I will cheat twice on this list. I haven’t seen this film. However, it would be remiss of me to limit this list to films I’ve seen. It’s quite evident the debt many horror filmmakers owe to Romero, as he is an oft-used point of reference.
Like comedy, horror is another neglected genre. Yet they are the two genres more likely to garner an instant reaction than any other. I would also claim that you would likely find more social commentary or satire in a horror film than you would in other more mainstream dramatic films.
Mind you, even ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ couldn’t gain a Best Picture nomination the year of ‘Night of the Living Dead’. That year belonged to ‘Oliver!’ which, in hindsight, may well have picked a pocket or two.
10th December 2011 Stephen Evans
14) Night of the Living Dead
13) The Terminator
How could F Murray Abraham’s Salieri be recognised over Arnie’s T-800, you might ask. Well, maybe not.
However, ‘The Terminator’ was a great breakthrough for James Cameron. It fizzles with energy and the punky design gives it a great edge, aided by the iconic costume design. Brad Fiedel’s score sets the mood beautifully and has endured over the years. The special effects were groundbreaking, and should surely have been nominated.
‘Splash’, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, ‘Footloose’ and even ‘Greystroke’ all received more nominations that year.
The second cheat. Terrence Malick’s debut is the other film I haven’t seen on this list, even though I’ve wanted to for some time. If Malick’s other work is anything to go by, this was an unwarranted omission.
I shall leave the summing up to Geoff Andrews of Time Out who wrote "One of the most impressive directorial debuts ever... What distinguishes the film, beyond the superb performances of Sheen and Spacek, the use of music, and the luminous camerawork by Tak Fujimoto, is Malick's unusual attitude towards psychological motivation.”
Sounds pretty good to me! Certainly more so than ‘The Way We Were’.
11) This Is Spinal Tap
‘Amadeus’ may be the best film about musicians in 1984. But did Mozart ever get to support a puppet show with a ‘Jazz Odyssey’? Did he ever use a dwarf to dance around a miniature version of an English landmark? And did he ever feel the need to go up to 11?
Considering Pat Morita was nominated for his wooden turn as Mr Miyagi in ‘The Karate Kid’, surely one of the Spinal Tap members could have taken his place in the list of nominees?
Of the nominated songs that year, ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, ‘Against All Odds’, ‘Footloose’, ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Let’s Hear it For the Boys’, which reads like a horrible mix-tap of soundtracks to parties from my childhood, none had the nerve to talk about mud flaps. The boys of Spinal Tap did.
That year there was an award for ‘Best Song, Score’. ‘Spinal Tap’ was passed over for ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’. Ahem.
10) Upon a Time in America/Once Upon a Time in the West
‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ is my favourite film of all time. Leone’s western operates as a dance of death against the backdrop of American industry driving forward and crushing everything in its path. The only reason it’s not higher is due to the fact it’s an international co-production.
Ennio Morricone’s score is beyond beautiful. It helps Leone’s images to transcend the western genre, and to somehow capture the spirit and feel of life and death and everything in between. The cinematography captures the emotion of the human face like only Leone’s films can. And the beauty of the patient build-up engineered by the editing of the opening sequence helps to form one of cinema’s most memorable moments.
And six years later, these guys returned with ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, a ghostly and brutal foray into American crime. Robert De Niro’s pensive performance plays second fiddle to James Woods’ sneering and quietly psychotic turn. .Like several others mentioned in this list, Woods lost out to Pat Morita’s Mr Miyagi.
The set design evokes an ethereal New York, in which genuine violence lurks everywhere and love lurks nowhere. And Morricone once again shows composers just how it’s done.
9) In a Lonely Place / To Have and Have Not
Now that he has restricted himself to directing homages, he may well have to be content with the one award.
8) Reservoir Dogs
There’s no doubt that Humphrey Bogart was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars from the moment John Huston rescued him from supporting roles to headline ‘The Maltese Falcon’. It’s surprising to consider that despite his many superb performances through the 1940s and 1950s, he only won the Oscar once – for ‘The African Queen’.
How could Bogart not have won for ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’, ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or, amazingly, for ‘Casablanca’? However, these films were well rewarded in other ways hence their exclusion from this list.
Two Bogart films that were completely passed over were the violent, thrilling ‘In a Lonely Place’, where he gives his career best performance as a screenwriter with an uncontrollable aggressive streak; and ‘To Have and Have Not’, Howard Hawk’s sexy, playful adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s Cuba-set novel.
Both of these films benefit from quality screenplays, assured direction, great performances by Bogart and delightful turns by other performers – not least Lauren Bacall for ‘To Have and Have Not’.
It wasn’t until the 1960s when the French critics re-examined Bogart’s films with a more intellectual approach. For the most part, it appears that his films were seen as disposable film-noirs or crime thrillers and not worthy for Academy Awards. I would say, seventy years later we know better!
Tarantino is now so much a part of the filmmaking landscape that it seems peculiar to consider that his breakthrough role, which began all the narrative devices and tricks he would hone through the rest of his career, failed to be nominated in a year that saw ‘Scent of a Woman’ do rather well.
The supporting cast make the most of this dialogue-heavy screenplay. Steve Buscemi crackles with energy, Michael Madsen acts like he actually has cold blood icing through his veins and Harvey Keitel is as great as usual.
Two years later, Tarantino was honoured for ‘Pulp Fiction’ with a win for Best Screenplay. Even then though, he was beaten to Best Picture by the far less controversial and far more crowd pleasing ‘Forrest Gump’.