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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Which Oscar-winning Best Picture is least deserving of that award?

Recently the members of the Online Film Critics Society were polled to see which Oscar-winning Best Picture we thought was least deserving of that honor. The “winner”? Crash, which won Best Picture for 2005. Other films that garnered more than one vote (links go to my reviews):

2001: A Beautiful Mind
2000: Gladiator
1997: Titanic
1989: Driving Miss Daisy
2002: Chicago
1995: Braveheart
1994: Forrest Gump
(I voted for A Beautiful Mind, because I think it’s a huge, cheap cheat.)

What do you think? Which Oscar-winning Best Picture is least deserving of that award?

(If you need a reminder of which films have won Best Picture, take a gander at this list, which links to my reviews of every Best Picture.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • funWithHeadlines

    I was stunned when A Beautiful Mind won for when I saw it I realized it was simply Oscar bait. I knew this was not a movie that would stand the test of time, and indeed it has not. Who watches it over and over today?

    Chicago won over The Fellowship of the Ring? Oh, they were just waiting for the third part of the trilogy to honor it… Really? Then why did each movie get tons of Oscars along the way, but for Best Picture they picked a well-made, but basically ordinary musical? Yeah, people love to watch Chicago over and over to this day, right?

  • Mathias

    Without a doubt, Crash.

    It was plodding, inauthentic and preachy.
    Seemed more like an afternoon special than a film.

    And the fact that it beat out Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain only adds to the hurt. I have no idea what the academy was thinking.

  • Kevin

    I would have to vote for The English Patient. While the book is amazing, the movie kind of made me want to shoot myself. It was torturous. And it beat Fargo? Really?

  • Magess

    As someone said above, I’d have gone with Crash largely because it won out over Brokeback Mountain. That was a travesty.

  • 2001: A Beautiful Mind – The problem is that this was the year with the first part of the LotR trilogy, and while the Fellowship of the Ring (as well as the Two Towers) deserved its own award, Hollywood felt it was all part of one whole movie production, hence the massive victory that Return of the King got three years later. None of the other nominees really stuck out, did they?

    2000: Gladiator – This was honestly a great movie. Traffic was almost as deserving. Crouching Tiger was up this year and while it was a great movie it had its flaws. I can understand the love for Traffic but Gladiator deserved the Best Picture.

    1997: Titanic – yes, James Cameron and George Lucas are terrible romance writers. But for sheer spectacle there hasn’t been a movie like Titanic since Ben-Hur and the only one since to match it was LotR. Is LA Confidential a better picture? It had a better plot, yes, and better across-the-list acting. In the long run both movies are good.

    1989: Driving Miss Daisy – This was kinda a weak year for Best Picture nominees. Field of Dreams turned out to be a major classic but no one back then would have voted for a Costner sports movie. I can’t say any of the other films that year were this good. When was the last time Miss Daisy or Born on the 4th of the July were on the cable channels?

    2002: Chicago – This is debatable. Chicago was good, best true musical in decades that deserved the nom. But this was also the year of Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s magnum opus (the one he worked decades on), and this could have gone for that film. The greater tragedy was that Scorsese lost the Director award to Roman Polanski (?!) for a relatively low-key film.

    1995: Braveheart – the argument here is should this have gone to Apollo 13? Answer is ‘Leans Yes’. Where Braveheart had a muddled plot but epic scenery (and scenery chewing), Apollo 13 had greater drama.

    1994: Forrest Gump – perhaps the closest contest in Oscars history: Gump or Pulp Fiction? As time has told (15 years later) both movies genuinely hold up well. Although Samuel L. Jackson should have won Best Supporting Actor (pity it came at the expense of a good performance from Martin Landau in Ed Wood).

  • Isobel

    I’d have to go with Crash too, because there’s no way it should have beaten Brokeback Mountain. I’d also have to make Titanic a close second – I’ve never understood why people like it so much. I’ve seen it once and thought it was awful, mawkish, sentimental and just not particularly interesting.

