We're nearing the end of awards season and everyone's thinking about that shiny, gold man whose very name has come to represent all things Hollywood: Oscar. And, while the show is sure to be a spectacle, the Academy's Best Picture award has become the category to watch. (Some people only tune in to catch that one announcement at the very end.) Aside from boasting top creative talent in the field, the nominees actually represent the current cultural zeitgeist by encompassing the issues that have defined the year. And, between movies dealing with lost astronauts, the AIDS epidemic, slavery, and quaaludes, we've got quite a year to reflect on this season.
But, before we do that, let's explore the flicks that Oscar snubbed. Honestly, how did Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan? Why did Crash win over every other film in the coveted category? We're not the Academy, so we don't have the official answers, but we do have feelings — many, many feelings — on the unfortunate losers. Join us on a cinematic adventure through time, and let us know which awards you'd rescind if you could rewrite history.
Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros.
Actual Winner: Chariots of Fire
Ideal Winner: Raiders of the Lost Ark
So, Chariots of Fire was a lovely film, but, at the end of the day, it really was just inspiration for audiences to go for a run. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a marvel of an action flick. It was intelligent, darkly humored, and fun with a knowing sense of camp. Dare we say it's the greatest adventure film out there? We do. Spielberg nailed the combination of nerd-core with tough-guy cool. Sure, both films featured plenty of running, but Raiders had the protagonist running from a boulder.
Photo: Courtesy Orion Pictures.
Actual Winner: Dances with Wolves
Ideal Winner: Goodfellas
Goodfellas is arguably the best movie to come out of the '90s. It's Scorsese's most fluid and concise film and it changed the game of mob flicks. It was ambitious in its bold glorification of bad, bad behavior (kind of like The Wolf of Wall Street today). And, possibly because of that, it left voters cold. Dances was at best a band-aid over the United States' horrible treatment of Native Americans and, at worst, a colonizer's fantasy. Goodfellas shaped the way we make, know, and understand movies today.
Photo: Courtesy Miramax Films.
Actual Winner: Shakespeare in Love
Ideal Winner: Saving Private Ryan
Another year, another Spielberg snub. Though Oscar tends to love a war epic, Shakespeare had Harvey Weinstein backing it. He campaigned hard getting the Academy to fawn over Gwyneth Paltrow and the screenplay's literary genius. Saving Private Ryan should've been a shoo-in. A war story with as much heart as it had shrapnel, it's one of the most fully realized wartime stories to this day. Nothing, however, can save a nominee once Weinstein's made his pick.
Photo: Courtesy New Line Cinema.
Actual Winner: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Ideal Winner: Mystic River
Mystic River is an Eastwood masterpiece: dark, brooding, and incredibly, incredibly cathartic. It held a mirror to the ways people can truly inflict terror on each other. The Return of the King was the Academy's olive branch to Peter Jackson for an epic achievement in computer effects that was nominated year after year to no avail. But, where Return of the King glossed over topics of betrayal, greed, and moral dilemmas, Mystic River dove head-first into them. Special effects: 1; great story telling: 0.
Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
Actual Winner: Crash
Ideal Winner: Brokeback Mountain or Munich
Behold, the upset heard around the world. Crash's all-star ensemble cast couldn't save it from being a bland story polished up with vague outrage. Both Brokeback Mountain and Munich were richly layered in their explorations of the human experience. Their characters were each complex and relatable in their respective experiences with trauma. While Crash relied on broad strokes and extreme facial expressions, Brokeback and Munich delivered edge-of-seat stories told through the lens of real, relatable, and heart-rending emotion. We wish the Academy could quit falling for films as shallow as this one.
Photo: Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Actual Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Ideal Winner: Doubt
Okay, so Slumdog Millionaire was a great movie. It had everything a Best Picture nom should: a complex story, beautiful cinematography, and A+ acting. It deserved a nod. Doubt, however, wasn't even nominated, but it should have been because it deserves all the awards. On top of powerhouse performances from Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt relentlessly dealt with a specific facet of human emotion head-on. It challenged our convictions and grappled with the notion that blind faith might not be all that's necessary for a pious life. It's one of the best character pieces out there. Once again, the Academy held high production cost above a stellar story. But, with our 20/20 hindsight we can see that Doubt's the film that still has people talking.
Photo: Courtesy Paramount Pictures.
Prospective Winner: The Wolf of Wall Street
Ideal Winner: 12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street has been slated to win Best Picture since it first started making waves. But, it shouldn't. 12 Years a Slave took a touchy genre and went further than any film covering slavery ever has: It humanized characters on both sides of that tragic era in history. On top of having an Oscar-bait cast and Steve McQueen's stunning direction, 12 Years tells a specific man's story bringing a whole new angle on slavery to the silver screen. It should be necessary viewing, whereas Wolf is merely gratuitous hedonism. Some would argue McQueen's piece was made for the Best Picture category, but Scorsese's whirlwind tale really alligns with our current cultural moment — and, as we mentioned earlier, skillfully tapping into the zeitgeist is so often a one-way ticket to Oscar-town. In that vein, 12 Years a Slave reflects the shaping of our national identity and, that's just a harder pill to swallow.