The Academy Awards have honored some of the greatest cinematic performances and masterpieces of all time. But they’ve also snubbed just as many great actors, directors, and films over the years. Neither Stanley Kubrick nor Alfred Hitchcock ever won a competitive Oscar, and Charlie Chaplin won just once, for writing the score to “Limelight,” a movie that came out two decades earlier. “Vertigo” is No. 9 on AFI’s list of the greatest films of all time, and it was nominated only for art direction and sound. It won neither. “Singin' in the Rain” may be the greatest movie musical of all time, and director/choreographer/star Gene Kelly got no Oscar recognition — the film got Best Score and Best Supporting Actress nominations and lost both. Glenn Close, who got her seventh acting nomination at the last Oscars, has never won. At least she’s not Mia Farrow who, despite her four Golden Globe nominations, has never been nominated for a single Oscar. Let’s take a look at the biggest missteps, snubs, oversights, and outright travesties in the history of the Academy Awards.
Stanley Kubrick directed some of the most iconic films in the history of cinema — “2001,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Barry Lyndon” and “A Clockwork Orange,” among others — and has zero Academy Awards. He was nominated four times, losing out on Best Director to such luminaries as Carol Reed and William Friedkin. The one time the Academy recognized Kubrick was with a special effects Oscar for “2001," which did have impressive visuals. But it feels like insufficient recognition for one of the all-time greats.
Alfred Hitchcock was such a great director that his name became an adjective: Hitchcockian. In his 54-year career, Hitchcock directed a Best Picture winner (“Rebecca”), invented the modern horror film with “Psycho” and created some of the most memorable images in film history like the crop duster chasing Cary Grant in “North By Northwest,” the birds attacking Tippi Hedren in the phone booth in “The Birds” and more. Despite this, Hitchcock lost all five times he was nominated for Best Picture. He did win the Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1968, and his entire acceptance speech was “Thank you...very much indeed.”
Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” often tops the lists of the greatest films of all time, but it didn’t even win Best Picture in its own year, losing out to “How Green Was My Valley.” Welles wrote, directed, produced and starred in “Kane,” his debut film, and even sang and danced. For his efforts, which revolutionized directing forever, he shared only the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay with his co-writer, Herman Mankiewicz.
“Singin' in the Rain” may be the greatest musical of all time, and actor/director/choreographer Gene Kelly’s performance of the title song might be the most iconic musical number, although Donald O’Connor’s “Make Em Laugh” is nearly its equal. Shooting the scene put O’Connor in the hospital for days. The American Film Institute called it the fifth-greatest American film ever, yet it won zero Oscars and was nominated only for Best Supporting Actress and Best Score.
Glenn Close has the most nominations without a win of any actress in the history of the Academy Awards, going 0-for-7 so far, after falling short again in 2019 for "The Wife." Close has four Best Actress and three Best Supporting Actress losses, including for "Fatal Attraction," in which she played Alex Forrest, one of the truly great screen villains. While she has three Emmys and three Golden Globes, every year at the Oscars it's been "close"...but no cigar.
As frustrating as it must have been for Glenn Close to hear seven other names read instead of hers at the Oscars, Peter O'Toole had to suffer through eight Oscar losses. Two were for playing the same character, King Henry II, in different films ("Beckett" and "The Lion In Winter"). The Academy eventually gave him an honorary award in 2002, though O'Toole protested and said he wanted to "win the lovely bugger outright." He managed to garner a final nomination for "Venus" in 2006, and he lost that one as well.
Charlie Chaplin got an honorary award at the first Academy Awards ("for versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing 'The Circus'") but was shut out of the competitive categories for nearly his entire career. Chaplin made countless masterpieces, including "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator," all of which he starred in and directed but never won until 1973, when he was in his 80s. Was it an acting award? Directing? No. It was a shared Best Score Oscar for "Limelight," a film he'd made two decades earlier...because Chaplin was known for his composing.
