Every year there are films that are nominated for Oscars that got there because of campaigning, and sometimes a dearth of other possible candidates. These are films that were nominated for things because of possibly contractually obligated Oscar pushes, or because it was assumed they were better than they were. Here are a list of ten films from the last ten years that have either been forgotten, or will be (or in one case will be remember as a “really? That won?”) Now, we’re not saying these are bad films, and to be fair to the picture above, I liked Philomena, but in ten years it seems likely that people won’t remember it as a best picture nominee.
2003 – House of Sand and Fog
Though DreamWorks hasn’t been chasing Oscars as it did when it was a more independent studio (now it’s become a weird adjunct of Disney that releases their less family friendly fare), the studio spent nearly a decade going pound for pound and punch for punch against Miramax. This led to some great contests, like Saving Private Ryan versus Shakespeare in Love and American Beauty versus The Cider House Rules. Both sides would win occassionally. But it also meant both sides making films as bad and forgettable as House of Sand and Fog, which pitted Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley against each other in an adaptation of a prestigious book that didn’t translate well to the big screen. The conflict is motivated here because Connelly forgot to check her mail. It’s a bad movie.
Annette Bening has been nominated three times for best actress, but she’ll probably best be known for losing twice to Hilary Swank. First it was when Swank’s Boys Don’t Cry performance went up against Bening’s American Beauty, and the second time it was for this versus Million Dollar Baby. But like a number of nominations and nominees, the performance may have been great, but it was also partly about “it’s so and so’s time” (like when Peter O’Toole was nominated for Venus). 2004 was an interesting year in that Baby kind of came out of nowhere, and the academy wanted to award Clint Eastwood for his years of greatness. That film hasn’t aged particularly well, but it’s easy to understand why Bening lost. It’s because no one remembers this movie.
2005 – North Country
Similar to the Bening nomination is the “look, we didn’t just give this award to this performer because they’re attractive” nomination, which seems to be why Charlize Theron was nominated for best actress in 2005. She won for Monster, which some say she got because she uglied herself up. That’s not fair, but often winning Oscars gives actors the opportunity to do more serious work. North Country was meant to be a serious Oscar picture, but audiences didn’t turn up and at the end of the day, neither did the Academy. But as often Best actress is the weakest field of the year, Theron got her second nomination for this movie.
2006 – Notes on a Scandal
Here’s another case of an “important” adaptation, with a powerhouse cast and crew that just did not work on the big screen. Oscar winners Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench starred and both were nominated for their work in the film (as were screenwriter Patrick Marber and composer Phillip Glass). Though the film may have been meant to be taken seriously, there was a level of camp to the film which the movie seemingly couldn’t decide how to play, and so it ended up being too serious to be fun, and too campy to be taken seriously. But still, the film can advertise itself as a “Winner of Four Oscar Nominations.”
2007 – In the Valley of Elah
When Crash won best picture in 2005, it meant that whatever wunderkind Paul Haggis did next would receive extra scrutiny, because there was already a backlash against the film from the intelligentsia, though Hollywood either hadn’t noticed or couldn’t get behind Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (supposedly because of the gay, to use the modern parlance). And though In the Valley of Elah was about a serious subject matter and was a much better film, it only managed to snake one nomination for Tommy Lee Jones‘ lead performance. Sometimes previous Oscar winners get support because of their previous wins, but Haggis — perhaps because of his connections to Scientology, perhaps because he had already won two Oscars — was no longer an Academy favorite.
2008 – Changeling
Clint Eastwood had a period where the academy loved everything he did, and so much so that he began pumping out an incredible number of films, often two a year, all possible Oscar contenders. Alas, the relative quality of those films were often questionable, though usually buoyed by great performances. As we go year to year, 2004′s Million Dollar Baby, 2006′s Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers 2008′s Gran Torino and Changeling, 2009′s Invictus, 2010′s Hereafter and 2011′s J. Edgar show an artist who liked to keep busy, but also one who had no great nose for quality. Many of these films are watchable, few are better than good. 2008′s Changeling stands out one of the forgotten, though most haven’t exactly aged well or been talked or thought about since.
I started thinking of writing this list a long time ago, and was thinking of 2005′s Memoirs of a Geisha as my starting point. But of all the films on this list, the one that I have actually no memory of being nominated, or the film itself is The Last Station. The film got both Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer nominated for Oscars, and yet, I don’t remember reading about this or it being released, or anything. And yet, it scored two prime nominations. Okay.
2010 – Biutiful
Alejandro González Iñárritu announced himself as a serious artist with films like Babel, Amores Perros and 21 Grams, but that self-seriousness got the best of him, and his Biutiful ended up an also ran that year, though it did net the well-loved Javier Bardem an Oscar nomination. Perhaps the film has been unfortunately ignored as Michael Mann has expressed a great love for it. But often super serious movies that don’t connect have a very short shelf life.
2011 – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
This story about a boy who lost his father in the attacks on September 11 has everything that defines an Oscar bait picture: previous winners like Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, a great performance by an old master (Max Von Sydow), and was directed by Stephen Daldry — a previous best director nominee known for pedigree projects. But it was also a film that didn’t work and was twee precious (verging on being kind of gross), and so Warner Brothers barely released it, and it died quickly and quietly, even with a best picture nomination. This is sort of the problem with the 5-10 nominee system, in that films that were presumptive Oscar bait slip in to the main category that much easier.
2012 – Les Miserables
It’s hard to pick something already forgotten from last year as most are still running on cable, but if I had to pick one movie that seems destined to be forgotten it’s this film. And though it’s based on a well loved musical that should have been brought to the big screen, no one is all that passionate about it, and eventually it seemed liked a vehicle for Anne Hathaway to win an Oscar. It doesn’t help that it’s a terrible adaptation, and that Russell Crowe is out of his depth in the film. Sure, the movie made a lot of money, but more than Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was an arthouse film — or any of the other best picture nominees — this should have been a bigger deal, it should have won more.
What Oscar films do you feel that time has forgotten?