by Paul Moomjean

The Movie Guys

The 2024 Oscar nominations were announced on January 23rd and the world was stunned by two snubs. For the most part, the nominations followed the guilds and precursors. And then the unthinkable happened. The director’s branch snubbed Greta Gerwig for her work helming Barbie, and the actor’s branch snubbed Margot Robbie, who played the iconic main character. Now, many will say, not everyone can nominated – and that’s true. But when there are life-long placeholder picks like Martin Scorsese taking a spot that could have gone to Gerwig, and Best Actress nominee Annette Bening’s Nyad being a nearly-unseen, mid-level film, the snubs feel targeted. While many are defending the Academy for ignoring “lighter” films, this film was a real world-building experiment with great craft and powerful monologues.

With the Barbie snubs becoming a cultural moment of conversation, here are the 10 biggest nomination snubs in the history of the Academy Awards. You can argue the order all you want, but each of these ten snubs created future Oscar patterns and narratives. Personally, I don’t care about the winning of the award part as much as the recognition that sets an actor or director apart in future financial dealings. Those who say nominations don’t matter are foolish at best and cynical at worst. These awards dictate the next five years of cinema. When Greta Gerwig cannot get nominated for the award, it does play a role in the types of films she’ll get greenlit for down the road. Suddenly, a studio thinks, we can’t give her that project, because we know she’s easily snubbed. In fact, in the list below, I’ll show how those snubs hurt artists’ chances for future work.

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1. Steven Spielberg – Best Director for Jaws (1976)

Steven Spielberg, with Jaws, was the inventor of the summer blockbuster. He was so certain that he would get nominated, he had a film crew watching him watch the nominations live on television. While the film got nominated for Best Picture, Spielberg did not. In 1978 he would get his first nomination for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but the film would be snubbed in Best Picture, creating this love/hate relationship with the Academy for years to come. The greatest filmmaker of his generation wouldn’t win an Oscar until 1994 for Schindler’s List.

2. Hoop Dreams – Best Documentary (1995)

Hoop Dreams was the toast of 1994, appearing on more top ten lists than Pulp Fiction. Siskel & Ebert both named it the best film of 1994. It grossed over $11 million at the box office, running for months in theaters. It was the only guarantee on Oscar nomination morning, until it wasn’t. The documentary committee instead nominated a film from a former chairperson that no one had seen except the committee. Siskel & Ebert went to war with the documentary branch for years after that, eventually breaking them up and creating new rules. While it didn’t get a Best Documentary nomination, it did get an editing nomination, an honor reserved for most Best Picture contenders.

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3. Paul Giamatti – Best Actor for Sideways (2005)

I don’t get emotionally hurt by most snubs, but this one actually felt like a punch in the gut. Paul Giamatti’s wounded, alcoholic middle school teacher was not just a favorite to get nominated, he was a real contender to win. He was in every scene of the film, and yet his co-stars and director got the nominations instead. Giamatti eventually got nominated a few years later for Cinderella Man, but after that, he wouldn’t get nominated again until 2024 for The Holdovers. His career as a leading man kind of took a nose dive after the snub, with him getting more TV gigs and minor roles. I’m not saying the snub was responsible, but – no wait, I’m totally saying that.

4. The Dark Knight – Best Picture (2009)pau

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight’s snub was so big, the Academy moved from five nominated films to ten nominees the next year. Yes, the eight Oscar nominations, highlighted by the late Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker (Best Supporting Actor winner) were a lot, but to snub the film and put The Reader or Milk over it, was an injustice even Batman couldn’t fix.

5. Steven Spielberg – Best Director for The Color Purple (1986)

Once again, Steve Spielberg finds himself on the snub list. The film was nominated for eleven awards. It won none. It was a master achievement for a filmmaker known for alien movies and popcorn pictures. Based on the beloved novel, there were critics who felt Spielberg wasn’t right for the film, being a white male. Spike Lee was one of the loudest critics, and many believe the director’s branch cowered to those loud voices, because he won the DGA award a few nights before.

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6. Barbra Streisand – Best Director or Best Actress for Yentl (1984)

Barbra Streisand is the type of talent that rarely comes around in a generation. The beloved singer has plenty of critics, but no one can deny she is a brilliant entertainer. With Yentl, she looked to be the first American woman nominated for Best Director. She won the Golden Globe for directing and was nominated for Best Actress. The National Board of Review named it a Top Ten Film. On Oscar nomination morning, she woke up to find out the film earned five nominations, including two for Best Song, along with Best Score, Best Art Direction, and Best Supporting Actress for Amy Irving. But nothing for her. Oy-vey!

7. Do the Right Thing – Best Picture or Best Director (1990)

Spike Lee is a brilliant filmmaker. A godfather of the indie film movement, a trailblazer in black cinema, and a man so outspoken, he got in his own way through the 1989-1990 campaign season. Do the Right Thing is one of the most provocative films about race relations ever made, and it got only a screenplay (Spike Lee) nod, and a supporting actor nomination for Danny Aiello. That year, Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay as Spike stood on the sidelines throwing his hands up in the air. This attitude clearly hurt him in 1993 when Malcolm X was snubbed in every category except Best Costume Design and Best Actor for Denzel Washington.

8. Amy Adams – Best Actress for Arrival (2017) 

Amy Adams was nominated everywhere until the end for Arrival. After getting nominations at The Golden Globes, SAG, BAFTA, and Critic’s Choice and winning at The National Board of Review, you would think she was a lock. Heck, she was even nominated at The Teen Choice Awards! But then she was dropped, and more established actresses were nominated. After that, she got a supporting actress nomination in 2019 for Vice and hasn’t been a serious awards contender since. I’m not saying the snub was responsible, but – no wait, I’m totally saying that.

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9. Singin’ in the Rain – Best Picture (1953)

A classic in every sense, Singin’ in the Rain is the only “classic film” listed because snubs back then are not like today’s Oscar machine. While there were PR machines and campaigning, there weren’t as many precursors to help shape the race. The film wasn’t a smash hit in 1952, but has since become a beloved film, and quite possibly the musical with the most famous song in the title song. While today we might hum it as a drizzle hits our heads, it was left out in the rain Oscar morning.

10. Greta Gerwig – Best Director for Barbie (2024)

The Barbie snub is the snub that inspired this article. After getting snubbed for Little Women in 2020, you would think the directors branch wouldn’t want the same backlash, but the tiny branch made up of 75% men could care less. This innovative anti-romantic comedy is both a throwback to 1970s films and at the same time is very modern. Gerwig had to balance the tone, the comedy, the acting, and the pathos, ethos, and logos all while working with an iconic brand. An overwhelming mountain, and the fact that we are talking about Barbie as a top five film of the year, there is no excuse. Watching Twitter freak out now, this snub has become the snub heard around the world.

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