Five by Friday: Top Best Picture Nominees (that didn’t win)

The 91st Academy Awards air this Sunday, and while some people will be pleasantly pleased at which films get chosen to take home Oscars,  many others are sure to be disappointed that their favorites didn’t win. In honor of the Oscars (and to offer a bit of perspective for everyone, including ourselves, who’s likely to go to bed Sunday night feeling like their favorite film was robbed), today we’re highlighting our favorite Oscar-nominated films from past years that didn’t win. So if your top pick doesn’t take home the gold on Sunday, at least you’ll know it’s in good company.

Five by Friday

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Okay, I’m going to get this out of the way up front: my picks are extremely dude-centric. I am not thrilled about this, but the fact of the matter is, Hollywood has only recently started prioritizing stories centering women. Even now, they don’t represent the bulk of either the movies being made or the movies being recognized as worthy of industry awards (this year, of the eight Best Picture nominees, five are about men while only two are about women, with the last one being pretty evenly split between its male and female leads). Sure, there have been movies starring women nominated for Academy Awards as long as there have been Academy Awards, but they’ve always been in the minority, which meant that when we were making these lists, we didn’t have a ton of movies about women to pick from in the first place, and even fewer that we could genuinely say were favorites. And because of our policy of not duplicating each other’s picks, the few women-centric films I would have picked for myself wound up going on Sarah’s or Teija’s lists (I fought Sarah hard for Arrival, but she took Peggy Carter’s advice, planted herself like a tree, and wouldn’t budge).

But that doesn’t completely absolve me of responsibility, either. I picked all of these films, and I love them all dearly, but I also realize that my choosing them speaks to a shortcoming in my own taste. Until recently, I never thought to prioritize women’s stories in the media I consumed, which means that most of my favorite films throughout my life have been about men. I believe that all the films I’ve selected below are wonderful films, and I stand by them. I just wish that picking them didn’t say so much about which stories aren’t getting prioritized by Hollywood, and how much work I have left to do on my own priorities.

Anyway, I didn’t mean for my intro to turn into an essay, but I didn’t want to go ahead with my picks without at least calling myself out. That said, we agreed when we were making these lists to stick to our genuine favorites, avoiding movies we appreciated but didn’t love, and I can honestly say that every one of the films I’ve picked fits that criteria. I adore each of these films with my whole heart and have watched all of them many times over.

Narrowing down this list to five was really difficult, and a lot of great movies didn’t quite make the cut. In addition to Sarah and Teija’s picks below, my honorable mentions go to: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, A Few Good Men, The Fugitive, Jerry Maguire, Life is Beautiful, Moulin Rouge!, the first two Lord of the Rings films, Atonement, District 9, The Social Network, Silver Linings Playbook, Whiplash, and Lady Bird.

5. The Sixth Sense (1999, lost to American Beauty)

The Sixth Sense is one of those movies that changed the way I watch movies, and the way I think about story in general. I went to a late-night showing with my college roommate, and toward the end of the film, after Haley Joel Osment had finally confessed to Toni Collette that he sees dead people and bid farewell to Bruce Willis, I assumed the movie was pretty much over. It was late, I was tired, and I suggested to my roommate that maybe we should just get going. I have a vivid memory of standing in the aisle at the back of the theater, almost at the door, when the final reveal happened. You know, that one. My jaw dropped, and I stood there in stunned silence, horrified that I almost missed the moment that would come to be accepted as one of the greatest twists in cinematic history. I’ve never left before the end of a movie since (and most of the time, will sit through until the very end of the credits, too; thanks, Iron Man). While I liked American Beauty just fine, The Sixth Sense blew my mind with the way it consistently dropped clues in plain sight while tricking the audience into always looking somewhere else, so that the ending was both completely shocking and completely earned. Even knowing the twist, I love rewatching The Sixth Sense. It’s a masterclass in subtle setups and satisfying payoffs, and while it didn’t win Best Picture, it’s arguably had the most staying power of any of the films nominated from 1999, still popping up regularly in both critical discussions and pop culture.

