This was a fascinating list to put together. We often decry the Academy Awards as completely meaningless, and to some extent, it is true — obviously, our love and appreciation of a certain movie has little to do with whether it’s recognized by a group of out-of-touch old white men. But it was nevertheless strangely enlightening to learn that — objectively speaking — almost all of the best movies over the last three decades were recognized by the Academy in some category.
Go ahead, and think it over. Think of the best movies over the last three decades, and check them out on IMDb. Chances are, that movie was nominated in some category. Even those that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the Oscars. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Best Writing Oscar. Fight Club: Best effects nomination. The Batman movies: Check. Raiders of the Lost Ark? Check (Four Oscars, in fact). Alien and Aliens: You betcha. Matrix. Yep. Memento, Requiem for a Dream, and even Back to the Future. They were all nominated in some category.
So, maybe the Oscars are a decent measuring stick, inasmuch as the best movies of the last 30 years were at least recognized by the Academy in some capacity. Now, I’m not suggesting that your favorite obscure independent film got a nomination (Rocket Science, in my case), but by and large, the better films got something by way of nomination. And to my surprise, this list was more difficult to put together than I expected because nearly every movie I thought to look up was disqualified by virtue of a nomination.
The criteria was fairly simple: The movie had to be released in 1980 or thereafter, had to be an English-language film, and it had to be “objectively” great in terms of critical reception.
Here, then, are the best ten movies since 1980 not to receive an Oscar nomination in any category:
10. This is Spinal Tap (1984). Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean. Logline: Spinal Tap, the world’s loudest band, is chronicled by hack documentarian Marti DeBergi on what proves to be a fateful tour.
9. Donnie Darko (2001). Directed by Richard Kelly. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Logline: A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a large bunny rabbit that manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after narrowly escaping a bizarre accident.
8. Terminator (1984). Directed by James Cameron. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Logline: In the Year of Darkness, 2029, the rulers of this planet devised the ultimate plan. They would reshape the Future by changing the Past. The plan required something that felt no pity. No pain. No fear. Something unstoppable. They created ‘THE TERMINATOR’
7. The Big Lebowski (1998). Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and John Turturro. Logline: “Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.
6. Leon (1994). Directed by Luc Besson. Starring Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, and Gary Oldman. Professional assassin Leon reluctantly takes care of 12-year-old Mathilda, a neighbor whose parents are killed, and teaches her his trade.
5. The Shining (1980). Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Jack Nicholson. Logline: A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future. (Ironically, The Shining was nominated for two Razzie awards, for both director and actress, Shelly Duvall.)
4. Blood Simple (1984). Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Frances McDormand. Logline: A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her new man. But, when blood is involved, nothing is simple.
3. Reservoir Dogs (1992). Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth. Logline: After a simple jewelery heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.
2. Shaun of the Dead (2004). Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Logline: A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.
1. Heat (1995). Directed by Michael Mann. Starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. A Los Angeles crime saga, “Heat” focuses on the lives of two men on opposite sides of the law - one a detective; the other a thief.