Come this Sunday, the 94th annual Academy Awards will deliver a whole lot of happy memories for a select few, alongside some disappointments. It’s the nature of awards season, that for there to be winners there must also be losers — but some losses sting more than others, even from the sidelines.
Thus, Consequence is looking back at the most egregious snubs to occur at the Oscars over the course of the 21st century — instances where the right winner somehow still missed out on the top prize. Rather than spotlight the many, many times a deserving film or performance or other facet of production was overlooked entirely for a nomination, we’re focusing in on the times when the right choice was right there, and it just didn’t work out, and we’re still mad about it.
— Liz Shannon Miller
Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson Lose Best Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums (2002)
In 2002, Wes Anderson wasn’t quite the established figure he is today, but The Royal Tenenbaums might still be one of his greatest films. (The official Consequence ranking puts it at number two, and there’s room to argue it should be higher.)
While the film didn’t break into any other category at the Oscars beyond best original screenplay, it was still a big accomplishment for both Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson to receive their first-ever Oscar nominations — even when they ultimately lost to Julian Fellows’ script for Gosford Park.
To be clear, Gosford Park is a great film, and it led to the creation of an even better TV show. But there was a special magic to Tenenbaums that clearly signified the arrival of a new filmmaking talent, and if Anderson and Wilson had been recognized for their work, it would have gone a long way towards proving the Academy’s ability to truly celebrate great artists on the rise. — L.S.M.
Brokeback Mountain Loses Best Picture to Crash (2006)
A fun party game to play with your friends is to debate which was the worst Best Picture win of the 21st century (the other major contender is further down on this list). But the thing about Crash winning in 2006 over Brokeback Mountain wasn’t just that the superior film lost to the inferior one.
It was that when given the opportunity to celebrate a truly beautiful and groundbreaking exploration of tragic love, directed by one of our greatest living filmmakers, Academy voters instead voted for a movie where a Black woman forgives the racist cop who sexually assaulted her because he later pulls her out of a burning vehicle. That’s not the only ridiculous/offensive thing that happens in Crash, even! Brokeback Mountain deserved so much better. — L.S.M.
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler loses to Sean Penn in Milk (2009)
When Mickey Rourke was in his heyday, he was nothing short of a heartthrob, (see: Angel Heart). As he got older, however, Rourke faded somewhat from the public eye; that is, until he appeared in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008), a heartbreaking film that follows a washed-up wrestler named Randy (Rourke) on a misguided mission to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler is not only subtle, melancholy, and deeply moving, but the fact that he was an actor making a comeback at the time, playing a wrestler also making a comeback, is difficult to look past. Rourke earned an Academy Award nomination for the role, but sadly lost to Sean Penn for his depiction of politician Harvey Milk in Milk. — Aurora Amidon
The Social Network Loses Best Picture to The King’s Speech (2010)
David Fincher’s The Social Network is heralded by some as the best film of the 21st century (so far). It follows Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in his creation of Facebook, and is a masterful blend of editing, killer lead performances, and social commentary that has truly stood the test of time.
In 2011, The Social Network lost the Academy Award for Best Picture to Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, a film that follows a king (Colin Firth) attempting to overcome his speech impediment ahead of addressing the nation. While The King’s Speech is a perfectly enjoyable movie with a compelling performance from Firth, it doesn’t hold a candle to The Social Network, and certainly isn’t remembered in the same manner a decade later. — A.A.
The Artist Wins Best Picture Over The Tree of Life (2012)
Ever since he made his debut on the film scene in 1973 with the bold, visionary Badlands, director Terrance Malick has been lauded as one of the greatest directors in Hollywood. Perhaps his greatest feat is The Tree of Life, an ambitious, hypnagogic, portrait of a family grieving a death.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, but lost to The Artist, a black-and-white silent film about two actors in the 1920s. Of course, a film that mimics the style of silent-era movies is bound to catch audiences’ attention in the 21st century, but it’s a shame that The Artist’s flashy style prompted voters to overlook the artistic and emotional feat that is The Tree of Life. — A.A.
Glenn Close Loses Best Actress for Alfred Nobbs (2012)
Glenn Close is becoming Susan Lucci-levels of notorious for being nominated for Oscars that she then does not win, but we picked this particular snub because not only was Alfred Nobbs a well-received film with a meaty role in it for her, but the ultimate winner that year was Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady.
Sure, playing Margaret Thatcher has proven to be a confirmed way of getting awards attention (as witnessed by Gillian Anderson’s trophy shelf) but Streep didn’t need another Oscar, her performance was just fine, and ultimately history remembers this award as a missed opportunity for Close to finally get the due she deserves. — L.S.M.
Mad Max: Fury Road Loses Best Picture (2016)
Most people will probably remember the 88th Academy Awards as the year Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar for The Revenant. But I’ll always remember it as the year the Academy gave Mad Max: Fury Road six Oscars and gave Spotlight two Oscars — and somehow decided that Spotlight deserved to win the night’s top prize.
Don’t get me wrong, Spotlight is a fine film that had a few memorable performances. But did Spotlight have The Doof Warrior, a blind guitarist who was part of Immortan Joe’s militia, known for riding and playing a flame-throwing electric guitar upon the Doof Wagon? No, it did not.
The Doof Warrior is just one of the many, many amazing things that Mad Max: Fury Road has going for it. It’s a shame that a film so inventive, so visually arresting, so original, and (most importantly) so entertaining got the cold shoulder when it came time to hand over the Best Picture statuette. — Spencer Dukoff