Mia Farrow received five Golden Globe nominations for her acting, starting with "Rosemary's Baby" and continuing until "Alice," but the Academy never recognized her. Meanwhile, she starred in seven different Woody Allen films that garnered him nominations for writing or directing in that span. Without even addressing the controversy, it's amazing that no one thought the lead actress delivering Allen's lines might have had something do with the success of the scripts.
Martin Scorsese was snubbed over and over by Academy voters until finally winning Best Director for "The Departed." While "Taxi Driver" was shut out, and "Raging Bull" won only for editing and Robert De Niro's performance, the most egregious snub was against the crime epic "Goodfellas." Joe Pesci won Best Supporting Actor, but other than that, "Goodfellas" was shut out, losing to Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves." History has vindicated "Goodfellas," but the Academy told Marty to go get his shinebox.
There have been 90 years of Oscars, and in that time just five women have been nominated for Best Director. Only Kathryn Bigelow has won the award, for "The Hurt Locker." The bias against female directors, conscious or not, is more obvious when a female-directed film gets a Best Picture nomination but not one for Best Director. That happened with Randa Haines and "Children Of A Lesser God," with Valerie Faris and "Little Miss Sunshine," with Greta Gerwig for "Little Women," and with Barbra Streisand and "Prince Of Tides," which Billy Crystal critiqued in his opening song: "Seven nominations on the shelf/Did this film direct itself?"
Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" was a huge success at both the box office and with critics, spawning countless remakes and adaptations and kicking off the popularity and style of the entire genre of film noir. However, Paramount Pictures chose to back its big hit "Going My Way" over "Indemnity" at the 1954 Oscars, which frustrated Wilder so much that he tripped director Leo McCarey as he went up to accept the Best Director trophy.
Some critics called "The Searchers" the greatest Western of all time, and AFI had it No. 12 on its list of the 100 greatest films. John Ford directed John Wayne in an intense story of revenge, which you can see references to in works ranging from "Star Wars" to "Breaking Bad." What did the Academy think of this historically significant film? Not a single nomination.
Cary Grant was a fantastic comedic actor and one of the truly great movie stars of his or any era. But he got only two Oscar nominations despite his overstuffed resume of classic films. He was the only lead in "The Philadelphia Story" not to get an acting nomination, and he was also snubbed for "Bringing Up Baby" and "His Girl Friday." Perhaps it was Oscar's usual bias against comedy, but Grant also was ignored for "Suspicion" and "North By Northwest." It's possible the charming Grant made things look too effortless — Oscar voters like to see their winners sweat.
Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" did win Oscars for directing and screenplay, but it lost the Best Picture race to "Crash." It wouldn't feel like such a snub if it didn't seem as if it was uncomfortable giving a film with such overt gay themes the biggest prize — or if it hadn't lost to what immediately felt like one of the worst Best Picture winners in Oscar history, as "Crash" feels tone-deaf and outdated, even though it came out in 2005. Heath Ledger later got a posthumous Oscar for "The Dark Knight," but it feels like the Academy is still snubbing Jake Gyllenhaal, who hasn't been nominated since despite an impressive body of work.
Edward Norton has three Oscar nominations, though it could easily be a lot more. Some of his most memorable work went unrecognized, like his roles in "Fight Club" and "The 25th Hour." It may be that voters don't like his reputation for being difficult, rewriting scripts and shunning promotion, which cost him his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if not an Oscar. The closest he came to a win was probably "American History X," but as a consolation prize for Norton, he ended up getting drunk with fellow nominees Ian McKellen and Nick Nolte after they all lost to Roberto Benigni.
Judy Garland received a Juvenile Award for her performance in "The Wizard of Oz," but that was her only win at the Oscars. Most of her stellar work in musicals like "Summer Stock" and "Meet Me In St. Louis" was ignored by the Academy, perhaps because musicals seem too light? While Garland got a Best Supporting nomination for "Judgment At Nuremberg," her only other nod was for "A Star Is Born," but she lost out to Grace Kelly.
