Five Films That Should Have Won Best Picture But Didn’t

4th Academy Awards
What won: Cimarron
What should have won: The Front Page

The full details about Cimarron were recently explored in another post, which can be read here. Needless to say, it has emerged as one of the weaker Best Picture winners of the 30s.

The Front Page, another Best Picture nominee that year, is definitely worth watching if screwball comedies are up your alley. Centered around a newspaper and trying to get the proper “scoop” there are plenty of amusing hi-jinx for what is coverage of a somewhat dark story. It’s certainly not an all time must see classic, but it’s a fun way to spend an hour and a half.

The film can be seen in it’s entirety here:

6th Academy Awards
What won: Cavalcade
What should have won: Lady for a Day or I Am Fugitive From A Chain Gang

It’s a bit a toss up for this one, as this was a year with strong films. Either Lady for a Day of I Am A Fugitive from a Chain Gang would have been better choices, in my mind, than the winner.

Cavalcade is not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a Best Picture winner that has not aged well. As it chronicles history through the eyes of one family, there are moments of great interest, but in between the film does slow down, making it rather easy to lose interest. It has high points but also many low points.

The competition it faced that year are very impressive. I Am Fugitive from a Chain Gang stands out, along with 1928’s The Racket as one of the great early crime films, dark and gritty.

Lady for a Day is, in many ways, the polar opposite of Chain Gang. Frank Capra did create better films than this one, but that doesn’t lessen it’s charm. Not only is it funny, but it’s also a story with plenty of heart and high on sentiment. May Robson is especially lovely in the leading role.

13th Academy Awards
What won: Rebecca
What should have won: The Great Dictator

This is an odd for me. Some of you may know how much I love Alfred Hitchcock by the frequency at which they are mentioned either on this blog or twitter. I still find his films to be some of the greatest of all time, and that it is a shame the man never won an Oscar. I even like Rebecca a lot. But despite all that, I think the win for that film was a little off base. There was simply another film at a much higher level that year.

That film is The Great Dictator. This is, perhaps, Charlie Chaplin’s crowning achievement, his perfect mix of comedy and pathos. Throw in the daring social commentary and political message, and the film adds yet another later to it’s brilliance. Great slapstick moments are found throughout, along with both funny and mesmerizing moments like the globe scene.

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On top of that, the film combines with it biting and vicious parody of one of the most despicable men in human history: Adolf Hitler. It’s hard to think of anyone else who could have produced such a humorous and belittling look at the man. The film also ends on one of the highest notes ever: a beautiful impassioned speech that will not be forgotten by anyone who sees it.

Rebecca may be great, but The Great Dictator is daring, hilarious, meaningful and flawless.

17th Academy Awards
What won: Going My Way
What should have won: Double Indemnity

I do quite like Bing Crosby’s Father O’Mally character in both Going My Way and The Bells of Saint Mary’s. Both are delightful movies and Crosby is highly enjoyable as the character. But it is up against Double Indemnity, one of the ultimate film noirs.

The cast is one to die for, but Barbara Stanwyck in particular deserves mention for one of her best roles (and that’s saying something). Like all good noir and suspense films, the tension doesn’t let up and all leads to a spectacular finish. As far as crime films go, this is the cream of the crop.

30th Academy Awards
What won: The Bridge on the River Kwai
What should have won: 12 Angry Men

Yet again, this is another situation where I have problem with the winner itself. It just so happens that 12 Angry Men is one of my favorite films of all time.

The twelve actors who comprise that cast are one of the greatest ever assembled: Martin Balsam, Lee Cobb, Jack Klugman, Henry Fonda and Ed Begley, among others. Each one of the main players is unique and memorable in their role, and yet none received an acting nomination. After only seeing them in the deliberation room, we know them all very well.

With such distinct characters, 12 Angry Men tells one of the one of the most gripping tales of all time, all without ever leaving one room. At least for me, it’s mesmerizing and just about as good as it gets.

How Many Best Picture Winners Were Flops?

Sometimes a question you don’t have the answer to pops into your head and you get really curious about what the answer is. This is one of those times. Everyone knows that critical success and commercial success are not always equal. Some all time classics like The Wizard of Oz didn’t go over like gangbusters upon initial release. But what I was wondering was how many Best Picture winners were money losers?

The answer: only one. And it was . . .

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Although other Best Picture winners had varying degrees of success, Cimarron is the only one that was a money loser upon it’s initial release. It didn’t lose much– around $50,000, but it still falls into a category all it’s own. At the time (1931) it broke records at the Oscars, though. It became the first film to be nominated for more than six awards, and remains to this day one of only two movies be nominated in very eligible category. So why did it flop like no other Best Picture winner?

Well, RKO pumped a boatload of money into it.

