Friday, February 27, 2015


Last weekend, the Oscars were awarded to films, directors, actors, writers, musicians, etc., nominated earlier this year. Fashion is huge, but so are the winners and losers. And let's face it -- it's an annual ritual that many love.

Usually, when that envelope is opened, the film or actor has not starred in a "genre" style flick. Dramas, epic blockbusters, war films or biopics have earned the most statuettes for Best Picture. Romance and musicals have fared so-so, depending on the era and Hollywood's mood. Despite the popularity of the other types of films - mystery/crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, adventure, and especially westerns with American audiences (proof in the pocketbook), the Academy often withholds their votes.

Sorry, but it's true. You'd think, given the number of westerns that Hollywood has churned out since its earliest days, that there'd be a TON of golden statuettes lined up along the trail. Not hardly, pardner. Oh, don't get me wrong. There's been PLENTY of nominations - 129 westerns, in fact. Check out the list.

BUT only three, count 'em, THREE, won a Best Picture Oscar. Can you name them? Yes, the answer is below, but try to guess. I'll give ya the first one -- 1930's Cimarron, a "pre-code western", whatever that means, based on the Edna Ferber novel.

Start guessing! My first try, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and one of my favorite films (okay, it might have played fast and loose with history, but it sure was fun!), didn't fare so well.

It earned plenty of nominations (and as I can attest, it's an HONOR to be nominated!), but only won the Best Original Screenplay (William Goldman, who also wrote The Princess Bride), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Song. What film won Best Picture that year? Midnight Cowboy. Hmph. Controversy claimed the big prize.

My second guess, the 1956 film The Searchers, based on the book by Alan LeMay, received ZIP. Nada. Nothing! No nod to John Wayne, director John Ford, not a even a Cinematography nomination! That's criminal!

But it has withstood the test of time and is considered a masterpiece, plus one of the most influential films - inspiring David Lean in making Lawrence of Arabia and probably many other sweeping epics. So there.

How about Little Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman? Based on the book by Thomas Berger, by the way, but only Chief Dan George received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Hm. Okay, maybe it was "revisionist" history, but still.

Let's try another guess - one of my favorites, True Grit, based on the Charles Portis novel. Yes, John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar in 1970 for portraying Rooster Cogburn (he deserved it, even though some people believed it to be a 'sympathy vote'). In fact, after accepting the golden statue, he said, "If I'd known that, I'd have put that patch on 35 years earlier." Ha!

Okay, skip a few decades. How about 1990's Dances With Wolves, based on the Michael Blake book? Kevin Costner, a Hollywood favorite. Come on! It had to win something out of TWELVE nominations. And it did pretty well - seven out of twelve. Best Picture. Best Director for KC. Best Adapted Screenplay for author Blake. Best Cinematography. Best Sound. Best Film Editing. Best Original Score. This was the HIGHLIGHT of the western Oscars! Surely it meant Hollywood was falling back in love with the genre? Er...

Two years later, Clint Eastwood claimed this 1992 film as his last western. Oh boy, talk about predicting the death of the genre. So how did Unforgiven fare? I mean, he's Clint Eastwood! CLINT EASTWOOD, best known for riding a horse, for heaven's sake. The film received NINE Oscar nominations, pretty decent, but claimed not even HALF that number. Hm. It did win four - Best Picture and Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Film Editing. Sigh.

Dare I mention this 2005 western film, which earned eight nominations and won three Oscars, for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (from the short story by Annie Proulx), and Best Original Score? Sure spurred controversy, so maybe that's why... Let's see how did the Coen Brothers remake of Charles Portis's True Grit fare six years later in the 2011 Academy Awards.

The film received TEN, count 'em, TEN nominations. Lost every time. Hmph. Does this mean Hollywood has given up on western films? Well, Christoph Waltz received a Best Supporting Actor for Django Unchained in 2012. But when it comes to Best Picture? Three. Cimarron (1956). Dances With Wolves (1990). Unforgiven (1992). Sigh. Only three Best Picture Oscars. We'll see if Quentin Tarantino can pull off any nominations next January for The Hateful Eight.

Let's hope Best Picture #4 for a western is coming soon.

Mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog. Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur and Laramie Award winning books - Double Crossing and Double or Nothing - are now among the Prairie Rose Publications book list. Meg is also one-half of the D.E. Ireland team writing the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series for St. Martin's Minotaur. Wouldn't It Be Deadly, Book 1, has been nominated for a 2014 AGATHA AWARD for Best Historical Mystery! Book 2, Move Your Blooming Corpse, will be released on September 22, 2015. You can find Meg (and D.E. Ireland) on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. 


  1. My ghast is flabbered. The only one I knew was Cimarron. Thought sure The Searchers would have won one. And The Unforgiven (the Audie Murphy film from an Alan Lemay book). Obviously the Academy voters are nuts. But then we knew that when they passed over American Sniper for something no one has ever seen.

  2. Excellent post, Meg. But there is a western movie that could claim to be the first best movie. That was Sunrise, which won three Oscars at the inaugural Academy Awards of 1929. It won Best Actress in a leading role, Best Cinematography and Best Unique and Artistic Production. In that first year the awards were given for the movies of 1927 and 1928 and there were two categories considered equal at the top of the bill - Best Unique and Artistic Production and Outstanding Picture. The following year they dropped Best Unique and Artistic Production as a category and retrospectively gave the Outstanding Picture the top billed award, for posterity. The award continued as Outstanding Picture until 1962, when it became Best Picture.

    Yet that very first Unique and Artistic Production was the western movie Sunrise. I did a piece on my blog More on the Range last year. The movie is worth checking out. It is certainly very different!


    1. WOW! I didn't know that - I guess I didn't reach back far enough into the Oscar history. Thanks for setting the record straight!

  3. Since the "Academy" is notorious for voting for movies, actors, actresses who portray the "human condition" at its grittiest, most hopeless, and sometimes, ugliest, one would think westerns would have fared better over the years. *shrug*

  4. What a shame Shane didn't win or Stagecoach, or Outlaw Josey Wales, or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon? With so many white males running the academy, you'd think they would have always voted the most macho films as winners--westerns, right?. Thanks for a great article Meg.

    1. Hmph. You'd think!! but noooo... and thanks.

  5. Oh my Meg, please don't get me started on the Oscars. I have been doing the 'Oscar' thing for about 9 years (seeing all the nominated films) and they only get worse. That's all I'm going to say because there isn't enough space to say how I really feel. But you are correct, Westerns tend to get overlooked. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

    1. Of course "The Ox-Bow Incident" is still a favorite and it was nominated.

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    3. I liked the Ox-Bow Incident too. Yeah, lots of noms but too few cigars... er, statues. ;-D