The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a long history of overlooking the greatest films ever made for Best Picture. Many cinephiles are quick to point out Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” losing to John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley” at the 14th Academy Awards, though it’s not like Ford’s emotionally satisfying family drama was an undeserving winner. It just so happened to be nominated against a film that would emerge over the years as one of the most important and influential pieces of cinema ever made. Such is often the case throughout Academy Awards history, as good (albeit sometimes forgettable in the long run) films win over instant classics or classics-in-the-making. At least such masterpieces as “Pulp Fiction,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and “Raging Bull” contended for Best Picture, unlike great works snubbed for a nomination altogether, such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Vertigo,” and “Mulholland Drive.”
A look back at Best Picture history reveals good news for glossy historical and biographical dramas, and bad news for original visions from emerging new voices in cinema. Best Picture winners often follow such well-worm patterns that it’s never a surprise when the Academy plays it safe (see “Green Book” over “Roma” as the most recent example) and it’s always a shock to the system when it doesn’t (see “Moonlight” and “Parasite” winning Best Picture). Ahead of a new Best Picture winner being crowned (odds are in the favor for Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland,” which would certainly be a deserving winner), let’s look back at 23 nominated films that deserved to win the Academy’s top prize.