Sometimes, the Academy of Arts and Sciences leaves you saying, “wait, you chose that as the Best Picture winner?” People have said this phrase quite a bit over the years, and there’s no doubting that the Academy has made some serious mistakes in the Best Picture category. The truth is that the Academy has a serious problem choosing which films will stay in the public consciousness in the years to come. Granted, that’s a difficult task to undertake. But still, can a man ask for a better batting average???
For the purpose of this list, it’s worth noting that the movies listed here aren’t necessarily bad films — they are in some circumstances — but they can also merely pale in comparison to other films nominated that same year, lacking anywhere near the same amount of influence on the art form.
The Broadway Melody
Out of Africa
The Great Ziegfeld
The King’s Speech
Chariots of Fire
The Greatest Show on Earth
Now, let’s take a look at the films that made the list:
#10: Dances With Wolves (1990)
If you’ve been able to sit through Dances With Wolves more than once, more power to you! Essentially, Dances With Wolves boils down to a long-winded discussion of an already tired premise. You know where the story is going, and you have to wait way too long for it to get there. (Almost four hours!!!)
To make matters worse, Dances With Wolves beat out what many consider one of the best pop movies ever made: Goodfellas. Martin Scorsese’s epic continues to be regarded as the gold standard for the modern mob film, deconstructing what it takes to become a gangster and the perils that come with it.
The Academy decided that Kevin Costner staring out into the distance was a better choice, however.
#9: Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
At over three hours long with nothing but light, frothy globetrotting filling the time, Around the World in 80 Days is one the prime examples of a notable Academy leaning: they love awarding comfortable, simplified films that hardly try to confront or question any of the viewer’s beliefs. This trend has continued for years, as seen in our last Oscars run with movies like Bohemian Rhapsody and a movie to be mentioned later on this list leaving the Oscars telecast as big winners of the night.
There’s no denying that the film’s technicolor backdrop and ornate settings were very inventive for the time, but the film is nothing more than stock British colonizers journeying across the world with limited stakes (and a heaping dash of cultural appropriation). I can think of much better ways to spend my time.
#8: The Artist (2011)
When was the last time someone had a conversation about The Artist that didn’t include why it didn’t deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture? My guess is that it was in 2012 right before the awards ceremony.
The Artist is a pleasant, crowd-pleasing film, but it has had no cultural impact. The only thing that its win proved was that Hollywood loves rewarding films that romanticize filmmaking and the history of cinema.
The silent film beat out other nominees such as The Tree of Life, The Descendents, Moneyball, and Hugo. (If the Academy wanted to reward a film that praised the history of film, it should have chosen Hugo instead.) That’s not to say that those movies are all considered all-timers. However, they do have much more on their minds — especially The Tree of Life and Moneyball — which has helped to keep them in contemporary film conversation.
#7: Shakespeare in Love (1998)
A more proper name for Shakespeare in Love is Oscar Bait: The Movie.
Shakespeare in Love is a fine film, but there’s no doubting that it plays directly into the generic elements of an old-timey Best Picture winner with its showy production design and story that revolves around the creation of art. It’s a perfectly suitable, nice love story whose worse crime was winning the award. Remove that moniker and it lives on its own as a light period piece.
But, the real crime is what the film beat that year, which history would show as one of the go-to examples of The Academy getting it wrong. The Academy chose this romantic drama over films like Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and Life is Beautiful.
#6: The English Patient (1996)
Like Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient might be the ultimate manifestation of “Oscar bait” in the eyes of many people. Sure, Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas are a lovely pair, but using war as the backdrop for a WASPy love story just feels wrong. With a runtime of almost two hours and forty-five minutes, there’s nothing to fully recommend in this movie unless this particular subgenre truly speaks to you. “Pretentious” is the first descriptor that comes to mind when discussing this film.
Meanwhile, its fellow nominees Fargo and Jerry Maguire have gone on to become favorites.
#5: Green Book (2018)
Awarding Green Book as the Best Picture winner was dated and out-of-touch the instant it occurred. Immediately, all of Film Twitter came out and dunked on the decision:
— MovieBabble (@MovieBabble_) February 25, 2019
In a year that had plenty of very interesting and complex discussions of race in America — BlacKkKlansman, Sorry to Bother You, Black Panther, Blindspotting, just to name a few — the most self-congratulatory instance of such themes won the grand prize. With reports surfacing that the win was a measured rebuke to Roma and other future streaming movies that mount a Best Picture campaign, everything surrounding Green Book felt incredibly false. Even worse, the film was already a backward, simplified retelling of true events.
We’re only a few months after Green Book‘s win and the film holds little to no cultural relevance whatsoever.
#4: Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
It’s funny how the Academy continues to repeat itself over and over again with Green Book winning Best Picture thirty years after Driving Miss Daisy. (Well, maybe not funny for all of us film lovers, but you get the idea.)
There’s a strong argument to make that Driving Miss Daisy is the worst film out of the five nominees in the 1990 Oscar ceremony. Beating out films like Dead Poets Society, Born on the Fourth of July, Field of Dreams, and My Left Foot, Driving Miss Daisy is another film with an unnaturally glossy and simple depiction of strengthening race relations between two people.
Much has been made of Spike Lee’s contempt for Driving Miss Daisy over the years, and his reasoning is certainly well-founded with Do the Right Thing — which many consider as his opus — failing to even garner a Best Picture nomination the same year. Over thirty years since it won, Driving Miss Daisy is still a major blow to the Academy’s record.
#3: Cimarron (1931)
Some films age very poorly, and Cimarron is one of those films. Filled with bad stereotypes and a plodding story, Cimarron just doesn’t work in today’s day and age.
The film puts all of its action at the front of the movie, making the rest of the movie drag almost to a halt. Cimarron is one of the few Best Picture winners to boast a “rotten” grade on Rotten Tomatoes, signaling that most of the film community feels similarly. If not for its Best Picture win, Cimarron would not be remembered today. Even so, it’s rarely discussed.
#2: How Green Was My Valley (1941)
How Green Was My Valley has received solid reviews from critics over the years, but another film came out in 1941 that changed the art form forever. That film was none other than Citizen Kane (not to mention that How Green Was My Valley also beat out The Maltese Falcon, but I digress).
I will concede that there’s some revisionist history in play here as Citizen Kane was under a serious legal battle for its pseudo-depiction of William Randolph Hearst, causing its theatrical run to dwindle to only a few screens and making its run for the Oscar almost impossible.
However, whatever your opinion of Citizen Kane, it revolutionized cinema forever. Many outlets claim it as the best movie ever made as it told a story that is still extremely powerful to this day. As for How Green Was My Valley, I’m fairly certain that this is the first time that 75% of people reading this article have heard of it.
#1: Crash (2005)
Did you know that racism is bad?
That phrase is what Crash amounts to in its bland story that weaves multiple connected stories together with little to no character depth. Surely race relations and xenophobia are worthy themes for a film, but Crash boils them down to the most basic understanding, adding nothing new to the conversation. Its use of hyperlink structure is an interesting choice, but Crash doesn’t stick with any of the characters long enough for them to resonate.
Clearly, Brokeback Mountain was more deserving of the award. But, Crash went on to win, solidifying the narrative that the Academy was full of old, white males looking for a pat on the back.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on the worst movies to win best picture? Comment down below!
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