Remember the Oscar best picture winner The Artist? I’ll give you a moment. Anything? It’s the black and white silent movie. Heck, it was only 5 years ago! The films given one of the highest honours bestowed upon a film can easily fade from memories while the overlooked films endure. Sometimes an Oscar snub benefits a film more than the winners.
The 2017 Oscars are a few weeks away, so rather than basking in the glory of past winners, we’re profiling the snubs. Here’s a list of the films denied a shot at a golden statute you can stream right now on SBS On Demand.
After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival 2013, Fruitvale Station would dominate the festival circuit for the rest of the year. At the Cannes Film Festival it screened in the Un Certain Regard section and won the Prix de l’avenir, a “future” award, signifying the arrival of significant new filmmaker, Ryan Coogler. The film would go on to win over 30 awards throughout the year as well as praise from critics. One of the only groups that slept on Fruitvale Station were the Academy with zero love for Coogler’s brilliant film that dramatises the true story of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of his life in 2008. If there was ever an argument for the need for a ‘best debut’ category at the Oscars, Fruitvale Station is the precedent.
Leon: The Professional
Okay, this is a tough one because if Academy voters are going to be picky about what’s up for consideration in the general American/English language categories, the best foreign film category is like the Thunderdome. It begins with each country nominating one film as their Oscar pick and the films advance through rounds where they are shortlisted to continue until the day nominations are announced (note: this will become a common theme in the race). Leon: The Professional had a shot at being the French submission for 1995; it was even nominated for 7 Cesar awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars. Wild Reeds (also available on SBS On Demand) was the pick for France and it failed to gain a nomination. Should have hired Leon for the job.
Short Term 12
Brie Larson won the best actress Oscar for Room in 2016, but it should have been her second statuette. Larson’s performance in Short Term 12 is just as good, yet it was ignored in 2013 along with the rest of the film about a home for troubled teenagers. In 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild was the indie film that went all the way to the Oscars, so it was looking good for Short Term 12 going in as one of the underdog titles that could follow in its footsteps. It got nothing instead.
Welcome back to the Thunderdome! Gomorrah was lucky to survive and become the best foreign film submission for Italy at the 81st Academy Awards. All signs pointed to it going all the way. It had won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 (the second most prestigious award of the festival). Gomorrah didn’t make it to a nomination because it failed to get short-listed. Much like the film, a brutal outcome.
The absence of this groundbreaking film from the list of best doco nominees was so huge that it caused an investigation into the voting process. The hunt for answers uncovered serious flaws in the system including details about how the documentary nomination committee of the Academy would use flashlights during screenings of films under consideration. Allegedly, voters would flash the screen when they had given up on a film. Once a certain number of lights had been flashed, they’d turn off the film. The screening of Hoop Dreams only lasted 20 minutes. Voters were also using the scoring system to skew votes against other films by purposefully giving perfect scores to films they wanted to see nominated and then zeroes to everything else, which threw everything off balance and ruled Hoop Dreams out of the race. Oddly, it did get an Oscar nomination for best editing, so at least we know the editors managed to watch the whole thing.
Australia took a punt on a German/Australia co-production, Lore, as our submission for best foreign film for the 85th Academy Awards. Cate Shortland’s follow up to Somersault (also available to stream on SBS On Demand) is sublime and it certified Shortland as one the best new talents in the Australian film industry. The film is far from what you’d define as “Australian’, as it tells the story of a Nazi orphans navigating Germany in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Not every foreign film submission has to match the criteria of representing its country of origin by way of themes, but it probably helps if there is native charm to appeal to Oscar voters. Offering something different from an Australian filmmaker didn’t work out and Lore failed to make the final shortlist.
We’ve had 30 years to think about why John Carpenter’s Halloween didn’t get any love at the Oscars. It’s still baffling. Granted, Academy voters probably viewed it as just a silly slasher movie for teenagers, but it can’t be denied how much this film revolutionised horror movies and its themes of terror seeping into suburban America. Also, Carpenter has never endeared himself to the industry, so it’s hard to imagine him bothering to get involved in campaigning for awards. The Oscars have always been allergic to horror movies, but Halloween was in the right decade to nab accolades because The Exorcist had been nominated for best picture only 5 years prior.
Brendon Gleeson gives one of the best performances of his career in Calvary. The film is about a priest (Gleeson) in a small Irish town who is told during confessional that he will be killed in a week’s time for representing a church that allowed horrific childhood sexual abuse to happen in the community. Like Isabelle Huppert’s best actress nomination for Elle this year, Gleeson could have leaped over the foreign film status and entered the best actor race. Gleeson and Calvary got no attention; it wasn’t even submitted as the champion for Ireland.
Charlie Chaplin: Modern Times
Saving the biggest snubs for last. Here’s an insane piece of trivia: Chaplin received 3 Oscars, 2 were honourary awards and 1 was for best score for Limelight. The Academy felt so bad they gave Chaplin an Oscar for ‘the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century’ in 1972 after years of ignoring his work. The Great Dictator is the only Chaplin film to receive multiple Oscar nominations, but Modern Times and City Lights failed to be recognised.
Charlie Chaplin: City Lights
Follow Cameron Williams on Twitter @MrCamW.