4. Get Out (2017, lost to The Shape of Water)

I’ll be honest, I’m still a little bitter about this one, even though I adored The Shape of Water. I left the theater after Get Out feeling utterly stunned by what I had just witnessed. It wasn’t just how intricately Jordan Peele had woven his narrative, or how much tension he had managed to wring from it, although it was those things too (at one point during the final act of the film, the woman sitting in the theater next to me climbed up onto her chair and curled herself into a tightly wound ball, like she was preparing to be shot from a cannon). But it was also how he managed to use horror movie conventions to deliver an absolutely searing commentary on what it feels like to exist as a Black person in modern America, putting issues like microaggressions, white allyship, systemic racism, and institutionalized racism under the microscope. Genre films, and especially horror, tend to get overlooked when discussing what constitutes “good” cinema. Get Out was not only fully aware of that preconception, but used it to its full advantage, using a genre people tend to automatically view as lesser to comment on the people who tend to get viewed the same way by society. The Shape of Water was a lovely film, but Get Out is the one that will be talked about in film studies classrooms for years to come as a film that revolutionized the way media engages with issues of race, and one that — hopefully — paved the way for many others to follow in its footsteps.

3. Inception (2010, lost to The King’s Speech)

Remember how mindblown we all were when Inception first came out? No one had any idea what to make from the trailers, and then when we saw the movie, it was completely unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Its concept had a Matrix-like effect on its audience, prompting heated arguments over whether we were all stuck in a dream right now. To this day, people will still passionately debate whether Cobb was dreaming or not in that final shot (personally, I vote no). Inception is one of those films that was so wholly original that even now, nearly a decade later, it’s still hard to compare it to anything else. Plus it’s just hugely entertaining, with its bizarrely twisting visuals, intricately layered plot, and blaring score. It’s not shocking that it didn’t win — Inception is wonderful, but it’s also long, weird, and sci-fi, a combo that doesn’t tend to bode well for awards — especially against an inspirational historical biopic like The King’s Speech. Still, I love that it was even nominated, since it was definitely my favorite film that came out that year, and one I still thoroughly enjoy.

2. Dead Poets Society (1989, lost to Driving Miss Daisy)

I first heard the term romantic friendship a few years ago, used to refer to Anne Shirley and Diana Barry from Anne of Green Gables. According to Wikipedia, a romantic friendship is “a very close but typically non-sexual relationship between friends, often involving a degree of physical closeness beyond that which is common in the contemporary Western societies.” I liked this term and stowed it away in my memory, because I do think there are certain friendships that feel more like romances, even though they remain platonic. And while it’s far more common to see romantic friendships portrayed between female characters in fiction, I feel like Dead Poets Society portrays the rare case of romantic friendships between men. Perhaps the all-male setting of Welton Academy allows the characters to be more vulnerable with one another, or perhaps its the youth of most of the cast that enables them to be bold in their emotions, or perhaps it’s the fact that all the characters are literally reading poetry throughout the whole movie, but whatever it is, the friendships between the members of the titular society feel different than those typically portrayed between teenage boys on film. More open, more honest, more sensitive. I’ve loved this film since I was a teenager, and it remains one of my favorite films of all time. There’s a lot to love about it — Robin Williams’ stirring performance, its emphasis on the immense power of literature, Ethan Hawke’s barbaric yawp — but I think for me, the thing that’s always resonated the most about Dead Poets Society is its friendships, the way the boys support and lean on each other, the way they grieve together. Yes, as a film from the ’80s, there are parts of it that didn’t age as well as others (Knox’s relentless pursuit of his crush despite her repeated pleas to leave her alone particularly stands out), but overall, it’s just a beautiful, moving story about camaraderie, friendship, and the power of the written word to open hearts and minds.

1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, lost to Forrest Gump)

Look, I get why Forrest Gump won this year. It’s Tom Hanks, it follows the biopic formula without actually being a biopic, it allows viewers to feel warm and accepting toward the mentally disabled, it’s emotionally powerful, and it has a soundtrack bursting with classic rock songs. It’s the kind of movie that Academy voters go nuts for. But it’s a crying shame that it came out in the same year as The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s masterful adaptation of Stephen King’s short story about an innocent man convicted of his wife’s murder who then spends the next 19 years slowly crafting his escape from prison. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman both give career-best performances in this film, creating a deep, believable friendship between a man who never belonged in prison in the first place, and one who’s been there for far too long. The Shawshank Redemption is brilliant on many levels — the writing, the pacing, the plotting, the poignant commentary on the the criminal justice system and the psychology of prisoners and ex-cons — but for me, I think the reason this film has claimed a spot as one of my favorite films of all time boils down to its vivid characters, the deep emotions at its core, and that gut-punch of an ending.


I really love movies, and ever since the late 90s, I have tried to make a point to see as many of the best picture nominees as I can. While some years I’ve done better than others (with notable gaps the years I was in grad school and studying abroad), I’ve still seen a good percentage of the films that have made it into the Academy’s most prestigious category.

