It only takes one victory at Oscar time for a film to claim it is an Academy Award winner — and in several cases, one victory is all anyone or anything gets.
A real save
Perhaps the most nail-biting dry stretch among pics that lost all but one Oscar nom was endured by the 1948 tearjerker “Johnny Belinda.” Despite heading into the awards with a dozen nominations, most of the pic’s hopefuls were foiled by the two pics that ended up dueling for the top prize — Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet” (the pic winner among four Oscars) and John Huston’s “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (directing, screenplay and supporting actor).
After “Johnny” endured 10 straight losses, odds of a win for Jane Wyman’s lead perf as a deaf-mute may have appeared long. But the thesp, still riding momentum from her breakout role in 1945 best pic “The Lost Weekend” and, perhaps, sympathy from her recent breakup with fellow actor Ronald Reagan, scored the actress kudo.
“Johnny Belinda” is tied with 1964’s “Becket” for the most noms — 11– lost by a film that still snared an Oscar. The British costume drama, notable for losing nominations for both Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole in the actor category, won its only statuette for Edward Anhalt’s adapted screenplay.
“My Fair Lady” defeated the pic in most races — among them, Rex Harrison’s victory over Burton (who would die in 1984 without receiving an Oscar after seven bids) and O’Toole (who just scored his eighth nom with “Venus”).
One and done
Irving Thalberg-produced sudser “Grand Hotel” (1932) won the pic prize without a single other nom — the only time a film has managed this feat in Oscar history.
Ensemble pic likely was shut out in other races due to the lack of supporting-thesp categories — they were four years away — and the smaller nonpic categories (three nomination slots back then).
And all I got was this tie
Barbra Streisand, the sole winner out of eight noms for William Wyler’s 1968 musical “Funny Girl,” tied in the actress race with Katharine Hepburn of “The Lion in Winter” — only the second acting tie in Oscar history.
Though British import “Oliver!” won the pic Oscar, tyro film actress Streisand secured “Girl’s” shutout-avoiding victory with a bit of history on her side. Hers was the 14th (and final) Oscar for a perf directed or co-directed by Wyler, still an Academy record.
Buffets only go so far
In 1969, Universal’s shameless campaigning for its U.K.-set historical drama “Anne of the Thousand Days” — a strategy that included copious post-screening food and booze for members of each Acad branch — paid off in a field-leading 10 nominations, including picture. But its putative front-runner status quickly evaporated on Oscar night, with the Academy taking the lead of critics and honoring the gritty contemporary drama “Midnight Cowboy” (to date, the only X-rated pic winner).
Films ranging from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to “Hello, Dolly!” took other categories. The sole Oscar for “Anne”? Costume design.
Making an exception
On only his second film, Mike Nichols won the director Oscar for the spiked comedy of 1967’s “The Graduate” — pic’s sole win from seven nominations. Overall, however, Nichols’ film was no match for picture winner “In the Heat of the Night,” which nabbed five awards.
Nichols, garnering his second directing nom in as many years — the first was for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” — sufficiently impressed voters to take the award from “Night’s” Norman Jewison, whose loss was one of only two for the racially charged drama.
Frank Capra’s classic underdog tale “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was caught among several heavyweight awards contenders — including “Stagecoach” and the year’s best pic “Gone With the Wind” — in 1939, that seminal year for the film industry. Though nommed for 11 Oscars, the James Stewart starrer only took home one — for original story.
Also that year, another acclaimed pic saw its slate of noms nearly shut out — the Olivier starrer “Wuthering Heights,” which lost seven noms, winning only for its cinematography.
Mike Nichols is among a handful of helmers whose Oscar wins repped the sole victory for their films. In consecutive years during the 1930s, the directors of a pair of comedies — Frank Capra (“Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”) and Leo McCarey (“The Awful Truth”) — were their films’ only winning nominees, defeating the helmers of more-Oscar friendly best pic choices, both biopics: 1936’s “The Great Ziegfeld” and 1937’s “The Life of Emile Zola.”
Also, at the 1956 awards, George Stevens’ directing Oscar was the sole win out of 10 noms for the James Dean starrer “Giant,” which lost in most categories to either pic winner “Around the World in 80 Days” or smash musical “The King and I.”
Where it counts
At the 1935 ceremony, “Mutiny on the Bounty” became the second film to win the picture Oscar while losing all of its other nominations. (The first was “The Broadway Melody” at the 1928-29 awards, which was nommed for a total of three.) “Mutiny,” however, blanked on seven noms before winning the top laurel — losing in most races to John Ford’s “The Informer.”
In fact, “Informer” star Victor McLaglen’s actor win took out three of “Mutiny’s” nominees in one swoop — Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone.
No fewer than 26 performances have won an Oscar on a film’s sole nomination, from Acad founding member Mary Pickford’s work in “Coquette” at the 1928-29 awards to, most recently, Charlize Theron’s lead turn in “Monster” (2003).
Past onscreen sole survivors also include Bette Davis, whose win for 1935’s “Dangerous” was widely seen as compensation for getting snubbed the prior year for her acclaimed “Of Human Bondage” perf, and Goldie Hawn (1969’s “Cactus Flower”), who successfully made the leap from inhouse ditsy blonde on TV’s “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”
The first foreign-language acting perf to win an Academy Award — delivered by Sophia Loren in 1961 — repped the sole nom for Italian pic “Two Women.”
Roman Polanski’s noir “Chinatown” — with 11 bids in 1974 — won its sole Academy Award for Robert Towne’s original screenplay, a category where the year’s juggernaut “The Godfather Part II” was ineligible (it won for adapted screenplay).
In 1982, similar insulation from the Oscar-race front-runners benefited Sydney Pollack’s “Tootsie.” Supporting actress winner Jessica Lange — pic’s sole win out of 10 noms — was fortunate to be in a rare category away from “Gandhi” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” which divvied up most of that year’s awards.
Twice the standout
Helen Hayes was the sole winner for two films, almost 40 years apart. Hayes’ turn in “The Sin of Madelon Claudet” (1931) was awarded the actress prize, the sole category in which the pic was nommed. At the 1970 awards, her supporting actress win for the disaster pic “Airport” was the film’s sole trophy out of 10 noms.
Academy Awards historians and film buffs often view the best-pic loss of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” to John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941 as one of the oddest Acad decisions. In fact, “Kane,” which earned nine bids, was almost completely silenced on Oscar night.
Only an original screenplay win for Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz saved the pic from joining another ’41 film — William Wyler’s “The Little Foxes,” also nine times nominated — in a then-record-setting Oscar shutout. (Current record for most noms without a win is 11, shared by “The Turning Point” in 1977 and “The Color Purple” in 1985.)