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The Academy’s Biggest Missteps

The 84th Oscars will be announced tomorrow. We’ve picked films that we think lost out in the four main categories across its 83-year history. Spend your weekend watching these overlooked gems. HT reports.

hollywood Updated: Feb 25, 2012 01:44 IST

Orson Welles for Citizen Kane (1941)

Orson Welles’s masterpiece Citizen Kane has been unanimously hailed as ‘the greatest film ever made’ for more than 60 years.

However, in 1941, Citizen Kane took home only one statuette of the nine it was nominated for at the 14th Academy Awards — an Oscar for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

A thinly disguised biography of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane tells the story of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles himself) who dies at his palatial estate named Xanadu. The narrative then switches back and forth between the present and the past as greenhorn reporter Jerry Thompson attempts to decode Kane’s mysterious last word: Rosebud.

From its unusual story-telling structure and its revolutionary use of ‘deep focus’ cinematography, Citizen Kane broke new ground at the time of its release.
However, it lost the Best Picture award to the much inferior John-Ford-directed ‘How Green Was My Valley’. In recent years, it has been revealed that the reason for what is called the single biggest upset in Oscar history is that the Academy members feared Hearst, who was reportedly so enraged at Welles’s portrayal of him that he banned any mention of it in his newspapers.

Subversive, innovative and yet extremely heartfelt, Citizen Kane is a blast of pure cinematic oxygen. What a pity we can’t call it the ‘Citizen Kane’ of all movies.

— Suprateek Chatterjee


Stanley Kubrick for Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

When Stanley Kubrick made Dr Strangelove in 1964, the United States was in political turmoil, having suffered the assassination of President John F Kennedy in November the year before. The entire country was also in the grip of Cold War paranoia.

This climate makes it all the more incredible that Kubrick pulled off this highly tongue-in-cheek film, which deals with a paranoid general who goes rogue and orders a first strike nuclear attack against the Soviet Union. The legendary Peter Sellers plays three roles: group captain Lionel Mandrake, US president Merkin Muffley and a former Nazi scientist named Dr Strangelove.

It is Kubrick’s trademark directorial flourishes — long, unbroken takes and violent montages arranged to soothing oldies — that made the film widely ahead of its time and, therefore, still watchable today.

At the time, Dr Strangelove was nominated for four Oscars, including one for Best Director, but won none. All awards went to the crowd-pleasing ‘My Fair Lady’ — a much 'safer' choice. Film historian Michel Ciment counts Kubrick’s films “among the most contributions to world cinema”. Kubrick, who passed away in 1999, continued to make genre-redefining films for four decades after that. However, he ended his career without having won a single Oscar for directing.

— Suprateek Chatterjee


Kirk Douglas for Ace In The Hole (1951)

Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas was nominated thrice for the Best Actor category in the Oscars, and won none of them — he was recognised belatedly with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.

During his steady ascent to star status during the ’50s and ’60s, Douglas played characters he referred to as ‘sons of b*tches’. His Charlie Tatum in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole is as lousy as they come.

Tatum is a disgraced reporter who has been fired from too many big city newspapers. He blusters his way into a hick town's newspaper and, an uneventful year later, he stumbles upon news of a man trapped deep within an Indian cave.

Tatum manipulates everybody into delaying the man’s rescue operation, allowing him to write the story in all its lurid detail. Eventually, he leaves his job and sells the exclusive rights of his story to a New York paper.

This is Douglas's film — he demonstrates with consummate ease that a 'star' can make even the most disgusting characters enthralling, and a (guiilty) pleasure to watch.

— Karthik Balasubramanian

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right (2010)

W e all know from primary school mathematics that we can’t compare apples and oranges. But that’s essentially what the Oscar judges do year after year. In 2010, they compared Annette Bening playing a lesbian mother and the eventual winner, Sandra Bullock, playing a suburban mother who takes in a black teenager and encourages his (American) football talents. Still, one can’t help wondering why Bening, who has been nominated four times, and does such a superb job in this movie, has never taken home a golden statuette.

Her character here is a far cry from the seductress persona that many of her other roles have demanded. She’s a driven gynaecologist — efficient, focused and uptight. She’s in a long-term relationship with Julianne Moore’s character, a drifter who is possibly the more emotionally astute parent of their two children.
In to this superficially placid domesticity enters the sperm donor, the children’s biological father, propelling the story forward. The performances are top notch, but Bening gives her character just that little more depth and complexity to stand out.

— HT Correspondent