Sometimes the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gets it wrong.
Sometimes it feels like they get it wrong far more often than they get it right. And sometimes you wonder how actors and filmmakers who are now considered the medium’s legends would ever be snubbed. Would you think that directors such as Alfred Hitchcock or actors such as Peter O’Toole were never given an Oscar? With the 86th annual Academy Awards airing this Sunday (follow me on Twitter at @SSmith_TMT as I live-tweet the ceremony), I thought it would be interesting to look at some of Oscar’s biggest snubs.
In a way this one isn’t surprising. Stanley Kubrick was a brilliant filmmaker, but there was a quality to his genius that I can see keeping some at arm’s length. And seeing as how the Oscars are basically one big popularity contest, it’s not too difficult to understand why the Academy wasn’t ever charmed by Kubrick. Still, the man’s work is a monument to innovation and vision and it’s astounding to realize he was nominated for Best Director four times, but never won. Kubrick was given an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but it’s just not the same.
Best Director Nominations: “Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Barry Lyndon.”
Movie he should have won for: “2001”
Movie it lost to: Carol Reed’s “Oliver!”
Again, another director whom I’m not entirely surprised by his lack of wins, but no less frustrated. Spike Lee is one of cinema’s most opinionated and outspoken directors and he’s no stranger to controversy. But the fact remains that he’s also one of American cinema’s most important and distinctive directors. His output might be hit or miss at times, but there’s no denying the power of his work when Lee is on point. “Do the Right Thing” is one of the greatest films of all time, “Malcolm X” is a fearless look at one of the most divisive figures of the American Civil Rights Movement and “25th Hour” is still the best 9/11 film ever made. That Lee still has zero nominations as a director will forever baffle and sadden me.
Movie he should have won for: “Do the Right Thing,” though it wasn’t even nominated.
Movie it lost to: “Driving Miss Daisy”
How is it that the man who gave us films like “Nashville,” “M*A*S*H,” “The Long Goodbye” and “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” who changed the way we listen to cinema, was never given an Oscar for his directing? Altman’s craft was one-of-a-kind. You can always tell when you’re watching an Altman film. Whether it’s the stylish, overlapping dialogue or simply the way he would frame a shot, there always were elements that felt uniquely his, in a way that no other director since has managed evoke. He was a director with a lot to say, but he said it with style and substance.
Movie he should have won for: “Nashville”
Movie it lost to: Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” OK, it’s really hard to get mad about “Nashville” losing to “Cuckoo’s Nest,” but it was also an amazing year for nominees in general, with Sidney Lumet, Federico Fellini and Stanley Kubrick all being nominated for Best Director that year.
But it’s not just directors who get overlooked. There are numerous legendary actors who were completely ignored when it came to Oscar gold.
There is absolutely no mistaking that cleft chin and devilish smile as anyone’s other than Kirk Douglas. The man was a towering presence in cinema with skill and craft to match his presence. While he wasn’t the most diverse actor of his day, you certainly never saw Douglas sticking to a certain type. He could play Vincent Van Gogh as well as he could a boxer or a scheming journalist. He secured three Best Actor nominations over the course of his career (for “Champion,” “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Lust for Life”) but never won. He received an honorary Oscar in 1996, but those feel more like consolation prizes than anything.
Role he should have won for: Chuck Tatum, “Ace in the Hole”
Actor he lost to: Humphrey Bogart, “The African Queen.” Much like Altman losing to Milos Forman, it’s difficult to be mad at this. Bogart’s performance as Charlie Allnut is career-best work and the rest of the nominees (Douglas was snubbed for this role) included Marlon Brando’s industry-shaping performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Montgomery Clift’s role in “A Place in the Sun.”
Peter Sellers was one of cinema’s greatest chameleons -- if not the greatest. Yes, we have guys like Daniel Day-Lewis who can disappear into a role, but Sellers could do the same and do it with comedic roles, sometimes with multiple roles in the same film. There was simply no one else like him, before or since. Sellers had the amazing ability to find truth within comedy, giving us profound statements and perspectives when we would least expect it. Fittingly, he did it best in the two movies he was nominated for, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” and “Being There,” the latter of which is his greatest performance.
Role he should have won for: Chauncey Gardener in “Being There”
Actor he lost to: Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer in “Kramer vs. Kramer”
Peter O’Toole didn’t win an Oscar for his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s masterpiece “Lawrence of Arabia.” Let that sink in for a bit. One of the greatest performances in one of the greatest films (arguably the greatest) of all time by one of the greatest actors of all time and he did not win. Yes, he was up against the equally legendary Gregory Peck playing the iconic Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And yes, Peck was deserving of his recognition. But man. There’s just something about O’Toole’s work as Lawrence that is otherworldly, that resonates on a higher plane than most performances in the history of the medium. His work is intoxicating and captivating in a way that’s difficult to describe. O’Toole was nominated seven other times and received an honorary Oscar in 2003.