Academy Awards Oversights and Mistakes Rarely Talked About

When it comes to which films we think are brilliant and award-worthy, and which films are nominated for the coveted Academy Award, these lists are often very different. Some years it feels as if the Academy has truly honored the greatest, while other years it feels as if grave mistakes or oversights were made.

There are some oversights that are vastly or at least fairly popular amongst the film community and are discussed quite a lot: How Green Was My Valley winning Best Picture over Citizen Kane, Crash winning over Brokeback Mountain, and Shakespeare in Love winning over Saving Private Ryan. There are also omissions and actors who have never won discussed quite a bit: no wins for Glenn Close or Cary Grant, no nominations for Jim Carrey, Lupita Nyong'o not being nominated for Us, or Jennifer Lopez not nominated for Hustlers, are ones I see on the regular.

When it all comes down to it we all have our list of favorites winners and nominees, and our lists of what we believe should have won or have been nominated. Each list will be different and that is what's wonderful. It's all subjective. Here is my list of some of the Oscar's biggest mistakes and oversights rarely talked about.

Best Picture

My Fair Lady winning over Mary Poppins (1965)

mary poppins scaled
Courtesy of Walt Disney Productions

These two musical films were very much in contention and competition when they were released in 1964. There is the famous story of Audrey Hepburn being cast as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady instead of Julie Andrews who originated the role on Broadway, who was instead was cast as Mary Poppins and then went on to win Best Actress. Both films became widely successful and are still beloved by many.

Although Mary Poppins won 5 Oscars, it also lost quite a few to My Fair Lady, which won 8 including Best Picture of the Year. Although both are well done, arguably Mary Poppins is the better film overall, story-wise, musically, visually, and most definitely remains the more remembered and beloved film 57 years later.

The Talented Mr. Ripley was not nominated for Best Picture (2000)

mr ripley scaled
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

This psychological thriller is stylish, chilling, brilliantly acted, gorgeously directed and was one of 1999's best films. It deservedly was nominated for five Oscars: Supporting Actor (Jude Law), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Original Score. But it was denied that Best Picture nomination, which is a real shame.

I'm not sure which film I would swap out amongst those that were nominated, which included The Cider House Rules, The Insider, The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense, and that year's winner American Beauty, despite me personally not liking that film. And therein often lies the problem when we examine and point out these oversights. That being said, the quality of The Talented Mr. Ripley should not be denied and it deserved to be recognized.

Acting

Joseph Cotton was not nominated for Shadow of A Doubt (1944)

joseph cotten
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Anyone who has seen this classic Hitchcock noir film, knows that Joseph Cotton gives a bone-chilling and extremely nuanced performance as the man who visits his wholesome homespun family only for his sweet and adoring niece to begin to suspect he is, in fact, a murderer. As her suspicions grow, the suspense intensifies and so too does his performance as you see him slowly shift from personable, to unnerving, to truly frightening.

Cotton is remarkable and yet he was not even given a nomination that year. The nominees that year were Humphrey Bogart (who one could argue could have won), Gary Cooper, Walter Pigeon, Mickey Rooney, and winner Paul Lukas, so it is difficult to decide who Cotton would replace. It should also be noted that despite other fine performances Cotton was never nominated for an Academy Award.

Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) winning over Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin) (1993)

chaplin scaled
Courtesy of Carolco Pictures

Sometimes the Academy will do what I like to call a “Make up award.” This is when a well-respected actor or actress wins after a long string of winless nominations. Consequently, it will feel like they have won not only for the wrong performance, but it short changes the other nominees for that year. Such was the case in 1993 when the immensely talented Al Pacino won Best Actor for Scent of a Woman, over for the, in my opinion, more worthy Robert Downey Jr. for Chaplin.

Pacino had been nominated seven times previously and never took home the Oscar, and any one of those would have been more worthy than when he finally won for, most especially The Godfather Parts I and II, Serpico, or Dog Day Afternoon. Is Pacino's performance good? Yes of course. He is a phenomenal actor. But Downey Jr. captured one of cinema's greatest so superbly that there are moments you feel as if you have traveled back to the silent era of films and are watching the real Chaplin. He also managed to bring such depth to the real man as well as the on-screen persona. It is arguably Downey's greatest performance and one that without a doubt should have been awarded the Oscar.

Matt Damon was not nominated for The Talented Mr. Ripley (2000)

matt damon
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

If you want to talk about a chilling and unsettling performance one needs to look no further than Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, a man who is a mimic and master of disguise with little change to his appearance. In truth it's less about how he looks and more about the way he adapts to people he's around, ingratiating himself into the world of the wealthy, under a sea of misapprehension. His performance is memorable, layered, and frightening. It still baffles the mind how the performance was overlooked, especially when the film was given five other nominations.

