Continuing from our previous article on the Oscars and the Academy's omissions we are now going to talk about a few people who did get multiple Oscar nominations but never received an Academy Award.
This is formally inspired by the ninth Oscar nomination of cinematographer Roger Deakins (for True Grit) who doesn't have an Academy Award in his collection yet. The fact that this cinematographer extraordinaire and a long-time favorite of fellow cinematographers has been continuously neglected by the Academy is symptomatic of the way the Academy ballots work. A good chunk of the Academy members tend to vote for the bigger titles in the technical categories. Voting in these categories for their Best Picture favorite (if it happens to be nominated there) is common practice. Probably that's why Roger Deakins, who usually shoots smaller character driven films, never wins. Especially striking was that in 2008 he was double nominated for No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford but lost to Robert Elswitt's There Will Be Blood (admittedly, a fine looking film but hardly of the exquisite quality of The Assassination). As occasionally happens in such cases, the double Oscar nomination may have been a bad favor, actually leading to split in the votes. Unfortunately, 2011's Best Cinematography Oscar does not look like going Deakins' way considering the competition of The King's Speech (wtf?), The Social Network and Inception. The chance one of these three films seizes the Academy Award for Best Cinematography is huge, but one can never know for sure.
To add some more spice, let's have a quick walk through history for some other multiple Oscar nominees who never got the Academy Award.
Italian maestro Federico Fellini was nominated twelve times for Best Director or Best Writing but never won an Academy Award. This is not surprising. Foreign filmmakers working out of Hollywood rarely won Oscars (other than the Foreign Language category) due to the general unfamiliarity of America audiences (Academy members included) with their work. The Academy sought to offset this omission with an Honorary Award in 1992. Like if anyone cares about these. They remain a popular Academy device for soothing its guilty hive-conscience nevertheless.
Alfred Hitchcock received five Oscar nominations for Best Director. Even though he was a crowd pleaser he never really got much love from the Academy. Even a masterpiece in direction like Rear Window couldn't bring him the Academy Award (that year he lost to Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront). Hitchcock's technical and artistic genius was in a way rediscovered after Truffaut promoted him heavily as an example of the Auteur theory. Truffaut's book-interview with Hitchcock may have actually played a role when Hitchcock received the Honorary Oscar in 1967. Hitchcock's influence continues to be stronger in European cinema, the latest noteworthy Hitchcock inspired outing being Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer.
Robert Altman was nominated seven times (five Oscar nominations for Best Director and two for Best Picture) but lost to the likes of Steven Spielberg, Milos Forman, Ron Howard and Clint Eastwood. He surely had some tough luck meeting serious competition in the years he got nominated. And guess what? Right...he got an Honorary Award in 2006. Well, it was the least the Academy could do to honor his unorthodox methods and contributions to filmmaking: loose scripts, non-linearity, free improvisation, overlapping dialogue. He even fought with the studios to get R ratings for his films in order to keep children out of the audience because they wouldn't get the movies, a commendable trait in a strong business-minded environment as the film industry.
And to finish this off we are getting back further in time. One of the biggest stars of screwball comedy, Irene Dunne, was nominated five times for Best Actress (all leading roles). And she is the only one in this company that did not receive a Honorary Award. Back at the time comedy was not so rare in the acting Oscar nominations as nowadays but performances in drama were still favored. Perfection of comic timing apparently was not enough to win her an Oscar. Ironically, her most critically acclaimed role was in a drama feature (I Remember Mama) which also garnered an Oscar nomination in 1949. But, really, it is the fact she did not receive the Academy Award for her performance opposite Cary Grant in the seminal screwball comedy The Awful Truth that is most infuriating.