It does make sense that a film of its type would cost a lot of money to make. The western takes place over the span of forty years, across sprawling and elaborate set pieces. When adjusted for inflation, the film’s $1.43 million budget comes out to around $22 million. And they spent the money on every little thing: one sequence alone required around 50 acres of land (and cameramen) and thousands of extras and cattle.

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It contributed to a bad overall year for RKO, who lost $5.6 million overall and was left in dire financial straits. Cimarron itself was the most expensive film the studio had made up to that point.

In later years, Cimarron hasn’t faired so well upon repeat viewings. Conventional wisdom now seems to be that it holds up worse than most, if not all, of the Best Picture winners. As of this writing, it is the lowest rated winner on IMDB, although that obviously isn’t the most reliable metric. Irene Dunne, the film’s star, reportedly didn’t feel too strongly about it later on in her life. Hillel Italie, writing for the Associated Press in 1991, had this to say about the film:

The film was made in 1930 and is about as creaky as an old cabin door. The pasty-faced Dix is almost laughable as a self-important frontiersman, and Dunne shows just a hint of the grace and timing that would make her one of the top actresses of the next 20 years. Also, the grating background music sounds like it was lifted from a ‘Little Rascals’ soundtrack.

So there you have it. If you were as curious as I was about this question, the answer is now here. Cimarron is the only Best Picture winner to lose money.

DVD Recommendations: The Devil’s Needle and Lost & Found-American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive

Going forward we’re going to be looking at a lot more DVD and Blu-Ray recommendations, starting with these two. Both will be of particular interest for silent film fans. And both cases, they contain rare unearthed gems.

The Devil’s Needle and Other Tales of Vice and Redemption

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This impressive set from Kino Lorber and the Library of Congress packs three different “message” films: The Inside of the White Slave Trade, The Devil’s Needle and Children of Eve. But unlike some notoriously bad message films in later decades, these are not overly heavy-handed, and have good stories to back them up.

The Devil’s Needle steals the show in terms of quality. The effects of drug addiction on an artist. It’s a harrowing look at the slow descent into madness it can bring, played expertly by Tully Marshall. Silent legend Norma Talmadge also stars as the girl who first turns him on to drugs and later tries to save him. There are some issues with picture quality at points in the film, but it’s worth wading through those issues for this film.

Children of Eve focuses on unsafe working conditions and child labor, based on the Triangle Factory fire. Not only does it tell that story, but also the underlying theme of how greed can have an effect on people. Much like the previous film, strong characters help drive the message. The fire itself is expertly done.

Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive

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This DVD set is even more jam-packed with great material for silent film fans. It’s quite the collection of previously lost material. The content runs the gamut from somewhat minor material, items of historical interest and very important finds.

Two of the films, although low on plot, are high on technological innovations. Lyman H. Howe’s Famous Ride on a Runaway Train not only features early sound synchronization but impressive POV shots of the titular runaway train. It must have been a fantastic sight for early movie goers. The Love Charm is a minor romance story, but is notable for it’s very early use of technicolor.

The most notable features on the DVD are newly found works of three important figures. John Ford’s Upstream is newly found in complete form, along with a trailer for another one of his lost films. Won in a Cupboard is a great treat for silent comedy fans, as it is the earliest surviving film that Mabel Normand directed (she also stars). And finally, The White Shadow is the earliest credit for Alfred Hitchcock, who served in a number of roles: assistant director, writer, editor and set designer. The film is incomplete, but still is important in the career of the legendary director. Also included are such items as newsreels and cartoons.

Overall, there are enough rarities on these two sets to make them essential for classic film fans. Rare material is still being unearthed, and these are great examples of the kind of things that often turn up.

The Amazing Stories of Harold Russell and Haing S Ngor

With the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon looking at the acting awards this week, it’s worth telling the tales of the two men who are the only non-actors to win an acting award. In both cases, Harold Russell and Haing S Ngor won for Best Supporting Actor, and both drew upon their own history to create memorable roles.

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The Best Years of Our Lives is undoubtedly one of the best movies about war ever made. It displays in a profound manner the long lasting impact war has on those brave soldiers who must return home and adjust to normal life once it’s over. These effects are shown not only in the crippling mental ways, but also in physical ways as well. And that’s where Harold Russell comes in.

Instead of focusing on the original plan of a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, director William Wyler opted for someone with physical injuries from the war. For that role, he sought someone who with real physical injuries. Russell had been debilitated by the war, left with two hooks instead of hands. Even with no acting experience, he was given the role of Homer Parrish.

The performance is one you won’t soon forget, and the knowledge that his affliction is real makes it an even more heartbreaking performance. Every single part of his day is a struggle. He demonstrates to his fianc√© at one point that once he takes his prosthetic arms off for the night he’s completely helpless, and couldn’t even leave his bedroom if he wanted to.

