Looking through the roll call of past Oscar winners, one can find the occasional pleasant surprise, such as the Best Picture prizes for such unlikely industry standard-bearers as Midnight Cowboy, Annie Hall, and Unforgiven, or the rare instances when performers are rewarded for the "right" movie (James Stewart for The Philadelphia Story). Occasionally a real miracle occurs, such as Mel Brooks' 1968 screenwriting win for The Producers. (Brooks also gave one of the best acceptance speeches ever: "I'd like to say what's in my heart: Ba-bump! Ba-bump!")
But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences more frequently gives film buffs heartburn. What, no trophies for Cary Grant, Judy Garland, Peter O'Toole, Barbara Stanwyck, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, or Howard Hawks? The Oscars have a long history of not recognizing the movies' most towering talents in their prime, making up for it later with honorary prizes (see Chaplin, Charles) or by rewarding people for minor efforts late in the game (see Fonda, Henry).
Every year, morning-after talk among movie fans centers on the topic of Who Was Robbed. And the biggest larceny--though rarely the most surprising--occurs in the biggest category, Best Picture. Which bloated, self-congratulatory epic hardly anyone will ever watch a second time? What gems did it trample over to get there?
We asked our posse of film critics to arraign Oscar for some of his most heinous crimes, each taking a Best Picture case study from the awards' 72-year history and explaining why another film eligible that year deserved the prize more than the winner. (Surprisingly, no one touched the erratic 1930s, such notorious groaners as '52's TheGreatest Show on Earth, or 1941, when the genteel How Green Was My Valley trumped the revolutionary Citizen Kane. Maybe they were too obvious, even for us.) Let the arguments--and video rentals--begin.