This article marks Part 3 of the Gold Derby series reflecting on films that contended for the Big Five Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted). With “A Star Is Born” this year on the cusp of joining this exclusive group of Oscar favorites, join us as we look back at the 43 extraordinary pictures that earned Academy Awards nominations in each of the Big Five categories, including the following 11 films that scored a pair of prizes among the top races.
At the 4th Academy Awards ceremony, “Cimarron” (1931) made Oscar history as the first motion picture to ever score nominations in the Big Five categories. On the big night, the western took home the top prize in Best Picture, as well as the Oscar in Best Adapted Screenplay (Howard Estabrook). Not as successful were the picture’s director, Wesley Ruggles, topped by Norman Taurog (“Skippy”), and the leads, Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, who proved no match for Best Actor and Best Actress winners Lionel Barrymore (“A Free Soul”) and Marie Dressler (“Min and Bill”). “Cimarron” also triumphed in Best Cinematography.
Since “Cimarron,” an additional 10 pictures have garnered a pair of victories among the Big Five.
Next up was “The Philadelphia Story” (1940), director George Cukor’s renowned romantic comedy, which picked up honors in Best Actor (James Stewart) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Donald Ogden Stewart). Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” topped the film for Best Picture, while Cukor fell short to John Ford (“The Grapes of Wrath”) in Best Director. As for Best Actress contender Katharine Hepburn, she could not compete with the ultimate winner, Ginger Rogers (“Kitty Foyle”).
With a total of eight nominations, the most of any film that year, “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947) was the toast of the 20th Academy Awards, taking honors in Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan) and Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm). It did not, however, deliver Oscars for leading man Gregory Peck, who lost to Ronald Colman (“A Double Life”), nor leading lady Dorothy McGuire, defeated by Loretta Young (“The Farmer’s Daughter”). Screenwriter Moss Hart would lose to George Seaton (“Miracle on 34th Street”).
In the following decade, “A Place in the Sun” (1951) scored George Stevens his first Best Director Oscar, while scribes Harry Brown and Michael Wilson were triumphant in Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was topped, however, by Vincente Minnelli’s “An American in Paris” for Best Picture, while leads Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters lost to Humphrey Bogart (“The African Queen”) and Vivien Leigh (“A Streetcar Named Desire”). Additional prizes for “A Place in the Sun” arrived in Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score.
In 1954, Grace Kelly (“The Country Girl”) pulled off one of the great Oscar jaw-droppers with her upset over Best Actress front-runner Judy Garland (“A Star Is Born”). “The Country Girl” also scored the Best Adapted Screenplay trophy for George Seaton. It was not, however, triumphant in its bids for Best Picture and Best Director (Seaton), losing to Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront.” “The Country Girl” headliner Bing Crosby was no match for Marlon Brando (“On the Waterfront”) in Best Actor.
At the close of the decade, Jack Clayton’s “Room at the Top” (1959) delivered the Best Actress prize for leading lady Simone Sigornet, plus Best Adapted Screenplay for screenwriter Neil Paterson. William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” was otherwise the evening’s big winner, taking Best Picture and Best Director, with Charlton Heston topping “Room at the Top” leading man Laurence Harvey.
The 40th Academy Awards ceremony found Stanley Kramer‘s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) tying Arthur Penn‘s “Bonnie and Clyde” for most nominations – 10. Both wins for the Kramer picture came among the Big Five, as Katharine Hepburn earned her second career Best Actress trophy and screenwriter William Rose claimed Best Original Screenplay. Best Picture went to “In the Heat of the Night,” with its leading man, Rod Steiger, earning Best Actor honors. Mike Nichols (“The Graduate”) topped Kramer for Best Director.
The following year, another Hepburn film, Anthony Harvey’s “The Lion in Winter” (1968), emerged a Big Five contender. Hepburn scored her third career Best Actress victory, tying in the category with “Funny Girl” Barbra Streisand, while James Goldman prevailed in Best Adapted Screenplay. Carol Reed’s “Oliver!” triumphed in Best Picture and Best Director, with Cliff Robertson (‘“Charly”) topping Peter O’Toole for Best Actor. The picture also won honors in Best Original Score.
In 1976, both John G. Avildsen’s “Rocky” and Sidney Lumet’s “Network” garnered 10 nominations, the most of any Oscar contenders that year. While the Lumet picture ultimately went home with more prizes (4), it was “Rocky” that was crowned champion for the top prize, with Avildsen earning Best Director to boot. Leads Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire were no match for “Network” stars Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway in Best Actor and Best Actress, nor could Stallone compete with “Network” scribe Paddy Chayefsky in Best Original Screenplay. A third “Rocky” win arrived in Best Film Editing.
With 9 wins on 12 nominations, “The English Patient” (1996) all but steamrolled the 69th Academy Awards, yet only mustered a pair of victories among the Big Five. It won Best Picture, with Anthony Minghella earning Best Director, yet leads Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas were not successful, losing to Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”) and Frances McDormand (“Fargo”), respectively. Minghella’s script also fell short to Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade” in Best Original Screenplay. Additional “The English Patient” wins came in Best Supporting Actress (Juliette Binoche), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and Best Sound.
Most recently, it was “La La Land” earning a pair of Big Five wins, as Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone went home with Best Director and Best Actress honors. “Moonlight” scored the upset in Best Picture, while “Manchester by the Sea” leading man Casey Affleck and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan prevailed over Ryan Gosling and Chazelle in Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. “La La Land” also claimed victory in Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“City of Stars”) and Best Production Design.