I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the Academy, as many people often do. Usually, they tend to make decent decisions. They may not always choose the best in a given category, but they usually at least choose a decent representation for it. Of course, there are times when they are completely right on the nose (Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler’s List, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, etc.), but on the flip side, there are also moments where you have to question whether or not they’ve really seen all of the nominees.
Then again, there are also those that don’t take the Oscars all that seriously, thinking of it as more of a popularity contest with the Academy choosing what’s “hot” rather than the actual best nominee in a category (did anyone REALLY think Argo was the best film of 2012?). However, even as a popularity contest, some of their decisions have to be called out and examined, and so, in honor of the fast-approaching 86th Annual Academy Awards, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the biggest mistakes they’ve made throughout their history.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in…Next
10. Bill Murray Loses Best Actor for Lost in Translation
2004 is the best year that Oscar has seen in at least the past 20 years, with 11 Oscars going to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In my own humble opinion, this was the last time the Academy actually gave Best Picture to the best film of the year. The sweep for Lord of the Rings somewhat overshadowed a pretty big error on the Academy’s part though, this being that they failed to give Bill Murray the Best Actor Oscar for his brilliant performance in Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Instead, they opted to give the award to Sean Penn for his so-so performance in Clint Eastwood’s forgettable Mystic River, a film I’ve seen once and have had no desire to see again.
Lost in Translation is a film that I’ve seen around a dozen times at this point and I think it can easily be said that it is one of the best of the last ten years. In fact, if Return of the King hadn’t been around that year, it would have been the incredibly easy choice for Best Picture and Best Director. The film is anchored by Coppola’s outstanding Oscar-winning script and Bill Murray’s subtle, yet powerful portrayal of Bob Harris, an actor who’s adrift in Tokyo while shooting a whiskey commercial. When he meets a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) in a similar situation, the two open up to each other and develop a relationship that will redefine their lives. Murray is funny and charming, and yet he brings an amazing amount of gravitas to this man who is lost in his own life. We’d never seen Murray give a performance on this level before, and it’s doubtful that we ever will again. How was it that the Academy didn’t give him the Oscar? Perhaps it was because they just didn’t take him seriously enough, a theory which is somewhat supported by the fact that Johnny Depp won the SAG award for Best Actor that year for Pirates of the Caribbean and failed to win the Oscar as well. However it happened, it’s a big blemish on their record for a category in which they are normally really good at choosing a great performance.Previous Next
9. Pulp Fiction Loses Best Picture and Best Director to Forrest Gump
1994 saw a few great choices in the Best Picture category, including Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump, and Robert Redford’s Quiz Show. However, the one that most people look back on as the film that should have won the big prize is Tarantino’s influential masterpiece. Few movies end up shaping a generation of filmmakers, but that’s just what Tarantino did with Pulp Fiction, a film that plays with structure while featuring tons of unforgettable dialogue and plot elements.
That being said, it’s hard to fault the Academy for going with Forrest Gump and Zemeckis for Best Picture and Best Director, respectively. It too is a great film, but Tarantino broke new ground with Pulp Fiction, and in the process created one of the greatest, most quotable, movies ever made. The film garnered seven Oscar nominations and walked away with Best Original Screenplay, a fitting consolation prize. However, the film had already won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for 1994, so you don’t need to feel too bad for it. Like many of the movies that the Academy nominates for Best Picture, they just didn’t appreciate it enough when it came out. Now though, it’s highly regarded as one of the best films ever made. People still appreciate Forrest Gump to this day as well, but it just hasn’t had the long-lasting love that Tarantino’s masterpiece has had.Previous Next
8. The Lack of Major Nominations for The Dark Knight
Everyone remembers that morning in January 2009 where we expected to see the Academy fall in line with the rest of the guilds by giving Christopher Nolan’s epic masterpiece The Dark Knight multiple nominations, including those for Best Picture and Best Director. Why would this happen? Well, the PGA, DGA, and WGA all nominated the film for its top honors, and given that those same organizations contain several Academy members as well, it just seemed natural. Plus, the film had done extremely well throughout the critics awards, receiving multiple nominations from major groups, including the BFCA, LAFCA, and the OFCS.
