The Best Picture Coulda Been Contenders: 1990-2008

In 2009, the Academy underwent a change in the number of Best Picture nominees honored each year. The rule change allowed a fluctuation of five to ten nominees per year, as opposed to a finite five (all other categories stayed at that number).

As has been discussed on this blog, many felt the change was triggered by 2008’s The Dark Knight, the critically acclaimed comic book pic that was also highest earner of the year. It failed to a garner a Best Picture nod and the thinking was that it was time for more popular options to make it into the mix.

Since the change, the magic number has been nine nominated pictures in most years. This got me thinking: what if that rule had been in effect during prior years? What movies that failed to get a nomination would have certainly made it?

That brings us here. I have gone back to 1990 through 2008 and I’m listing two films from each year that I am confident would have made the shortlist. In selecting each title, here were some of the key indicators. If a Director was nominated for his work and the film failed to get nominated, that probably means it would have been included. Additionally, the screenplay races are a decent predictor of some titles that might have made the magic nine (or eight or ten). For reference sake, I am including the five movies that did get nominated.

So here goes! Two features from 1990-2008 that coulda and likely woulda been contenders…


The Actual Nominees: Dances with Wolves (Winner), Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, GoodFellas

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Grifters, Reversal of Fortune


The Actual Nominees: The Silence of the Lambs (W), Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boyz N The Hood, Thelma & Louise


The Actual Nominees: Unforgiven (W), The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Malcolm X, The Player


The Actual Nominees: Schindler’s List (W), The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Philadelphia, Short Cuts


The Actual Nominees: Forrest Gump (W), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Bullets Over Broadway, Three Colors: Red


The Actual Nominees: Braveheart (W), Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas


The Actual Nominees: The English Patient (W), Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade


The Actual Nominees: Titanic (W), As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Huinting, L.A. Confidential

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter


The Actual Nominees: Shakespeare in Love (W), Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Gods and Monsters, The Truman Show


The Actual Nominees: American Beauty (W), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy


The Actual Nominees: Gladiator (W), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot


The Actual Nominees: A Beautiful Mind (W), Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Black Hawk Down, Mulholland Drive


The Actual Nominees: Chicago (W), Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Far from Heaven, Talk to Her


The Actual Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (W), Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit 

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: City of God, In America


The Actual Nominees: Million Dollar Baby (W), The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Hotel Rwanda, Vera Drake


The Actual Nominees: Crash (W), Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Syriana, Walk the Line


The Actual Nominees: The Departed (W), Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93


The Actual Nominees: No Country for Old Men (W), Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


The Actual Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (W), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Dark Knight, Doubt

And there you have it! There will be a part II to this post. What if the rule change had never occurred? From 2009 until the present, what would have been the five nominated Pictures if only that number was allowed. Stay tuned…


Oscar History: 2001

As far as film history, the year 2001 will most be remembered for the first installments of two billion dollar franchises, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Other than that, not much will be remembered about the year. It was an exceptionally weak year for movies.

This was reflected in a relatively unimpressive group of Best Picture nominees. Ron Howard’s good but not great A Beautiful Mind would take top prize against Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, Todd Field’s In the Bedroom, and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. The other nominee: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which began a three-year streak of the franchise’s entry being nominated.

I’ve always felt Fellowship was the best of the trilogy and I certainly would’ve had no problem with it winning over Mind. The Academy decided against some edgier material, such as David Lynch’s critically lauded Mulholland Drive and Chris Nolan’s twisty thriller Memento.

Ron Howard took Best Director over Altman and Jackson. Lynch would be nominated here for Mulholland, as well as Ridley Scott for Black Hawk Down. Field and Luhrmann were the two auteurs whose Picture was nominated left out. Certainly, I would’ve reserved a slot for Nolan for his work in Memento.

Denzel Washington would earn his first Best Actor prize for Training Day (he won Supporting Actor for Glory in 1989). Other nominees: previous year’s winner Russell Crowe for Mind, Sean Penn for I Am Sam, Will Smith as Ali, and Tom Wilkinson for In the Bedroom.

I would have considered Johnny Depp for his performance in Blow or Billy Bob Thornton in Monster’s Ball. Keeping with the Memento kick, how about Guy Pearce for his challenging lead role? And if you’ve read my previous Oscar History posts, you’ll notice I usually advocate for comedic performances, which the Academy typically ignores. So how about a shout-out to Ben Stiller for his hilarious turn as Derek Zoolander?

Oscar history would be made as Halle Berry became the first African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. It would also be the first year where both the Actor and Actress prizes went to African-Americans. Other nominees: Judi Dench in Iris, Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom, and Renee Zellwegger for Bridget Jones Diary. Other performances worthy of consideration: Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive and Audrey Tautou in Amelie.

Jim Broadbent was a surprise Supporting Actor winner for Iris, beating out favorites Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast and Ian McKellen in Lord of the Rings. Other nominees: Ethan Hawke for Training Day and Jon Voight in Ali.

Steve Buscemi in Ghost World and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums were worthy nominees. And here’s a totally outside-the-box selection from me: Bruce Davison’s wonderful performance as Kirsten Dunst’s dad in the romantic drama Crazy/Beautiful, a greatly underrated film.

Jennifer Connelly would win Supporting Actress for A Beautiful Mind. Other nominees: Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith (both for Gosford Park), Marisa Tomei for In the Bedroom, and Kate Winslet for Iris.

I probably would have found room for Cameron Diaz’s effective performance as Tom Cruise’s jilted lover in Vanilla Sky.

So, all in all, other than some historical Actor and Actress winners, 2001 was a pretty blah year for the Academy. A Beautiful Mind is a solid flick, but definitely one of the least memorable Best Picture winners of recent years, as I see it.