We’re now just a few days from the Oscars, where the makers and stars of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Spotlight,” “Room,” “The Martian,” “Brooklyn,” “The Big Short,” “The Revenant” and “Bridge Of Spies” will find out whether their movie wins the prestigious Best Picture statuette. It’s obviously an honor to be nominated for the film industry’s top prize, a recognition of your work by your peers, but those not nominated should take heart that it’s not a defining statement about the quality of your work.
This year, like any other, has seen great films left out in the cold when it comes to the Academy’s top prize — most notably Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” which failed to make the Best Picture line-up despite six nominations in other categories, the same as or more than all but three of the films actually up for Best Picture. And that’s obviously just the tip of the iceberg in terms of movies that didn’t make the cut.
So in honor of “Carol,” and all the other films that aren’t contending for Best Picture this weekend, we’ve gone through the archives and picked out 20 of our favorites through the decades that weren’t Best Picture-nominated by the Academy. Last year, we put together a list of great movies that weren’t nominated for any Oscars at all — we’ve excluded those films, so below you’ll find ones that registered at least one nod, but were left out when it was time for the big prize. Take a look below, and let us know in the comments the Oscar injustices that aggravate you the most.
"Brief Encounter" (1945)
David Lean's unassailable masterpiece of stiff-upper-lip thwarted romance did pick up nods for Lean himself as director and lead actress Celia Johnson, as well as one for screenplay. And even in retrospect it feels like that year ("Brief Encounter" actually competed at the 1947 Oscars) the Best Picture statue would inevitably have gone to "The Best Years of Our Lives" — a film that dealt directly with the aftermath of the war that just ended. But despite an otherwise strong field too (no one would suggest that it should have replaced either "It's a Wonderful Life" or Olivier's "Henry V"), posterity would place it higher in the canon than either "The Razor's Edge" or family film "The Yearling" with Gregory Peck. The tiny but enormously heartfelt story of a very ordinary middle-class woman who unexpectedly falls madly in love with a man (Trevor Howard) not her husband, it's the apotheosis of its genre. Spinning something grand and tragic out of the banal details of British life (drizzle and tea shops and getting something stuck in your eye) and making train station platforms perhaps the most romantic places on earth, the film should have been in the 1947 Best Picture field, just like "Carol," another tale of extra-marital romance which directly references "Brief Encounter," should have been nominated this year.
“The Third Man” (1949)
Now recognized as one of the greatest British movies ever made, and perhaps the only Orson Welles performance that can rival “Citizen Kane” for iconic value, “The Third Man” was a hit at the time, but despite taking the top prize at Cannes, didn’t find all that much love from the Academy, with nominations only for Editing and director, Carol Reed. Well deserved for sure, but we wish it had been more. Written by novelist Graham Greene, it’s probably the finest film in the small but potent post-war noir genre, with Joseph Cotten’s American novelist seeking his old friend Harry Lime (Welles) in Allied-occupied Vienna, only to be told that his friend is dead. Oh, and that he was running a black market empire before his demise. Cunningly plotted, textured and rich,and with stunning expressionistic photography by Robert Krasker and the famous zither score by Anton Karas giving it ladles of atmosphere, the film has long since been enshrined as a classic. But it couldn’t crack the Best Picture race, with “All About Eve” (still the joint-most nominated film ever), “Sunset Boulevard,” delightful post-screwball comedy “Born Yesterday,” forgettable Spencer Tracy pic “Father Of The Bride” and colonial adventure “King Solomon’s Mines” making up the category instead.
“Singin’ In The Rain” (1951)
The Oscars love musicals (five won in the decade between 1958 and 1968), and the Oscars love movies about Hollywood (look at “The Artist” and “Argo” in recent years). So why is it that “Singin’ In The Rain,” one of the best movie musicals ever made, and one of the best films about Hollywood, got only a single nomination? Perhaps it was because Stanley Donen’s film was essentially a jukebox musical, a showcase for songs from earlier MGM musicals? Or perhaps it was that the film leans mostly comic (and brilliantly so, thanks in part to performances by Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen, who won one of only two nominations for the film). Any way around, it’s baffling: the film, which sees Gene Kelly’s movie star fall for the singing double (a luminous Debbie Reynolds) of his co-star (Hagen) as a panicking Hollywood attempts to switch from silent to sound films, is a shot of pure pleasure, with any number of extraordinary musical numbers as good as anything the genre’s ever come up with. It wasn’t even a vintage Best Picture year: the winner, Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show On Earth,” is among the worst films ever to take Best Picture.
"The African Queen" (1951)
Eight years after his first nomination for playing the suave and stoic Rick in "Casablanca," Humphrey Bogart finally got his Oscar for playing Charlie Allnut, the neither suave nor stoic skipper of a junker riverboat in German East Africa just after the outbreak of World War I. Thrown into the company of prim missionary Rose (Katharine Hepburn), the resulting story of late-life love and derring-do amongst the wrinkly set would be almost self-parodic if it wasn't so completely effective and so wholly affecting. John Huston's steady, muscular direction somehow gives the fanciful story a kind of grit, and the two-hander performances are career highlights, which in the case of these careers, is really saying something. It seems like one of Oscar's odder historical oversights, therefore that at the 1952 ceremony "The African Queen" could get Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress nods and not pick up one for Best Picture. Even if you wouldn't want to divest "An American In Paris" of its win, and "A Place in the Sun" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" both seem like they belong, "Decision Before Dawn" is all but forgotten about today, while the nod for "Quo Vadis?" just feels like a symptom of Hollywood's "Hail Caesar!'-ish faddish obsession with swords-and-sandals religious epics.
How surprised you are by Hitchcock's twisted psychodrama not having been nominated for Best Picture depends on how au fait you are with the history of the film's reputation. While now thoroughly rehabilitated, to the point that in the 2012 Sight and Sound poll it finally unhorsed "Citizen Kane" as the Greatest Movie Ever Made, "Vertigo" was a critical and commercial flop on release, barely making back its production budget and being received with, at best, shrugged shoulders by the majority of contemporary critics. Which just goes to prove that people in olden days were crazy. The sublimely perverse story of the obsession that ensues when agoraphobic retired detective Scotty (James Stewart, wonderfully against type) loses the mysterious woman he loves (Kim Novak) only to run into her exact double, "Vertigo" is perhaps the most endlessly rewatchable of Hitchcocks because it doesn't have the formal perfection and narrative precision of many of his more digestible films. In fact, its messy greatness is such that it feels a lot bigger than any Oscar today, and that it was overlooked (aside from nods for Art Direction and Sound) in a year that Best Picture went to fluffy Leslie Caron vehicle "Gigi" tells you almost everything you need to know about the Academy.