Oscar winners, losers, snubs

It’s nearly Oscar time again, so it’s a good time to take a look at past Oscar winners, Oscar losers, and Oscar snubs streaming on Netflix.

The Grapes of Wrath

★★★★★

Going back seven decades, John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) was nominated for seven Oscars. It did not win Best Picture—Hitchcock’s Rebecca did—but it did win Best Director for Ford, and Best Supporting Actress for Jane Darwell as Ma Joad. Adapted from John Steinbeck’s novel and blessed with glorious, moody cinematography by Gregg Toland (who shot Citizen Kane the following year), the movie tackles the Great Depression with earnestness, dignity, haunting beauty, and just a little humor.

The Woman in the Window (expiring 3/1)

★★★★★

Whereas his colleague Ford eventually won four Best Director Oscars, Fritz Lang never even received a nomination. Today Lang is known for works of art like Metropolis and M, but his Hollywood period, which lasted from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, was never viewed as anything other than a collection of second-rate potboilers. One viewing of the masterful The Woman in the Window (1944) proves that this is not so. Edward G. Robinson stars as a professor who specializes in the philosophy of homicide. He becomes enthralled with a beautiful young woman (Joan Bennett), accidentally kills her lover, tries to cover up the crime, and becomes involved in the murder investigation. No one could create the sheer cold sweat of paranoia quite like Lang.

The African Queen

★★★★☆

The behind-the-scenes of this troubled production—shot on location in Africa—is as famous as The African Queen (1952) itself, but the movie earned Humphrey Bogart a long overdue Best Actor Oscar. He plays Charlie Allnut, a riverboat captain during the First World War, who reluctantly takes an uptight spinster (Katharine Hepburn) as a passenger. Worse, she tries to convince him to attack an enemy warship to avenge the death of her brother. The former film critic James Agee co-wrote the screenplay, focusing on poetic bickering between the two opposites, and director John Huston meshes the whole thing into an exciting, cohesive whole. Huston, Hepburn, and Agee were all nominated for Oscars, but did not win.

Kramer vs. Kramer (expiring 3/1)

★★★★☆

Conventional wisdom now suggests that Apocalypse Now or Manhattan may have been better choices for the Best Picture of 1979, but Robert Benton’s divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) was the big winner, taking home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep) and Best Adapted Screenplay. As the young son caught in the custody battle, eight year-old actor Justin Henry also earned an acting nomination, becoming the youngest in history. Benton made a decent career out of sensitive, intelligent, deeply felt character dramas (with touches of humor), and this one still looks pretty good in hindsight.

The Producers (expiring 3/1)

★★★★☆

Though the Oscars rarely pay any attention to comedy, Mel Brooks miraculously won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his hilarious directorial debut, The Producers (1968). Though the Broadway play has made the story famous, it simply can’t do justice to the original, with Zero Mostel as the penniless producer and Gene Wilder as his sniveling accountant (at top). Together they decide to raise money to stage the worst play in history and keep the cash when the play flops. Not such a good plan, as it turns out. Wilder also earned a much-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

This Is Spinal Tap (expiring 3/1)

★★★★★

Another of the funniest movies of all time, Rob Reiner’s feature directorial debut This Is Spinal Tap (1984) never earned a single nomination in any category, not even Best Song. (What about “Hell Hole” or “Big Bottom”?) The fake documentary approach to comedy was a spark of pure genius and the performances of Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer as brain-dead British headbangers are hilariously perfect. It’s awe-inspiring to consider just how many jokes hit dead center, and how few clunkers there are.

The Piano

★★★★★

Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) earned eight Oscar nominations in its year, and was good enough to win them all, except that it went up against Steven Spielberg’s powerhouse Schindler’s List. Regardless, it won three awards: Campion’s Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Holly Hunter), and Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin, who was 11 at the time). Hunter plays Ada, a mute woman in who is sent to New Zealand with her daughter to enter into an arranged marriage. She finds that her beloved piano can’t be moved from the beach. A local man (Harvey Keitel), who falls in love with her, agrees to keep it for her, while she earns it back one key at a time. Campion’s film is a triumph of visuals meeting content, using landscape, atmosphere, and music as part of the overall emotional impact.

