What Was the Biggest Oscar Night Mistake Ever Made?

The snubbing of Alfred Hitchcock, misplaced accolades for Kate Winslet, and more

Graham Roumieu

Peter Bart, producer and former editor in chief, Variety

It was April 5, 1965, and everyone I knew was talking about Dr. Strangelove and other edgy new pictures, but there I was, attending my first Oscar ceremony, and Mary Poppins was battling My Fair Lady for Best Picture, Father Goose won Best Screenplay, and Dr. Strangelove was snubbed. I realized Hollywood was caught in a time machine.

Carrie Rickey, former film critic, The Philadelphia Inquirer

In 1993, Al Pacino won Best Actor for his forgettable turn in Scent of a Woman over Denzel Washington’s nuanced, once-in-a-career performance in Malcolm X. Everyone knows that Pacino won because he was previously 0-for-7, while Washington already had a supporting-actor trophy for Glory.

Lisa Schwarzbaum, film critic

Shakespeare in Love’s taking Best Picture in 1999 instead of Saving Private Ryan marked the game-changing moment when Oscar marketing campaigns became a cutthroat business. Not coincidentally, by 1999, it had become common practice for production companies to send out screeners, which saved voters the “effort” of schlepping to movie theaters. Proportion distortion is the legacy: grand-scale pictures suffer, while TV-size fluff (like Shakespeare in Love) looks cute.

Mick LaSalle, film critic, San Francisco Chronicle

While Luise Rainer’s performance in The Good Earth was perfectly adequate, the Academy’s 1938 choice of that over Greta Garbo’s stunning work in Camille really does stink in the nose of history. The fact that Rainer was European and made up to look Chinese only makes it worse.

Anne Helen Petersen, author, Scandals of Classic Hollywood (May 2014)

Never recognizing Marilyn Monroe, for anything, ever. Her image was that of a vapid ditz, but Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot showcase the sort of nuanced, charismatic performance whose chief attribute is its own effacement. And just imagine what industry validation could’ve done for Monroe’s confidence.

Tim Grierson, vice president, Los Angeles Film Critics Association

Crash’s Best Picture win in 2006. On the same night that the maverick director Robert Altman was awarded an honorary Oscar for his influential career crafting intelligent, challenging ensemble films, the Academy gave its top prize to a movie that was a pale knockoff of Altman’s finest work. Crash is little more than a simplistic, manipulative multicharacter portrait of racism in Los Angeles that flatters its audience’s enlightened views.

Mark Lisanti, writer, Grantland

It's still hard to believe that Crash won Best Picture. Even if its intentions were noble, it’s an almost absurdly bad movie. The subtlest thing that happens is a snowstorm in Los Angeles.

Christopher Orr, senior editor, The Atlantic

Granting Kate Winslet a Best Actress Oscar for The Reader in 2009, when she gave a far better performance in a far better film the same year (Revolutionary Road). If that weren’t enough, she herself had mercilessly mocked the Academy’s fetish for over-awarding Holocaust movies just four years earlier on the comedy show Extras.

Willie Geist, co-host, NBC’s Today show and MSNBC’s Morning Joe

With all due respect to Kevin Costner, and to all those who dance with wolves, Dances With Wolves had no business beating Goodfellas for Best Picture in 1991. Dances With Wolves is a big, beautiful film, but it would have been a little better if it had Joe Pesci asking Costner, “I’m funny how? Funny like I’m a clown? ... I’m here to amuse you?”

Tasha Robinson, film critic, The Dissolve and The A.V. Club

Making jokes about the Oscar ceremony’s length into an annual host tradition. The digs date back at least to Johnny Carson in the 1970s; by this point, they’re tired, rote, and hypocritical. And who benefits from a joke that amounts to “We’re doing a terrible job of managing our own presentation, like we always do”?

Chris Nashawaty, film critic, Entertainment Weekly

The fact that Alfred Hitchcock, hands down the greatest filmmaker who ever lived, never won for Best Director. Although he was nominated five times (for Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, and Psycho), the Master of Suspense always slunk off sans statuette.

Billy Eichner, comedian, Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street

Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar, but you know who has? Melissa Etheridge. Have a nice day.

Tim Dirks, founder, Filmsite.org

Among the 10 films nominated for Best Picture in 1942, there were two stand-outs: The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’s first feature film, generally acknowledged by critics and film fans as the greatest film ever made. However, the top prize went to John Ford’s sentimental How Green Was My Valley, about a Welsh mining town and family at the turn of the century.

Victoria Wilson, publishing executive, editor, and author, A Life of Barbara Stanwyck

More of a miss than the biggest mistake: the 1945 awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay going to Leo McCarey’s Going My Way instead of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, with its near-perfect script, co-written by Raymond Chandler, of murder and soul corruption. America and the Academy, stretched taut by wartime trauma and death, wanted warmth, humanity, and tradition. Not much seemed human about Double Indemnity except the heat of Phyllis Dietrichson’s ankle bracelet, and even that was made of metal.

Owen Gleiberman, film critic, Entertainment Weekly

The Academy Awards must live in eternal shame for the legendarily awful 1989 musical number that paired Rob Lowe and Snow White (together again!).

Laurie Jacobson, Hollywood historian, writer/producer, and author, Dishing Hollywood

Judy Garland was front-runner for her spectacular performance in A Star is Born in 1955, but she’d made trouble for the studios and the nod went to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. 

Peter Biskind, film historian, writer

The Academy has never figured out how to manage foreign films. Last time around, it gave the cold shoulder to a handful of the best: Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, one of this year’s greatest films, as well as Bethlehem, Gloria, and Wadjda.

Richard Brody, movie-listings editor, The New Yorker

By limiting Foreign Language Film nominees to one to a country and granting each country’s official commission the power to choose its nominee, the Academy defers to repressive governments’ exclusion of movies by dissident filmmakers. For instance, the Iranian director Jafar Panahi made the superb This Is Not a Film clandestinely in 2011 while under house arrest; it was snuck out of the country on a flash drive hidden in a birthday cake. Needless to say, Iran didn’t nominate it.

William Mann, Hollywood historian

How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane. Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction. Crash over Brokeback Mountain. The King's Speech over The Social Network. Grace Kelly in The Country Girl over Judy Garland in A Star is Born. And nothing, zip, nada, except an honorary bone, to Alfred Hitchcock.

Nell Minow, film critic, Beliefnet

The Academy's biggest mistake every year is overlooking terrific films and performances, even movies with enthusiastic responses from critics and audience members, because members vote only for the small number of films supported by expensive studio campaigns, with DVDs, special screenings, and "For Your Consideration" ads.

This is an expanded version of March 2014’s Big Question. Readers have been sharing their answers on Twitter—here are some of our favorites.

@waynecurtis : 1939: Gone with The Wind over Wizard of Oz.

@ReneRocha_21 : Jim Carrey not being nominated for Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

@elacoin : The extraordinary performance of Emmanuelle Riva, Amour 2013

@thomasmeert : Jingle All The Way not getting the nod in ’96

@AirrisKing : Second biggest snub ever (after Citizen Kane for Picture) - Argo missing out on Best Director nod?!

@AustinLandry : Bette Davis not winning Best Actress for All about Eve / Orson Welles not winning Best Director for “Citizen Kane”

@alexamccant : Every Tom Hanks snub. Saving Private Ryan, Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips

@markchappelle : “Out of Africa” over “Color Purple.” The whole Academy lost.

@bandersofarabia : Crash. Always Crash