It's not altogether shocking that Robert Mitchum got only one Oscar nomination in his illustrious career. While he had plenty of work that deserved it, particularly in "Cape Fear," "Out of the Past," and his electrifying and terrifying role in "The Night of the Hunter," Mitchum liked to talk about how easy acting was. That didn't endear him to his peers who were voting, nor did his propensity to get drunk and hit people, or in the case of one unlucky crew member, shove him into San Francisco Bay. Still, given how much recognition his films and co-stars got from the Academy, Mitchum's lone nomination feels like a decided snub.
Sure, Bill Murray lost out on Best Actor for "Lost In Translation" to Sean Penn. But the indefensible snub from the Academy was the lack of even a nomination for his career-defining performance in "Rushmore." That Geoffrey Rush's campy performance in "Shakespeare In Love" got recognized ahead of Murray's incredible work either proves that comedians have no chance at the Oscars or that Miramax's awards lobbying machine was completely unstoppable.
According to AFI, "Vertigo" is the ninth-greatest film of all time. According to the Oscar voters in 1958, the only thing that stood out was the sound mixing and production design. The movie is one of Hitchcock's finest, a haunting story of obsession and betrayal, and invented techniques like the "dolly zoom" that you can still see in movies today. Instead, "Gigi" swept the Oscars, even though it's essentially a faux-French remake of "My Fair Lady."
Martin Landau's win over Samuel L. Jackson in 1995 is one of Oscar's worst injustices. Landau is fine in "Ed Wood" and checks a lot of Oscar boxes by playing a real person (Bela Lugosi), with a drug problem, who's also affiliated with Hollywood, and by being old himself and thus a sentimental favorite. But Jackson's performance is one of the best and most memorable of the decade, almost single-handedly giving "Pulp Fiction" moral and philosophical heft.
Frank Capra's classic, "It's A Wonderful Life," is one of the beloved films in American history, but at the Oscars in 1947, every time a bell rang, "The Best Years Of Our Lives" won another Oscar. "Best Years" was the biggest box office hit of the decade, even if people don't remember it now, and it took home nine Academy Awards. George Bailey, Clarence and Zuzu had to settle for a special award for making such good fake snow.
While Amy Adams has two Golden Globes (for "American Hustle" and "Big Eyes") and seven more nominations, she's a six-time loser at the Oscars (five Supporting, one Lead Actress losses). It's an honor just to be nominated, but for one of her finest performances, in "Arrival," Adams didn't even get that honor at all. Of course, if Adams doesn't want to get her heart broken again at the Oscars, all she has to do is keeping playing Lois Lane in movies like "Justice League!"
P.T. Anderson has eight Oscar nominations to his name — four for screenplays, two for directing and two for Best Picture — but incredibly, no wins. "There Will Be Blood" features a powerhouse Daniel Day-Lewis performance, but lost to the oft-snubbed Coen Brothers and "No Country for Old Men". Anderson's screenplay for "Inherent Vice" should have beaten "The Imitation Game," and Anderson probably deserves an award simply for turning a Thomas Pynchon novel into a coherent film. But in hindsight, the worst Academy oversight was Anderson's first nomination, where his screenplay for "Boogie Nights" somehow lost to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's "Good Will Hunting." How do you like them apples, Dirk Diggler?
Two of the best documentaries in recent memory came out in 1994. "Hoop Dreams" was the story of two poor black teenagers recruited to a much wealthier high school to play basketball. "Crumb" was Terry Zwigoff's portrait of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb and his extremely eccentric family, Both were critically acclaimed financial successes, and both were snubbed by the Academy. The arcane selection process meant voters would often turn a documentary off early ("Hoop Dreams" lasted just 10 minutes), and as a result the winning film just happened to have been made by the committee's former chair. The Academy reformed its rules the next year, too late for these filmmakers and their Oscar dreams.
Sean Keane is a comedian residing in Los Angeles. He has written for "Another Period," "Billy On The Street," NBC, Comedy Central, E!, and Seeso. You can see him doing fake news every weekday on @TheEverythingReport and read his tweets at @seankeane. In 2014, the SF Bay Guardian named him the best comedian in San Francisco, then immediately went out of business.