  • J

    Yeah, I’d have to go with Crash, too. What an awful film. But I don’t think Gladiator has held up all that well — I enjoyed it enough ten years ago, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a Best Picture to me, especially considering its main competition, Traffic and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

  • Chris

    It depends what you mean by “least deserving”. That could mean the worst film of the best picture winners, or the film which was honored over a better choice in it’s year. I cant really comment on films pre-1975 as i’m less familiar with them, but my two choices would be:

    1990: Dances with Wolves (Which won over Goodfellas)

    and for quality across winners,

    1995: Braveheart

    Of course we could get into all the fantastic films never nominated, which in 1995’s case is Toy Story, but that would take forever…

  • I remember being furious when Forrest Gump won. That movie was treacly and predictable (like a box of chocolates, as a matter of fact).

    I wasn’t as upset when Titanic won because, although the screenplay was atrocious (and, thank heaven, not nominated), the movie held together thanks to the attention to physical detail, and acting that transcended the adolescent dialogue. It really came across as a labour of love. For me, though, it hasn’t stood up to repeat viewings.

  • RyanT

    Sorry, but it’s Crash for me all the way. It still stings.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Wait, do you mean “didn’t deserve to win at all” or “didn’t deserve to win over the other nominees“? Those seem like very different questions to me. The OFCS article doesn’t specify, either.

    fWH: no, I suppose sci-fi/fantasy geeks are much more likely to watch Fellowship than Chicago on DVD. Theater geeks on the other hand…

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Also (cause I know you’re all waiting with baited breath), going with my first version of the question:

    Of movies (I’ve seen) made in my lifetime: Gladiator, Titanic, A Beautiful Mind. The first two, while well made, didn’t move me. The third is manipulative bullshit. Forest Gump was manipulative, too, but at least it was entirely fictional.

    Of movies (I’ve seen) prior to my birth: An American in Paris. A decent, if uninvolving musical for most of its running time. BUT… it comes to a screeching halt in the third act for that stupid, 17 minute ballet. And when it’s finally over, the movie… stops. Just ends. WTF? My wife and I have been arguing about this movie for years. ;-)

  • Patrick

    I hated every movie in the list above except for Driving Miss Daisy, which I thought was okay, but certainly not Best Picture-worthy. If I had to pick just one I would go with Forrest Gump- no, make that A Beautiful Mind. Or Crash. Yes, the self-important, inauthentic Crash is my final answer.

  • jennie

    LOL – Patrick! I was just thinking the same thing. This question to me was much more “which movie drove me to distraction the most”. And I ended up with the 3 most sophomoric of the list: Forrest Gump, A Beautiful Mind, and Crash. And Crash really has to take it for being both the most inane and the most self-arrogating of the lot.

    Dr. Rocketscience – I love ‘An American in Paris’! But maybe it’s a generational thing. But I would find it hard to defend it beating out “A Place in the Sun” and “A Street Car Named Desire”.

    If I was really to go back in time, I’d have to pick “The Greatest Show on Earth” as the worst best picture winner of all time.

  • @Chris, yes the argument over Dances w/ Wolves vs. Goodfellas deserves consideration. Wolves is in the same league with Braveheart (awesome scenery) but not overtly memorable, while Goodfellas has gone on to equal if not surpass Godfather as the definitive gangster film. They teach practically every camera and editing trick Scorsese used in Goodfellas in film school nowadays. The biggest slight about the 1990 nominations? Godfather Part III (a stinker living off the quality of the first two) getting submitted over Miller’s Crossing, the Coen Brothers’ excellent crime gangster opus (think Fargo but with more style).

  • The first poster is crazy. Lots of people watch Chicago over and over to this day, myself included. I mean, I like the Lord of the Rings movies, but I would rate Chicago over all three of them, and I’m not a huge musicals person or anything, nor do I no anything about the theatre — it’s just a snappy, catchy, visually stunning movie. Don’t let the severe lameness of Rob Marshall’s other movies confuse you…

  • drewryce

    The worst movie to win the Oscar is pretty easy. “The Greatest Show on Earth” is, as Jennie suggested, the worst by far.