Out of Sight (expiring 3/1)

★★★★★

One of the best films of its year, Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998) only received two Oscar nominations, for Best Adapted screenplay (from Elmore Leonard’s novel) and Best Editing. At the very least it deserved nominations for George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in the lead roles. Clooney plays a bank robber who meets a sexy U.S. Marshal (Lopez) while breaking out of jail. They’re instantly attracted to one another, which leads to complications in their respective lines of work. Soderbergh’s use of colors and soft, organic rhythms lends an enticing quality to the story, making it a red-hot entertainment. It was much better, smarter, and sexier than that year’s Best Picture winner, Shakespeare in Love.

Marathon Man (expiring 3/1)

★★★☆☆

The legendary Laurence Olivier, nearly 70 at the time, earned his ninth acting Oscar nomination for John Schlesinger’s thriller Marathon Man (1976). He plays a Nazi war criminal who has traveled to New York looking for diamonds and revenge. Roy Scheider is a cool American spy involved in the case, and Dustin Hoffman plays his innocent brother, a grad student and a marathon runner. Unfortunately, Olivier gets his mitts on Hoffman, which leads to the movie’s memorable and harrowing scene: Olivier performs painful dental surgery on Hoffman until the latter can answer the question, “Is it safe?” The movie is a bit too long and Schlesinger’s direction is a bit meandering, but the good outweighs the bad.

Anaconda (coming 3/1)

★★★☆☆

If Olivier could earn an Oscar nomination for a creepy villain in Marathon Man, then why couldn’t Jon Voight earn one for his creepy villain in Anaconda (1997)? He was already an Oscar winner (for Coming Home) and earned three other nominations, both before and after this, so it was not a huge stretch. His crazed, heavily-accented trapper character—on the hunt for the world’s largest snake—is a role so completely insane that it can only be fun. It’s the kind of role that all acting students should study. The rest of the ridiculous movie is equally fun, but wouldn’t have been nearly so much without Voight.

What’s new

  • Amelie (3/1)
  • Hustle & Flow (3/1)
  • The Importance of Being Earnest [2002] (3/1)
  • The Man from Snowy River (3/1)
  • The Mask of Zorro (3/1)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (3/1)

Expiring soon

  • Antichrist (2/25)
  • Bedazzled [1967] (3/1)
  • The Black Pirate (3/1)
  • Black Rain (3/1)
  • Buried (3/2)
  • Chelsea on the Rocks (3/2)
  • The Color of Pomegranates (3/1)
  • Dead Snow (2/23)
  • The Expendables (2/23)
  • Fatal Attraction (3/1)
  • Flashdance (3/1)
  • The Fog [1980] (3/1)
  • From Dusk Till Dawn (3/1)
  • The Gingerbread Man (3/1)
  • The Golem (3/1)
  • The Graduate (3/1)
  • Half Nelson (3/1)
  • Hoffa (3/1)
  • Hondo (3/1)
  • I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (3/1)
  • The Iceman Cometh (3/1)
  • The Kennel Murder Case (3/1)
  • Me and Orson Welles (2/17)
  • Night Falls on Manhattan (3/1)
  • Peggy Sue Got Married (3/1)
  • Planet of the Apes [1968] (3/1)
  • Piranha [2010] (2/21)
  • Poetry (2/23)
  • Project X [1987] (3/1)
  • Santa Sangre (3/1)
  • Southland Tales (3/1)
  • Swamp Thing (3/1)
  • Transsiberian (3/1)
  • Troll 2 (3/1)
  • The Whales of August (3/1)
  • The Wife (3/1)
  • The Woman in the Window (3/1)

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