Back to that January morning though, the major categories are announced and the only nomination the film could squeeze out in the top categories was the one it was guaranteed to get all along: Best Supporting Actor for the late Heath Ledger. When the entire list was revealed, we saw that it had made a decent showing, earning eight nominations in total, but they were mostly for much smaller awards such as Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Makeup. Where were the nominations for Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture? The film was a huge critical success, sitting at 94% (8.5/10) on Rotten Tomatoes and 82/100 on Metacritic. Something smelled very fishy here.
This was the last year that we had five nominees for Best Picture, so it didn’t take long to discover which was the sore thumb sticking out for the world to see. We had Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and…. The Reader?!? A film that had not been nominated by the PGA, DGA, WGA, or for the SAG Ensemble, a film that currently sits at 61% (6.4/10) on Rotten Tomatoes and 58/100 on Metacritic, had somehow found itself with Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, among others. Interesting, no?
So how did things get so screwy? Bribery on the part of the Weinsteins is highly suspected. Of course, it’s just speculation, but how else do you explain such a crazy flip-flop? We all know what happened next. Due to the Academy’s terrible failure, they revised the Best Picture rules, giving us ten nominees in the top category (a change referred to by many as “The Dark Knight Rule”). Two years later, they revised their rules again, allowing for a maximum of ten based on the number of first place votes each film receives. Would we have such an over-abundance of Best Picture nominees if they had just done what they should have done back in 2009 by giving The Dark Knight the nominations it should have received? Who knows. Either way, even the Academy seems to acknowledge that this was a pretty big error on their part, though their tinkering doesn’t really help the fact that such a great and unforgettable film got snubbed for almost all of the major categories.
Right now many of you are probably thinking, “But The Dark Knight wouldn’t have won any of the major awards anyway.” Well, you’re right. Best Picture was all sealed up for Slumdog Millionaire with its wins from the PGA, DGA (pretty much guaranteeing it the Best Director Oscar), and SAG, and with its WGA win, Adapted Screenplay was going to follow. However, that’s beside the point. Them granting the nominations would show that they’re much more in tune with what were the best films of the year, regardless of whether it’s a “comic book movie” or their usual slate of dramas. By shoving it aside, they showed that they were still too rigid at the time to nominate something outside of their comfort zone, which is odd given that almost all of the major guilds had no problem doing so.
In an attempt to compensate, they’ve lazily expanded the category, which has allowed all kinds of weird choices to get in (District 9, Winter’s Bone, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, just to name a few). Hopefully one of these days we’ll get back down to just a few nominees. The expansion has somewhat cheapened the category, plus, you can usually tell which nominees are the top five anyway, so what’s the point? In their attempt to fix things, the Academy seems to have only screwed them up more. At the very least, they seem to have learned their lesson from this incident.Previous Next
7. Cloud Atlas Gets Completely Shut Out
There have been a few times where I have been aghast at a film not receiving any nominations whatsoever. A masterpiece like Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain comes to mind, but the one that is truly shocking occurred just last year, when the Wachowski Bros. and Tom Tykwer’s sprawling epic Cloud Atlas was left completely out in the cold on the morning of the nominations. It’s a film that was big, bold, and very ambitious, reaching heights that few films dare even to reach for, and it succeeded better than any could have possibly expected. Unfortunately, the film had been given mixed reviews by critics, with some hailing it as a masterpiece while others found it too confusing (“unwieldy” as the Rotten Tomatoes consensus says), but most who watched it found it to be a rewarding experience.
