The snubbing of Selma in the Best Director category has brought outrage to black and feminist communities around the world, reigniting the idea that these minorities are still under constant scrutiny from the world of film. Still, it stands that no black woman has ever been nominated for a Best Director Oscar, a fact that won’t be changing this year. Though this has sparked much outrage, the question should not necessarily be why this film was disregarded in Oscar nominations. Rather, it should be does it necessarily matter whether it was snubbed, especially given the history of well-regarded films that were not nominated for Oscars.
This year, a plethora of films were disregarded from nominations – for Best Picture, complaints of the lack of Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler, Gone Girl, Whiplash and Interstellar were prevalent. Both David Fincher and Damien Chazelle missed out on nominations for Best Director for Gone Girl and Whiplash respectively. Timothy Spall didn’t get nominated for Best Actor in his role in Mr Turner, and there was outrage over the omission of The LEGO Movie in all categories (insert everything is NOT awesome joke here). Long story short – people were becoming increasingly frustrated over the omission of important titles.
It is of little contention that The Academy Awards are considered the ideal prize for any filmmaker or actor – it has become the ultimate recognition of a films brilliance, holding the ability to completely shatter a films legitimacy in its acknowledgements (or lack thereof). What we fail to recognise is just perhaps, the Oscars are not the pivotal pedestals of benevolent judgement that we once thought – perhaps they have been irrelevant since their very conception. Now, I do not endeavour to highlight films that have been emitted from the awards that you have more than likely never heard of. Rather, we should been looking at those who lacked prizes who, in current day, are widely considered some of the most pioneering films in the history of cinema.
So, in keeping with Selma’s directorial snub, here are my top five biggest directorial snubs in Oscar history, that quite frankly, have had no impact on the raging success of it’s film:
1. Stanley Kubrick, The Shining (1980) & 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Despite having been nominated for several awards (though never taking the top directorial prize), Stanely Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) was completely omitted from the 1981 Academy Awards. There is quite a simple explanation for this – the Academy does not like horror. Twenty years after the snubbing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the horror genre bias was hardly abated and was well and truly alive. Though it is considered a classic today, The Shining received zero recognition when it initially came out. In fact, it was nominated for two Razzie awards – a Worst Director nomination for Stanley Kubrick, and a Worst Actress nod for Shelley Duvall. It’s difficult to tell what is more frustrating – being nominated and losing to a less deserving competitor, or never being nominated at all.
Likewise, modern day masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey was also snubbed from the awards, garnering only a win for Best Visual Effects. Though Kubrick was nominated for Best Director, Carol Reed’s Oliver took the title – a film that arguably has disappeared from today’s existence. This film is considered one of the biggest snubs in history because, quite frankly, it is a piece of genre-redefining cinema.
2001 is a stunning parable that illustrates the complicated nature of man – and perhaps the reason why it was neglected by the Academy is because man does not wish to know of its own nature. Kubrick takes this illustration of cosmic life seriously – there are no exploding Death Stars or quirky little alien creatures that resemble teddy-bears (I still love you Star Wars), but instead we are presented with a cosmic universe that has had all novelty stripped away from it. Instead of having dodgy spaceship props that seem quintessentially familiar in sci-fi films of that time, we are treated to colossal ships that are swallowed up by the bleakness of outer space. There is no point where we can see Kubrick’s props – his special effects are flawless and are executed with agonising precision. Although this precision has opened Kubrick up to criticism as being horrifically tedious, it is important to note that this film does not endeavour to explain elementary stories between humans. Rather, this film is an exploration of infinity itself. Just consider what it would have looked like to audiences in 1968, before a man had even set foot on the moon.
Kubrick was well ahead of his time, commenting on things the human race was even yet to discover. His meticulous inspection of virtually every aspect of mise-en-scene has earned him his recognition as being widely considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. However, the late genius is still yet to receive his recognition – not so much as an honorary Oscar. Though it seems insanely unfair, I’m sure Kubrick himself would have laughed at the Academy, exclaiming that they probably didn’t understand it anyway.
2. Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo (1958)
It’s 1968. Alfred Hitchcock’s name echoes through the auditorium holding the 40th Academy Awards. He walks slowly down the aisle as people all around him offer a standing ovation to his lifetime of work. As the fanfare subsides, everyone awaits a witty and profound Hitchcock speech that they had seen on television so many times before. Stepping up to the microphone with little expression on his face, Hitchcock utters only two words – “Thank you”. He turns, and slowly walks back to his seat.
Do you ever wonder why some of the greatest filmmakers of all time never win Oscars? It certainly has nothing to do with a lack of talent, as has been illustrated time and time again by the infamous Alfred Hitchcock. During his career, Hitchcock received so many awards and accolades that it would make one think – surely, one of the best filmmakers of all time received an Oscar for Best Director. Of all the awards, this was one that escaped him.
