Lost To: The Best Years of Our Lives
One of the most important and influential neorealist films in history wasn't a big hit in Italy when it came out, supposedly because its depiction of the Nazi occupation hit a little close to home. But the Academy recognized its greatness, albeit only in one category.
Lost To: Pillow Talk
Film critic turned filmmaker Francois Truffaut burst onto the international scene with The 400 Blows, a powerful and frank depiction of childhood the likes of which cinema had arguably never seen. It is now considered one of the greatest movies ever made. The Academy gave it just one Oscar nomination, and bestowed the actual award to a flighty comedy starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day.
Lost To: Divorce Italian Style
One of the most complex puzzles ever captured on film, Last Year at Marienbad continues to intoxicate and baffle movie lovers over 50 years later. Is it a love story, or did the film's two lovers never even meet? The screenwriter and director disagreed on even that much. The Academy ignored Last Year at Marienbad's astounding cinematography and editing, nominating the film only for its enigmatic, brilliant screenplay.
Lost To: To Kill a Mockingbird
The posters for Stanley Kubrick's shocking comedy asked, "How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?" They adapted the hell out of it, that's how, amping up the humor and downplaying the sexual relationship of its protagonists, a middle-aged man and the teenaged girl he's obsessed with. It's amazing Lolita ever got past the censors, and its exceptional screenplay (and impressive cast, none of whom earned nominations) deserves a lot of the credit for making the film into a classic instead of the massive misfire it could have been.
Lost To: Places in the Heart
The screenplay categories aren't afraid to highlight some popular crowd pleasers. Case in point: Beverly Hills Cop, the action comedy starring Eddie Murphy as a Detroit detective riffing his way through an assignment in the strange and prudish hills of Beverly. But we're not surprised that Beverly Hills Cop lost the award. So much of the movie consists of Eddie Murphy's ad-libs that it's hard to tell where the script even ends and Murphy's improvisations begin.
Lost To: A Room with a View
Now hailed as one of the ultimate coming of age movies, the Stephen King adaptation Stand By Me didn't receive enough critical acclaim upon its release. But the Academy recognized the wit, heart and intensity of Rob Reiner's film with an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. It lost to a movie about British people falling in love.
Lost To: Hannah and Her Sisters
The comedy sensation "Crocodile" Dundee is still an enormously satisfying movie, with fish out of water jokes that work just as well today ("That's not a knife..."), and an unforgettably inventive and romantic finale. The Academy thought it was worthy of a screenplay nomination for its unique charm and impressive structure, but even we have to admit that Woody Allen's script for Hannah and Her Sisters was better.
Lost To: The Last Emperor
Like many of the later films in Stanley Kubrick's career, Full Metal Jacket wasn't very well appreciated in its day, earning just one Oscar nomination for its two-act screenplay. Now considered one of the ultimate war movies, with instantly iconic performances from supporting actors Vincent D'Onofrio and R. Lee Ermey, it seems like a shame that Jacket got swept aside in favor of the Last Emperor Oscar juggernaut.
Lost To: Pulp Fiction
Peter Jackson's first foray into "serious" filmmaking after the outlandish and violent horror comedies Bad Taste and Dead Alive (not to mention whatever the hell Meet the Feebles was) earned acclaim for its young stars Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet but only one Oscar nomination. The insidious (and true) story of two teenagers, probably in love, whose friendship leads to a shocking crime is elegant and creepy, but it couldn't compete with the tidal wave of support for Pulp Fiction. (And we can only get so mad about that.)
Lost To: Sling Blade
Trainspotting was a shot of adrenaline - or something else - to independent filmmakers in 1996, adapting with freewheeling energy and unsettling honesty Irvine Welsh's novel about the heroin culture in Scotland in the late 1980s. It remains a powerful and exhilarating experience, but it was probably too hip, and too controversial, to ever earn more than a screenplay nomination from the Academy.
Lost To: The Cider House Rules
One of the best years for cinema, ever, yielded a very boring and safe set of Oscar nominees. But one of the most interesting films to emerge from the slew of awards for pap like The Cider House Rules was a single, well deserved nomination for Alexander Payne's acidic and funny screenplay for Election, one of the sharpest comedies of the 1990s. Reese Witherspoon plays an overachiever who will win her high school president elections at any cost, and Matthew Broderick plays the teacher who is determined to stop her, for reasons even he doesn't seem to understand.
Lost To: A Beautiful Mind
One of very few comic book adaptations to earn a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, Ghost World earned critical acclaim for its sardonic portrayal of teen girls struggling to retain their emotional detachment in a world that seems increasingly destined to reel them in on a more meaningful level. Thora Birch is incredible in the film, and Steve Buscemi was absolutely robbed of a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but at least the Academy recognized Ghost World's unique perspective on young life and middle-aged anxiety and regret.
Lost To: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Another acclaimed adaptation of an independent comic book series, American Splendor blended the real and fictional worlds of author Harvey Pekar, played stunningly by Paul Giamatti, into a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. Every aspect of American Splendor is arguably brilliant, but only the script was recognized by the Academy, which was too busy honoring the last Lord of the Rings movie in every single category to give this film a much-deserved award.
Lost To: Lost in Translation
The first film in Steven Knight's acclaimed series of screenplays about the criminal underbelly of London (see also: Eastern Promises, Closed Circuit and Redemption) was probably too slight to earn much attention from the Oscars, but that didn't stop the Academy from giving the film a richly deserved nomination for his script. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou play illegal immigrants swept up in black market organ harvesting, and Stephen Frears directs the hell out of it.
Lost To: The Departed
One of the most populist and also baffling Best Adapted screenplay nominations went to the broad comedy Borat, most of which seems to be either improvised or reliant on the reactions of real people who are swept up in Sacha Baron Cohen's shenanigans. He plays a Kazakh journalist making a documentary about America, leading to offensive misunderstandings and wacky hijinks. Funny as all get out, but a curious, risky and very, very cool choice to honor in the screenplay category.
Lost To: Milk
Martin McDonagh's surprisingly sensitive crime comedy looked like just another Tarantino knockoff, but the Academy recognized In Bruges as something special. They were right. Colin Farrell gives his best performance as a hitman on the run, completely unaware of the fate that will inevitably catch up with him. Impressively inventive and touchingly human.
Lost To: Midnight in Paris
The best film made about the current economic crisis (so far) earned only one Oscar nomination, even though the entire cast deserved equal acclaim. J.C. Chandor's film takes place over a single night, in which the employees and CEOs of a Wall Street investment bank realize that the bubble is just about to burst and debate whether to go under with dignity or sell their souls in order to save the company, selling out all their clients in the process. Harsh moral decisions and slithery capitalist philosophy never seemed so exciting.