As for my own experience with the film, I must admit, the first time I saw it I had liked it, but not loved it. It’s a lot to take in on one sitting, a lot to digest and mull over. What do the multiple storylines have to do with each other? What is the significance of the actors playing multiple characters? What’s with the birthmarks? What are the directors trying to show with these various bizarre tales? However, after thinking about it a long time and seeing the film again, I came to realize its brilliance. Here was an incredible set of stories of the oppressed and their oppressors sprawled across centuries, one linking to the next through various artifacts and themes. These three directors/writers took a huge gamble putting together a film this complex, and while the Cloud Atlas barely managed to eke out a profit from its worldwide gross, what they accomplished in terms of cinematic storytelling far outweighed the monetary gain.
There are easily cases to be made that the film should have been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director(s), Best Adapted Screenplay, and several of the smaller categories, including Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. It certainly would have been a better choice than most of what was actually nominated, including the eventual Best Picture winner Argo.
The reason as to why it was shunned was more than likely the same reason that some critics didn’t completely hail it as the masterpiece it is. Like many of the critics, Academy members were probably left too confused to know what to make of it (like other sci-fi films in decades past). However, that doesn’t seem to explain why it would be ignored in all of the technical categories as well, unless they were just left feeling so confused by it that they felt the need to shun it everywhere. Whatever the reason, Cloud Atlas remains a masterpiece that will continue to be discussed and analyzed long after Argo and many of the other nominees that year are forgotten.Previous Next
6. Francis Ford Coppola Loses Best Director for The Godfather/The Godfather Wins Only Three Oscars
Many people like to think back on Academy history and think, “well, of course Coppola won the Best Director Oscar for the first Godfather film. Duh!” Believe it or not, that’s not the way it happened. Despite winning the Directors Guild award, come Oscar night, Coppola was defeated by Bob Fosse for his direction on Cabaret. Let that sink in a minute: one of the best directed films of all time was defeated by Fosse’s direction on Cabaret. That’s not to insult Cabaret, which is a fine musical film. But to compare the direction, well, there there is no comparison. Coppola wins hands down. No question about it.
So what in the world happened here? Well, it could be that the Academy was still nostalgic for the days of musicals gone by. The 60s saw them giving four musicals Best Picture and Best Director, so still being in that state of mind, perhaps they just wanted to continue. But when it came right down to it, they couldn’t deny The Godfather Best Picture, so a split occurred. At least, this is my best guess. For all I know, they took leave of their senses and randomly voted. However it happened, it’s rather amusing to look back at it now and see where both films are. Nobody talks about Cabaret or how it was directed nowadays, but The Godfather is revered as one of the greatest films ever made, and is currently tied for #21 on the Critics poll and tied for #7 on the Directors poll for Sight & Sound (the most prestigious cinematic poll in the world). You won’t find Cabaret anywhere on either list.
What some may find even more shocking was that The Godfather, again, considered one of the greatest films ever made, only won a total of three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay). Besides not winning Best Director, it failed to take Best Film Editing or Best Supporting Actor (despite having three nominees in the category). Ironically, both of these also went to Cabaret. Joel Grey gives a fine performance in Cabaret, but he’s pretty much only there to sing songs on stage and doesn’t really get the chance to become a full character in the film. However, Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall were nominated for The Godfather, and while Duvall isn’t in the film that much, Pacino and Caan deliver stunning performances that were both worthy of the Oscar.
Another shocking fact is that The Godfather wasn’t even nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, two more that most would just assume the film received. Take a guess which film received those awards instead. That’s right. Cabaret. At the end of the night, Cabaret took a total of eight Oscars, compared to Godfather’s three, an unheard of occurrence then and one that has not happened since, though we just might be seeing such a thing happen this year between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.
You don’t have to feel too bad for Coppola though. The Academy would sort of make up for their mistake by awarding him Best Director for The Godfather Part II just two years later, though it still doesn’t excuse the fact that they pushed him aside for the first film. This is one of those errors that they’ve just had to live with. True, they goofed for Best Director, but at least they managed to give the film Best Picture. Can you imagine the uproar if they hadn’t been able to do that at least?Previous Next
5. Network Loses Best Picture and Best Director to Rocky
Like 1994, 1976 had some incredible Best Picture nominees, including Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men. That year, they also included one of the best films ever made, the scorching television satire Network from director Sidney Lumet and Oscar-winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. After winning Best Original Screenplay and three of the four acting awards, it was thought that perhaps the film was on its way to win the top prize, which it easily deserved over the other nominees. However, shockingly enough, Best Picture and Best Director went to Rocky and its director, John G. Avildsen.