If we were to select just one film from Hitchcock’s extensive collection that should have won him this award (if not nominated), it would be Vertigo (1958). Yet, the 31st Academy Awards instead favoured Gigi (1958), which won both Best Picture and Best Director. Vertigo is Hitchcock’s finest masterpiece, and features a stellar performance by Jimmy Stewart. Stewart changes his typically warm screen persona to one that is cold, fanatical, and irrational, moulding a woman in the image of another that he has lost. The film is Hitchcock’s most personal, dealing with how the director used and controlled women on the screen.
This eccentric and exasperating story of a haunted pervert is now regarded as one of the best films ever made. In 2012, Vertigo was selected as the greatest film ever made in a huge study conducted by Sight & Sound magazine. However, Gigi seems to be nowhere near as relevant in the present day, illustrating that perhaps, the snubbing of an Oscar does not matter so much considering an omitted film can still be considered the best film ever made.
3. Orson Welles – Citizen Kane (1941)
Writer and film programmer for BFI Southbank, Geoff Andrew, stated that “in the last decade I’ve watched this first feature many times, and each time, it reveals new treasures. Clearly, no single film is the greatest ever made. But if there were one, for me Kane would now be the strongest contender, bar none.” An exceedingly strong statement, but one that nonetheless explains the prolific impact and magnitude of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane on the world of cinema.
The importance of Orson Welles Citizen Kane is astronomical – in every Introduction to Film class, it’s guaranteed to be up there as a major study piece. It ranked number two in Sight & Sound’s ’50 Greatest Films of All Time’, just under Hitchcock’s Vertigo. By all rights, one would think that it would have been given a plethora of awards on its first release. Despite nine Oscar nominations, it walked away with only one – Best Writing in an Original Screenplay. What won instead? John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a so-so drama about a family struggling in a Welsh mining town.
Meanwhile, Citizen Kane is considered by many as the greatest film of all time for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, from a technical standpoint, Welles revolutionary use of deep focus, long shots, and crane shots were all wildly unorthodox methods of cinema at that time, yet he used these to create a multi-faceted, deeply integrated way of conveying his narrative. The legacy of this film well and truly earns it’s title of being one of the biggest mess-ups the Academy has had in Oscar history. Bravo!
4. Quentin Tarantino – Pulp Fiction (1994)
What do they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in France? What does Marcellus Wallace look like? What was in that damn briefcase? Do they speak English in ‘What’?
It helped define an entire generation. It’s led to bars across the world to dub their burgers a ‘Royale With Cheese’. It even led to the London Sky Bar to dedicate an entire party to the films 20th anniversary, transforming the area into Jack Rabbit Slims restaurant where Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace flirted over a burger and a five dollar shake before their infamous dance scene. It has transgressed time to become an iconic cult classic.
It doesn’t matter so much that the film lost Best Picture to Forrest Gump (1994). What is important is that despite this snubbing, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction remains a favourite amongst the youth of today’s generation. Two decades after its release, the independently made, non-linear crime tale remains one of the most quoted and most esteemed films in cinematic history, displaying Tarantino finest work to date.
To an untrained eye, Pulp Fiction appears to be a conglomeration of blood, guts, violence, drugs and unnecessary swearing (“You’ve got a corpse in a car, minus a head”). But if you delve deeper, Pulp Fiction is a film where an intermittent storyline and purposeful dialogue excels and differentiates it from other films themed around violence. In fact, the film is not entirely non-linear as so many presume – it’s a circular, self-referential structure. The film begins and ends with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny’s holdup (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) with other story lines intertwining seamlessly to construct a coherent narrative. The position of the dialogue in this movie is pertinent – it references past actions that we have not yet seen. The words are purposeful, utilised to further the plot, yet it is still entirely entertaining and quotable – a rare mixture. The construction of this film has been thought out over and over again, constructed meticulously to craft a fantastic mob story that has resonated with so many people today.
5. Christopher Nolan – The Dark Night Trilogy (2005 – 2012)
‘Batman’ is no longer a comic book – it is a haunting film that tells the tragedy of Bruce Wayne, the city of Gotham, and the villains that live within it. More than that though, it is a pivotal film that redefined the comic-book film, proving that they could be complex, emotional, and deeply troubled in the best way possible. The film was nominated for eight awards, however it wasn’t good enough to contend for any of the top spots – Best Director or Best Picture. Though the film walked away with an award for Best Sound Editing and Best Supporting Actor (a posthumous award to Heath Ledger), it is minuscule in comparison to the impact that this film has had on the film industry, particularly within today’s comic-book universe franchise films.
In 2008, The Dark Night was easily one of the year’s most exciting films. The plot felt less like a comic-book movie and more of an urban crime epic. This transcendence of genre provides a visually stunning approach to the question of morality, something that has been realised and reappropriated by many franchise comic-book films in the past few years. This redefinition of the Batman universe occurs for a multitude of reasons.
