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The 100 Best Movies That Were Not Nominated for Best Picture

Since the very beginning, The Oscars have had plenty of misses in the Best Picture category. These 100 are the ones we find most egregious.
Not Nominated Best Picture
By  · Published on April 20th, 2021

90. Thelma & Louise (1991)

Thelma And Louise

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis’s accidental outlaw road trip is exactly the kind of movie the Oscars were categorically opposed to in the early ’90s — disturbing, outrageous, flippant, confident, and sexy in ways Oscar voters made up of older generations didn’t know what to do with. Among other things, the film occupied a vaguely queer lens that suggested a new kind of leading lady and a reorientation of Hollywood’s bias toward the leading man framework (Brad Pitt, for example, takes a back seat while still leaving a remarkable imprint on the film). In typical Hollywood fashion, the critical and commercial success of Thelma & Louise went largely ignored by studios, who still maintain a major bias toward male-led scripts over female-led ones. One can only wonder how things might have changed if Ridley Scott’s masterpiece had gotten more awards attention. It shouldn’t mean that much at all, but Hollywood is shallow. (Luke Hicks)

89. The Women (1939)

The Women

Now regarded as a classic, George Cukor’s The Women received zero nominations during the 1940 Academy Awards. When promoting the film, MGM touted its exclusively female cast, which was full of some of the studio’s most successful stars, like Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Rosalind Russell. The all-female cast was a rarity in films at this time and could have been a milestone for the Oscars if it would have been nominated in any category. Shearer and Crawford gave award-worthy performances in The Women by balancing comedy and drama in a way that wasn’t in a lot of their other roles, including those nominated for Oscars. However, the movie would not have been such a comedic success if not for the entire cast, which should have been recognized with a Best Picture (then called Outstanding Production) nomination. Additionally, the Technicolor fashion show sequence in the middle of the film took this movie from great to fabulous. The 1940 Academy Awards was a monumental competition, which made excluding great films an inevitability. The Outstanding Production award was given to none other than Gone With the Wind. (Emily Kubincanek)

88. sex, lies, and videotape (1989)

Sex Lies And Videotape

Steven Soderbergh’s feature debut is a marvel of barebones independent filmmaking. The story is simple and small, but that modesty is obfuscated by the psychosexual complexity of the characters, who are equally peculiar, relatable, and magnetic. Andie MacDowell’s buttery southern drawl is worth the price of admission alone. The Academy’s exclusion of sex, lies, and videotape — after the film had already nabbed the Palme d’Or and a Best Actor award for James Spader on a bigger stage at Cannes — is a prime example of their chronic insecurity in the face of new kinds of filmmaking. But, if you’re Soderbergh and the gang, who cares? It’s the Academy’s loss, and one they would eventually catch up to. As history would show, Hollywood was more desperate for him than he was for it. The film would launch Soderbergh into one of the most storied directorial careers, one defined by creative control and contractual autonomy over Hollywood studios. (Luke Hicks)

87. Atlantics (2019)


Actor-turned-director Mati Diop’s debut feature escapes easy genre classification: part-ghost story, part-romance, part-crime film, Atlantics melds social realism with supernatural elements in a way that gives the film the unmistakably foreboding air of a fable. Diop invokes the otherworldly as a means of commentary on stark human truths like corruption, exploitation, and grief, all of which play a factor in the migration journey around which the film swirls. Atlantics never leaves Senegal’s shores, boldly choosing instead to recount the impact such journeys leave on loved ones at home. Unfinished skyscrapers loom over the Dakar skyline like specters, just as Claire Mathon shoots the ocean and the moon like malevolent beings: all-seeing witnesses to human crimes who become arbiters of cosmic justice as the film goes on. Atlantics’ magic realism is always beguiling, but never cryptic — it’s understood on an innate, unspoken level. Such tonal mastery makes Diop’s one of the most staggeringly confident and original debuts in recent years, a much-deserving occupant of the tenth Best Picture slot the Academy left empty at its 92nd ceremony. (Farah Cheded)

86. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Bicycle Thieves

Powerful cinema isn’t just that which suspends reality, but also that which reflects it in all its ugliness. Bicycle Thieves is a perfect example: Italian neorealist Vittorio De Sica dropped the gauze from the lens with this 1948 classic, shooting the story of one man’s desperate quest to keep a job in direct counterpoint to Hollywood glamour. Like his contemporary Roberto Rosselini, De Sica rejected the idea that movies needed a “preconceived thesis” to be powerful, choosing instead to follow real life’s lead. To that end, he swapped soundstages for the piazzas of Rome, shot with natural light, and cast non-professionals in this story drawn from the real struggles of post-war Italy’s working-class. Bicycle Thieves’ unblinking commitment to authenticity means that it never strikes as sentimental; it’s heart-breaking because the desperation it chronicles is so irrefutably true and so depressingly common. The ring of truth sounds so clear in Bicycle Thieves that it’s hard to believe the Academy could neglect to honor it in the main race, though they did wheel out a then-honorary Best Foreign Film award for De Sica’s compassionate portrayal of the forces that can drive a person to crime. (Farah Cheded)

