The 1990s was a great decade for films. New blood was entering in the way of directors and there were some fine actors, both young ones just starting out, and people who had stage and TV experience making the leap to feature films. Every year seemed to have more and better films and Hollywood was marketing better than ever before.
By the end of the decade, technology in the way of the Internet gave studios even more ways to market their films and keep in closer connection than they ever had before. CGI technology was making films look better than ever and make scenes easier to film, flooding more theaters with product than before. But still the Academy of Motion Picture arts and sciences was only nominating five films for Best Picture.
Here then are 30 films from the 1990s that should have been nominated for Best Picture but weren’t.
30. Boyz N the Hood (1991) dir. John Singleton
Ten year old Tre Styles is sent to live with his father, Furious Styles, by Tre’s single mother after he gets involved in a fight at school. The next day, Tre meets up with his old buddies, Doughboy, his half-brother, Ricky and their mutual friend, Chris. The next day Chris takes them to see the decaying body of a gang member, and Doughboy is beaten up by the Crips when he tries to get Chris’ football back.
Furious takes Tre fishing and advises him to enter the army as Furious did, he said it would teach him to take responsibility for his actions, and to act mature. As they return home they see Chris and Doughboy getting arrested for shoplifting.
Seven years later, at the Baker home, Doughboy, just out of prison, is playing dominoes with Chris who is in a wheelchair after being shot. “Dookie” lives with his mother Tre, now a responsible teenager working as a clerk in a clothing store, and has a girlfriend who wants to remain abstinent until they get married. There is a gang fight as Doughboy is a member of the Crips. Ricky is killed, and Tre and Doughboy swear revenge, but Tre realizes his goal is to remain at home and go to college.
The reviews were very good with many critics saying it was the best movie of its type and the truest reflection of gang life up to that time. It was nominated for two Academy Awards for John Singleton, both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Based on its violence, and possibly the fact that the Academy voters weren’t ready for this type of film, it was not nominated for Best Picture.
29. Sling Blade (1996) dir. Billy Bob Thornton
Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is a developly disabled man from Arkansas who has been in the state mental hospital since the age of 12. He is considered able to be rehabilitated back into society. He goes back to his hometown and gets a job repairing engines. He meets and befriends 12 year old Frank Wheatley (Louis Black). Frank admits that his father committed suicide, leaving Frank and his mother alone.
Frank introduces Karl to his mother, Linda and her gay friend, Vaughn Cunningham, who runs the dollar store where Linda works. Karl quickly becomes a friend of all three. Vaughn tells Karl they have much in common as they are both ostracized for who they are. Karl moves into Linda’s garage, much to the anger of her abusive boyfriend, Doyle (Dwight Yoakum). When Doyle physically assaults Linda, she kicks him out but takes him back the next day. What will happen now that he is back?
The reviews were very good. Thornton came in for a great deal of praise as he directed it, wrote the screenplay and starred in it. Dwight Yoakum came in for his share of praise for playing against type. All the cast received plaudits. Made on a shoestring budget for less than a million dollars, it was very successful at the box office, taking in more than twenty four million dollars.
Thornton himself was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Adapted Screenplay which he won, and one for Best Actor. The film was not nominated for Best Picture, probably for being seen as too small a film to merit it.
28. Philadelphia (1993) dir. Jonathan Demme
Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is a lawyer with the largest corporate film in Philadelphia. He is gay and has AIDS. He writes the complaint and takes it to the office to give to his clerks to tell them it must be delivered before close of day. At first the complaint seems to be lost but it is found and delivered just in time. Because the firm says he was careless, he was fired. Andrew knows he was fired because he has aids and tried to find a lawyer to take his case.
He approaches Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) who refuses to take the case due to homophobia. Joe then sees Andrew in the library and when Andrew drives people away by asking for information on AIDS, Joe agrees to help. When the head of the law firm is on the stand, he claims Andrew was promiscuous, and therefore not a victim. Andrew collapses during deliberations and is rushed to the hospital. Andrew wins the case and tells his partner he is ready to die.
The film received positive reviews. Many critics knew how groundbreaking the film was, and approved the casting of well-known names to make it palatable for audiences. It definitely worked, as the film was a box office hit. The audience found that even if they had antipathy toward AIDS, they could support the actors and enjoy the film.
It went on to win two Academy Awards for Best Actor for Tom Hanks, and Best Original Song for Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen. It was also nominated for three other awards, for Best Screenplay, Best Makeup and Best Song for Philadelphia by Neil Young. Many voters felt the subject matter prevented it from a Best Picture nomination.
27. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) dir. Lasse Hallstrom
In a small town in Iowa, Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) takes care of his younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is developly disabled. Gilbert also takes care of any repairs around the house, while his sisters, Amy and Ellen, take care of the house and their morbidly obese mother, Bonnie. Gilbert works at a small grocery store in town, which is getting competition from a brand new supermarket.
Becky and her grandmother are stranded in town, waiting for parts to their car. Gilbert strikes up a friendship with Becky. Gilbert and Arnie get close to Becky. One day while Becky and Gilbert are talking, Arnie goes to climb the water tower, something he likes to do.
He is arrested and Bonnie, who has not left the house in years is hooted at and made fun of as she goes to get Arnie out.
Arnie tries to run away again and Gilbert hits him several times and appalled at what he has done, gets in the car and drives off. Becky takes care of Arnie that evening. On Arnie’s 18th birthday, Gilbert comes home and apologizes to Arnie, who accepts.
The reviews were very positive, with raves for Leonardo DiCaprio, who was praised for his ability to portray a very difficult role. He revealed he did research in a home for disabled boys. He was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, but did not win. The rumors were the subject matter was a little off putting to the Academy voters. And that, coupled with the fact that the film did not make back its cost, seemed to prevent it from getting a Best Picture nomination.
