The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is instrumental in restoring and archiving films, but many times its voting members have missed the boat on nominating or awarding films that have become classics and/or were cutting edge. Also, many a director and performer now viewed as icons received little recognition via wins or nominations. Emanuel Levy, a chronicler of the Academy, wrote that In Hollywood’s heyday, “The major studios always had the resources and facilities to carry out sophisticated and effective campaigns on behalf of their movies…Not to be forgotten is that the Academy began its existence as a guild-busting company union manipulated by the biggest studio, MGM.” Furthermore, “For two decades, the Academy was controlled by the big studios, with nominations dominated by a few powerful cliques within the studios.”
Examples of oversights and omissions through the years:
Major stars who never won a Best Actress or Actor Award: Deborah Kerr (6 nominations—and should have had a 7th for The Innocents), Cary Grant (2 nominations; rumor has it his freelance success perturbed the studios), Peter O’Toole (8 nominations), Richard Burton (7 nominations), Barbara Stanwyck (4 nominations), Rosalind Russell (4 nominations), Kirk Douglas (3 nominations). To absolve the Academy of some blame it should be remembered that in the past competition was incredibly stiff. How else can we explain Burton and O’Toole, for instance, never winning, Richard Widmark’s sole nomination coming for his first screen appearance in 1947’s Kiss of Death, and Glenn Ford never being nominated.
Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and Wallace Beery (The Champ) tied for Best Actor of 1932. Because they were within 3 votes of each other, the tie was “legal.” Nevertheless, rumor persists that MGM, which produced The Champ, used its leverage to make this category a tie.
King Kong (1933) received no nominations. (Special Effects wasn’t yet a category.)
Alfred Hitchcock received 5 Best Director nominations but never won. Vertigo (1958), now deemed one of the all-time greatest American films, sometimes given pride of place, was not nominated.
Citizen Kane (1941) did not win Best Picture. How Green Was My Valley did. Levy observed, “There is no doubt that Citizen Kane’s cinematic merits were not sufficiently recognized at the time,…its innovations were revolutionary, well ahead of their time.”
James Stewart didn’t win for his tour-de-force performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), but the following year took home the statuette for The Philadelphia Story (1940). It seems as if Academy voters were atoning for an oversight.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s majestic score for Kings Row (1942) was not nominated even though there were 18 nominations in that category!
James Cagney did not receive a nomination for his mesmerizing mom-fixated psychopathic bank robber in White Heat (1949).
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) did not win Best Picture, probably because An American in Paris, another MGM musical, had done so in 1951. Singin’ is now generally regarded as the greatest Hollywood musical.
Robert Mitchum was not nominated for his super-disturbing, sociopathic preacher man Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter (1955). Academy Award-winning actor Charles Laughton directed the movie but it was not a success and he never took the director’s seat again.
Elizabeth Taylor did not win Best Actress for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). That honor went to Susan Hayward for I Want To Live! Two years later Taylor won for Butterfield 8, a distinctly lesser film than Cat. It is assumed that Taylor’s health problems and the death of husband Mike Todd had something to do with this.
In perhaps the biggest oversight ever, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was not nominated for Best Picture, and the Academy took heat for the omission. Variety extracted from The Portland Oregonian its critic’s complaint that the awards “are blatantly commercial awards given to con yokels into believing that some kind of final word has been delivered on the relative quality of a movie….They defy artistic expression and reflect the waning dinosaur groans of a movie generation sinking into senility and richly deserved oblivion…2001 was obviously too new and too advanced for the rank and file.”
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) won a slew of awards but Manhunter (1986) is essentially the same story and won nothing. Tom Noonan’s crazed Dollarhyde is as horrifying as Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter.
Christopher Nolan did not receive a Best Director nomination for Inception (2010), which essentially doomed that film from winning Best Picture.
It may have been Ossie Davis who declared that the awards extravaganza was overblown but who didn’t want to be a part of it?
Fredrik, Nathalie. Hollywood and the Academy Awards. 1970.
Holston, Kim. Movie Roadshows: A History and Filmography of Reserved-Seat Limited Showings, 1911-1973. 2013.
Levy, Emanuel. Oscar Fever: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards. 2001.