Because it’s Oscar time, you’ll invariably see lists of the best Best Picture nominees that didn’t win — or the best movies that didn’t win any Academy Awards, or even get nominated. The point of these lists is to spotlight how many times the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have gotten it wrong, which they have many, many, many times. There’s a whole world of amazing movies that the Oscars have overlooked so they can give prizes to garbage like Green Book.
With another ceremony on the horizon, however, I decided to take things up a notch by challenging myself to find 10 movies that weren’t nominated for anything — and I don’t just mean Academy Awards. I’m talking Golden Globes and the BAFTAs (the British equivalent of the Oscars), which are the two biggest non-Oscar prizes during awards season. Many great movies were snubbed by the Academy but embraced elsewhere — The Searchers, Paths of Glory, Sweet Smell of Success, The King of Comedy — but it takes a particularly special film to be utterly ignored by all these different groups.
Below are 10 such films, listed chronologically. One quick caveat: I included only American movies. International cinema is filled with fantastic films, but because the Academy has ignored them for so many years, you could make an entire list just of those omissions. But if you’re an incredible English-language American movie and you still can’t get any awards-season love, that’s even more shocking. Either way, I’ll stack these 10 against any that’s gone home with a golden statuette.
King Kong (1933)
Why’s It So Great? Here’s ground zero for the monster movie genre. King Kong introduced the world to that giant ape, who would pop up again and again over the years, but none of those remakes was as groundbreaking as the original. The use of stop-motion and miniatures is still pretty astonishing, and the film’s primal emotions will get to you. These days, we’re so used to CG and special effects that it’s hard for any movie to really wow us. But imagine living in 1933 and seeing King Kong — this extravaganza would have blown your mind.
Why Did It Get Overlooked? To be fair, the Golden Globes began in 1944, and the BAFTAs didn’t get going until 1948, so it wasn’t like those groups were snubbing King Kong. But the Academy was busy that year honoring dramas like Cavalcade and (funny how some things never change) Little Women. Sci-fi adventures such as King Kong weren’t exactly on the membership’s wavelength in terms of what constituted “prestige pictures.” Ironically, that dismissal of first-rate blockbusters has never really gone away.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Why’s It So Great? One of the foundational films of the screwball era — along with 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, which also wasn’t nominated for anything — His Girl Friday stars Cary Grant as a shrewd newspaper editor who isn’t ready to let his reporter ex-wife (Rosalind Russell) get remarried. So why not assign her one last big story in the hopes he can win her back? Based on the play The Front Page, this romantic comedy became the template for every great newspaper film ever made: witty, charming, grownup, classy and sexy. (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s motor-mouthed character from The Hudsucker Proxy is a breezy homage to Russell’s whip-smart journalist.)
Why Did It Get Overlooked? It would be easy to blame the snub on the Oscars’ long-held aversion to comedies, but that year’s Academy Awards nominated another great rom-com, The Philadelphia Story, for Best Picture. (Jimmy Stewart took home Best Actor for the film.) Perhaps it was because His Girl Friday was actually the second adaptation of The Front Page in less than a decade — the 1931 film got a Best Picture nomination. It’s a good reminder that endless remakes aren’t exactly a new Hollywood tradition.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Why’s It So Great? Outside of Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil is probably Orson Welles’ most beloved film: a terrific, gnarly noir in which Charlton Heston plays a Mexican cop — listen, it was a different time, okay? — who just wants to enjoy his honeymoon with his wife (Janet Leigh) when he gets ensnared in a murder investigation led by a corrupt police chief (Welles). The film’s sweaty urgency is anxiety-inducing as Welles crafts a whole world of terrible crooks and enigmatic strangers. In his up-and-down career, Welles often struggled to raise funding or finish projects, resulting in many could-have-been-great misfires, but Touch of Evil was an unalloyed triumph — even though it, too, has been re-edited and reconceived over the years.
Why Did It Get Overlooked? After winning a screenplay Oscar for Citizen Kane, Welles was never nominated for an Academy Award again. (He received an honorary Oscar in 1971.) Not surprisingly, he’s become the patron saint of doing great work but not being recognized for it by his peers — he’s an inspiration to all those who lament they’ll never be honored in their lifetime. (Indeed, a documentary about Welles’ struggles to make another film, The Other Side of the Wind, was cheekily entitled They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead.) Getting overlooked, as much as for any of his films, is central to the man’s legacy.