For this week we went with movies that we genuinely and truly love and were disappointed that they didn’t win. And while I do love a sweeping epic biopic, or [insert serious subject] film here when it’s done well, the truth is that my favorite movies tend to be more genre-focused than anything else. The sad fact is that the Academy just doesn’t love genre movies or animated features like I do. Which is a damn shame, because there have been some incredible genre movies that deserve recognition and honestly, should have won out over the movie that ended up taking him the award. Yet in the more than 90 years of Oscars, as noted on Wikipedia: “No science fiction film or superhero film has won, and only one of the latter has been nominated, Black Panther (2018); only two fantasy films have won — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) and The Shape of Water (2017)”.

But while they may not have been winners, there have been a decent number of genre, animated, and out-of-the-box movies that have received nominations, which is why narrowing this list down to five was incredibly difficult. In addition to the movies that made Lauren and Teija’s lists (and I’ll admit I did have to wrest Arrival from Lauren’s hands), honorable mentions for movies that didn’t make the cut go to: Life is Beautiful, The Fugitive, Witness, Up, the first two Lord of the Rings films, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bonnie and Clyde, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chocolat, and Milk.

5. The Martian (2015, lost to Spotlight)

I had this book on my Kindle app for far too long before I finally read it on a friend’s urging. I’m still amazed that a book about a dude stuck alone on Mars, talking math and science and waxing poetic about potatoes, was able to enthrall me as much as it did. And even more amazing was just how much I adored the movie. By the time I got around to reading it they had already cast the movie, so I was easily able to picture Matt Damon as Mark Watney, and I honestly could not have have seen anyone else in that role. He was endearing and captivating and made me care so much about potatoes and dirt. This is hands down one of the best book to movie adaptations I’ve ever seen, and it’s one I rewatch on a regular basis.

4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, lost to Gladiator)


In the entire history of the Academy, this was only one of eleven foreign language films that has been nominated for Best Picture. And to be honest, I’ve never been super into foreign language films because my ADD often means I am doing a billion things at once with a movie on in the background, which is not exactly easy to do when you need to read subtitles. But from the moment I saw this movie in the theater, I fell in love. I could not take my eyes off of the screen, I was utterly caught up in the story and the mythology and the fascinating characters. The movie is lush and gorgeous, not to mention that the sweeping shots of China are absolutely breathtaking. And even though I enjoyed Gladiator, I was so disappointed that this movie didn’t take home the win.

3. Sense and Sensibility (1995, lost to Braveheart)

This movie came out at the perfect time for me to have it on VHS as soon as I got into my middle school Austen phase. While I love the Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Colin Firth, it was far too long to watch on a regular basis like this movie. After reading the book, the movie was the perfect way for me to bask in Austen’s world with these characters that I loved and who were brought to life so perfectly. And while nearly everything about this movie utterly delights me, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon is one of my favorite parts.

2. Beauty and the Beast (1991, lost to Silence of the Lambs)

This was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture and while this may sound cliche, it was an honor that it was even nominated. Growing up, the princess movies were never my favorites, but Beauty and the Beast changed all of that. It gave me a princess that felt like me: she was stubborn and sassy, loved to read, and had a thirst for adventure. I watched this movie over and over again (when I wasn’t watching Robin Hood, that is) and I knew all of the songs and most of the dialogue by heart. It’s a beautiful movie and one that I still enjoy watching as an adult.

1. Arrival (2016, lost to Moonlight)

It’s really difficult for me to put into words why I love this movie as much as I do. I was captivated by the visuals and completely enthralled by the way that language and linguistics were used to save both our planet and an alien species. But it was the enduring love of a parent for a child and the idea that everything you experience when you love someone so deeply is worth even the deepest pain you may experience that launched this movie onto my list of favorites. And really, any movie that has me turning to Lauren in the middle with my jaw dropped and a “what the—” look on my face, is a movie that has earned it’s place on this list.


When we first decided to do this topic for this week’s Five by Friday, I thought immediately that I knew my number-one pick, before even reviewing the Academy Award lists throughout the years. In fact, I thought I had two of my top five picked out: The Pianist, which lost in 2003 to Chicago, and Inglourious Basterds, which lost in 2010 to The Hurt Locker.

