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'Carol' isn't Oscars' first best-picture snub

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Jan 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-27 00:47:12-05

OK, we admit we were a teeny bit shocked that the made-in-Cincinnati drama “Carol” was not nominated for a best-picture Oscar this year, given its rapturous reception by critics and film fans. (And it did get nominations in six other categories.)

In the long view, there is no need to be glum. Prizes from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are lovely and can boost careers, and truly excellent movies often win. Nonetheless, Oscars are by no means the ultimate judge of a movie's artistic value. Despite the fancy title, AMPAS is not an academy so much as a trade association that created these awards to improve the industry's reputation.

Only time sorts out the great from the good. Consider: In 1930-31, movies that were overlooked in the best-picture category included “Little Caesar” with Edward G. Robinson, “The Public Enemy” with James Cagney and Jean Harlow, “Frankenstein” with Boris Karloff and “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi. Each one became so embedded in the culture that today their influence can hardly be measured. The winner? “Cimarron.” (No, we haven't seen it either.)

To salve the hurt of the “Carol” snub, here are nine movies (and then some) that could have been nominated for best picture but were not.

1. “Vertigo” (1958): Once a decade, the British Film Institute surveys 800-900 critics, directors and scholars on the greatest movies ever made anywhere (though they focus on Europe, the U.K., U.S. and Japan). For 50 years, “Citizen Kane” was No. 1. In 2012, Alfred Hitchcock's moody, enigmatic “Vertigo” took the top spot. Oscars voters didn't see it that way. You could say the same about the also-overlooked “Rear Window,” “Psycho” and “North by Northwest.”

2. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968): The American Film Institute lists this as the top American science-fiction film, and No. 15 among the top 100. A poll of 358 international directors by Sight & Sound Magazine put it at No. 2 among all movies, second only to “Citizen Kane.”

3. “The Searchers” (1956): John Ford's intense, emotional tale about race hatred in the old West, starring a decidedly non-heroic John Wayne, shows up on many lists of great movies. It is No. 12 on the AFI list of best 100 American movies, No. 1 among Westerns.

4. Almost every great sci-fi and fantasy movie in history, including “Metropolis” (1927), “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” (1983), “Spider-Man 2” (2004), “The Matrix” (1999), multiple Harry Potter movies, “The Avengers” (2012), “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014). Et cetera.

5. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (1937): This movie set the standard for richly detailed storytelling in animated form that to this day guides the geniuses at Pixar and Aardmore, among other masters.

6. "Toy Story 2" (1999) or "Chicken Run" (2000): The absence of these two hits from back-to-back nomination lists finally forced the Academy to create a new animation category in 2002. Until that year, the only animated film nominated for best picture was “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991. 

7. “Do The Right Thing” (1989): Spike Lee's “Malcolm X” (1992) could just as easily take this spot. Lee's fearless, outspoken ways are not the path to Oscar love, as we have seen. But both his political vision and his indisputably personal style as a craftsman will keep students of film spellbound long into the future.

8. Mel Brooks' movies: Take your pick: “The Producers” (1967), “Blazing Saddles” (early 1974), “Young Frankenstein” (late 1974). If anybody proves that comedy gets no respect at Oscar time, it's this man.

9. “Adaptation” (2002): Writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze made magic with this interpretation of Susan Orlean's best-selling book. Through unfettered imagination and sheer nerve they turned a nonfiction story into a fairy tale full of charming surprises. This kind of rule-breaking is a hard sell with traditional Oscar voters.

Of course, there are many more examples, from “The African Queen” to “Raising Arizona.” What are your most-mourned Oscar-nomination oversights? Tell us at @WCPO on Twitter and WCPO 9 On Your Side on Facebook.