With the Oscar nominations yesterday, and the awards airing in February, we’re in the ‘Moment of Snubs’, with many focusing as much on the movies that didn’t get nominated as the ones that did. In a few cases, the critically best-loved movies of the year got nominated for something—even if it was along the lines of sound editing, costume design or visual effects.
History, however, shows that these are far from the biggest Oscar snubs. In fact, it’s kinda blasphemous how many exceptional movies failed to earn even a single Oscar nomination (in the big or boring categories). And so, for our inaugural Weekend Movie Marathon, here are the seven best movies that inexplicably got no love from the Academy.
Time for your underrated binge-fest.
The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s previous film, the lush period piece Barry Lyndon, was nominated for Best Picture and won four Oscars. But period pieces always do better with the Academy than horror movies, which might explain why The Shining received no love. A movie so intricate, mysterious and evocative it even inspired a conspiracy-theory documentary about its supposed hidden meanings, The Shining remains expertly chilling. And Jack Nicholson’s go-for-broke performance hasn’t lost any of its giddy menace over the decades.
Blood Simple (1984)
Joel and Ethan Coen are among the most decorated modern filmmakers, nabbing four Oscars for Fargo and then winning the coveted Best Picture No Country for Old Men. But way back when, they were just two unknown dudes concocting quirky genre films. And the Coens’ first movie, Blood Simple, is still among their best: It’s a Western noir in which a lowlife (Dan Hedaya) recruits a shifty private eye (M. Emmett Walsh) to murder his cheating wife (Frances McDormand) and her new flame (John Getz). Thus sets in motion the sort of double-crosses and regional-specific local color that would become staples of their future films. It’s certainly unfair, but if you watch Blood Simple today, you’ll realize these filmmakers emerged fully formed their first time out.
The best movie about post-9/11 America takes place in the 1970s. Telling the story of the decade-long investigation into the Bay Area’s Zodiac killer — who was never caught despite claiming to have murdered 37 people — David Fincher’s marvelous procedural is not at all about the cops finding their man but, rather, the silent paranoia that grips a community once it no longer feels safe. Zodiac has Robert Downey, Jr.’s finest performance, playing a newspaper reporter who (like his colleagues) grows more and more disillusioned as the search ultimately proves futile. This icy, sobering thriller about a murderer who goes unpunished has no happy ending: No wonder the feel-good Academy turned a cold shoulder.
The King of Comedy (1982)
Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro found favor with the Academy through the dark character portraits Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. (Both movies were nominated for Best Picture, and De Niro won an Oscar for the latter.) But this Raging Bull follow-up was simply too prickly to garner similar acclaim. Starring De Niro as arguably New York’s least-funny stand-up comic, he’s also his most unhinged — first, fantasizing about appearing on a Tonight Show-like program and then deciding to kidnap its misanthropic host (Jerry Lewis) in order to land an appearance. An oft-favorite film of comics, who recognize the desperation all too clearly, The King of Comedy skewers our obsession with celebrity to a deeply uncomfortable level.
His Girl Friday (1940)
This Howard Hawks comedy is a good reminder that just because a movie is a beloved classic from Hollywood’s Golden Age doesn’t mean the Academy actually dug it. Cary Grant is a tough-as-nails newspaper editor and Rosalind Russell is a journalist and his ex-wife: When she plans on re-marrying, he hatches a plan to win her back in the most convoluted way possible. His Girl Friday is so funny and lively and free-spirited that it deserves better than to be treated like some dusty museum relic.
There’s no way in hell the Academy would nominate a snot-nosed spoof made by a bunch of nobodies that pokes fun at creaky genre movies. But Airplane! is ground zero for the sort of irreverent comedy that started with Mel Brooks and extends out to the likes of Scary Movie. Writer-directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker take the piss out of every melodramatic disaster film ever devised while also firing some shots at Saturday Night Fever and Ethel Merman, too. The references might now be a bit dated but, remarkably, Airplane! transcends its era-specific targets, proving to be one of the best top-to-bottom dumb comedies ever.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Academy will occasionally honor science-fiction movies like Gravity and Ex Machina, but this mid-century classic with a thoughtful political message earned not one nomination. Director Robert Wise (who would receive Oscars for The Sound of Music and West Side Story) grounds this alien-invasion tale in the everyday, telling of an extraterrestrial (Michael Rennie) who comes to Earth with an important message for humanity, which is too freaked out about his arrival to hear it. The Day The Earth Stood Still is a choice Cold War drama — its influence can be felt in everything from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Independence Day.
Tim Grierson is one-half of The New Republic’s film column Grierson and Leitch. He is also a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone and Vulture as well as the author of six books, including a biography of Public Enemy.