Oscar Snubs: Alfred Hitchcock

with 15 Comments

The Oscars are one of Hollywood’s greatest traditions, but they’re also one of the more inherently divisive. In any situation where you’re attempting to name a singular, unequivocal “Best” in a subjective category—not just a collection of “Very Goods” or “Great Efforts”—you’re going to draw some criticism. That’s partly because movies aren’t math problem sets: there’s not a single right way to do things, nor a single right answer upon which to arrive, and in reality, one person’s interpretation of a film can be entirely different than what someone else sees. And so, those films and filmmakers that do win Oscars necessarily have to appeal to votes based on the quality of the film, as well as appealing to the sense of populism they need to secure the majority of votes.

And that’s maybe why the Academy’s notorious, career-spanning snub of Alfred Hitchcock—one of film history’s most enduringly entertaining AND well-respected filmmakers—is especially perplexing.

Now, Hitch did receive the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1967, of course, which, while arguably more prestigious, has also been famously used to right Academy wrongs (or to have a chance to give Darryl F. Zanuck another trophy—he won the award three times in the first 15 years). But, certainly, Hitch’s breadth of work should have been more than enough to earn him a statuette of his own accord, and he gave them ample opportunities.

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Indeed, part of the reason that the injustice feels particularly cutting is that Hitchcock was by no means ignored by the Academy, nominations wise. In total, sixteen of his films were nominated in some capacity over the years, for a sum of 50 nominations—but only six wins. Although a modern audience, having experienced his whole range of films, might curate a different a selection of films, Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director five times in his lifetime: for Rebecca, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, and Psycho. (He’s tied, and in good company, with Robert Altman, Clarence Brown, and King Vidor for most “Best Director” nominations without a win.) He directed four films that were nominated for Best Picture: Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, Spellbound, and Rebecca. Rebecca was his most successful film in the eyes of Oscar, which perhaps would have been his best opportunity for picking up the prize; it was nominated for 13 awards and actually won Best Picture.

But really, breaking down Hitchcock’s work into a series of numerical equations feels like a betrayal to his career, and underscores the problem of Oscar prognostication. It’s hard to measure a film’s lasting cultural effect when looking at it within the time span of a year, especially when the voting is limited to a relatively small group of viewers. Hitchcock really understood not just how to tell stories, but how to tell them in a specifically cinematic way. Psycho isn’t remembered because of the plot, but because of how everything—sound, lighting, editing, casting, and so on—works together on screen. He was undeniably a master craftsman for the cinematic age.

In the end, I think Hitchcock is a great reminder for Oscar night. Although a win can cement a filmmaker’s legacy, not winning doesn’t take away from our enjoyment of their work. Sure, being on that permanent list can introduce films and filmmakers to future audiences, but sometimes the strength of the films allows them to stand on their own. Vertigo, which seems to be somewhat commonly-agreed-upon as his greatest work by modern viewers, barely made a blip on the Oscar radar, earning only two nominations, and no wins. If a filmmaker is able to consistently tap into the public’s consciousness through film, their legacy will be preserved just the same as it would be had they announced a certain name from an envelope. And Hitchcock’s mastery of the art form has certainly cemented his name in film history despite the Academy’s lack of recognition.

This is part of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, hosted by Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. To find out more info, visit the blogathon home page. All  future entries will be tagged under 31 Days of Oscar.

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15 Responses

  1. Maybe Hitch just didn’t play the game. Maybe he didn’t go to the right parties and schmooze. At any rate, he certainly had the last laugh.

    • Emily
      | Reply

      Yep! In some years, it definitely seems the actual quality of the film/filmmaker was a distant consideration on the list… but yes, Hitch certainly didn’t need a trophy to solidify his reputation!

  2. kelleepratt
    | Reply

    Thanks for joining our blogathon! This was a wonderful and very much NECESSARY highlight for our Snubs week. As my favorite director, as he remains for countless fans, it’s hard to fathom this man not bringing home that statuette almost annually.

    • Emily
      | Reply

      Thanks so much for hosting. I’m always trying to think of good “cameos” to feature to match the site name, and this was the perfect opportunity to salute Hitch!

  3. The Gal Herself
    | Reply

    Psycho is one of the most influential films ever. One of the first really subversive mainstream Hollywood movies. Killing off his leading lady early on, the editing, even the promotional campaign. Billy Wilder was a great director in his time, but I don’t see his stamp on today’s movies the way I see Hitch’s. So obviously, I agree with you 100%!

    • Emily
      | Reply

      I lovvvvve Psycho–one of those movies I can watch over and over again without noticing the time go by! And yeah, that’s one of the other problems with Oscar—of course I think Hitchcock should’ve gotten one, but I don’t necessarily want to grab it out of the hands of Billy Wilder or John Ford… In any case, Hitch definitely left his mark on movie history, with or without a statue!

  4. Aurora
    | Reply

    Great write-up on what may be the most egregious of all snubs since he helmed so many other nominations. I think it was most likely due to the fact he did things his way after Rebecca. In any case, he remains (also) the best example of how little the Oscar means to a career. So happy you chose to discuss Sir Hitch for this event. :)

    Aurora

    • Emily
      | Reply

      Yes, I think Rebecca was probably the closest he got to winning… he seemed to fall increasingly out of favor with the Oscar voters after that—though more popular with the movie audiences that would make him immortal!

  5. Paula
    | Reply

    Thank you for covering one of the most egregious snubs of all time. It still confuses me, to this day, how a movie can win Best Picture and not Best Director. I have actually had to show people Hitchcock’s IMDB awards page because they don’t believe he never won an Oscar. Maybe I should get them to bet on it first ;)

  6. Marsha Collock
    | Reply

    Can you believe it? And I just hate it when they get those “other” awards – like the Thalberg or Lifetime Achievement or whatever (I am thinking Cary Grant here, too). I think they were all just jealous of his great success.

    • Emily
      | Reply

      Exactly—and it’s not like either of them were unappreciated in their own time, either! I had a bit of an existential crisis reading everyone’s Oscar snub entries all together: “How can they matter if they didn’t reward all these talented people??”

  7. Thank you for such an eloquently written post! What I found most interesting was that his most of nominations for best director came so relatively early in his Hollywood Career. That he was nominated for films like Lifeboat and Spellbound but not Vertigo or North by Northwest is astounding.

  8. silverscreenings
    | Reply

    I have often wondered why Hitchcock never won the Oscar, although you are correct – in the end he did get the last laugh.

    I liked the point you made re: not winning an Oscar doesn’t diminish our admiration of a director’s work.

    I really enjoyed reading your excellent post.

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