People have short memories. So many times through Academy history the sure thing has lost Best Picture often to a lesser film, an audience favorite, or a film no one thought could possibly win the top prize. Zipping back through Best Picture history, I took a look at some of the so called sure things that were toppled, whether fairly or unfairly. These movies deserved to win the Best Picture Oscar, but stumbled just before the finish line.
1948, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE
John Huston’s magnificent study of greed took home Best Director and Best Supporting Actor, along with the Oscar for Best Screenplay (also Huston) but the Best Picture award went for the first time to a non American film, ‘Hamlet’.
1951, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
One of the most important American films ever made swept the acting prizes, with the glaring exception of Best Actor, and then incredibly lost Best Director for Elia Kazan and then Best Picture to the rather inferior musical ‘An American in Paris’.
1952, HIGH NOON
A movie masterpiece told in real time, the clocks and timepieces everywhere in the film to heighten the tension and perfect performance from Gary Cooper loses Best Picture to the ridiculous circus epic ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.
1976, ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN
Two masterpieces, one about the toppling of a President by two dogged reporters from the Washington Post who exposed Watergate, the other a vicious satire about the future of television, each well acted, directed and written. They are knocked out by ‘Rocky’ the little Cinderella story that launched the career or Sylvester Stallone.
The film won the New York Film Critics Circle as Best Picture, the DGA for director Warren Beatty, who in turn won the Oscar for direction. It was much loved and well reviewed, hailed as the greatest American film since Citizen Kane (1941) only to lose Best Picture to ‘Chariots of Fire’.
1982, E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL
A dreamscape of a film, beautifully directed by Steven Spielberg, filled with iconic images, a magnificent score and superb special effects, it was trampled by ‘Gandhi’, yet even the director of that film knew E.T. was the real winner, and indeed it should have been.
1985, PRIZZI’S HONOR
A vicious dark comedy directed by eighty year old John Huston wins the lions share of major critics awards and is nominated for eight Academy Awards. It is the favored film going into the night only to win a single award for supporting actress, losing to the love story ‘Out of Africa’ in a big way.
1998, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
Perhaps the biggest shock in Academy history. A huge box office success, rave reviews, called the greatest war film ever made, eleven nominations. It wins editing, sound, sound editing, cinematography and Best Director. Then incredibly loses Best Picture to ‘Shakespeare in Love’ …this above all else told me there was no such thing as a sure thing.
2005, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
Well reviewed, honored by the critics, it wins Best Director, and then in a stunning moment loses Best Picture to the vastly inferior Crash. Even presenter Jack Nicholson was stunned upon opening the envelope.
Don’t get me wrong. ‘Birdman’ is an excellent film; there’s no question about it. But when the battle is two equally brilliant films, the honor should go the director who persevered harder. And in this case, Linklater worked for 12 years — even if only a couple of weeks every year — to get the results he wanted. Therefore, as much I love ‘Birdman’, Oscar should have gone to ‘Boyhood’.