Ewan McGregor was not nominated for Moulin Rouge (2002)

ewan mcgregor scaled
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The Baz Lurhman musical Moulin Rouge was praised a great deal and received eight Oscars nominations and won two, with McGregor's costar Nicole Kidman nominated for Best Actress. Ewan McGregor, though was not recognized for his performance despite being just as spectacular and moving.

One might also argue that when you have a great scene partner, a better performance comes out, and that most definitely is the case with Kidman and McGregor. His acting and singing chops, comedic and dramatic moments- the mix of borderline parody contrasted with absolutely sobbing tragedy were captivating, giving his performance such authenticity, it's so difficult to believe he was not nominated.

Sean Penn (Mystic River) winning over Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) (2004)

johnny depp
Courtesy of Walt Disney Productions

Comparing these two performances may seem unfair as they are so wildly different; but if you are going to put them in the same category you must be able to judge a performance that leans more comedic against one that is more dramatic. In this year I feel like the Academy went the safe route and chose a performance that was no doubt exceptional and moving in Penn's.

But it was also a more typical dramatic performance. Comparatively, Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow gave a performance that was brave, completely unique, and absolutely enthralling. He subverted expectations and took the traditional swashbuckler pirate role and turned it on its head and created a character that is hilarious but also shrewd and savvy. One may also argue that Bill Murray may have won over Penn for Lost In Translation. But for me, it was Depp that gave one of the most dynamic performances ever.

Amy Adams not nominated for Enchanted and being 0 for 6 (2008)

amy adams
Courtesy of Walt Disney Productions

Has there been a more delightful, effervescent performance in the past 20 years? Comedic performances or ones from the mainstream, Disney films, or family entertainment, in general, are often overlooked. In fact, over the 93-year history of the Academy Awards, there have only been 3 performances from Walt Disney Pictures recognized: A Best Actress win for Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, a Johnny Depp nomination for Pirates of the Caribbean, and a special juvenile award for Hayley Mills in Pollyanna.

As for Adams, her performance as Giselle, the animated would-be princess who is magically sent to the very real world of New York City was absolutely brilliant. She captured the animated persona who becomes a flesh and blood person, hilariously out of her element as she slowly becomes a well-rounded woman. It's a wonder to behold and deserved recognition. Adams is an amazing actress, and is another that has been nominated six other times, and has never won. Here's hoping the right performance comes along and she finally takes home that Oscar.

Directing

Alfred Hitchcock Never Won Best Director

alfred hitchcock
Courtesy of ViacomCBS

Alfred Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, and though many of his films were respected in their time, others have become even more so as the years have passed. A true auteur, his style was distinct and has inspired many a film director since. Given the abundance of much-loved suspense films, it is rather surprising that he was never awarded best director. Is it because some of his films were not appreciated in their own time? Is it because some did not like him personally?

There is no definitive answer, but it's astonishing that such a groundbreaking film like Psycho with creative, enthralling direction lost to Billy Wilder for The Apartment, which while it is an amazing film, the direction aspect is less unique and creative and more straightforward. It's also astonishing that two of his finest films Vertigo (which famously was not truly appreciated until years later), as well as North by Northwest, failed to garner a directing nomination.

Throughout his career, he was nominated five times for Psycho, Rear Window (another that was in strong contention), Spellbound, Lifeboat, and Rebecca all of which were worthy. Whether you're a fan or not, one cannot deny his illustrious legacy, so much so that him not winning even a single time feels like one of the most significant Oscar oversights ever.

Ron Howard not getting nominated for Apollo 13 (1996)

ron howard
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

When a film is nominated for Best Picture, Sound, Editing, Screenplay, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Score, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress, but not director, one may say, I guess Apollo 13 directed itself. Which of course is a ridiculous notion. The director is the leader, the glue that holds the film together. Apollo 13 is not a simple film by any stretch of the imagination. It's a gripping, exciting and poignant film and Howard's direction is spectacular, and the fact that it was not nominated is a great travesty.

Wes Anderson has never won for directing or writing. He’s 0 for 7

wes anderson
Courtesy of FOX Searchlight

When you see a single frame of a Wes Anderson film, you know it's a Wes Anderson film even if you didn't know it was a Wes Anderson film. As complicated as that sentence sounds, it is unequivocally true. Anderson's quirky and colorful style is unique and beautiful aesthetically, but there is also a richness and moving quality that he brings from the story to the performances. Perhaps it's because his style is so distinct and therefore perhaps a little divisive that explains his lack of wins.

