Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Question of the Week: What’s the Oscar snub that annoys you the most?

The nominations for the Academy Awards came out last week, and everyone is wringing their hands that Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie didn’t get nominated for Barbie (for Best Director and Best Actress, respectively, although Gerwig got nominated for Screenplay and Robbie got nominated for Producer). Every year there’s hand-wringing about “Oscar snubs,” but Barbie is a special case, because it’s about the fact that men dominate women and yet Ryan Gosling got nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Robbie didn’t, so everyone is bitching about the patriarchy being reinforced. I’m more put out by Gerwig’s snub, because the movie is extremely well-made, and that seems very much on the director. However, I haven’t seen the other movies for which the directors were nominated, so I can’t say that Gerwig got snubbed. As for Robbie … well, she’s very good in the movie, but the Academy tends to avoid comedies like the plague in the so-called “major” awards, so the fact that it even got nominated for Best Picture is a bit surprising (although not so much since they expanded that category). Best Supporting Actor/Actress is where the Academy gets a bit weird, so Gosling getting nominated isn’t too big a shock, and Gosling is probably better than Robbie in the movie, and America Ferrara got deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress, so I’m not too bent out of shape by Robbie’s “snub.” Besides, I imagine Robbie would be happier being a “Best Producer” (which is what she would be if the movie wins) rather than “Best Actress,” because being the producer of an Oscar-winning movie probably gives you more cachet than just starring in one. Also, I’m not sure the patriarchy is re-inforced by Robbie’s snub when they do, you know, nominate five other women for Best Actress. Gerwig’s Director snub is a bit more egregious, especially because I doubt if Scorsese needs another nomination, for crying out loud.

Snubs at Oscar time have become an annual tradition for articles about how the Academy got it wrong, and usually I steer clear of them because I don’t see enough movies to know about such things. Back in the day, I was a bit more invested, but no longer. But I’m still curious about what snubs you think are the worst. I know that there are hundreds of valid snubs, which is why I phrased the Question the way I did: What ones annoy you the most? Maybe it’s not the most egregious, but it just bugs you. I mean, Orson Welles won one (1) Oscar, and it was for Best Original Screenplay, for crying out loud, but Welles was deliberately weird when it came to mainstream Hollywood entertainment, so his snubs seem a bit less obnoxious because he didn’t seem to give a shit. Similarly, Hitchcock never won a damned Oscar, but his movies, especially for the times they came out, weren’t really “Oscar bait,” so the snubs don’t seem as surprising. If those are the ones that annoy you, feel free to rant about them in the comments, but they don’t annoy me as much.

I also am not annoyed if a nominated movie doesn’t win. I mean, yes, some awful movies have won and better ones haven’t, which annoys me, but at least the Academy knew enough to nominate the better movie! In no universe is Forrest Gump a better movie than Pulp Fiction, but it was more of a crowd-pleaser, so whatever (Hanks winning over Travolta, Freeman, Hawthorne, and even Newman is ridiculous, as well). Titanic is a garbage movie, and the fact that it beat L.A. Confidential should warrant an investigation, but it was also a huge crowd-pleaser, so oh well. Again, if the thing that annoys you the most about Oscar snubs are nominated things not winning and you can’t believe Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan, I’m cool with that. It’s just not my thing.

