In 1977, I watched the Academy Awards with my classmate Dorothy. I had gone over to her apartment ostensibly to study for our 19th century Philosophy midterm. And to drink scotch. Dorothy loved scotch, which I found to be an admirable trait in a woman back in those days. After about eleven minutes of reviewing Kant’s Categorical Imperative together, Dorothy finally said: “Oh, screw it, let’s watch the Oscars.” Which we did, and the most memorable thing about the whole evening was an observation she made:
“Look at all those people. I bet they’re all wearing brand new underwear.”
I’ve never forgotten that. In fact, every time I sit down to watch the event, my first thought is that if I ever get nominated for an Academy Award, I’m buying a really fancy pair of underpants. Hello, bold plaid boxers!
As for me and Dorothy? Well, as much as I tried, I ended up being a Categorical Non-Imperative for her. In other words, snubbed. Here are our picks for the five biggest snubs for Best Picture.
This movie is generally considered one of the greatest movies ever made. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, and only won for Best Screenplay. Although to some the thought of watching it is like the thought of going to church on a major holiday: you know you should do it, but it’s probably not going to be that much fun. The big secret about Citizen Kane? It’s actually a lot of fun to watch. Orson Welles is fabulous as a media magnate trying to control everything, the camerawork by Gregg Toland is breathtakingly inventive, and it has a Bernard Herrmann score. You can watch it again. It won’t bite. And if you’ve never seen this movie, what are you waiting for?!
Widely considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest movies, this wasn’t even nominated. It’s a thriller starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly and set almost entirely in a New York City apartment that overlooks a host of suspicious characters. This movie is genuinely thrilling and every time I see it, I am convinced the murderer across the courtyard is going to get away with it.
There was one really great movie among the 1991 Best Picture nominees, and it was this gangster classic from Martin Scorsese. Unfortunately, the award went to Dances With Wolves, which was sorta okay. I guess. Kinda. Not really. The other nominees that year were pretty lame as well: Ghost, Awakenings, and The Godfather, Part III. I remember watching the show that year and thinking after GoodFellas lost, “Okay, that’s it. I am not watching the Academy Awards ever again.” And I didn’t! For one year. And then I was back at it.
As bad as the slate of Best Picture nominees was in 1991, they were all great in 1998: Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Elizabeth, Life Is Beautiful, and the winner, Shakespeare in Love. Boogie Nights is a dark, sorrowful, and brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson movie about porn actors in 1970s Los Angeles which unfortunately got lost in the crowd. Featuring remarkable performances from Mark Wahlberg, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, Julianne Moore, and Burt Reynolds (yes, Burt Reynolds), this movie could be considered one of the best films not just of that year but of the decade.
This is one of my favorite movies of the past ten years. A sedate lesbian couple and their family in Los Angeles has their world upended by Mark Ruffalo and his dashing, rogue-ish ways. It’s a deeply compassionate and unflinching film about the fault lines that lie buried in even the quietest of families. It was overlooked for The King’s Speech. Not a fan of that movie about the king, to be honest. Lisa Cholodenko directed this superior movie and co-wrote the screenplay.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.