Rocky is an overly-simplistic, straightforward boxing film with a languid pace that doesn’t really have much of anything special about it, but Network was relevant then and is still relevant now, showing that TV personalities can amass a large number of followers and have incredible influence over them. This is demonstrated most famously by the infamous scene (which you can watch below) in which Howard Beale (played by the great Oscar winner Peter Finch) tells his viewers to get up, go over to a window, and shout “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!,” which they do. To this day, it is still talked about and analyzed quite a bit. For sure, Rocky is still talked about as well, but mainly for its simple underdog story. Network is a film with great depth that the Academy should have taken better notice of. Of course, walking away with four major Oscars (one more than Rocky) isn’t bad, but for a film this good, the top two should have been included without question.
4. Inglourious Basterds Wins Only One Oscar
2010 saw the PGA and DGA awards going to the overrated film The Hurt Locker, so by this time, we already knew which film was more than likely going to be taking home the Best Picture Oscar on the big night. It was a somewhat special night as we also knew that there was a great chance we would be seeing the first woman win the Oscar for Best Director, but what I and many others were hoping to see was Quentin Taratino take his much-deserved Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his brilliant script to Inglourious Basterds.
It’s an award he had won in several places throughout awards season, including wins from the BFCA and the OFCS (it was “disqualified” from the WGA awards). However, that night it was like a punch to the gut when they announced The Hurt Locker had won the award. A bland, forgettable script with little substance had somehow beaten one of the sharpest-written scripts in the last decade. The explanation for this was pretty clear: They thought The Hurt Locker was the better film, so they felt the need to justify it by giving it a screenplay award as well (similar to what happened with Argo).
To make matters worse, Inglourious Basterds was shot down for all but one of its eight nominations, receiving Best Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz’s amazing performance. We already knew Picture and Director were pretty much out of the mix, but to swipe Film Editing and Cinematography from it as well is just inexplicable, especially when you see that Film Editing went to The Hurt Locker and Cinematography went to Avatar. When the latter happened, I was expecting them to roll a computer on stage to accept the award (as well as when it inexplicably won Best Art Direction) as it was basically an insult to the other nominees.
Now don’t get me wrong, The Hurt Locker is an ok film, but I’ve never had the urge to watch it a second time. It’s simply not in the same league as Inglourious Basterds, a film that had more suspense in its first scene (check out a clip from it below) than Hurt Locker had throughout its entire runtime. That night should have seen a sweep for Tarantino’s masterpiece, but as the Academy often does, they chose a film that becomes forgotten by the time the next Oscars roll around. While Basterds is still discussed to this day for its incredible dialogue and thrilling plot, Hurt Locker has faded away, merely to be mentioned as a footnote for the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar.
3. Goodfellas Loses Best Picture and Best Director to Dances with Wolves
It’s one of the most inexplicable decisions in the Academy’s history. Somehow, Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves managed to defeat Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas and took home Best Picture and Best Director. After going on a spree of wins throughout the critics awards, including wins with the NYFCC, NSFC, and LAFCA, Goodfellas lost momentum with the major guilds and ultimately walked away with just one Oscar (Best Supporting Actor for Joe Pesci).
I can imagine that everyone had a good laugh at the Academy that year when the winners were announced. The British Academy had managed to get it right, awarding Goodfellas Best Film, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, among others, but for some reason, instead of Scorsese’s quintessential mobster film, the American Academy opted to go with a film about a man who becomes close to a group of Native Americans on the Frontier. Again, don’t get me wrong. Dances with Wolves is a fine film, but it’s no Goodfellas, as anyone can attest. To this day I have not found one person who thinks that Costner’s film is better than Scorsese’s, and it’s doubtful that I ever will. If things had gone as they should have, Scorsese would have had his directing Oscar 16 years earlier and for an even better film than what he eventually won for (The Departed).
