This article marks Part 5 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 four films that scored a quartet of trophies among the top races.
At the 12th Academy Awards ceremony, this was no stopping Victor Fleming’s blockbuster epic “Gone with the Wind” (1939). With a total of 13 nominations, the most of any film that year, it was the overwhelming favorite for Oscar glory and indeed, on the big night, the picture took home eight prizes, including Best Picture. Fleming, in his lone career Oscar bid, prevailed in Best Director, as did leading lady Vivien Leigh in Best Actress and scribe Sidney Howard in Best Adapted Screenplay.
Its one loss among the Big Five came in Best Actor, where Clark Gable, who had earlier earned an Oscar for “It Happened One Night” (1934), was topped by Robert Donat (“Goodbye, Mr. Chips”). Additional “Gone with the Wind” victories came in Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing.
Over the decades to follow, only another three pictures would earn a quartet of the Big Five prizes.
The second film to pull this off was William Wyler’s World War II drama “Mrs. Miniver” (1942) which, like “Gone with the Wind,” led the field in nominations (12) and was widely expected to score many wins. Indeed, it did just that, claiming victories in Best Director, Best Actress (Greer Garson) and Best Adapted Screenplay (George Froeschel, James Hilton, Claudine West and Arthur Wimperis). Like the Fleming film, its one miss in the Big Five was for its leading man, as Walter Pidgeon lost Best Actor to James Cagney (“Yankee Doodle Dandy”). “Mrs. Miniver” also garnered honors in Best Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright) and Best Cinematography.
In 1977, Woody Allen’s romantic comedy “Annie Hall” secured four of the Big Five Oscars and, yet again, Best Actor proved the lone loss. The film took Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Diane Keaton) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman), yet Allen was no match for Richard Dreyfuss (“The Goodbye Girl”) in Best Actor. “Annie Hall” would mark Allen’s lone career Oscar nomination for acting.
Most recently, it was Sam Mendes’ suburban satire “American Beauty” (1999) to score four of the Big Five and, this time around, the one miss came in Best Actress, as leading lady Annette Bening was defeated by Hilary Swank (“Boys Don’t Cry”). The film did go home with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Kevin Spacey) and Best Original Screenplay (Alan Ball), plus honors in Best Cinematography.