Why’s It So Great? In the age of Time’s Up, Hollywood has wrestled with its gender inequality. But imagine being Barbara Loden, an actress married to Elia Kazan who, in 1969, decided to shoot a super-low-budget drama about a bored Rust Belt housewife who abruptly walks out on her life. Wanda, which starred Loden as the titular wife, had been largely forgotten until it was restored earlier this century, which allowed it to be retroactively hailed as a landmark of feminist cinema. In the movie, Wanda leaves her no-good husband, hooks up with a crook and discovers that independence isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Wanda is a perfect 1970s film, expressing the era’s disillusionment and nonconformity while articulating why, for women, revolution was much harder than for their male counterparts. It’s a defiant movie that’s raw like a wound.
Why Did It Get Overlooked? Despite winning the prize for best foreign film at the Venice Film Festival, Wanda barely made a ripple at a time when female directors were as rare as unicorns. Some movies have to wait decades for their moment. Sadly, Loden didn’t live to see Wanda get its due — she died in 1980 at the age of 48.
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Why’s It So Great? When it comes to concert films, Stop Making Sense and The Last Waltz are aces. But in terms of rock documentaries, I give the slight nod to this portrait of the Rolling Stones — sorry, Don’t Look Back. Gimme Shelter isn’t just about the Stones: It’s a look at the end of the optimism and excitement of the 1960s as seen through the band’s trip across America, ending in the tragedy of Altamont. Filmmakers Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin show us Mick and the boys on the road, on stage and in the studio, and in these moments we understand all that’s sexy and electric about rock ‘n’ roll during its most hedonistic, giddy period. (As an intriguing counterpoint, viewers also get to spy on business negotiations and other aspects of the music business.) But the whole film is careening toward that terrible day in Altamont, which has lost none of its power to shock. Jagger’s stunned face at the end of Gimme Shelter is still so damn haunting.
Why Did It Get Overlooked? Nonfiction films have always been segregated during awards season. If you don’t get a Best Documentary nomination, you’re out of luck. (It’s now been 25 years since Hoop Dreams managed to land a rare Best Editing nod.) But even in the world of music documentaries, Gimme Shelter isn’t as celebrated as some of its peers — maybe because the movie doesn’t make rock ‘n’ roll look particularly fantastic. But in capturing the music’s danger, the film has few rivals.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Why’s It So Great? This quintessential L.A. movie rewrote the rules of the detective thriller, casting Elliott Gould as a blasé Philip Marlowe who seems almost more concerned about taking care of his cat than solving crimes. Robert Altman turned Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled novel into a pot-fueled hangout film, worrying not so much about plot as atmosphere. A director who loved to tweak genres in order to make them his own, Altman gave us a whodunit in which the main character feels alienated — a real counterculture figure who’s confused by the changing world around him. (Marlowe’s response to everything is a noncommittal “It’s okay with me.”) Along the way, the movie helped cement Gould’s eternal coolness and inspired future neo-noirs like Inherent Vice and Under the Silver Lake to further tinker with narrative formulas.
Why Did It Get Overlooked? Much like Altman’s California Split, which came out a year later and also starred Gould, The Long Goodbye was out of step with Hollywood, which was busy honoring The Sting and The Exorcist. Altman was nominated for seven Oscars — he was awarded an honorary one in 2006 — and, as with Orson Welles, he’s remembered for being a maverick in an industry that tends toward the inspirational and the feel-good. If you haven’t seen The Long Goodbye, I won’t reveal its ending, but let’s just say you don’t walk away from the movie feeling good — which is just how Altman liked it.