For directing specifically he was nominated only once for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I personally don't even think is his finest work. Although that is debatable, both Moonrise Kingdom and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou were also worthy of a nomination. Perhaps this illustrious award will come his way. Only time will tell.

Art Direction/Production Design

Stuart Craig was never nominated for his work on the Harry Potter series

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince1
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

It feels absolutely impossible that the immaculate, incredibly detailed, evocative, and beautiful design and craftsmanship that created the world of Harry Potter on film was never recognized is unfathomable. The level of care that was taken to bring this world to the screen was nothing short of brilliant. The Harry Potter films in fact garnered 12 nominations as a whole, never winning a single one, which feels like a massive mistake. Surely one of the greatest film franchises was bound to achieve that coveted feat at least once.

Stuart Craig was only nominated 4 out of possible 8 times, for The Sorcerer's Stone, The Goblet of Fire, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, The Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Arguably his best, Prisoner of Azkaban, never even received a nomination.

Perhaps it's the family nature of the films, or the steep competition year after year. But films never receiving one is a true, true shame. The solace fans and filmmakers, especially Craig can take, is that the sets have been preserved for the Harry Potter film tour people embark on in London, as well visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios which Craig helped design. The Oscars came and went, but this world lives on in a tangible way that feels absolutely magical.

Cinematography

The Aviator winning over Phantom of the Opera (2004)

phantom of the opera
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

In the artistic categories determining a winner really can be subjective and difficult. The cinematography for The Aviator is gorgeous, particularly the use of color, so I'm not saying it's not worthy of its win. However, there was something so beautiful about the cinematography for the musical film Phantom of the Opera. From the dimly lit chapel, and catacombs bathed in candlelit, to the silent beauty of a snowy cemetery or a sparkling stage of an opera house, there is a quality to this work by John Mathieson, an exquisite incandescent radiance that evoked a feeling that is rare.

I could go on and on with more superlatives, but needless to say, Phantom of the Opera deserved to be recognized for its stunning cinematography. Times like this make one wish there can be ties more often at the Academy Awards which has only happened six times in the history of the ceremony.

Pride & Prejudice was not nominated (2006)

Pride and Prejudice
Courtesy of Focus Features

One needs only to look at a single frame of this glorious film to see that it is a pure work of art. Joe Wright's adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel not only gives us beauty in the substance of the words spoken, and the framework of each moment, but by the cinematography by Roman Osin which gives the film an atmospheric and luminous quality that is rich and exquisite. It's one of the greatest oversights of recognition of masterful artistry that this film did not receive a nomination in this category.

Costume Design

Jacqeline Durran (Anna Karenrina) winning over Eiko Ishioka (Mirror Mirror) (2013)

mirror mirror
Courtesy of Relativity Media

Between these two films, we see absolutely exquisite costume designs. The costumes for Anna Karenina are indeed beautiful, in my humble opinion, the costumes designed by the late Eiko Ishioka were beyond creative, accomplishing something that is so difficult. Creating period costumes that are both beautiful and historically accurate is hard, but creating costumes that are both period and fantastical, that are outlandish while still being beautiful, that is a real gift and accomplishment. Mirror Mirror is a divisive film, but its costumes were an artistic masterpiece.

Jenny Beaven (Mad Max Fury Road) winning over Sandy Powell (Cinderella) (2016)

cinderella scaled
Courtesy of Walt Disney Productions

Comparing these costumes is night and day and while both have their merits, the massive, gorgeous ball gown Ella wears alone, felt like it deserved the Oscar. But in truth, the colorful array of costumes worn by all of the characters in Cinderella are stunning and creative. They feel both unique and familiar with designs that evoked the fairy tale fantasies we love and know, but breathing new life into them. They're dazzling and undeniably award-worthy.

Animated Feature

Tangled was not nominated in 2011, despite 3 nominees

tangled
Courtesy of Walt Disney Productions

The animated feature category can be quite divisive amongst film fans, with one feature winning over another favorite time after time, while some years feel absolutely correct. However there is an odd occurrence in that unlike other categories, the number of nominees is never the same. Some years there are three nominees, some years there are five.  This inconsistency is especially frustrating when an incredible film such as Tangled, which revitalized and ushered Disney into another glorious era of animation was shut out of the category.

It seems as if there are either three or five nominees, never four, so if that is the case, then the fifth spot should have gone to Despicable Me, which is a fun and worthy film as well. Would Tangled have won had it been nominated? Probably not, as Toy Story 3 is absolutely revered. But the story about the girl with magical healing powers, and the thief who steals her heart deserved its time in the sun.

