The Best Movie Ever: Oscar Snubs

CraveOnline's critics present their picks for the best films to be nominated for Best Picture... and lose.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Best Oscar Snubs Citizen Kane High Noon Dr Strangelove

 

As we wind down to the latest Academy Awards, there’s one word that’s on everyone’s mind: snubs. The history of the Academy is rife with Oscar snubs, the great films that never won (or even got nominated), and everyone who loves the Oscars has their personal favorite film that obviously should have won Best Picture, but lost to something else. Something usually much worse.

It’s all a matter of preference of course. It’s a Wonderful Life may now be regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made, but it lost the Best Picture Oscar to The Best Years of Our Lives… one of the other greatest movies ever made. So this week on The Best Movie Ever, we’re not so much asking our film critics – William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo – to pick a film for posterity, but to pick the film that they stand by the most. It is as much a personality test as an actual critique of quality, and that they all came up with different movies – and for different reasons – says an awful lot about the critics we choose to hire at CraveOnline.

Read their picks for The Best Oscar Snubs Ever, and let us know your own choices for films that were nominated for Best Picture and should have won, damn it.

 

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Witney Seibold’s Pick: Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane Orson Welles Joseph Cotten

What is the best film to have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, but did not win? This time I think we’re all supposed to select Citizen Kane, right? Citizen Kane – do I have to mention that it is hailed as one of the best films of all time? – was rather famously nominated for Best Picture back in 1941, and lost to the pretty good but largely forgettable How Green Was My Valley. Kane was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Music, Best Art Direction, and Best Screenplay, so the Academy clearly knew they had a hot one on their hands. Film scholars are repeatedly and constantly frustrated by The Academy’s choice to only award Citizen Kane with Best Screenplay, and its snub has become legendary; it is the prime example people cite when they want to make an argument against the taste of the electorate. 

Is Citizen Kane a better film than How Green Was My Valley? I have seen them both, and I can say yes. Why did The Academy choose not to give Kane more than one Oscar? There have been many to speculate on the matter over the decades, and the best the consensus seems to be that it was a political move. William Randolph Hearst tried to have the film repressed, the studio perhaps backed away from an Oscar push, etc. etc. The conspiracies are many. The most logical reason for the snub is that Academy voters didn’t want to vote for a film with any whiff of politics on it. Up until 1941, Best Picture winners had largely been war stories, biopics, and pan-generational epics. They were all about nostalgia. Brightening the past. Citizen Kane was, in both its filmmaking and its content, startlingly modern. 

My guess is that Academy voters didn’t know what to do with it – or were perhaps too flustered to confront it – and played it safe. How Green Was My Valley was a family epic that took place in the past in Wales. It was a satisfying drama that was far removed from the war or any sort of politics. It was the path of least resistance. It even beat out other great films like Suspicion, The Maltese Falcon, and The Little Foxes (as well as some honest-to-goodness obscurities like Hold Back the Dawn and One Foot in Heaven). Citizen Kane, then, was too good for Best Picture. I think its reputation has proven its worth since its loss. 

 

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William Bibbiani’s Pick: High Noon (1952)

High Noon

This was a tough one. The history of the Academy Awards is littered with tempting do-overs, from the obvious choices like Citizen Kane, to more personal pains in my ass like The Aviator (which was SUCH a better movie than Million Dollar Baby). It’s tempting to go with films like Apocalypse Now and Goodfellas, but although they arguably lost to inferior movies, I would never go so far as to say that they lost to bad ones. If we are to judge the best snubbed Best Picture nominee in Oscars history, there is only one choice in my estimation: High Noon.

One of the quintessential American westerns, High Noon stars Gary Cooper as Will Kane, the sheriff of a small town about to be besieged by brutal killers. There’s only a few of them, and the entire town easily could rally and take them out, but the bad guys only want to kill Kane, the one who sent their leader to jail. As the clock ticks upwards to noon (when the killers’ train arrives), Kane races across town, desperate to find someone – anyone – willing to be the first to stand by his side. All he needs is one or two people to stick their necks out and the rest will follow, but everyone puts their own self interest first. They are willing to let Kane die to save themselves.

It’s a masterpiece of frustration and suspense, and like many of the greatest movies, people seem to project their own anxieties upon it. Communist Russia hated it for glorifying an individual over the community, and many Americans (including John Wayne) thought it was Communist propaganda about the Hollywood Black List. That High Noon works perfectly either way is to its credit. The situation is specific and yet universal, effective to anyone who has ever felt alone against the world.

And it lost to the steaming pile that was The Greatest Show on Earth. That’s not the worst movie ever, but it’s an enormous misfire that can’t hold a candle to High Noon, my pick for the best Oscar snub ever.

 

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Brian Formo’s Pick: Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Dr Strangelove Oscar Snub

Well, this is a cantankerous category isn’t it? To say that awarding one film over another was the worst choice the Academy has made, whew buddy, that’s a little rude. It’s not that it isn’t easy to state that a certain film was made more artfully, has maintained a longer legacy, or that it influenced numerous artforms for decades, it’s just well, kicking My Fair Lady to the curb just seems cruel. It’s a simple film. It’s agreeable. It’s nice. It certainly isn’t bad. But if I could take one Best Picture Oscar back with force, it’d be Jack Warner’s for producing My Fair Lady—which is fine, because he stole Hal B. Wallis’ rightful Oscar for Casablanca—and justly hand it to Stanley Kubrick for Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

First, My Fair Lady is so out of place in the 1960s. Dr. Strangelove is an exuberant and exaggerated portrait of that decade and every decade since. It isn’t just a Cold War movie; it isn’t just Americans vs. Soviets in bunkers, and on telephones. It’s a post-WWII doomsday film. It’s a satire of preparedness: that warped military industrial complex that’s created a mentality that being prepared means being able to kill any threat before it even becomes a threat. Dominoes can only fall when they’ve been set up. So why set so many pieces up? Because you’re the only country in the world that’s ever used a nuclear bomb on another country, that’s why.
 
In a virtuoso performance, Peter Sellers plays three different characters, and George C. Scott plays a cement block with spit and a grin. “Gentleman, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!” is one of the best movie lines ever written. 
 
Dr. Strangelove is very funny, but it also pains to watch. It’s a tragedy of a nation, of a world that values the tactics to get to the first strike above making no strikes. That recklessness is indelibly expressed with one of the most iconic endings in movie history: Slim Pickens straddling a falling phallic bomb with yee-haw gusto, twirling his cowboy hat in the air. It’s funny, yes, but think of that hat. It’s not a yokel touch. The cowboy was an explorer, a settler, an outlaw. By 1964, America had been explored, and, topographically it’d been settled. And it’d been determined that the only thing we need in America is being prepared to spend enough on warfare machines to never be unsettled. 
 
That is unsettling. That is why Dr. Strangelove would be the best place to start for an Academy do-over. Also, because Kubrick never won an Oscar for Best Picture. Truly unsettling.