The Shining (1980)
Why’s It So Great? Looking for a hit after the brilliant but commercially disappointing Oscar-winner Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick turned his attention to a Stephen King novel about an alcoholic aspiring writer who takes his wife and kid to a remote hotel to become its caretaker. The result was one of the best horror films of the modern age, even if King still hates it. The Shining features incredible performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a disintegrating married couple — he’s the abuser, she’s his shaken victim — and the movie has become so ingrained in the culture that, decades later, it’s still heavily referenced in everything from Ready Player One to that bizarre Bryan Cranston/Mountain Dew ad from this year’s Super Bowl. It’s very possible that, of all the great films Kubrick made, The Shining is the one most people have seen. There’s even a documentary devoted to the legion of theories that have sprung up about the film’s hidden meanings.
Why Did It Get Overlooked? Horror has always had a hard time with the Academy, but The Shining wasn’t necessarily considered a masterpiece even when it came out. Like a lot of Kubrick films, it got mixed reviews initially, and the movie was considered more of a genre piece than a major statement. Nobody feels that way now.
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Why’s It So Great? By the time of Miller’s Crossing, Joel and Ethan Coen had delivered a nasty little thriller (Blood Simple) and a crazy comedy (Raising Arizona). But with their third film, they showed the thematic ambition and tonal command that would soon become their staples. Miller’s Crossing wasn’t as immediately gratifying as their previous efforts — it was an insular, meditative riff on the gangster movie — but that’s why it remains so fascinating. There are layers upon layers to the story of Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), the go-to guy for local crime boss Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney), who is sleeping with the mobster’s mistress (Marcia Gay Harden). Double-crosses and turf wars ensue, but for once, the twists are less important to the Coens than questions of loyalty and identity. The tortured, imperiled protagonists of Barton Fink, A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis? They all are descendants of the soulful, searching Tom.
Why Did It Get Overlooked? The Coens have received four Oscars and been nominated multiple times. But Miller’s Crossing, despite getting good reviews, never quite connected with the mainstream. No wonder that, for diehard Coen brothers fans, Miller’s Crossing is considered the great overlooked work in their oeuvre. It doesn’t have the cult status of The Big Lebowski or the acclaim of No Country for Old Men. But it’s a real gem.
Why’s It So Great? If you’re going to make a film about an obsessive manhunt spanning decades that ultimately leads nowhere, you’d better hire an obsessive director with a strong fatalistic streak. Rarely has material and filmmaker been so perfectly paired as with Zodiac, in which Fight Club auteur David Fincher created an absorbing, labyrinthine thriller about the journalists and cops who devoted their lives to finding the Bay Area’s Zodiac Killer, who created a wave of terror for a few years starting in the late 1960s.
Just about everybody in the cast — including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas and John Carroll Lynch — did among the best work of their career, and Zodiac remains the finest post-9/11 film, even though it’s set decades earlier. No movie has better captured the sense of despair, horror and hopelessness that those terrorists attack evoked in Americans. You watch Zodiac not because you want closure — spoiler alert: there isn’t any — but because you want to get lost in its maze.
Why Did It Get Overlooked? A crime thriller in which the bad guy doesn’t get caught? Yeah, that’s not exactly the recipe for awards-season glory. Zodiac was too prickly, too imposing, to earn industry love. Surprisingly, though, it’s one of the few Fincher films not to get any Oscar nominations. (Even Fight Club snagged a Sound Effects editing nod.)
Uncut Gems (2019)
Why’s It So Great? The best film of 2019 is a two-hour panic attack led by Howard (Adam Sandler), a compulsive gambler and jewelry-store owner who’s betting big on a valuable opal he’s just acquired, convinced it will help him pay off his massive debts. The Safdie brothers (Good Time) didn’t just give their boyhood hero Sandler his finest film role — they crafted a thrilling rush of a movie that says everything about self-destructive behavior and people’s inexplicable refusal to stop digging themselves deeper into trouble. Uncut Gems inspired dozens of memes, but even those couldn’t encapsulate what was so vital and new about this grungy, hypnotizing movie. I mean, who knew Kevin Garnett could be this good of an actor?
Why Did It Get Overlooked? Despite plenty of love from buddies like Jennifer Aniston and Kathy Bates — even his old pal Daniel Day-Lewis called him to say how great he was in Uncut Gems — neither Sandler nor the movie could land any nominations. Ultimately, Uncut Gems was just too weird for the industry. Years from now, we’ll still be talking about that performance, though.