26. Malcolm X (1992) dir. Spike Lee
Malcolm “Detroit Red” Little (Denzel Washington) is a small time crook in Boston, along with his friend, Shorty. Malcolm goes to Harlem and hooks up with West Indian Archie who takes him as a protégé. They fight over money and Malcolm goes back to Boston and takes back up with Shorty. They start dating white women and go to jail after a robbery. An inmate named Baines takes Malcolm under his wing, stays with him during his withdrawal from cocaine, and teaches him about the Nation of Islam.
When Malcolm has been released from prison, he is completely reformed and has taken Malcolm X as his name. He meets his wife, Betty X and becomes an important minister In The Nation of Islam. The faction that follows Mohammed feels Malcolm is trying to take over and try to force him out. He starts his own church, but is harassed by The Nation of Islam. He is killed while giving a speech on February 21, 1965.
The reviews were glowing. Denzel Washington received many accolades for his role as Malcolm. He was nominated for an Academy for Best Actor but lost to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Spike Lee made many waves when he asked to be interviewed only by black journalists. He also felt Washington was robbed of the Oscar. Many people felt that this was why the film was overlooked for a Best Picture nomination.
25. Donnie Brasco (1997) dir. Mike Newell
In 1978, Joseph D. Pistone (Johnny Depp) is chosen by the FBI to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family. He changes his name to Donnie Brasco. He becomes friends with a low level killer named Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggerio (Al Pacino). He can’t get a promotion. The killer complains to Donnie that he has nothing to show for 30 years. He makes Donnie a protégé.
The more Joseph stays with the ‘family’ the more he feels like a mobster. His marriage is undergoing problems. He knows that if he completes his mission, it could be the undoing of his friend.
The reviews were excellent, especially for Johnny Depp in the title role. Many critics felt it was a fine, tight caper film. It did well at the box office when the world wide grosses were added in. It received one Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, but was not nominated for Best Picture.
24. Legends of the Fall (1994) dir. Edward Zwick
Upset at how the United States Government has treated the Native Americans, Col. William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) retires to Montana in the early 1900’s. He has with him a Cree friend One Stab and his hired hand Decker and his family. William has three sons, Alfred (Aiden Quinn), Tristan (Brad Pitt) and Samuel (Henry Thomas).
Against their father’s wishes, the three boys go to Canada to fight for them in World War I. Samuel was killed in the war, and Alfred is injured. Tristan leaves to go travelling for many years. Alfred marries Susannah, and William suffers a stroke, leaving him lame and without speech. Alfred becomes a Congressman and gets involved with the O’Banion boys, bootleggers and thieves.
Tristan returns and his father improves. Tristan begins small time bootlegging angering the O’Banion Boys. They try to stop him but he kills the cop who works for them and does 30 days in jail. They kill his wife and Tristan goes after them. William finally kills the last of the Boys and reconciles with Alfred. Tristan leaves, knowing the police will come after him.
The film received mixed critical reviews, with most praising the actors, including Brad Pitt, whom everyone hailed as a new star, but hated the loud soundtrack, the slowness of the story, and the setting that seemed to overshadow the performances. Still the film was a huge box office success and was nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Cinematography, which it won, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Sound. Despite that, it was not nominated for Best Picture, probably due to the mixed reviews.
23. Jacob’s Ladder (1990) dir. Adrian Lyne
Starting in 1971, Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is in Vietnam, fighting in the war. His unit is ambushed and he tried to flee into the jungle but is stabbed by a bayonet and passes out. When he wakes, it is 1975 and he is sitting on a subway train in New York, holding a copy of The Stranger. His memory then seems to play tricks going back to Vietnam and bring up memories of his dead son Gabe and Ex-wife.
There are many twists and turns and he hears from members of his old unit who say they were all involved in a drug experiment. He goes to his old apartment and finds clues to a shocking ending.
The reviews on the film were good with many critic saying it was directed well and acted brilliantly, with many critic hailing Tim Robbins’ performance. It is thought of as a mash up of war movie, character study and horror film. Because of that business fell off quickly after the first week and it barely broke even. It was not nominated for any Academy Awards but its reputation continues to grow.
22. True Romance (1993) dir. Tony Scott
Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) is in a Detroit theater watching a triple feature on his birthday When Alabama Whitman Patricia Arquette) runs into him. They go out on a date and Alabama confesses she is a call girl set up by Clarence’s boss.
They realize they love each other and go to get married, Clarence goes to Drexi, Alabama’s pimp, to get her clothes. He grabs a suitcase of Alabama’s clothes and leaves. He then finds out it is filled with cocaine. He goes to Alabama. They head to LA to meet up with an aspiring actor contact to sell the cocaine to a producer. Will they be able to sell it and leave the country?
The reviews for the film were mostly good, with many critics favorably mentioning the script that was written by Quentin Tarantino. In spite of the good reviews, it was a box office failure and is now seen as a cult film. It did not receive any Academy Award nominations.
21. The Game (1997) Dir. David Fincher
Nicolas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker who has pushed everyone away. Both his ex-wife and his brother are estranged from him. He is worried about his upcoming birthday, because he will be 48, and that was the age his father was when he committed suicide by jumping off the roof.
Nicolas is surprised to receive a visit from his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn) who presents him with a voucher from a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS) for a game that Conrad says will change Nicolas’ life.
The reviews were generally good, with praise for Michael Douglas, some critics saying this was the role he was born to play. Some critics complained about the gaping holes in the plot and that, coupled with the fact the film did not make its cost back in the USA, led people to speculate that that was why the film received no Academy Award nominations.