Anytime you’re tempted to care too much about what’s going on with the Oscars, consider the list of great movies that should have won Best Picture yet weren’t even nominated in that category.
1. King Kong (1933)
The landmark in special effects and fantasy captivated the imagination and heralded a new era in which anything anyone could dream up became a cinematic possibility. The closing line was so perfect that Peter Jackson couldn’t resist using it again in his remake seven decades later. But Oscar was obsessed with historical sweep at the time, and gave its top award to the generational family saga Cavalcade.
2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Sure, it won an honorary Oscar, because even the Academy couldn’t ignore how Walt Disney devised a richer, more mature approach to animation that captured the shivery drama and the atavistic appeal of fairy tales. The winner was one of those noble but stiff historical pictures, The Life of Emile Zola.
3. Pinocchio (1940)
This time Disney conjured up a deep, dark vision even more unsettling and morally and Biblically grounded. It was to be the finest animated film he ever made. Hitchcock’s Rebecca, the winner, is also a classic and perhaps the top romantic noir of the era but the little wooden boy should have won by a nose.
4. Sullivan’s Travels (1942)
Like such contemporaries as Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges had a cynical take on everything that feels very modern, but in this fable of a wealthy Hollywood director (Joel McCrea) who thinks he’s going to find the real America by becoming a poverty tourist (inspired by a novel called O Brother, Where Art Thou?) Sturges aimed higher and delivered a dark comedy with uncommon wisdom. The winner was instead a teary piece of wartime propaganda about plucky Brits holding up their end, Mrs. Miniver.
5. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Bing Crosby’s warm and funny Going My Way was the big hit of the year and not a terrible choice for the top Oscar, but the musical that brought Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland together is the kind of family-friendly joy bomb that can be (and should be) re-watched every holiday season.
6. Red River (1948)
Hollywood’s intellectual inferiority complex was never more apparent than when the Academy chose starchy, stagey prestige over grand entertainment and selected Larry Olivier’s Hamlet over Howard Hawks and John Wayne’s Red River. John Ford was said to have seen a whole new side of his frequent collaborator, saying of Wayne, “I didn’t know the big son of a bitch could act!”
7. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Possibly the most boneheaded move ever made by the Academy was ignoring the single greatest musical comedy ever in favor of one of the most rancid pieces of melodramatic garbage ever to even be nominated for best picture, the brainless circus melodrama The Greatest Show on Earth.
8. Stalag 17 (1953)
A straight-up shot of intoxicating Billy Wilder, this hilarious, wised-up comedy-mystery about a cynical POW played to perfection by William Holden was decades ahead of its time and far superior to a much soapier and more on-the-nose approach to WW II, From Here to Eternity.
9. Vertigo (1958)
Acclaimed by a recent Sight and Sound poll as the greatest film ever made, this psychosexual Hitchcock freakout was simply too bizarre for its time and can’t fully be absorbed on a first viewing, so the top nod went to the colorful, cute Gigi.
10. Psycho (1960)
By this point Billy Wilder had built up such an impressive body of work that the Academy felt like blessing his second-tier romcom The Apartment over Hitchcock’s unforgettable thriller.
11. The Great Escape (1963)
Brawny all-American action pictures never stand much of a chance if they’re up against costume pieces featuring lots of British accents, and so the Academy went with the now-forgotten comedy Tom Jones.
12. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
As a new generation was coming of age, the old guard resisted (the previous year, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate lost to the mediocre police and race drama In the Heat of the Night). In ‘68, the G-rated singing orphan show Oliver! was the inexplicable big winner. From this point forward, though, Hollywood became considerably less obtuse, and the following year reversed course to give top honors to the X-rated Midnight Cowboy.
13. Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe’s strange, enticing, big-hearted memoir is a one-of-a-kind treat, whereas Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is glossy entertainment that simply put a fresh coat of paint on Spartacus.
14. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg’s Pinocchio update was mind-blowing sci-fi that was ten times as interesting as Ron Howard’s hokey one-twist redemption drama A Beautiful Mind.
Add your picks in the comment section.