even nominated for Best Picture. That omission still rankles.

Goodfellas: At least it was nominated, and the Academy recognized Joe Pesci for Best Supporting Actor, but Best Picture went to Dances With Wolves in 1990. Nothing against Dances, but let's face it, Goodfellas is on most fans' favorite list while Dances is just, well, there. At least Goodfellas is #15 on IMdB's list and Fanboys voted it Scorsese's masterpiece at #7. That' may even be better than an Oscar. It's certainly more accurate.

E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial
: Nominated but lost. Sure it won Best Music and Sound and FX but so what? It didn't win Best Picture. Gandhi did, which goes to show that Academy voters would rather see a skinny Indian dude in a white diaper than a skinny alien critter in a bicycle basket.

Dog Day Afternoon: Attica! Attica! Pacino, too, was robbed of an Oscar in 1975 for his sublime portrayal of the hapless character, Sonny, who needed to rob a bank to get money for his gay partner's sex-change operation. Best Writing Original Screenplay went to Frank Pierson for his screenplay based on a true story. We suppose we'll get over this loss, since the award went to Cuckoo's Nest, and who could be angry at that? Other amazing competitors that year included Jaws.

Bonnie and Clyde: In 1967, B&C lost out to In the Heat of the Night. Some solace can be found in knowing that the same year, The Graduate also lost. Cool Hand Luke wasn't even nominated for Best Picture. Academy voters appear to cast their ballots for movies reflecting the day's news, and have no sense of films that will become classics in our time and always.

Some Like It Hot: The iconic Billy Wilder film, one of Marilyn Monroe's best, was not even nominated in 1959 for Best Picture. Very shortsighted of the Academy, wouldn't you say? We're still talking about Some Like It Hot, snippets are still being shown on entertainment and pop culture shows, and Tony Curtis was still giving interviews about whether or not he ever said, "Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler" until the day he died. But who's talking about the movie that actually won that year, Ben Hur? If not for the chariot race, nobody would even remember it.

The Wizard of Oz: Okay, it would've been really, really hard to win in 1939 against Gone With the Wind, Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights and Stagecoach, among others (10 nominees in all), but still ...

There are many more "shoulda-won" films, and time will tell us what they are, unless fans beat time to it.


One of the few films to be on every list that actually won Best Picture is Casablanca. "This is the worst film we've ever come across," said Bogie, "It's just a fright." Bergman also complained. Both stars made desperate efforts to ditch their parts. Believe it or not, their roles were originally slated for Hedy Lamarr and Ronald Reagan.

The model for the Oscar statuette was a naked Mexican named Emilio Fernández, who had a platonic relationship with fellow Mexican and big Hollywood star, Dolores del Río. Her famous husband, Cedric Gibbons, had been assigned by the Academy to design their award. Del Río introduced Fernández to her husband and he agreed that Fernández was the perfect model.

In 1999, Trey Parker and Matt Stone showed up in drag at the Oscars as Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow.

With 14 nominations, "La La Land" matches the nominations record set by "All About Eve" and "Titanic." "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003), "Ben-Hur" (1959) and "Titanic" (1997) are the only three films ever to have won 11 Oscars. So far.

Charlize Theron was the 10th actress to win an Oscar for playing a hooker, "Monster," 2003 (Best Actress). Her predecessors were Anne Baxter, "The Razor's Edge," 1946 (Best Supporting); Claire Trevor, "Key Largo," 1948 (Best Supporting); Donna Reed, "From Here to Eternity," 1953 (Best Supporting); Jo Van Fleet, "East of Eden," 1955 (Best Supporting); Dorothy Malone, "Written on the Wind," 1956 (Best Supporting); Elizabeth Taylor, "Butterfield 8," 1960, (Best Actress) - sometimes called The Throat Vote because it was widely believed that her life-saving tracheotomy was the real reason she won with a sympathy vote; Jane Fonda, "Klute," 1971 (Best Actress); Mira Sorvino, "Mighty Aphrodite," 1995 (Best Actress).

© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" February 21, 2013, updated February 24, 2017
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