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THE CLASSICS

If Oscar had nominated 10 best pictures in past years . . .

Many fine films could have earned greater recognition in an expanded field. Here are some that missed the old cut.

July 19, 2009|Susan King

With the recent announcement that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was returning to 10 best picture nominations -- something it hasn't done since 1943 -- fans and pundits have been discussing the pros and cons of the decision. Are there even enough good films these days to find five decent best picture nominees, let alone 10?

But over the decades, numerous quality films and box office hits have been shut out of the best picture race. Just this year, such critical and commercial favorites as "The Dark Knight" and "Wall-E" didn't make the cut. Consider this personal selection of randomly picked years of five nominees over the last eight decades of the awards.

The personal selections don't include foreign-language films.

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1927-28: Oscar's first year saw "The Racket," "7th Heaven," and "Wings" garnering best picture nominations, with "Wings" taking home the award. The premiere year also featured the category "Unique and Artistic Picture" -- with "Chang," "The Crowd" and "Sunrise" earning nominations, and "Sunrise" winning the award. The academy did away with the category after that year.

Among the films absent from the best picture nominations that year were Buster Keaton's greatest work, "The General"; Cecil B. DeMille's lavish telling of the life and death of Jesus Christ, "The King of Kings"; Josef von Sternberg's seminal gangster thriller, "Underworld"; the Harold Lloyd comedy "The Kid Brother"; and Tod Browning's wonderfully creepy "The Unknown," starring Lon Chaney and a young Joan Crawford.

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1930-31: The academy entered its first full decade with these best picture nominees: "Cimarron," which won, "East Lynne," "The Front Page," "Skippy" and "Trader Horn."

If there had been 10 nominations that year, among the leading contenders could have been the Marx Brothers' wild and crazy "Animal Crackers"; the witty Ernst Lubitsch musical "Monte Carlo"; the gangster film "Little Caesar"; the World War I drama "The Dawn Patrol"; and the spoof of the Barrymores, "The Royal Family of Broadway."

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1944: The first year since the 1930-31 Oscars that the academy had just five nominees, "Going My Way" won the best picture Oscar, beating fellow nominees "Double Indemnity," "Gaslight," "Since You Went Away" and "Wilson."

But the notable films that didn't get nominated include the Technicolor musical "Cover Girl," the quintessential film noir "Laura," Preston Sturges' romp "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek," Alfred Hitchcock's thriller "Lifeboat" and Vincente Minnelli's enchanting Technicolor musical "Meet Me in St. Louis," starring Judy Garland.

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1955: The low-budget drama "Marty" won the best picture Oscar, beating out its more high-profile nominees: "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," "Mister Roberts," "Picnic" and "The Rose Tattoo."

But with an extra five nominees, actor James Dean's influential dramas "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause" could have been included as well as John Sturges' thriller "Bad Day at Black Rock," with Spencer Tracy; Charles Laughton's masterful Gothic thriller "The Night of the Hunter," starring Robert Mitchum; and the Ruth Etting biopic "Love Me or Leave Me," with Doris Day and James Cagney.

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1960: Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" won the award for best film with "The Alamo," "Elmer Gantry," "Sons and Lovers" and "The Sundowners" rounding out the roster.

But with an extra five nominations, one of such classics as Stanley Kubrick's epic "Spartacus," starring Kirk Douglas; Hitchcock's legendary "Psycho," with Anthony Perkins; Otto Preminger's historical epic "Exodus," starring Paul Newman; Stanley Kramer's historical drama "Inherit the Wind"; and Sturges' western "The Magnificent Seven," with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, could have received Oscar recognition.

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1972: A great year for movies saw "The Godfather" earning the best picture Oscar, though fellow nominee "Cabaret" ended up winning eight Academy Awards. Rounding out the nominees were "Deliverance," the Swedish import "The Emigrants" and "Sounder."

But there were numerous classic films that failed to earn best picture nominations, including the disaster favorite "The Poseidon Adventure; the western "Jeremiah Johnson," with Robert Redford; the political satire "The Candidate," with Redford; the mystery thriller "Sleuth," with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier; and the Woody Allen comedy "Play It Again, Sam."

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1984: "Amadeus" was the big winner with "The Killing Fields," "A Passage to India," "Places in the Heart" and "A Soldier's Story" fleshing out the nomination list.

But with five more nominations Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose"; Rob Reiner's mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap"; Ron Howard's romantic comedy "Splash"; the baseball fable "The Natural"; and James Cameron's sci-fi masterwork, "The Terminator," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, might have had a shot at best picture.

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1997: "Titanic" sunk the competition, winning 11 Oscars, including best picture. Competing with "Titanic" were "The Full Monty," "Good Will Hunting," "As Good as It Gets" and "L.A. Confidential."

But the race could have been more intriguing with five more nominees -- Steven Spielberg's historical drama "Amistad"; Wolfgang Petersen's thriller "Air Force One"; Ang Lee's relationship drama "The Ice Storm"; the sci-fi comedy "Men in Black"; and "My Best Friend's Wedding" with Julia Roberts.

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2006: Martin Scorsese's gangster flick "The Departed" won the best picture Oscar, leaving nominees "Babel," "Letters From Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Queen" in the proverbial dust.

Yet there were plenty of other best picture candidates including the updated James Bond thriller, "Casino Royale"; the musical "Dreamgirls"; "Thank You For Smoking"; "Children of Men" and the animated blockbuster "Cars."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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