Those of you who have read the blog(s) closely since I started writing know that my most annoying snub (I have others, as you’ll see below!) is the way Jennifer Jason Leigh has been treated by the Academy. Leigh is, in my mind, one of the best actors who ever lived, and she has been nominated for exactly one (1) Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actress in The Hateful Eight (which I haven’t seen). That is, to my mind, inconceivable. Last year, after new winners included Encino Man and Short Round, I made a joke on Facebook about all the actors who have now won Oscars while Leigh remains shut out, and FFotB Daniel Joyaux – who’s forgotten more about movies than I’ll ever know – asked which movie she should have won for and which actor you get rid of. That’s not a bad question, and Leigh has made some idiosyncratic choices in her career which aren’t traditional “Oscar bait,” but I find it difficult to believe that in her prime she couldn’t buy a nomination, much less a win. In her heyday, she was brilliant in all kinds of movies, many of which were never going to be nominated (Flesh + Blood), but others which seem perfect for the Academy. She’s superb in Miami Blues, which is a terrific sleazy noir movie in which Alec Baldwin also gives perhaps the performance of his career (she’d probably be Best Supporting in that movie, and she’s better than Whoopi Goldberg, who won for Ghost); she’s quite good in Backdraft, which, as a Ron Howard crowd-pleaser, seemed to be pretty good Oscar bait (even if she had been nominated, she wasn’t better than winner Mercedes Ruehl, who’s superb in The Fisher King); she really goes hard for an Oscar in Rush, which is a thoroughly unpleasant movie (not bad, just no fun whatsoever) about two undercover cops who get too far into drugs (she’s good as always but wasn’t nominated, and maybe she threw up her hands and said “fuck it” after that); and she’s excellent as the Dorothy Parker-esque Amy Archer in The Hudsucker Proxy and as Dorothy Parker in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, but neither movie got any nominations, and she does a very good, understated job in Dolores Claiborne, which also got no nominations. She faded from view a bit after that (although I will go to the mat for eXistenZ, but that was far too weird to get nominated), but she still does good work whenever she shows up. She’s 61 now, and I doubt if an Oscar nomination is coming her way, but she’s still a brilliant actor. Sigh.

Another career-long snub that annoys me but which doesn’t bug me quite as much because the career was shorter and not as American is that of Katrin Cartlidge, another actor who’s near the top of my list as best ever. Cartlidge died in 2002, rather suddenly, so she didn’t build up as long a CV as some other actors, but she was still brilliant. After some years of toiling away in minor stuff, she burst onto the scene in Mike Leigh’s Naked, which is a harrowing and brilliant movie (David Thewlis deserved an Oscar nomination and didn’t get one), and she’s excellent in it (she probably should have gotten a Best Supporting Actress nod, and I don’t think she would have beaten Anna Paquin, because Paquin is so very creepy in The Piano). She’s amazing in Before the Rain, which probably should have gotten her another Supporting Actress nomination (Dianne Weist won for Bullets over Broadway, and I have no problem with that). Breaking the Waves is primarily known for Emily Watson’s astonishing turn (in her film debut, no less), but Cartlidge is excellent in it, too. She’s back with Mike Leigh in Career Girls, a movie that feels a bit slight after some of Leigh’s earlier movies but in which Cartlidge is radiant and stunning (her best friend, played by Lynda Steadman, is quite good, too). Cartlidge’s early death may have robbed her of some nominations, but given her predilection for slightly odder fare and a seeming reluctance to do Hollywood movies, perhaps not. She’s still amazing.

As far as single-movie snubs go, there are too many to say for me (I get annoyed by this stuff quite easily, can’t you tell?). I’ve written before about Eddie Murphy’s excellent work in Bowfinger, in which he plays, basically, a hilarious version of himself and his own nerdy twin brother (and it’s not as obnoxious as when he does it in other movies), but it’s a comedy and the Academy doesn’t respect comedies very much. (And, as I’ve pointed out, Kevin Spacey’s win for American Beauty is looking worse and worse each year, but Murphy probably would have been Best Supporting, which Michael Caine won for The Cider House Rules … I’m sure Murphy was better than Caine!) Also, in this age of streaming and the loss of theater cachet, the snub of Linda Fiorentino for The Last Seduction because the movie aired on HBO before going into the theaters is looking pettier and pettier each year. Fiorentino is astonishing in the movie, dominating the men in her life as she twists and turns them to her whim, using every ounce of sexual energy she has until they are all reduced to absolute fools, and she walks away laughing. It’s one of the best performances you’ll ever see, but a stupid rule kept it from an Oscar nomination. The Best Actress category in 1994 was fairly weak – Jessica Lange won for Blue Sky, with Jodie Foster (Nell), Miranda Richardson (Tom & Viv), Winona Ryder (Little Women), and Susan Sarandon (The Client) rounding out the nominees … and none of those women, I would reckon, would claim those movies as their best work. Fiorentino would have mopped the floor with them.

