Citizen Kane (1941)
(dir. Orson Welles)
This is it – the key moment in the great narrative of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences getting it wrong. Welles’s Citizen Kane lost out to … what was it again? It was How Green Was My Valley, a stirring family drama set in the valleys of south Wales. Strong, sturdy stuff – but a horse-and-buggy compared to Welles’s supersonic rocket ship.
The Exorcist (1973)
(dir. William Friedkin)
No one would quarrel with plaudits for George Roy Hill’s enjoyable jazz-age conman caper The Sting. But The Exorcist actually has a real claim to classic status: one of the great mainstream Hollywood movies and an example of a genre, horror, that keeps getting patronised and ignored when it comes to handing out awards.
Get Out (2017)
(dir. Jordan Peele)
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water was a lovely film, a cinephilic beauty-and-the-beast romantic fantasy starring Sally Hawkins. Really, though, the Oscar should have gone to Jordan Peele’s brilliant and fiercely contemporary horror-satire, which makes The Shape of Water look a bit twee. A brilliantly political film – if only the Academy had the nerve to give it the Oscar.
(dir. George Cukor)
Was ever any picture from Hollywood’s golden era upgraded so spectacularly to a locus classicus of 21st-century sexual politics? Gaslight stars Ingrid Bergman as the innocent heiress who is undermined psychologically by her sinister husband (Charles Boyer). It lost out to Leo McCarey’s saccharine-solemn Bing Crosby musical Going My Way.
Lost in Translation (2003)
(dir. Sofia Coppola)
Peter Jackson’s colossal adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings finished with its mighty third movie, The Return of the King. It was a humungous achievement, but I can’t help wishing that the Oscar had gone to Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s exquisitely sad, platonic meet-cute in a luxury Tokyo hotel.
(dir. Martin Scorsese)
If any Oscar decision causes cinephiles to dance with rage, it’s this one. Scorsese, perhaps the greatest living Hollywood director, had one of his best films up for best picture in 1990. And it was beaten out by a great, big, overstuffed prize marrow of a film in the shape of Kevin Costner’s insufferable American civil war epic Dances With Wolves.
(dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
Two years after the Academy awarded best picture to Moonlight, something predictable happened. The 2018 Oscar went to Green Book, an old-fashioned buddy movie about race that could have been made when it was set – the 1960s. The Academy would have done better to give the prize to the glorious Roma, about Cuarón’s upbringing in 1970s Mexico City.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
(dir. Ang Lee)
In recent years, the Oscar success of Crash has become seen as legendary for all the wrong reasons – the epitome of the fatuous middlebrow drama that somehow pinches the best picture statuette. Actually, the LA road rage parable isn’t quite as bad as all that. But Ang Lee’s triumphant adaptation of E Annie Proulx’s short story about two married cowboys who discover themselves and each other should have won.
Dr Strangelove (1964)
(dir. Stanley Kubrick)
There was nothing wrong with George Cukor’s screen version of the Broadway musical smash My Fair Lady, but it was made to look very staid compared to the megaton blast of satirical horror detonated by Stanley Kubrick: a chilling vision of nuclear war by accident, featuring incredible performances from Peter Sellers.
(dir. Michael Haneke)
The best picture list for 2012 was actually very lively. But somehow the prize went to Argo, a bafflingly moderate drama from Ben Affleck. This passable oddity might help while away a few hours on a long flight – but somehow it defeated Michael Haneke’s heartwrenching study of old age, Amour, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.