So how did this egregious error end up happening? Well, the best way to explain it is that the Academy tends to choose films that are easier for them to digest (Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech, etc.), not necessarily the ones that are better. Goodfellas was probably too much for them to take in at the time, but as we can clearly see, it went on to be regarded as the better film down the road. Looking at the Sight & Sound poll, Goodfellas is tied at #171 with the critics and tied at #48 with the directors, whereas Dances with Wolves is completely absent from both lists. It’s one of those things that’s very hard to believe, but believe it or not, it did happen, making it just another incident that the Academy has to look back on and blush at.Previous Next
2. Million Dollar Baby Wins Four Oscars, Including Best Picture and Best Director
With 2004 being the best year that Oscar had seen in a long time, I suppose the Academy felt the need to balance out the yin and the yang by giving us the worst year Oscar has seen in a long time. The 2005 Oscars weren’t all bad. In fact, several great decisions were made that night. As the technical categories progressed, we saw Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator cleaning up pretty well. It even went on to claim Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett. Original Screenplay went to the great Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adapted Screenplay went to the wonderful Sideways. However, when we started getting to the other top categories, things went terribly wrong.
First off, Morgan Freeman, an actor I love in nearly everything he’s ever done, took Best Supporting Actor for a role that was very much beneath him. In fact, throughout Million Dollar Baby, he’s basically doing an impression of Clint Eastwood by putting on a ridiculous low, gravelly voice, and yet, the Academy decided to give him Best Supporting Actor for it. The best way to figure this is that they either wanted to make up for not having given him the Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy, or they thought that perhaps he might never get another nomination again, so best to award him now before it’s too late. Either way, there were far better performances in the category, including Thomas Hayden Church in Sideways and Alan Alda in The Aviator.
When it comes to Hillary Swank winning Best Actress, she wasn’t a terrible choice, but she doesn’t really do anything special in the film. That year, my vote would more than likely have gone to Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, an outstanding performance that left a much bigger impact. As for Clint Eastwood taking Best Director, it’s the most understandable of the film’s four Oscars. The direction is well done, but again, there were better candidates in Martin Scorsese (The Aviator) and Alexander Payne (Sideways).
At this point, the ceremony was heading for an alarming crash ending, and that’s exactly what we got when Million Dollar Baby was announced as Best Picture of the Year. When I saw the film back in 2004, I was aghast that the Academy would give it their top prize. Re-watching it this week, for the first time in ten years, my original opinion hasn’t changed much. The first two-thirds of the film are basically your standard underdog boxing movie, packed to the brim with clichés, while the final act is so unbelievable and so filled with melodrama that even soap opera stars would blush at it. I think it’s widely acknowledged that this is the worst choice for Best Picture in the last ten years.
Looking back over the other nominees for Best Picture that year, we find great films like Sideways and The Aviator (sadly, the Academy had completely failed to nominate the great Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the top prize), either of which would have been a far better choice to represent the year. Instead, they selected a generic boxing film that has already been long forgotten. But what makes it an even stranger choice on their part was that The Aviator had won the Producers Guild award that year, giving it the edge for Best Picture, while Million Dollar Baby had only won the Directors Guild award, giving it the edge for the corresponding Oscar that did indeed go to Eastwood. On top of that, the HFPA gave Best Drama to The Aviator and Best Musical/Comedy to Sideways, while the BFCA and SAG gave Sideways their top honors (Best Picture and Best Ensemble, respectively). All this is to say that it seems the Academy went way out of their way to choose a bad film for their top prize. In the end, they pushed two great films aside to grab from the bottom of the Best Picture barrel, resulting in one of their worst decisions of all time.Previous Next
1. Stanley Kubrick Never Won a Directing Oscar/His Films Never Won Best Picture
There have been a few great directors who never won a Best Director Oscar, including Alfred Hitchcock, while others are simply still working at accomplishing the great feat, such as Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. However, no shut out has been as downright perplexing and as thoroughly embarrassing for the Academy as the fact that the greatest filmmaker of all time, Stanley Kubrick, never won a directing Oscar throughout his amazing career, despite being nominated for four masterpieces in a row in the 60s and 70s. As if that wasn’t bad enough, three of the four films he was nominated for were up for Best Picture, but were ultimately rejected for their award as well. To see just how massive an error this was, let’s look at it on a case by case basis.