But as I thought about this post and what it means to pick a favorite, I found it harder and harder to include those movies on my list. It’s a common question these days to ask if you can separate an artist from their art. Can you enjoy a film the same way if you know that its director is a rapist? Can you continue to enjoy a film the same way if you know its director is abusive to his female cast members? These are questions that everyone must ask themselves and decide the answer for themselves, but for me, the answer is no. I can’t. Both of those films address an era of human history that I have studied intensely in my life. Inglourious Basterds is, I maintain, Quentin Tarantino’s best film (in large part because he isn’t in it, but that’s another essay for another time). The Pianist is a gorgeous film, based on a true story of survival and directed by a Holocaust survivor, who undoubtedly poured his own feelings about his own WWII experience into the film. It’s a beautiful thing. But both films are tainted at this point, for me, by what I know of their creators, and I can’t in good conscience include them in a list of favorites anymore. The mere fact that I felt like I wouldn’t be able to include them here without first calling out their respective directors I think is proof enough that I can’t really call them “favorites” anymore, so here we are.

In any case, after reviewing the entire history of the Academy’s Best Picture nominations, I found that I had plenty to choose from. I did battle Lauren (a minor skirmish, truly) for Apollo 13, but otherwise I found myself having to whittle the list down from nearly 20 choices. Honorable mentions here go to Doctor Zhivago, Field of Dreams, Ghost, Fargo, the first two Lord of the Rings movies, The Green Mile, and Milk.

5. Fiddler on the Roof (1972, lost to The French Connection)

This movie is long, and I don’t even care. It’s three and a half hours long. My parents owned it on VHS and I know I watched it so often that the VHS tapes probably wore out. I have spent my entire life studying history and earned a Masters with a focus on WWII Germany, Tsarist Russia, and the persecution of Jews, so an entire story that takes place in Tsarist Russia and centers on a Jewish family trying to maintain their traditions and livelihood while outside forces ultimately push them out of the village they’ve lived in their whole lives is one that naturally drew me in. It’s also a point of pride for me that in high school, I was the pit orchestra’s first clarinetist on this musical in my junior year, meaning that big Klezmer-ey solo in “L’Chaim” was all me. And because I’ve been thinking about this all week, I’ve got the songs stuck in my head. Which isn’t really a bad thing.

4. The Wizard of Oz (1939, lost to Gone With the Wind)

This one I actually found myself astonished to find on the list of losers! I got to the page for the 12th annual Academy Awards and saw it was on the list but not the winner and I was appalled… until I realized that it lost to Gone With the Wind. I can’t really argue with that. Anyway, The Wizard of Oz is a classic. I can’t imagine there are many people in the United States who haven’t seen it (…well, all right, my kid hasn’t, but he’s very small) and you see it referenced in just about everything out there these days. Its big blockbuster song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” is so popular it has somehow managed to weasel its way onto people’s Christmas albums despite not having anything to do with the holidays. People just love it so much they’re willing to force it where it doesn’t belong anyway. And who can blame them, really? It’s timeless.

3. Mary Poppins (1964, lost to My Fair Lady)

I grew up with “work at Disney World as Mary Poppins in her red and white parasol outfit” prominently featured on the somewhat-long list of jobs I wanted as a kid (somewhere between “vulcanologist” and “replacing Madonna”), if that tells you anything about how much I love this movie. Julie Andrews is probably one of my favorite celebrities on the planet, and she was (forgive me) practically perfect in every way as Mary. I honestly found myself mildly annoyed that they made a sequel, until I actually saw said sequel, and realized the people in charge of making it must have loved the original as much as I did. I’m someone that is charmed immediately by a good musical, and this is absolutely one that is responsible for my high standard.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2016, lost to Spotlight)

The most recent film on my list is one that almost seems incongruous with the rest of it, but I assure you, this makes all the sense if you know my taste in movies. It’s an action movie with a phenomenal soundtrack. It’s freaking beautiful. It’s just that typically movies like this don’t actually get nominated for Best Picture, because the Academy seems to feel like action films don’t meet some standard or another, most of the time. But I think Mad Max: Fury Road forced their hand by being just so darned beautiful. It actually won six awards that year (Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing). But because it narrowly missed that Best Picture win, I was able to include this absolute masterpiece on my list. I’m still kind of bitter that Charlize Theron didn’t get a Best Actress nod for it, honestly. Furiosa is one hell of a character.

1. Apollo 13 (1996, lost to Braveheart)

This is one of those movies that always prompts a “Don’t mind if I do!” response when I see it somewhere. It’s one of those movies I’ve seen so many times that I can recite entire chunks of its dialogue along with the film. It is infinitely rewatchable. The cast is phenomenal (Tom Hanks! Kevin Bacon! Gary Sinise! Bill Paxton! Ed Harris!) and the film is just perfectly put together. Despite knowing it’s based on a historical event, one that you know the ending to if you’re even slightly into the history of the space program (let alone being obsessed with it, like yours truly), you still find yourself on the edge of your seat every time, waiting for that final confirmation that the crew gets back okay. It’s just a perfect little package of entertainment.

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