Day 6

Rewriting Oscar history: Here are the best pictures that never won Best Picture

Film critics Radheyan Simonpillai and Norm Wilner take us through some of the Academy's most egregious Best Picture snubs — and tell us which films they would have picked instead.

All The President's Men and Boyhood top our critics' list of films that got robbed

Stage craft artist Rick Roberts gives Oscar statues a fresh coat of gold paint as preparations begin for the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The 91st Academy Awards ceremony takes place Sunday — and no matter who wins, you can bet some people are going to be mad about the deserving artists and films that didn't.

Griping about Oscars snubs is a rite of passage for any film buff. But what if you could go back in time and right those wrongs?

Toronto film critics Norm Wilner and Rad Simonpillai joined Day 6 host Brent Bambury to look back at the Academy's most head-scratching Best Picture picks — and the films they say should have won instead.

Who did Rocky rob?

For Wilner, Rocky, the "little movie about a guy with a dream," stole Best Picture from All the President's Men in 1977.

"It's an amazing journalism procedural. It's driven by facts and dialogue and character all at once," he said.

If you ask Simonpillai, the Best Picture winner that year should have been Taxi Driver.

"It hurts my bones thinking about that movie." 

Doing the wrong thing

The year Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture, it should have been director Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, according to Simonpillai. 

But Lee, who's up for another Oscar this year with BlacKkKlansman, wasn't even nominated in 1990. Instead, the other nominees were Dead Poets Society, Born on the Fourth of July, My Left Foot and Field of Dreams.

"I think it's a nice snapshot of what passed for important cinema in 1989 if you're ignoring the real groundbreakers like Do the Right Thing," Wilner said.

Simonpillai says this year's awards ceremony may well repeat the same error.

"It's interesting that even today we're still seeking out the kind of comfort food about racism that Driving Miss Daisy was in a movie like Green Book," he said.

"So it's really interesting to see this mistake that happened in 1990 play out again in 2019 where Green Book could very well win the Oscar again."


In 1991, Dances with Wolves won Best Picture — an honour both Wilner and Simonpillai say should have gone to director Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.

"It's a truism of the Academy Awards that you never win for the film you should win for," Wilner said. "And Scoresese would eventually win for The Departed."

Birds, man

Birdman took Best Picture in 2015, much to Wilner's dismay.

"It's cheap easy stunt of a film that doesn't really do anything. It pretends to be one single take and Michael Keaton is great, but he's ultimately reduced to being the host of his own movie and all this other foolishness. And then on the other side there's a movie that is a legitimately amazing work that didn't win," he lamented. 

For Wilner, the winner should have been Boyhood.

Simonpillai disagrees.

"I loved Boyhood and I would much rather give it to Boyhood over Birdman. That's for sure. But my favourite movie that year was Inherent Vice," he said.

"That first time you watch it's really funny and hilarious and weird. The second time you watch, it's really tragic and makes you feel all these emotions. I think it's actually one of the best movies of the 21st century."

No escape from reality

Wilner's fear is that Bohemian Rhapsody will win Best Picture on Sunday.

"People seem to be doubling down and digging in because they remember Freddie Mercury and they really like him. The Academy's pretty old and they might just get behind that and vote."

"I would really love to see it go to something like The Favourite, which is a weird charming eccentric movie with wonderful performances and a great perspective on both the past and the present."

The Favourite is not Simonpillai's favourite. That would be Black Panther.

"I haven't seen too many comic book movies deal with inherited trauma versus inherited guilt and just dive into these kinds of themes and emotions in the way that Black Panther does. It's the only one of the nominees that actually moved me to tears at a certain moment."

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear Norm Wilner and Rad Simonpillai take our Oscars Revisionist Quiz, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.


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