But the importance of the role Russell plays isn’t just his specific ailment. It shines a light on the general problem that could effect many who come home from war with a terrible injury: he feels inadequate and doesn’t want to burden others. This is a real problem that people face, which is something I personally can attest to from it having occurred in my own family.

The message of The Best Years of Our Lives is an incredibly strong one, and it is Russell in particular that makes that point the strongest. For that, he was given both the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and an honorary Oscar– making him the only person to win two Oscars for the same role. His place in history is well deserved.

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Ngor drew open his own experiences as well for his performance in The Killing Fields. A film designed to show the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, Ngor survived that himself. After spending four years in a labor camp, he was finally able to flee. Later he told People Magazine: “I wanted to show the world how deep starvation is in Cambodia, how many people die under Communist regime. My heart is satisfied. I have done something perfect.”

Just like Russell, Ngor made further history as well with his win. He became the first Asian male to win an acting award, and only the second Asian overall.

Their acting careers took very different paths after their award wins. Ngor continued to frequently act right up until his murder in 1996. Overall, he took part in 25 roles in the 18 years of his life following his debut.

Russell, on the other hand, barely acted ever again, likely at least possibly due to his physical condition limiting roles. He overall appeared in only two other films and two episodes of TV shows. It was 34 years before he even appeared in his second ever role.

In both cases, their roles will always be remembered, as their real life experiences brought a gritty realism that made their lack of previous acting irrelevant.

Watch a clip of The Best Years of Our Lives:

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This is one in a series of great articles covering acting for the third week of the blogathon. Check out the full list of entries here.

Factoids and Interesting Oscar Facts: 36th-40th

36th
-Sidney Poitier became the first African American to win Best Actor.
-This was not a year of many repeat winners. Only three films won more than one award, and no film won more than four.

37th
-This is the only year where three films received at least 12 nominations: Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady and Becket.
-Despite it’s 12 nominations, Becket only took home one award: Best Adapted Screenplay.
-All four acting awards were won by non-Americans, a record.

38th
-The best documentary short To Be Alive! is unique in that it required being shown on three separate screens at once. It was only ever screened in two different locations, and has never been released on video.

39th
-Not only was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the only film to be nominated for every category it was eligible, but it is also the only film where every credited actor was nominated.
The War Game, which won Best Feature Documentary was made for broadcast in England but was pulled for being too violent. It would not be shown again on British TV for 20 years.

40th
-Previously, there were separate categories for Art Direction, Costume Design and Cinematography for color and black and white. This was the first year where the two categories were merged into one.
The Graduate is the last film to win Best Director, but no other awards.

Factoids and Interesting Oscar Facts: 31st-35th

31st
Gigi dominated this year, breaking records. It’s nine wins was both a record at the time for wins, as well as a new record for a clean sweep.
-And yet, with those nine wins, there were no nominations in any acting category.

32nd
-The record of nine wins was broken already, with Ben-Hur winning 11 awards. Other movies have tied that number, but it has not been surpassed yet.
-Buster Keaton was presented with an honorary Oscar. He never received a competitive Oscar nomination, as the highest point of his career was prior to the Academy Awards beginning.

33rd
-Billy Wilder had a big year with The Apartment. In the final year he would win competitive Oscars, he took home Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. His eight total Best Director nominations are second most all time.
-This was the fifth and final time Alfred Hitchcock was nominated for an Oscar (for Psycho). It was yet another loss, the same as the previous four times.

34th
West Side Story and Judgment at Nuremberg each received 11 nominations. While the former ran the table and won ten awards, the latter only won two.
Ersatz, a Yugoslavian film, was the first foreign film to win the best cartoon short category.

35th
-Although Victor Buono had appeared in TV shows and two films parts, he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his first credited role (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?).
-Bette Davis also received a nomination for her role in the film, her final time nominated. She still ranks third all time for most Best Actress nominations.

Factoids and Interesting Oscar Facts: 26th-30th

26th
-Although From Here to Eternity ran the table with eight total wins, it failed to win Best Actor and Best Actress, despite having two nominees up for Actor.
-The version of Titantic released this year only won one award: Best Screenplay. Oddly enough, although the 1997 Titanic won a record 11 awards, it was not nominated for any screenplay category.

27th
-For the second year in a row, a film (On the Waterfront) won eight awards.
-The film also racked up a staggering three nominations for Best Supporting Actor, a rare category it did not win.
-Both A Star is Born and The High and the Mighty received six nominations, and yet didn’t win any of the awards.

28th
-At 94 minutes, Marty became the shortest Best Picture winner until 1978. Annie Hall, which won that year, clocks in at a minute shorter.
-Ernest Borgnine won his first and only Oscar (and his only nomination) for a role in the film. At the time of his death in 2012, he was the oldest living Best Actor winner.