All right, this is going long, so I’ll stop. There are so many, even going back to before I was born! (Did you know that Audrey Hepburn did NOT win the Oscar for Breakfast at Tiffany’s?) Chime in with your most annoying snubs in the comments, and I’m sure I’ll agree with many of them! (And disagree with just as many, as you know I like being contrary!)


      1. Jeff Nettleton

        She has a rep, in some circles, as being “difficult.” In some cases, that means taking no shit. In others, it means acting like a prima donna. In his commentary on Dogma, Kevin Smith described behavior that fell in the latter category. Maybe their styles clashed, but I have only heard him mention difficulty with her and Bruce Willis.

  1. Oscar snubs aren’t a big deal to me because, like, yes, it’s an honor to be nominated and considered by your peers and industry, and I love filling out my ballot and guessing the winners, but– I will not remember what won a year from now. And so many Oscar wins aren’t really for the thing they’re winning for, but a make-up Oscar for a long career or a missed award in the past. (Pacino in Scent of a Woman, for example.)

    I didn’t really expect Barbie to get so many nominations and I don’t think it’s that big a deal Margot Robbie didn’t get an acting one. I mean, she was very good in it, but it is the opposite of an Oscar-bait movie. I was shocked America Ferrera got one! But I was pleased for Gosling, because I declared he should win the Oscar as the credits were rolling in the theater.

    Bradley Cooper directed the bejeezus out of Maestro and he didn’t get a nom, either. That feels worse to me, especially since he got nominated for his not-as-good performance that he directed himself to! (Carey Mulligan deserves it, though.)

    The Oscars tend not to like comedy, and they hate horror, but some of my favorite performances lately have been in horror films. Lupita Nyong’o was mind-blowingly good in Us. Mia Goth was excellent in Pearl and Infinity Pool. And obviously, Bruce Campbell should’ve been nominated for Bubba Ho-Tep.

    1. Greg Burgas

      It’s frustrating that the Academy sticks to “high-brow” stuff, because there have been so many good performances in “genre” stuff. It’s shifting ever-so-slightly, but who knows if it ever will embrace the weirder stuff completely?

  2. Corrin Radd

    Jennifer Jason Leigh has a really fun part in the most recent, excellent season of Fargo.

    She’s great in so many others, too. Margot at the Wedding. The Anniversary Party. Etc.

    I loved eXistenZ. Just remembering it now makes me want to rewatch.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I’m more bugged by the fact that genre films are routinely treated as less, regardless of how well they are made, how politics factor into things, and how actresses are treated in general, even when they win. Genre films are routinely passed over for standard drama, with far less deserving productions being nominated, let alone winning. Sci-fi is next to impossible to get nominated and only ever wins technical awards. Comedies never get their due and it is much harder to good comedy than drama and the acting is often superior, in the really good comedies (in contrast to the big jokefest movies).

    Politics are what really bugs me, like Henry Fonda being snubbed for the Grapes of Wrath in favor of Conservative Jimmy Stewart, in the Philadelphia Story. Or how Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris were routinely snubbed, because they liked to drink and carouse, rather than be bland studio pets. Martin Scorsese was constantly overlooked because of professional jealousy, as much as anything else. Welles was a maverick who dueled with the studios, etc, etc.

    Actresses are treated horribly and even the winners never get the respect and pay that their male counter-parts get. It doesn’t help when Best Actress awards are given to fairly middling performances, because the actress is popular in Hollywood, like Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts. Both give solid performances; but, their body of work compared to a Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren or Jane Fonda just isn’t in the same realm.

    I’m still mad that Star Wars was passed over for Annie Hall!

  4. My go-to answer for this one is 2012’s PEOPLE LIKE US, a beautiful little film that came out on the same day as TED and got slaughtered at the box office, but it contained a few fantastic performances that were worthy of nomination, but Dreamworks decided they wanted to try for an Oscar sweep with LINCOLN, so they did not submit PEOPLE LIKE US for consideration in any category. It’s a pity, really, because Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Pfeiffer turned in great performances and were certainly the equal of anyone nominated that year. The film was arguably better than ARGO and several other films that year. I saw PEOPLE LIKE US and LINCOLN on the same press junket, and of the two, PEOPLE LIKE US is the one I’ve since re-watched multiple times. But stupid studio politics interfered with giving the film and its cast proper recognition.

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