And the Oscar Goes To …

Academy AwardIt’s a new year, and a new Oscar list, and yet the same old reasons to complain over water coolers, Facebook pages and blogs.

As a life-long film fan–at one time I harbored ambitions to become a director, following the footsteps of noir stalwart and fan favorite Ida Lupino–I both look forward to and dread the list of nominees lined up for the Golden Boy. 

Inevitably, I’m disappointed. 

This year, it’s the omission of Ben Affleck for best director (Argo). The film was one of the best and most incisive thrillers I’ve seen in a long time … it held me spellbound and suspended from first scene to final credits, and that’s a tough act to pull off when you’re dealing with historical record (see Spielberg’s Lincoln, another tour-de-force).

Film, particularly film noir, has shaped my style, my vision and the type of books I write as much as any novel, play or poem. I take this stuff seriously, even if (as an American), I tend to most appreciate films that both entertain as well as elucidate.

So, if you’re planning an office pool or an at-home party, making book on whether or not Sally Field can pull off a third Oscar, I thought I’d remind you of some of those above-mentioned disappointments: some superlative talents that never won a competitive Oscar.

The list may surprise you.

1. Barbara Stanwyck.

One of the greatest, most versatile actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She could play anything, from a screwball stripper (Ball of Fire) to an ambitious working girl who sleeps her way to the top (Baby Face) to the prototype for all femme fatales (Double Indemnity). 

2. Charles Chaplin.

Seriously. One of the founders of film as we know it, the genius behind City Lights, the Great Dictator and Modern Times. Politics, politics, politics.

3. Judy Garland.

Quite possibly the most talented entertainer of the twentieth century, Judy could do everything and anything well–dance, act, and of course, sing until your heart broke. She should have won for A Star is Born, but the Oscar went to Grace Kelly.

4. Cary Grant.

He was always more than an icon. Check out Suspicion and Penny Serenade.

5. Rosalind Russell. 

From Mourning Becomes Electra to Auntie Mame, she was perennially robbed at the Oscars.

6. Orson Welles. 

Welles won an Oscar for the Citizen Kane screenplay … never a nod for Best Director or Actor. Yet he remains the benchmark of directorial genius in Hollywood’s Golden Era. My personal favorite? Touch of Evil, a film that rounds of the film noir era with a definitive bang.

7. Gloria Swanson.

She should have won for Sunset Boulevard–a sublime performance in a very challenging role. She lost out to Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday), who was fetching and wonderful, but not in the same calibre.

8. Montgomery Clift. 

Should have won for A Place in the Sun and Best Supporting in A Judgement at Nuremberg.

9. Carole Lombard.

The brightest comedienne of her era, Carole influenced generations of actresses. She should have taken home the Oscar for My Man Godfrey. Instead, she lost out to Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld.

10. Robert Mitchum. 

Never properly recognized for his talent. Check out Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear.

So … how many films and performances from this year’s nominee list have you seen? Who are your favorites? And, even more importantly–whom did they overlook?


0 thoughts on “And the Oscar Goes To …

  • Alyx Morgan

    Like you, Kelli, I used to LOVE the Oscars. I even threw Oscar parties for several years, complete with ballots & prizes. But oversights like the ones you’ve mentioned, quickly doused my ardor. That it’s become a popularity contest (or, become more honest about it lately), & the fact that the Academy tends to nominate mostly dark & depressing movies (overlooking movies like Big & The Truman Show, which were wonderful, just not “edgy) has made me avoid it like the plague in recent years.

    I agree, Ben Affleck TOTALLY deserved to be nominated in the Director category. It’s just one more outrage to add to the list.

    • kellistanley

      I agree ,Alyx … the Academy shouldn’t try to be Cannes. What makes American film so distinctive (and, let’s face it, world-dominating) is that–at it’s best–it is art wed to narrative, just like a classic novel. Unfortunately, certain narratives are damned as too escapist, and hence are never credited as meritorious. Kinda like crime fiction vs. “literary” fiction … when they can and sometimes are one and the same.

  • Lil Gluckstern

    There are so many biases. Your list includes some of the most powerful figures in film. Strange.

    • kellistanley

      The Oscars can be very odd, Lil. No one disputes that Luise Rainer was a good actress, but did she deserve back-to-back wins for The Great Ziegfield and The Good Earth? No–but comedy in the form of Carole Lombard’s incredible performance in My Man Godfrey wasn’t considered Oscar-worthy (and, sadly, comedy still faces an uphill battle at the Oscars).

  • Janice Hamrick

    Thanks for reminding us that awards honor those who receive them but do not reflect in any way at all on those who don’t!