Original Score

The Rocketeer was not nominated in 1992

the rocketeer
Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

As a proponent and great lover of this pulpy adventure flick, I will sing its praises every chance I get. One of this film's greatest aspects was its rousing and glorious score which fit not only the 1930s era it was depicting but also made you feel as if you were flying right alongside Cliff Secord in his high flying rocket pack. Perhaps it was the fact that another film from Walt Disney Pictures was nominated- that year's winner Beauty and the Beast. Or perhaps it's because The Rocketeer was not the cult classic it is today. The score however is gorgeous and one of James Horner's best.

Avengers: Endgame was not nominated in 2020

avengers endgame
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

I am someone who feels that no matter the type of film, whether it's a drama, a musical or a superhero film, quality is quality, and Avengers: Endgame in particular was a special accomplishment in the film industry. It's a real shame it only received a single nomination for Visual Effects, but I feel like the original score is the most disappointing because even if one was not a fan of the film itself, it would be difficult to deny the stunning nature of the music. Imagine a scene where the cue “Portals” is played without that score. The meaning and emotions and evoked would be unequivocally different and less profound.

Moreover, it is undeniable that the “Avengers Theme has become one of the most recognizable pieces of cinematic music right alongside the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and others. If Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker can be nominated then Alan Silvestri's score most definitely deserved to be recognized as well. It also should be noted that Silvestri's epic and evocative score for Back to the Future was not nominated either. In fact, he's only ever garnered two nominations, making him one of the most underappreciated composers there is.

Original Song

“Talk to the Animals” (Dr. Doolittle) winning over “The Bare Necessities” (Jungle Book) (1968)

bare necessities
Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

The essentially spoken song performed by Rex Harrison is not without its charms, but can we really say it's a better song than the jazzy Phil Harris crooned “Bare Necessities,” in style, vocals, and lyrically? I guess in 1968 they did, but would the same decision be made today? My doubts are very high.

“It Goes Like It Goes” (Norma Rae) winning over “Rainbow Connection” (The Muppet Movie) (1980)

rainbow connection
Courtesy of Jim Henson

This is a perfect example of the idea that hindsight is 20/20. Upon doing my research, this was one year that left me in all astonishment. I've never heard of the song “It Goes Like It Goes” and upon listening I found it to be extremely underwhelming with no real lyrical quality or timeless feel. Contrast that the “Rainbow Connection” which has a poignant message, lovely lyrics, and a quality that has made it one of the most beloved songs ever written. Even when factoring in nostalgia and hindsight, it is bewildering how this year went.

“Sooner or Later” (Dick Tracy) winning over “Somewhere in my Memory” (Home Alone) (1991)

home alone scaled
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The choice between these two was obviously styled over substance. Dick Tracy's “Sooner or Later” is stylish and has that classic standard and sultry 40s feel, while “Somewhere in My Memory” is a beautiful tune that evokes feelings of family, and warmth, with simple but touching lyrics. Both songs are good, but which one has still been heard all these years later and tugs at our hearts strings? Given Home Alone's popularity and the fact that it often feels as if voters go for the film they liked rather than the particular nominee, it's surprising how this award went.

“You Must Love Me” (Evita) winning over “Because You Loved Me” (Up Close and Personal) and “That Thing You Do” (That Thing You Do!) (1997)

that thing you do
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

It's amazing how a beautifully moving and performed song like “Because You Loved Me” or the endlessly catchy and effervescent “That Thing You Do” could have both lost to the mediocre “You Must Love Me.” There's not much to say except incredulous frustration over this year's winner, and that voters went for what was more popular at the time and not what was the best song.

“I See the Light” (Tangled) losing to “We Belong Together” (Toy Story 3) (2011)

i see the light
Courtesy of Walt Disney Productions

With this last song, we once again are met with astonishment at how this category went in 2011. Do you even remember the song from Toy Story 3? As someone who loves the film and has seen it multiple times, this song is elusive in my memory. Listening to it recently, it's a nice little tune. But compared to the glorious, lilting nature of Tangled's lantern scene where the music builds and builds to a glorious romantic crescendo, how could this have lost?

“I See the Light” has become one of Disney's most beloved songs and can be heard almost daily in various Disney Parks throughout the world. Unlike the quintessential Toy Story Song “You've Got a Friend in Me, “We Belong Together” is subpar and forgettable, and once again it seems the Academy voted for a film rather than the better song. The beauty of Tangled's gem however has not been lost and remains a favorite for Disney fans everywhere.

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Image Credit: The Academy. 


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Marianne Paluso is a freelance artist and writer inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture. She especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video.