When it comes to any big time awards show like the Academy Awards, one of the longest standing tropes is that it's just an honor to be nominated. And yet, with the nine films we're about to discuss, that honor isn't exactly a memorable accolade. Sure these films were contenders in their time, but ultimately the odds were too high, the competition too heavy and their impressions not memorable enough to retain the honor of being nominated for Best Picture. This isn't always an indicator of the film's quality, but rather the race it ran in, and once you've seen our choices, the reality these films occupy now is obvious. Without further ado, and a firm warning to the most recent crop of Best Picture hopefuls, the winners of the "9 Recent Best Picture Nominees You Probably Forgot Were Oscar Contenders" are:
2008 - The Reader
Controversy follows The Reader nowadays because of the troubling case of Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual misconduct. But back in the Oscar race that pitted this film against such luminaries as Frost/Nixon and the eventual winner Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader was a controversial pick because Harvey Weinstein allegedly rushed the film to completion in order to be a surefire awards contender. While the film had gone through the replacement of its lead actress and cinematographer, as well as a publicized departure of one of its producers, The Reader snagged the big ticket nomination it had always intended to seek out. But ten years on, the film is barely remembered at all, much less as a Best Picture nominee.
2009 - District 9
While Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut, District 9, is a fantastic sci-fi adventure that put the director's name on the map, it was a rather perplexing Best Picture nominee. The movie was an obvious grab for the faith of the moviegoing public who, in the year previous, chastised the Academy for not nominating The Dark Knight as a Best Picture of its class. So with the race now expanding to a field of 10 films tops, there was more room for token choices that better reflected the popular vote of the public. As we'd see in the years following the Academy's expanded Best Picture field, this just increased the odds for even less memorable films to hit it big with a temporary boost of awards season fame.
2010 - The Kids Are All Right
In the case of The Kids Are All Right, all of the standard ingredients were there to make it an Oscar nominee. Not only did the film make many critics' top 10 lists in its release window, but it also found itself nominated quite frequently through the big precursor awards, with its greatest win being the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. Unfortunately, as far as individual longevity goes, this dramedy falls a bit short, as it was so independent it fell behind in a crowd of big guns like Toy Story 3, The Social Network, The King's Speech and Inception.
2011 - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
In the year of The Artist, the competition seemed a bit thin when it came to the overall picture of top nominated films. But even in a slow year for Best Pictures, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close felt through the cracks almost at the exact moment the race began. With critics panning the film quite widely, and no Golden Globe nominations to speak of, this personal drama was labeled by one critic as a "quest for emotional blackmail" as the film focused on a young child who deals with the loss of his father in the attacks on 9/11. And somehow, the film landed in that Best Picture sphere, being given a moment in the sun before going back to the darkness of obscurity it was already on the track towards.
2012 - Life of Pi
Unlike Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Life of Pi seemed to have all of the indicators of a lasting hit on its side before its Best Picture nod. Critics loved it and audiences made the film a financial hit, which may have been the key to the film's eventual nomination. Ultimately, the fact that the film was nominated as one of the two box office successes that The Academy recognized that year speaks to how its Best Picture status could easily be overlooked. Not to mention, the other populist success story in competition that year was Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, a film that rivaled pretty much every nominee in the department of standing out with the crowd.
2013 - Her
Sometimes The Academy picks a film that's not only off the beaten path, but is so strange that you have to wonder how it got the nod in the first place. Spike Jonze's Her is definitely one such pick, as the story of a man and the romance he cultivates with his A.I. companion went on to compete with the likes of 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and The Wolf of Wall Street for Best Picture. The film may have had a pretty impressive pedigree behind it, but Her isn't exactly a nominee that stands out as a surefire history maker.
2014 - The Imitation Game
Some projects sound like shoo-ins for Academy Awards consideration at the exact moment they're announced. But that doesn't mean they can ride their way to the big time on an easy wave of fame, which is something that The Imitation Game learned the hard way during its awards cycle. While the story of Alan Turing and his struggles in breaking the Enigma code felt like it was pure Oscar bait, the film would eventually be widely discredited as a work of historical fiction. Also, the over-the-top awards campaign that saw special promotional magazines telling voters to "Honor the man, honor the film" certainly didn't help this one stick in the public consciousness.
2015 - Brooklyn
This is one of the most heartbreaking cases of a film entering Oscar season with very little steam and running out before the race was even run. After failing to secure a Best Motion Picture - Drama nomination at the Golden Globes, Brooklyn was a dark horse surprise that looked like it could have picked up the pace. But despite its beautiful message and late game power play, the period romantic drama never seemed to pick up a lot of traction. No one will dispute the merits of the film's message or product, but good luck getting anyone to remember it was a Best Picture competitor.
2016 - Lion
Let's face it: folks either loved Lion or hated it. The film based on a true story about a man's journey to discover the truth of his real family was one of those awards seekers that divided voters in the year of its competition. And with films like La La Land and Moonlight playing either side of the divide, there just wasn't a lot of room for this film to make even an outside pass for top honors. Stiff competition, as well as a mixed-to-tepid response, made life hard for Lion, a film that you probably forgot was nominated for Best Picture despite its awards journey at this time last year.