Awards seasons and the Oscars in particular are always very divisive. People will argue for hours and hours on end about which film deserves to win, and which film didn’t deserve to be nominated. More often than not, the Academy completely misfire and award just the wrong movies the big prize when there are better movies battling against them.
Equally, there are times when the Academy does get it right: Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Apartment, The Godfather, Schindler’s List and The Lord of the Rings stand out as examples of the years where Oscar was right on the money. However, there are films that were nominated for Best Picture and have since gone on to be regarded as classics that didn’t win.
Below is my list of the great films that were nominated for the top award, but were beaten by lesser movies and yet have gone on in their own right to be highly regarded, and in some cases more highly regarded than the films that won.
10. Fargo (1996, Joel Coen)
Beaten by The English Patient.
This was really the film that got the Coen Brothers into the public conscious and established them as filmmakers who were a force to be reckoned with. The bleak comedy brought together all the elements from their previous films: dark humour, strong characterisation, bizarre violence and super smart dialogue, all placed into one tight and beautifully put together package. It rightfully won Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay Oscars for Frances McDormand and the Coens respectively, but its originality and its cynical yet oddly humane attitudes should have put this as the Best Picture of 1996.
9. L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson)
Beaten by Titanic.
There is a lot of Titanic love out there, and I just don’t see it. However, as it was the biggest grossing film of all time, on Oscar night, it would have been an outrage for the Academy to award Best Picture to another film.
Curtis Hanson‘s L.A. Confidential is arguably the finest studio film of the 90’s, a taut and brilliantly acted crime drama that never reveals its full hand until the final moments. Beautifully recreating the world of Los Angeles in the 50’s and lovingly referring to the great noirs of the 40’s, L.A. Confidential is a handsomely mounted picture that has something between its ears.
8. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982, Steven Spielberg)
Beaten by Gandhi.
Not even Richard Attenborough believes his film should have beaten Spielberg’s magnum opus, arguing that while Gandhi is a terrific narrative, Spielberg’s E.T. is a work of pure masterpiece cinema. And he’s right. Spielberg’s meditation on childhood and innocence is as heartbreaking as you would like, featuring the finest child performances ever committed to celluloid as well as some of the most iconic images. Like all of Spielberg’s work, it is a film made with heart and is deeply personal whilst also being very entertaining. One of the most outrageous Oscar oversights.
7. Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)
Beaten by The Godfather Part II.
Both of them are exceptional works and I can’t deny the win for what is “the finest sequel ever made,” but one can make a case for Roman Polanski‘s detective story being just as worthy a Best Picture winner. The 30’s period picture features arguably Jack Nicholson‘s finest hour as the laconic, quick witted private dick Jake Gittes hired to investigate the murder of the head of Water and Power in LA. The film contains one of cinema’s most gutting twists, packed with great performances and capturing a side of the great city that often goes unnoticed, this dark neo noir was a force to be reckoned with.
6. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)
Beaten by No Country for Old Men.
Again, another conundrum between two great films as to which one is better. The Coen Brothers have more than a fair claim for holding on to the Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars, but Paul Thomas Anderson‘s epic is perhaps the film that deserved to triumph in the big category.
It is a film that has defined its decade. On the surface you have a brilliant story about the economic rise and emotional fall of one of cinema’s most gruesome characters: Daniel Plainview. Beneath that however are allegories of capitalism, religion, Big Oil and the sins of the father. It is so thematically dense that on a 10th viewing you can read it another way. It is one of the those highly intelligent films that is perhaps to clever for the voters.
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