The Oscars determine the best in filmmaking.
Or do they? Often, best picture winners don’t line up with the most beloved movie of the year by fans, or even critics.
Although many of the most iconic movies in American cinema have been nominated for best picture, some didn’t win. But they’re loved so much and held in such high regard that you might assume they did.
Some years were competitive — which is why “There Will Be Blood” lost the best picture win to “No Country for Old Men.”
But some votes made by the Academy don’t make any sense at all. Some years, the best picture winner was a movie you’ve probably never heard of. Or worse, sometimes it was a movie that’s now considered terrible, like 2005 when “Crash” was awarded best picture instead of “Brokeback Mountain.”
Here are the most beloved best picture nominees that didn’t actually win:
Year: 1942, at the 14th Academy Awards
What beat it: “How Green Was My Valley”
“Citizen Kane,” even to those who have not seen it, is one of the most recognizable films of all time, and it didn’t even win best picture. A film doesn’t have to have “best picture winner” next to its name in order to be iconic, and this movie is a great example.
Year: 1968, at the 40th Academy Awards
What beat it: “In the Heat of the Night”
“The Graduate” is one of the most iconic films in American cinema. From the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, to the cinematography, to its performances, it quickly became one of those movies that is studied in film class, and is still quoted today.
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
Year: 1969, at the 41st Academy Awards
What beat it: “Oliver!”
To this day, Stanley Kubrick’s revolutionary space odyssey film looks decades ahead of its time. And a mediocre musical beat it.
“All the President’s Men”
Year: 1977, at the 49th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Rocky”
Sure, “Rocky” is a classic. But “All the President’s Men” is a thrilling inside look at the reporting of the Watergate Scandal that resulted in President Nixon’s resignation, and it came out only a couple year after it happened in real life.
Year: 1980, at the 52nd Academy Awards
What beat it: “Kramer vs Kramer”
“Apocalypse Now” is one of the most important films ever made. Instead of glorifying war, it fearlessly depicted its many, many horrors. It hasn’t aged. If you’re rewatching it, or seeing it for the first time, it feels like it could’ve come out today and been just as innovative as it was decades ago.
Year: 1981, at the 53rd Academy Awards
What beat it: “Ordinary People”
“Raging Bull” is director Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. In the film, Scorsese explores the madness of boxer Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro in his best performance ever.
Year: 1988, at the 60th Academy Awards
What beat it: “The Last Emperor”
“Moonstruck” is the best romantic comedy ever made, and has incredible performances from Cher and Nicolas Cage. It being a comedy (and a romantic one) was its downfall at the Oscars, since comedies are taken way less seriously than dramas.
Year: 1991, at the 63rd Academy Awards
What beat it: “Dances with Wolves”
Another Scorsese masterpiece that is addictively rewatchable, and is arguably the best mafia movie ever made, lost to Kevin Costner hanging out with wolves.
Year: 1995, at the 67th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Forrest Gump”
“Forrest Gump” is a fine movie, but it epitomizes Oscar bait, and wasn’t particularly unique. “Pulp Fiction” was like nothing anyone had ever seen before, and opened up a whole new way of filmmaking that paved the way for many filmmakers.
Year: 1997, at the 69th Academy Awards
What beat it: “The English Patient”
Masterfully made by the Coen Brothers with the help of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, “Fargo” is hilarious and violent story about people in the midwest, who are often not represented in film or television. The film is so iconic that it inspired FX’s anthology series based on its world. “The English Patient,”which is about a dramatic love affair, has not been made into an anthology series.
“Saving Private Ryan”
Year: 1999, at the 71st Academy Awards
What beat it: “Shakespeare in Love”
Steven Spielberg’s riveting look at the horrors of World War II will go down in history as one of the greatest war movies ever made. Even if you haven’t seen it in years, you probably still think about it, and can think of images from the movie, one of Spielberg’s best. You definitely can’t say the same for “Shakespeare in Love.”
Year: 2006, at the 78th Academy Awards
What beat it: “Crash”
Many speculate that the subject matter in “Brokeback Mountain” (men falling in love) made Academy voters, who were mostly older men at the time, uncomfortable. So the great movie lost the best picture win to “Crash,” an emotionally manipulative ensemble drama that examines racism and sexism among residents of Los Angeles.
“There Will Be Blood”
Year: 2008, at the 80th Academy Awards
What beat it: “No Country for Old Men”
Ok. “No Country for Old Men” is just as good as “There Will Be Blood.” Both of these movies are masterpieces, and it was an impossible choice. But this is and probably always will be director Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film ever, so it’s a little disappointing that it came out in such a competitive year that its loss makes sense.
“The Tree of Life”
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Year: 2012, at the 84th Academy Awards
What beat it: “The Artist”
Who talks about “The Artist” these days? While “The Artist” was an homage to silent films and not much more, “The Tree of Life” completely reinvented what a movie can be. It’s visually stunning, and is one of director Terrence Malick’s best films to date.
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