Whether it's legitimate or just the perception of insiders, there's no arguing the importance and prestige of the Oscars
to the film industry. It may matter much to many film critics and especially the public at large, but it's still seen as a litmus test and mechanism for change in Hollywood. And occasionally it does do some genuine good. There are films that are made with Awards season in mind that, otherwise, might not be made at all.
That said, the Academy has some old, bad habits that it's still trying to break. One of the biggest ones is its dismissal of genre films. For every omission of someone like Ben Affleck as Best Director for "Argo," there are untold dozens George Romeros and Alfred Hitchcocks who have the utmost respect of their peers but never won the coveted statue. Genre films receive technical awards and, at best, an occasional token nomination. But you can almost see the Academy holding their noses when they put these films on the ballot.
So we decided to take a look at fifteen genre films that we think have been criminally overlooked in the past when it came time to give out gold statuettes.
The phrase "genre films" may invoke some discussion in and of itself. There was a time when it was used in place of calling something a "B movie." In recent years, however, it has come to define any film that follows a set of conventions or appeals to a fandom – for example sci-fi, horror, fantasy, sword and sorcery, and so on. That said, for the purposes of this list, we're going with that particular definition.
The Empire Strikes Back
It's easily the best film of the original trilogy, which became an important pop culture milestone and probably saved sci-fi as a whole from extinction. It was nominated for technical awards and music, but snubbed elsewhere. Look, we're not saying it should have won Best Picture; "Raging Bull" has a stronger case to make in that regard. But it's hard to watch "Ordinary People" in 2013 and confidently say it's a better film on any level than "Empire." It's also worth noting that the original "Star Wars" was
nominated, so this might have also been overlooked simply because it was a sequel.
We'll have to cheat a bit here and just use this entry as a placeholder for all of Hitchock's work, because otherwise it might constitute the whole of this list. He's undeniably one of the greatest directors that ever lived, and some will say he was the
greatest. Yet he never won a single Academy Award for Best Director. He was nominated for this film, but the film itself - despite being an instant classic - was left off the ballot for Best Picture. Perhaps more criminally overlooked was Anthony Perkins in the role of Norman Bates, which remains one of the most eerie and engrossing performances ever captured on film.
This is another film that was actually nominated for several awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It lost out to Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi," a fine film for Ben Kingsley's performance but wholly underwhelming otherwise. However, it played right into the Oscar formula: an epic historical biopic featuring a performer adopting an accent not native to him.
2001: a Space Odyssey
This one is particularly maddening for how much it bombed commercially and critically in addition to being dismissed during Awards Season. It was nominated for technical awards and Best Director, but was left off the list of nominees in favor of a pedestrian adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet" and the eventual winner, "Oliver!".
The Dark Knight
Superhero films are likely to become the new sci-fi and horror in terms of facing an uphill battle with awards voters. Heath Ledger was nominated and won the Oscar for his performance as The Joker, but some cynically observed that it may have been done simply because Ledger was a young talent that had tragically passed away before the film's release. All of the other nominations it received were for technical awards. Considering the other films that were nominated and won that year, as time passes this snub will only become more infamous.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
It was given an Honorary Oscar for its make-up, and won for Best Costume Design and Best Music. But nothing else about the film registered with Academy voters, even though it's actually a fairly complicated exploration of social structure, xenophobia, the dangers of racism, and our inherent fear of the other. All of which were artfully explored...until the admittedly heavy-handed and hammy execution of the final reveal. This is yet another one that somehow didn't get nominated the same year "Oliver!" won Best Picture.
"Låt den rätte komma in" ("Let the Right One In")
The Swedish tale of a bullied boy who befriends a ruthless vampire child is a dark, daring take on the lore that serves as a disturbing metaphor for the loss of childhood innocence. An American adaptation titled "Let Me In," directed by Matt Reeves and a gorgeous film in its own right, was also ignored by the Academy.
Not only did it not get nominated for an Academy Award, but it actually received two Razzie awards. It's a movie that does elicit vitriol from some, but it's hard to argue the consensus that it's a good to great film. Besides, how do you ignore Jack Nicholson in that film?
Not to harp on the year 1969 and "Oliver!" winning Best Picture, but this film - considered by even the most hardcore cinephiles to be a classic - only won for Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Gordon - well deserved) and was only nominated for one other (Best Adapted Screenplay).
"il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo" (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)
It's a film that undisputedly changed not just Westerns, but the action genre as a whole. Artfully crafted and executed, but completely and wholly snubbed. Talk about "The Ugly." (see what we did there?) See also: pretty much anything else Sergio Leone did in the Western genre, including and perhaps especially "Once Upon a Time in the West," which still deserves more recognition than for Henry Fonda's performance alone.
Ridley Scott's intense, awe-inspiring, and ground-breaking sci-fi dystopia is the standard for world-building. It was made in 1982, yet watching it today still seems ahead of its time in terms of scope and ambition. Sadly, it only received consideration for Set Decoration and Visual Effects.
Yet another Ridley Scott masterpiece that holds up amazingly well, yet only received nominations for Set Decoration and Visual Effects.
The Omen (1976)
This one was only nominated for Best Music despite the fantastic direction of Richard Donner and a great performance by Gregory Peck. The best you can say in this instance is that at least it got overlooked among one of the best fields in Oscar history ("Rocky," "All the President's Men," "Taxi Driver," and "Network" among others).
Night of the Living Dead
This film exemplifies more than any other how genre films can get overlooked. Pretty much every horror movie, zombie or not, owes any and all success to this film, which came out of nowhere and was shot on a shoestring budget.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Yet another Romero masterpiece of zombie mayhem that got overlooked. This one is really the only one that may have once been considered as falling into that category of "B film," but it's so well done that I think it's wholly undeserving of such a dismissive title.
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Source: Warner Bros/Disney/United Film Distribution Company