Firstly, Christopher Nolan’s cinematography takes the novelty out of the superhero, instead thrusting him into a noirish world where serious threats loom everywhere and the hero doesn’t always win. Nolan and his cinematographer, Wally Pfister, used textures, lights, and environments that kept it grounded in reality, thus increasingly the plausibility of our hero. Secondly, the film is not a simple morality film – Yes, Batman is good and The Joker is evil, but the citizens of Gotham City perceive the hero as a vigilante and he is persecuted. Thirdly, the film did not simply focus on the protagonist as a way of developing and articulating a story – it developed the villains and positioned them in a position where their actions made sense. Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker is easily one of the most stellar, haunting performances in history. At every moment, his convictions send chills up your spine and sprout goosebumps on your skin.
The trilogy is easily one of the most intricate, intellectually dense comic book movies ever made and proves that superheroes aren’t always for children.
So do the Oscars even matter? I would sincerely like to scream “Nooooooo” at the top of my lungs and turn a blind eye to their existence altogether. Unfortunately, we live in reality. And in this reality the Oscars have an undoubtedly colossal impact on cinema. Hollywood have money – they have authority over distribution and dictate whether people will see your film, increasing the likelihood of opening up gateways for future projects.
With these five movies in mind, we can look at the snubbing of Selma and perhaps become a little bit more hopeful – just because a film didn’t win an Oscar, it doesn’t necessarily insinuate that a film is extraneous or disparaged. These films illuminate the fact that the Oscars are not decisive to a films success.
However, if Selma did win Best Picture, this would arguably be one of the most important wins of this decade, if not in Oscar history. A mammoth statement perhaps, but one that has been reinforced by the lack of female and black directors and actors being nominated for their roles, when they quite clearly have deserved it. Hollywood and the Academy have been subconsciously reinforcing the patriarchal state for decades.
As hard as it is to argue that any of the nominees currently sitting in the Best Actor category don’t deserve their spots, the fact that David Oyelowo (who plays Martin Luther King in Selma) was not nominated for Best Actor can certainly be seen as indicative of how the Academy perceives non-white actors. Oyelowo has even personally addressed this problem, stating that “we, as black people, have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the centre of our own narrative.” So too, Jessica Chastain has also recognised the bias within Hollywood, delivering a stunning speech about diversity upon winning the Critics’ Choice MVP Award.
There is hope however. If we can learn one thing from the snubbing of Kubrick’s, Hitchcock’s, Welles’, Tarantino’s, and Nolan’s films, it’s that the Oscars do not always dictate a films success and the way it’s received by the audience. If some of the biggest films in cinematic history were not recognised by the Oscars, then this makes me incredibly optimistic that Selma will also be a film that transcends time, despite it’s Oscar snubbing. Are the Oscars relevant? Absolutely. But does it matter whether a film is overlooked by the Academy? Not if we are autonomous enough to invest ourselves in cinema the Academy has not recognised. After all, Ava DuVernay could be the next modern-day Hitchcock.
As published originally on The AU Review.
2 thoughts on “Does Being Snubbed By The Academy Really Matter?”
Feminists and black activists who were outraged by the snubbing of Selma forget something. Art is a meritocracy. You don’t get bonus points for being black or female. There’s no affirmitive action in criticism. It’s all about whether your work is good or not.
Heath Ledger’s Joker is one of the most generic and dull villains. There’s no sense of humor. There’s just blowing up stuff. Maybe Nolan wanted to parody Michael Bay. Ledger’s performance was great, but his character is empty. It was impressive at first, but the more I think of The Dark Knight the more it seems like a slightly more intelligent popcorn film. Inception never fooled me.
Space Odyssey is also another film that’s impressive until you watch some weird movies. It’s very. very inferior to the novel or anything by Lynch. There’s no power in the static images, and it’s hard to convince that space is so alien when you have classical music in the background.
Some really interesting points here.
In regards to your ‘art is meritocracy’ statement – I wholeheartedly agree, except that that statement seems more idealistic than practical. In a perfect world, people would be judged on their talent rather than their position in society. In our reality, this is true to an extent, but barely. We seem to forget that the world considerably favours the white patriarchal state, as we are indeed living in it. The patriarchy echoes itself into the film industry, just as it does with any other cultural form.
This doesn’t necessarily favour males for being males, nor does it attach any special meaning to female directors for simply being female in a male dominated industry. But what it does is limit the accessibility that women have in the industry. Selma was a fantastic movie, arguably the best of the year (a statement that is obviously up for much contention as it is quite subjective, but I digress…). If women had ample opportunity and recognition as they would in the ‘art is meritocracy’ world, then so too, there would be much more female directed films. Art as meritocracy works both ways.
In an ideal world, the point would be as simple as dictating whether a film was good or bad. Unfortunately, the academy and Hollywood in its entirety is so imbued within popular thought that communities outside the patriarchal state do not nearly hold as much of a voice as those that are within it. It’s of no contention that Hollywood has favoured white men – just take a look at history.