The first time Kubrick was up for a directing Oscar was in 1965 for his satirical masterpiece Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a film that is regularly included on lists of the greatest films ever made. It is a masterwork, featuring brilliant direction, stunning performances, incredible set design, and an unforgettable screenplay (“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”). So what film did the Academy feel was better than one that’s considered one of the very best? The answer may surprise you, but it’s the musical My Fair Lady, which took three of the four Oscars that Strangelove was nominated for (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor), while the fourth, Adapted Screenplay, was snatched away by Becket (another great film).
The best explanation I’ve ever come up with for these errors is that it was simply too much for the Academy to take in at the time. To make a black comedy about nuclear annihilation in the middle of the Cold War was a gutsy move for Kubrick and, like many of his films, it ended up being rather controversial.
Just a few years later, in 1969, we come to the single biggest pair of errors ever committed by the Academy. This is the year that the greatest film ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was nominated for four Academy Awards (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best Visual Effects). No, your eyes don’t deceive you. The greatest film ever made was NOT nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, when the ceremony rolled around, instead of giving the Best Director Oscar to Kubrick, the obvious choice among the five nominees, the Academy opted to give the award to Carol Reed for Oliver!
That’s right, Kubrick had been defeated by another musical director. However, this time it was for a musical that has faded away completely from the minds of everyone who ever saw it. Not that it was a terrible film, but it just makes me blush every time I think of the fact that they opted to give Best Director to a forgettable musical over the brilliance that Kubrick displays in 2001. At the very least, Kubrick’s film walked away with Best Visual Effects (somehow it lost Best Art Direction-Set Decoration to Oliver! as well, while Best Original Screenplay went to Mel Brooks’ The Producers), but it doesn’t begin to make up for the mind-numbing mistakes made that year.
How do we explain this? Well, like Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a film ahead of its time. Before 1968, science-fiction was mainly seen as a B-movie genre that no one took seriously, so when Kubrick came along with this deep, philosophical film, many just weren’t sure what to make of it. Granted, there were a few who saw it for the masterpiece it was (Roger Ebert gave it four stars when it was released), but for the most part, audiences were perplexed as to the meaning of it.
However, that really only seems to explain why it wouldn’t have been nominated for Best Picture. Even if you don’t understand the film, it’s rather hard to deny that the direction is stunning. This is another case where it’s rather amusing to look back and see that Oliver! has been completely forgotten now, whereas 2001: A Space Odyssey is always included on lists of the best films ever made. On the latest Sight & Sound poll, it took #6 on the Critics’ poll and tied for #2 (with Citizen Kane) on the Directors’ poll. These terrible mistakes will forever be a stain on the Academy’s record, mistakes that I hope still torture the surviving Academy members who helped make it so to this day.
Kubrick’s next masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange, was also nominated for four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing), showing that four was becoming the director’s magic number. This time, his film told the tale of a gang of vicious young hoodlums terrifying the citizens of dystopian Britain and the attempt to reform one of them through an experimental treatment that makes him sick at the thought of violence. As usual, controversy followed, this time in the form of copycat attacks, causing Kubrick to withdraw the film from distribution in the UK. Luckily, the Academy didn’t let controversy stop them from giving it the nominations it deserved. However, whether or not it would be allowed to win was another matter.Previous Next
Ultimately it was defeated in all four categories, with all four awards going to William Friedkin’s outstanding The French Connection. This is the one “Kubrick year” where I don’t blame the Academy as much for their decision as in the other years he was nominated. The French Connection is a great film, featuring marvellous direction from Friedkin. It’s not as good as A Clockwork Orange (#75 on the Sight & Sound Directors’ poll, #235 on the Critics’ poll), but it was still a fine choice to represent the year.
