The Oscars That Got Away

By Tom Titus

Before we take a look at the best movies ever made (at least in this column’s opinion), let’s check out a quick list of some actors and pictures that should have thanked the academy on Oscar Night, but didn’t get that opportunity. In other words, those who were robbed.

Let’s start at 1941 and the picture that’s traditionally included in the triumvirate of critics’ choices for “Best Movies Ever.” That would be “Citizen Kane,” written by, directed by and starring Orson Welles. Welles got the Oscar for original screenplay, but was snubbed for acting and directing honors.

Another young director with an early-career magnum opus was Peter Bogdanovich, who brilliantly directed “The Last Picture Show” in 1971, but saw it lose to William Friedken and “The French Connection.” Pete’s only consolation were the supporting Oscars won by Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson for their memorable characterizations in “Picture Show.”

Peter Ustinov won two acting Oscars, for “Spartacus” and “Topkapi,” but his signature role was that of the mad emperor Nero in “Quo Vadis” (1951). Can anyone who’s seen it ever forget his line: “Petronius? Dead? By his own hand? WITHOUT MY PERMISSION?”

Both Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole were tremendous actors, as well as drinking buddies. But each went to his grave without an Oscar, only a plethora of nominations. Burton should have won for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” while O’Toole was robbed for not scoring in “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Lion in Winter.”

Angela Lansbury is a legend both on Broadway (“Mame” and “Sweeney Todd”) and on television (“Murder, She Wrote”). In Hollywood, she won an Oscar nomination in her first movie (“Gaslight”) and definitely should have won for her evil mother role in “The Manchurian Candidate.” So, in fact, should have her co-star in that flick, Laurence Harvey.

Rod Steiger, one of our most powerful actors, won for “In the Heat of the Night,” but he should have been honored years before for his outstanding performance as “The Pawnbroker.” Guess who beat him out — Lee Marvin in “Cat Ballou.”

In 1961, Maximillian Schell won the best actor Oscar for his role as the Nazi defender in “Judgment at Nuremberg.” But Richard Widmark was equally strong as his rival, the military prosecutor, and certainly outperformed the eventual supporting actor winner, George Chakiris in “West Side Story.”

Jack Lemmon was honored twice, for “Mister Roberts” and “Save the Tiger.” He should have taken home a third Oscar, for “The Days of Wine and Roses” (and so should have co-star Lee Remick), not to mention his great supporting performance in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Andy Griffith will be remembered as Mayberry’s sheriff and attorney Matlock, but he delivered a powerhouse performance in “A Face in the Crowd” as a low-life drifter who becomes a media demagogue. Out of character? You bet.

Frances McDormand won an Oscar as the pregnant police chief in “Fargo,” but another should have gone to the actor who played her quarry. William H. Macy was brilliant as the double-dealing car salesman and now he’s tearing up the TV screens each week on “Shameless.”

Leonardo DiCaprio finally got his Oscar, for “The Revenant,” after a string of award-worthy performances, one of the best of which was as Howard Hughes in “The Aviator.”

Finally, I bring up the name of an actor I once interviewed when he was directing a show at South Coast Repertory, but with whom you’re probably unfamiliar – Andy Robinson. This unheralded actor brilliantly played the psychotic serial killer in the first “Dirty Harry” movie and should have been Oscared on the spot.

Next time around, we’ll take a look at some of the best motion pictures in the first in a variety of categories. Stay tuned.

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