29th
-This was a diverse year for winners. Each of the “major” categories had unique winners: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
-James Dean became the only actor to receive a second posthumous award.

30th
Peyton Place had two nominees each in Best Supporting Actor and Actress, as well as one in Best Actress. It is a record for most acting nominations without a win.
12 Angry Men was not nominated for any acting category and only received three nominations overall (and won no awards).

Factoids and Interesting Oscar Facts: 21st-25th

This latest entry includes records being, firsts and the final time some all time great actors would be nominated.

21st
-Jane Wyman, playing a deaf mute in Johnny Belinda, became only the second woman ever to win Best Actress in a non-speaking role. The only time previous in the first year of the awards, when a silent film won.
-Although Johnny Belinda racked up an impressive twelve nominations, Wyman’s win was the only award the film took home.
-Not only was Laurence Olivier the first person to be nominated for both Best Director and Best Actor for the same film, he also produced Hamlet as well. The film took home two of the three: Best Picture and Best Actor.
-This marked the final time both Barbara Stanwyck and Irene Dunne would be nominated for competitive Oscars. Neither one ever won.
-Best Costume Design was introduced this year.

22nd
-This was one of only two times John Wayne was nominated for Best Actor. It would take 20 more years until his second nomination (and only win).

23rd
All About Eve ran the table, setting a new record with 14 nominations, winning six total.
-This included the unusual feat of having two different nominees for Best Actress. The award went to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday.
Sunset Boulevard is, to date, the last (and one of only two) films to have nominations in all four acting categories with no wins.

24th
A Streetcar Named Desire was nominated in all four acting categories and won three of them, all except Best Actor.
An American In Paris became only the second color film to win Best Picture.

25th
The Bad and the Beautiful set a record that still holds today: most wins without a Best Picture nomination. It won five awards total, the most that year.
Singin’ in the Rain was only nominated for two categories, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actress, winning neither.
-John Ford won his fourth Best Director award, a record that still stands. Only two others have even won three times: William Wyler and Frank Capra.

Factoids and Interesting Oscar Facts: 16th-20th

16th
-After being nominated four times previously, Michael Curtiz finally won Best Director, for Casablanca. It was the final time he was nominated.
The Ox-Bow Incident is, to date, the last movie to be nominated for Best Picture and nothing else.
-This was the final time there would be ten Best Picture nominees until 2009..

17th
-Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for his role in Going My Way. He won for supporting actor, while Best Actor went to his co-star Bing Crosby. This marked the only occurrence of an actor receiving two nominations for the same performance.
-Preston Sturges received two of his three total Oscar nominations this year, both for Best Original Screenplay. He did not win and would never be nominated again.

18th
-Although The Bells of St. Mary’s was nominated for eight awards, it only took home one: Best Sound Recording.
-Joan Crawford earned her only Oscar win for Mildred Pierce, but was unable to attend due to illness.
-Angela Lansbury earned her second straight Best Supporting Actress nomination. It would be 17 years until her next one.

19th
The Best Years of Our Lives took home awards in seven of the eight categories it was nominated in.

20th
-At the time, Edmund Gwenn became the oldest Oscar winner at 71, for his Miracle on 34th Street.
-Ronald Colman earned his fourth and final nomination for Best Actor, and his only win. His first two nominations came 15 years earlier, at the third awards ceremony.

Factoids and Interesting Oscar Facts: 11th-15th

TCM kicks off the 31 Days of Oscar today with all of the 1939 Best Picture nominees. This installment of interesting facts does take a look at that year (the 12th) as well as many others . . .

11th
-Frank Capra racked up his third Best Director win for You Can’t Take It With You, the first to do so.
-Michael Curtiz, despite not winning Best Director, did have an impressive two nominations in the category: Angels with Dirty Faces and Four Daughters.
-Spencer Tracy became the first person to win back-to-back Best Actor awards, a feat only achieved twice.

12th
-Of the 13 categories Gone with the Wind could have been eligible for, it received nominations for all but one–Best Supporting Actor. With ten wins total, it only lost in two categories.
-One of those winners was Hattie McDaniel for Best Supporting Actress, the first African-American to win any award.
-This was the first year to feature the Best Visual Effects category.

13th
-David O. Selznick became the first to produce two consecutive Best Picture winners, with the win for Rebecca.
-Although Rebecca was nominated for 11 awards, it only picked up two wins.
-The five nominations for The Great Dictator marked the first time Charlie Chaplin was nominated for any competitive award. It did not win in any category.

14th
-This was the first year for the Best Documentary category.
The Little Foxes received nine nominations with no wins, a record at the time.

15th
-This marked the last of five straight years that Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress. After skipping the next year with no nomination, she would follow it up with another nomination the year after.
-Four films won for Best Documentary, out of 25 nominees, the largest nominee pool ever.