The fourth and final time Stanley Kubrick was nominated for the Best Director Oscar came in 1976, where his next masterpiece, Barry Lyndon, was nominated for seven Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costumes, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best Original Song Score and/or Adapted Score), the most of any Kubrick film. Ultimately, it walked away with four of these, but strangely none of them for Kubrick. In fact, taking a look at the three it didn’t get, we find a disappointing commonality: Best Adapted Screenplay (Stanley Kubrick), Best Director (Stanley Kubrick), and Best Picture (Producer: Stanley Kubrick).
It was these three that would go to Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a film that I have found rather overrated. It’s a decent film, but it’s only really memorable for Jack Nicholson’s great, Oscar-winning performance. Forman’s direction doesn’t leave a mark (not like the brilliant direction he would do several years later for his masterpiece Amadeus), nor does the script really have anything memorable about it. Looking at Barry Lyndon, we find one of the most beautiful films ever made, which the Academy acknowledged with Oscars for its Costumes, Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Cinematography, but as to how they left Kubrick in the dust for his gorgeous direction is beyond comprehension. This is a film so expertly crafted, so minutely detailed in Kubrick’s framing of every shot, that any Academy member could rightly be called a fool for not casting their vote in Kubrick’s direction.
As for the film itself, it has become Kubrick’s forgotten masterpiece, one that is usually only briefly mentioned (if mentioned at all), normally tossed aside in favor of discussion of 2001, Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange. In fact, if I were to ask how many of you had actually seen it, I would probably be thoroughly depressed at the result. It is a stunning epic that sweeps you into the adventures of a young Irish lad who is forced to leave home after defeating a rival in a duel. His journey has him joining the army, fighting a few battles in the Seven Years War, and eventually winning the hand of the beautiful (and rich) Lady Lyndon, but that’s where the story takes a somewhat dark turn.
There have been those that describe the film as a painting come to life, but aside from its look, there is so much more to admire: an unpredictable story, a great performance from Ryan O’Neal, an elegant screenplay and of course, Kubrick’s skilled direction. Turning back one last time to the Sight & Sound poll, we find the film tied at #59 on the Critics’ poll and tied for #19 on the Directors’ poll. It should be noted that Cuckoo’s Nest also makes an appearance on the Directors’ poll, but much further down where it’s tied at #48. However, it does not make an appearance on the Critics’ poll, even with 250 films on the list.
So why did the Academy go with Cuckoo’s Nest instead of Barry Lyndon? It’s a good question. Another good question would be why they went with Cuckoo’s Nest over Dog Day Afternoon and Jaws as well, two other superior films. As for why they passed on Lyndon, it could be because the film has a purposeful detached feeling to it. At first, Kubrick wants to take you along on Barry’s adventure, making you feel bad for him as he is forced into one situation after another, but as the film goes on, he gradually distances you from the character, for when we come to the second half of the film, we discover just what kind of a person he really is. But again, this really only seems to explain Best Picture. How Kubrick didn’t receive the Best Director Oscar in an easy victory is a mystery left to the ages and another embarrassment that the Academy will have to live with on its record forever.
This one entry on this list may have been cheating a bit, but it seemed a lot easier to encompass the vast number of errors the Academy made in regards to the great Stanley Kubrick in one spot as opposed to spreading them all out. It really could have been its own list, but that would’ve been somewhat monotonous. Suffice it to say that it’s unclear as to why the Academy spurned Kubrick so much, awarding him only one Oscar for the Visual Effects on 2001: A Space Odyssey. We can only speculate as to why he was shot down all four times for director, even when it was clear he was the best nominee. Whatever the reason, he, like Hitchcock, was never truly honored by the Academy for his incredible artistic vision, and yet, you’ll scarcely see a list of the greatest directors of all time without his name mentioned. All we can do at this point is look back at their history and shake our heads in shame and sadness at their terrible oversight.Previous