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En español | If history has taught us anything, it's that the Academy Awards aren't infallible. If you look back over the 90-plus years of best-picture contenders, there are some pretty glaring omissions — movie masterpieces that were never even nominated for Hollywood's most prestigious prize. So on the eve of this year's awards, here's our list of the 10 biggest snubs for best picture (in chronological order) in Oscar history.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Has there ever been a lighter, faster, fizzier film from the golden age of the Hollywood screwball comedy? Not by a long shot. This rat-a-tat classic from director Howard Hawks stars Katharine Hepburn as a dizzy heiress whose pet leopard named Baby leads a bookish paleontologist (Cary Grant) on a madcap chase from Manhattan to Connecticut. The carbonated, opposites-attract chemistry between Hepburn and Grant is lightning in a bottle — so electric that both leads virtually shoot off sparks. Best of all, the film's charms haven't aged a day. Ridiculously, Bringing Up Baby not only was overlooked for a nomination for best picture, but it received no Oscar nominations at all!
The Women (1939)
Most film historians regard 1939 as the single greatest year in movie history. And the evidence for that argument is certainly bulletproof. Here's just a sampling of that year's releases: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach and Dark Victory. Still, even in such gold-plated company, it's hard to wrap your head around the fact that George Cukor's crack all-female comedy about a group of women scheming and swapping verbal barbs and side-eyed glances over the arrival of a man-stealing shopgirl (Joan Crawford) was completely shut out at the Oscars that year. In addition to Crawford, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell manage to steal the show as the claws come out and the fur flies.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Stop anyone on the street and ask them what the greatest, or at least the most famous, musical in movie history is. Nine times out of 10, you'll get Singin’ in the Rain as the answer. And yet … this classic from writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green that stars Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse and the splish-splashiest star of all, Gene Kelly, wasn't deemed worthy of a best-picture nomination. A loving send-up of Old Hollywood, this may be the most infectious and rightfully iconic display of shoot-the-works song-and-dance joy that ever came out of MGM's dream factory. For shame, Oscar voters.
The Searchers (1956)
John Wayne's greatest and psychologically deepest western is pure tumbleweed eye candy. It's also so thematically bold and brutal about what the cost that blind hatred takes on a man's soul that it belongs on any list of the most powerful movies ever made. John Wayne has never been better than he is as Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards, who returns home only to discover that his niece (Natalie Wood) has been kidnapped by Comanches. His quest to find her, fueled by rage, grief, and racism, equals Ahab's in its biblical scale. Meanwhile, director John Ford shoots Monument Valley like a master painter, showing us not only the beauty of the American West but also how the sheer majesty of it makes our demons seem so very small. The Searchers is the alpha and omega of Hollywood westerns and — you guessed it — it was snubbed for Oscar's top prize.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Easily the best comedy of the 1950s, Billy Wilder's loosey-goosey, on-the-lam laughfest stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as a couple of guys who get dolled up in high heels, skirts and oh-so-much makeup as they attempt to flee the mob. Crazy high jinks, gender confusion and some of the greatest comic dialogue ever captured on celluloid ensue. Curtis and Lemmon are as good as good gets as they both manage to find their own happy endings. Curtis gets Marilyn Monroe, and Lemmon gets … Joe E. Brown, who serves up the film's most famous line: “Nobody's perfect.” Well, maybe nobody is. But Some Like It Hot certainly is. The film got six nominations, but not the big one.
You could argue that no great director was treated more dismissively by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences than Alfred Hitchcock. Not only did the greatest director of all time never win an Oscar for best director, but many of his most inspired films were never nominated for best picture. Two years after seeing Vertigo get snubbed, fate followed a similar path with this classic shocker about a seemingly nice young man (Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates) who's hiding some serious skeletons in his closet. Of course, the shower scene is one of the (if not “the") greatest sequences in cinema history. But the performances by Janet Leigh and, of course, Perkins, are terrifyingly good. By killing off his star halfway through the film, Hitchcock made sure that Psycho was revolutionary — unfortunately, maybe too revolutionary for Oscar voters.
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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Even the greatest science fiction films tend to get the brush-off from the Oscars. After all, neither Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey nor Ridley Scott's Blade Runner received best-picture nominations. But the lack of love for Steven Spielberg's emotionally rich head-trip blockbuster about UFOs, intelligent aliens and a sense of gee-whiz wonder as seen through the eyes of grownups is confounding. Coming on the heels of Jaws, you could make the case that Hollywood still wasn't sure if Spielberg was an artist or just a confectioner of moneymaking thrill rides. But if there was any doubt, then this movie should have won over the skeptics.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Still Spike Lee's greatest masterpiece, this vibrant slice of life about the racial fault lines that threaten to crack wide open in one Brooklyn neighborhood on the hottest day of the summer is still as timely as it was 32 years ago. What makes Lee's film so great is that it defiantly refuses to pull its punches and also isn't afraid to choose sides — those final 10 minutes are still devastating. Also every single performance is a gem, from Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee to Danny Aiello and John Turturro to Giancarlo Esposito to Bill Nunn to Lee himself. Looking back, the only explanation for its lack of a best-picture nomination is that this was a third rail too charged for the academy to touch.
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Boyz N the Hood (1991)
Oscar voters like to be sure that a filmmaker isn't a one-hit wonder before giving him or her too much praise too soon. Or, at least, that's the only reason I can come up with for why John Singleton's blistering directorial debut wasn't nominated for best picture. A howl of anguish from L.A.'s inner city, Boyz N the Hood is a harrowing coming-of-age story about a young Black teen who's surrounded by drugs, gangs and poverty and trying to navigate his way through it all — and do the right thing. But doing the right thing isn't always as easy as it sounds. Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne and Ice Cube give heavyweight performances that tear at your heart and leave you shaking your head.
Michael Mann's stylish and sensational crime epic that pits a tenacious, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends cop (Al Pacino) against a calculating, cool-cat master thief (Robert De Niro) is one of the all-time great cat-and-mouse movies. But it's so much more than just cops and robbers. This is underworld opera. Heat is so layered, the subplots are piled on so high, and the cast is so sprawling that it could have easily been a 10-part miniseries had it come out two decades later. Instead, it's merely the best heist film of the ‘90s. The Pacino/De Niro face-off got most of the attention when Mann's movie first came out, but every frame belongs in a museum and every performance belongs in an acting how-to manual. However, the biggest crime in Heat isn't on-screen — it's that it didn't make the cut in that year's best-picture race. The winner instead that year? Braveheart. It's a fine film, but it's no Heat.
Chris Nashawaty, former film critic for Entertainment Weekly, is the author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story and a contributor to Esquire, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.