7. Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)
Withnail and I was never going to net any Oscar nominations as it ticked far too many boxes in terms of what the Academy seems to abhor. The film contained copious swearing, grim and dingy settings, a cast of barely known actors, drunkenness, homosexuality and the murder of a chicken.
The real shame is that the film is also painfully funny and boasts a script of instantly quotable lines. The Academy is notoriously dismissive of comedy, preferring heavyweight dramas and slick thrillers and conveniently forgetting the challenges faced in making a good comedy. Withnail and I is unfortunately one of a huge list of comedies that the Academy has failed to acknowledge, with the occasional exceptional of a piece of light-hearted fluff like Juno or Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Sweary, gritty comedy is the ultimate aberration, reducing Withnail and I to a cult classic adored by audiences and praised by critics. The film is a must-see primarily for Richard E. Grant in the breakout performance that made his career and one that he has never topped. And viewers who only know Richard Griffiths as Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon have plenty to cringe over in his scene-stealing turn as Uncle Monty. Withnail and I is a triumph of British comedy and at least comfort can be taken in knowing that it was just too dark and funny for the Academy to understand.
Should have been nominated instead of – Moonstruck. 1987 was not a vintage year and any of the nominees could probably be dropped in place of Withnail and I, but Moonstruck was probably the least worthy of a spot.
6. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest directors who ever lived. He was nominated five times in the Best Director category and never won, a fact which annoyed Hitchcock more than anyone. In 1967 when being presented with the lifetime achievement award, Alfred Hitchcock made Oscar history by delivering the shortest acceptance speech of all time, a mere “Thank you”, causing mayhem for the ceremony producers who had scheduled 15 minutes for the speech.
Hitchcock’s filmography is packed with dozens of stunning achievements, but Vertigo remains his masterpiece. Made in 1958 and towards the latter part of Hitchcock’s career, Vertigo is a hypnotic, beautiful and hallucinogenic nightmare of love, obsession and loss. James Stewart delivers the finest performance of his life playing Scottie, a retired detective haunted by traumas from the past, whose obsessive love for the mysterious Madeleine (Kim Novak) pushes him into a path of self-destruction and tragedy.
Vertigo can be watched again and again, and every time the film throws up new questions, thoughts and points of interest. Perhaps in 1958 the film was simply too ahead of its time, but it remains one of the most scandalously overlooked productions in Oscar history.
Should have been nominated instead of – any of the five nominated films. Vertigo was not simply one of the best films of 1958, it was one of the greatest films of all time.
5. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)
Few directors have attempted to include the September 11th terrorist attacks in their work, the subject perhaps attracting too much raw emotion and strong feeling. Of those made, United 93 is by far the most accomplished, shifting the action away from the Twin Towers to the drama which occurred on United Flight 93, the hijacked plane which never hit its presumed target.
Using a cast of unknown actors and adopting a jerky, handheld camera style, director Paul Greengrass made no apology for creating a film so real it felt almost like a documentary. At times almost unbearable to watch, United 93 maintains its focus on the individual stories of human bravery and tragedy, turning victims into people with personalities and making the inevitable climax all the more agonising. Although acknowledged for its skilful direction and editing, the Academy clearly found the subject matter too uncomfortable to acknowledge and the film failed to gain a Best Picture nomination, despite being a finely crafted and emotionally powerful piece of film.
Should have been nominated instead of – Letters from Iwo Jima. The 2007 Oscars were laden down with crime and drama, with only Little Miss Sunshine providing a little light relief. Although it was good to see Paul Greengrass receiving an Oscar nomination for his direction, the film was more than worthy of a place amongst the five Best Pictures.
4. Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
Poor Steven Spielberg must wonder what he ever did to upset the Academy. Despite making some of the most well-known and well-loved films of the last century, the reception they receive during awards season is always distinctly lukewarm. Jurassic Park is perhaps one of the most overlooked of his films, receiving no Best Picture nomination, despite recognition for the ground-breaking special effects.
It appears that the snobbish side of the Academy reared its ugly head here, refusing to acknowledge an action-adventure dinosaur film, apparently aimed at children and families. The pity is that Jurassic Park has not aged a day, the dinosaur models and effects looking just as astonishingly real today as they did in 1993. Whilst the CGI work of Titanic and Avatar come with a sell-by date once computer technology improves, the painstaking work to combine animatronic models alongside computer generated images gives Jurassic Park a depth and fine quality. And beneath the superficial layer of people running away from dinosaurs, Jurassic Park is bolstered by a strong and interesting script full of interest and humour.
Should have been nominated instead of – In The Name of the Father, although at least Spielberg was able to take comfort that evening by scooping his overdue Best Director Oscar for Schindler’s List