85. The Public Enemy (1931)

The Public Enemy

William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy helped define an entire genre of gangster films that were popularized during the pre-Code era of Hollywood. James Cagney, who became the quintessential on-screen gangster thanks to this film, gives an absolutely electric performance as an Irish-American gangster. Jean Harlow gives an equally mesmerizing performance, as usual. However, their badass characters were seen as a liability for Warner Bros., even for the rule-breaking pre-Code era. A prologue and epilogue were added to ensure that audiences would not think the film was glorifying or promoting organized crime, which was running rampant during the Great Depression. The Public Enemy did earn one nomination at the 1932 Academy Awards, in the Writing (Original Story) category, but it lost to The Dawn Patrol. Nominating The Public Enemy for Outstanding Production would have been a bold move for the Academy at the time, but it’s clear audiences connected with characters’ frustration with society in the film. Taking a spot in the top ten grossing films of 1931, The Public Enemy was a box-office hit and remains a classic action film today. At the 1932 Academy Awards, the Outstanding Production award went to Cimarron. (Emily Kubincanek)

84. Duck Soup (1933)

Duck Soup
Paramount Pictures

While comedies weren’t ever entirely ignored by the Academy in their Best Picture nominations, most of the funnier films they recognized during the first decade (and maybe this could be argued for all time) also contained dramatic situations and/or musical elements — essentially, they played a little straighter in a way that could be viewed as respectable. The Marx Brothers threw anything of a respectable nature at the time out the window, and their wild and crazy antics (“anarchic” is the word typically used as a label) must have been too much for the Academy to see for the genius it was (only one of their numerous films was ever nominated for anything: A Day at the Races earned a nod for Best Dance Direction). Duck Soup, which sets brothers Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo into farcical situations within a loose but piercing political satire, doesn’t play by the rules, and it’s one of many unconventional movies in the history of the Oscars to be overlooked (it should be noted that Duck Soup was also unloved by many critics and moviegoers at the time, as well). It takes time for comedy like that of the Marx Brothers and this, their most exceptional masterpiece, to be appreciated by the cultural authorities, as evident in the Academy’s lauding of Groucho Marx with an Honorary Award in 1974, on behalf of all the Marx Brothers, and the AFI naming Duck Soup as one of the top five comedies of all time — and the only one of those with no Academy Awards recognition at all. (Christopher Campbell)

83. The King of Comedy (1982)

King Of Comedy

The King of Comedy works like a subverted stand-up routine, using running gags, call-backs, and a meticulously-timed punchline to achieve an end contradictory to their design: horror. That’s not to say that Martin Scorsese’s study of the uneasy symbiosis between celebrities and their fans isn’t funny — Rupert Pupkin’s delusions are nakedly vain and riotously goofy — it’s just that the joke is ultimately on us. As with Taxi Driver, Scorsese allows us to get comfortable in our pity before he deconstructs the twisted cycle of celebrity and everything curdles into perverse horror. De Niro is at his understated best here, draining himself of his reserves of charisma to play a basement-dwelling fantasist with piercing credibility. Scorsese filled the rest of the cast with a mixture of comedy and late-night professionals either playing themselves (Tony Randall, Ed Herlihy) or extensions of their public personas (Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard). Scorsese extended that real life-fiction hybridity into the filmmaking by shooting on open New York streets, a move that permitted the public to underscore his point for him and allowed The King of Comedy to cut even closer to the bone. Mass media and the voyeurism-obsession-entitlement pipeline have rarely come under such a brilliant, burning lens as this. (Farah Cheded)

82. Stop Making Sense (1984)

Stop Making Sense
Cinecom Pictures

Stop Making Sense is joy personified. It’s more than a concert film. It’s more than a record of the Talking Heads’ genius. It’s a blissful explosion that can shatter the sternest of hearts. David Bryne sprints across the screen and Jonathan Demme’s direction miraculously keeps pace. The camera doesn’t merely wander the stage, making the film’s audience a part of the action (something that would merit celebration on its own). No! The camera becomes another member of the band. It’s playing music as well, telling a story and doing only what movies can do, cracking the viewer’s mind open through visuals and sound, and setting their heart ablaze. (Brad Gullickson)

81. Peeping Tom (1960)

Peeping Tom

You might think that the Academy, even with its documented history of overlooking horror films, would make an exception for Peeping Tom. Surely, a film so beautiful and vibrant, so daring and bold, so uniquely and wholly cinematic would get the reception it deserves? Nope! To make matters worse, Peeping Tom also tanked director Michael Powell’s career in the UK. His take on psychological horror, which follows a voyeuristic serial killer who documents his crimes on camera, was considered lurid and sadistic. The controversy made the film practically dead on arrival critically, but it also helped it become a cult classic about a decade later. Now, Peeping Tom is considered a seminal piece of cinema and has inspired numerous Oscar-winning filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese. (Anna Swanson)

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