The buzz about nominations, designer gowns, and red carpets can mean only one thing; Oscar season is upon us once again. Yet again the gold statuette is the subject of controversy as an ‘Oscar’s boycott’ has been formed in protest of the lack of nominations for actors of color. Regardless of where you stand on the 2016 Academy Awards divide, controversy is almost as much a tradition of the awards ceremony as over-long speeches with scandalous after-parties, politically charged acceptance speeches, and feuds between stars becoming ceremony staples. One of the most frustrating and controversial aspects of the competition is the prevalence of exemplary work passed over in favor of popular but lackluster efforts in blatant ‘Oscar snubs’. Here are four notorious snubs from the Academy’s history.
|Zero wins...Oh Hell No!|
1. The Color Purple comes in with eleven nominations and leaves with zero wins: Viewers tuned in to the 1986 Academy awards with two productions racing to the finish line with eleven nominations each; The Color Purple and Out of Africa. Both films contain themes of female empowerment and the interaction between European and African cultures, albeit from very different perspectives. Meryl Streep’s Karen and Whoopie Goldberg’s Celie both face oppression from the men in their lives, eventually finding salvation in living independently. Despite its promising premise, however, Out of Africa is largely predictable, with Karen’s journey following a traditional trajectory of spurning a toxic relationship with one man only to find herself through her relationship with another man. In The Color Purple, Celie faces a plethora of obstacles including sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, physical abuse from her controlling husband, poverty, sexism, and prejudice, which she escapes from not through a romantic relationship but instead through developing a healthy relationship with herself. The film’s gritty portrayal of violence against women is powerfully shown but the film is saved from becoming bleak through its ultimately hopeful message of resilience and self-acceptance. Despite the film’s compelling story and superb performances by Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Margaret Avery, however, the Academy Awards ended with the film empty-handed and tying with 1977’s The Turning Point for ‘biggest Oscar loser’. Viewer theories explaining the baffling snub range from the Academy’s dislike of Steven Speilberg, then largely known for directing action films and thrillers, to voter preference for screen veterans Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, to racism. Ironically, The Color Purple remains a fan favorite and has since been adapted into a Broadway musical with Out of Africa becoming synonymous with pretension and Oscar hype.
2. Grace Kelly beats Judy Garland in “the worst robbery since Brinks”: Judy Garland’s performance as small-time singer turned Hollywood sensation Esther Blodgett in A Star is Born is nothing short of dynamite, even by Garland’s exemplary standards. The film chronicles Garland’s character’s meteoric rise and the devastating effect of her success upon her alcoholic matinee idol husband (James Mason). That same year, Grace Kelly played another woman struggling with an alcoholic husband unable to cope with his fading show-business career in The Country Girl. When the envelope was opened, viewers across the nation were convinced that they already knew what the announcement would be until the Oscar went to…Grace Kelly. Still a relative newcomer to the industry, viewers were shocked that Kelly was given precedence over the veteran talent of Garland, and after viewing A Star is Born most viewers today are still stunned by Kelly’s win. While the high price of fame is a common theme in cinema which both films share, few films capture the full complexity and scope of life in the limelight in the way that A Star is Born does. The story holds particular poignancy when viewed within the greater context of Garland’s own struggle with substance abuse, which began during her years as a child-star at MGM. Prior to the film’s release, Garland had endured one of her darkest periods both professionally and personally, leaving audiences skeptical that she could carry off a role as demanding as Esther. Upon the film’s release however, they were treated to a performance that was the definition of a comeback as Garland owned each second of screen time through her combined musical talent and raw emotion as she painfully displayed the ways in which a career in the spotlight and all its temptations can destroy even the most talented of artists. A Garland win was so certain in fact that NBC even sent film crews to interview the actress in her hospital room where she was recovering from childbirth the night of the ceremony, only to be caught even more by surprise than the actress herself. Groucho Marx famously remarked that Kelly’s win was, “the worst robbery since Brinks”, just a few notes of Garland’s signature performance and you too might be crying ‘highway robbery’.
|A black-hearted varmit who deserved that gold statue|
3. The Academy doesn’t give a damn about Rhett Butler: 1939 is often cited as “the greatest year in cinema’, and one reason is the groundbreaking release of the classic Gone With the Wind. The film has since become a cinematic standard with Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara remaining one of, if not the most, beloved pair in modern film and literature. Rhett in particular has won over audiences with his roguish charm and cynical outlook, as well as his ability to ground Scarlett’s selfishness and vanity. Without Rhett, Gone With the Wind would still be a fascinating tale of resilience in the face of adversity, but would be sorely lacking without the sly wit, passion, and tenderness that make up the heart of Rhett and Scarlett’s relationship. The role became the most famous of Gable’s lengthy career and is nothing short of iconic today with the line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” remaining one of the most instantly recognizable lines in cinema history. While Rhett was already a well-written character in Margaret Mitchell’s novel, the complexity of the rebel with a heart of gold could have easily been lost in translation had the role not gone to an actor who lacked the nuance and charisma of Gable. Despite Gable’s swoon-worthy performance, however, the Academy shocked viewers by choosing Robert Donat for his role as the stiff but lovable school teacher in Goodbye Mr. Chips for Best Actor. Adding insult to injury, Gable’s strong performance was treated as the weak link in the cast, with the film earning Best Picture and co-stars Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel earning awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Even more shocking, Donat did not even attend the event, and when the votes were tallied Gable actually came in third place with James Stewart earning runner-up for his portrayal of a disillusioned senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Such a blatant oversight is enough to make viewers question whether the Oscar’s are worth giving a damn about.
4. Citizen Kane; best movie in history, but not Best Picture of 1941: Today, Citizen Kane is synonymous with excellence in film-making. The influence of the film’s innovative story and camera techniques is daunting enough, but the fact that the film was co-written by, directed by, and starred a then twenty-six year old first-time film-maker is an accomplishment so astounding that it remains the gold standard of cinematic innovation. The story is a deceivingly simple tale of a man who possesses all of the ability and resources to succeed, but is ultimately corrupted and destroyed by his own power. The film was written as a thinly veiled portrayal of the life and career of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who established his career through sensationalized yellow journalism and was renowned for his ruthlessness as much as for his political and media influence. Although Hearst was furious at the film’s unflattering portrayal of him, he became determined to destroy the film when he learned of the vulgar way that his mistress, famed silent film star Marion Davies, was portrayed. He quickly set about a campaign to bury the film, libeling Orson Welles in his publications, banning showings of the film, and banning even mention of the film in his many publications. Given Hearst’s pull in the entertainment industry, the film’s loss at the Oscar’s is not so shocking, but the loss to the now largely forgotten family drama How Green Was My Valley remains a timeless example of the ways in which the Academy all too often is a symbol of temporary popularity, but not necessarily lasting impact.