This is a list of what I feel the Academy got wrong between 1990 and the present. This is to cut down on the number of inconsistencies over the years that the Academy has graced us with. This can be argued back to the first awards show where Wings won Best Picture, even though most argue the film should not have won.
5. Gladiator, 2000
Directed by Ridley Scott, this mega-budgeted historical epic stars Russell Crowe as Maximus, a general who is betrayed by an emporer's son, Commodus and eventually becomes a slave. He must learn to fight in a gladiator arena and survive the harshness of slavery in ancient Rome while plotting revenge against Commodus.
This film has exactly all the elements that the Academy loves. An international star and director with a big budget that takes the audience into a historical world. If a film has swords and sandals, odds are it also has at least one Oscar. Unfortunately, the screenplay for this film is average at best. It's a story as old as Maximus and Commodus. All the flair in this film belongs to the visual eye of Ridley Scott, who ironically did not win the Best Director Oscar.
The Best Director Oscar went to Stephen Soderbergh for his film, Traffic. Along with winning the Best Director Oscar, the film also won the Best Supporting Actor Award for Benicio Del Toro, the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and the Best Film Editing Oscar. And even more ironic, Traffic won every award it was nominated for besides Picture.
Gladiator on the other hand, besides Picture, won Best Actor, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design and Best Sound Mixing. By that rationale, Russell's Crowe's performance was so amazing that it made the film itself the best picture of the year. Though with rationale, I never look toward the Academy. Anytime there is an epic film from a different time period, odds are if you aren't that film, you will lose. See #2.
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 2011
This one will be short and to the point. 2 Oscar nominations total: Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Max Von Sydow. A very heavy topic: Dealing with the emotions of the September 11th attacks. Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 47%. Pretentious and preachy. Exactly what the Academy falls for, hence why it was nominated.
3. Zodiac, 2007
One of David Fincher's best films got zero nominations from the Academy. Even Norbit got a nomination. There were other factors that went into why this film was absent from the Oscars. Zodiac was released in March and overshadowed by two much larger films released within the same time frame (Wild Hogs and 300).
Zodiac tells the story of various lives that are intertwined by the hunt for the Zodiac killer in San Francisco. The screenplay by James Vanderbilt takes us through many years and is much more of a police procedural drama than a true serial killer film; ala Fincher's own Se7en. As this follows closer to procedural, this film was hard to market (check out the schizophrenic theatrical trailer) and opened weakly in theaters and fell hard down the box office totals.
As this film was forgotten even before the Summer movie season began, it was no surprise that the Academy ignored this film. Some of the blame obviously goes with the marketing department, as this should have been released in the fall and had a better marketing campaign behind it. The Academy does get some blame though as screeners were sent to Academy members as a reminder for nominations. And it is unfortunate that this film was overlooked as Mark Ruffalo gave an amazing supporting performance. Along with that, this should have been a contender for Best Picture and Best Director. As it is, the Academy does what it does best and screws over movies more deserving of Oscars than others.
2. Goodfellas, 1990
Martin Scorcese's masterpiece of mob life from the 1950's through the 1980's. Goodfellas brought all the elements from past Scorcese classics into one film. Unfortunately, Goodfellas was released the same year as the historical epic Dances With Wolves. Now this is a personal taste, but I find Dances With Wolves to be an unbelievably boring film. Obviously, I am in the minority so I must be wrong.
Goodfellas details the life of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) from childhood all the way through to his downfall. The story itself has been done before, but with Scorcese at the helm and a great script by Nicholas Pileggi with Scorcese, they turn a tried and true story into a very entertaining, violent and often funny film.
Even though it seems like the Academy has a love affair with Martin Scorcese, he never won a Best Director Oscar until 2006's The Departed. Granted, The Departed is a really good movie, but the Oscar felt more like a gimmie as he had never won before. And, with the exception of Joe Pesci for Best Supporting Actor, it is a shame that Martin Scorcese nor the picture itself didn't win the Oscar(s) it deserved.
1. The 68th Annual Academy Awards, 1996
I know the topic says 5 films that the Academy got wrong, but there were many at this Oscar ceremony that it had to be listed.
I'm not even going to say the biggest Oscar miss was letting Braveheart win over Apollo 13. My biggest gripe with the 68th Annual Academy Awards is the multitude of films that were NOT nominated for best picture, let alone any major awards.
Multiple films that year were majorly snubbed. From Terry Gilliam's time-travel mystery, 12 Monkeys to David Fincher's Se7en. Two dark films that were amazingly written and directed superbly. In 12 Monkeys, Bruce Willis played James Cole, a volunteer who time travels back to the 1990's to try and thwart a viral outbreak. In Se7en, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are partners on the trail of a serial killer who's motif is that each kill is inspired by one of the seven deadly sins.
Beyond those films, The Usual Suspects, a winner of Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay (already two-up on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) was left off the Best Picture list. And possibly an even bigger snub goes to Heat. Michael Mann's good guys versus bad guys epic starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in top form did not receive any nomination at all from the Academy.
Multiple films of amazing quality were again left off the list by the Academy. I know you can't be right all the time, but it seems like there are a lot more misses than hits.
As I said, this list is just mine and nothing official. I know there are other snubs like There Will Be Blood losing to No Country For Old Men in 2007 or Pulp Fiction and/or The Shawshank Redemption losing to Forrest Gump in 1994. Obviously there are plenty, but these are the ones that really jump to mind first.