    Worse choice in comparison to that years other films is harder to pick. My choices for largest ‘gap’:

    1953 “The Greatest Show on Earth” wins over classics like:
    High Noon
    The Quiet Man
    Moulon Rouge
    Pat and Mike
    the best picture that year was probably “Rashomon”. The gap between the winner and the runner-ups is quite large.

    1973 “The Sting”
    Sure The Sting was fun but was it better than:

    American Grafitti
    Serpico
    Last Tango in Paris
    Papaer Chase
    Paper Moon

    Same thing for 1968.
    I actually liked “Oliver!” but I don’t think it is in the same ball park as:
    The Lion in Winter
    The Fixer
    The Producers
    The Thomas Crown Affair or, my choice for best picture, 2001

  • Jim Mann

    1973 “The Sting”
    Sure The Sting was fun but was it better than:

    American Grafitti
    Serpico
    Last Tango in Paris
    Papaer Chase
    Paper Moon

    I think it is. American Graffiti is entertaining, but not award worthy. Ditto for the Paper Chase and Paper Moon. I didn’t care for Last Tango in Paris the one time I saw it many years ago. So of the list, Serpico is the only one I’d even place in the running with the Sting, which I found a marvelously constructed movie, full of good performances and sharp writing.

  • Jester

    Shakespeare in Love, 1998. It’s a lovely film (I own it and watch it regularly), but deserving of Best Picture? No.

  • Hasimir Fenring

    I can’t believe Shakespeare in Love isn’t on the list. People are talking travesty but don’t mention that this forgettable fluff beat out Saving Private Ryan, a film that transformed modern war filmmaking and left its stamp on nearly every war film make in the last twelve years?

    That was the year I tuned the Oscars out, and I’ve never looked back.

  • Although Samuel L. Jackson should have won Best Supporting Actor – I think Jackson should have won best actor, not best supporting actor, for that movie. It’s a pet peeve of mine. He had a character arc, better dialogue, and is a better actor than Travolta.

    Wow – that 1953 was a gyp wasn’t it? High Noon and Rashomon are definite classics.

    And thanks for providing those lists by the year. It’s useful for comparison. A movie I don’t like might actually be the best of that year. I guess I don’t have the movie background to know for sure.

  • funWithHeadlines

    Tyler called me “crazy” for having an opinion that differed from his own, a very odd definition of mental illness if you ask me. But at least I’ve now found a person who watches Chicago more than once.

  • drewryce

    To Jim Mann – I don’t have your affection for “The Sting” but I don’t feel strongly enough about the other possibilities that year to mount a serious arguement.

    How about some other years?

    1957 winner is “Around The World in 80 Days” over:
    La Strada
    The Seven Samurai
    Giant
    Friendly Persuasion
    Forbidden Planet

    1980 “Ordinary People” over:
    Raging Bull

    1965 “The Sound of Music” over:
    Dr Zhivago

    1961 “The Apartment” over:
    Psycho
    Inherit The Wind
    The Magnificent Seven

  • Angel

    Worst – The Greatest Show on Earth – imcomparably bad (it’s the Betty Hutton curse)

    Almost as bad – Around the World in 80 Days – dizzingly awful

    Worst of the past 25 years – Crash – I slept in the middle. On a first date. He married me anyway.

  • Yeah, people love to watch Chicago over and over to this day, right?

    Yes, they do. Well, I do, at least. For the same reason I watch a lot of old musicals–West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, 42nd Street, 1937’s Shall We Dance, etc.–over and over: I like the music.

    Granted, YMMV, but then you could say that about any musical–including the Astaire-Rogers movies and the MGM movies…

  • That was the year I tuned the Oscars out, and I’ve never looked back.

    I stopped taking Oscar seriously back in 1976 after Rocky won out over All the President’s Men and Network. (If I had seen Taxi Driver back then, I might have added that to the list but I didn’t.)

    Granted, Rocky was a nice movie and well worth watching, but as far as I could tell, the only reason it deserved to win over the other nominees is because it came out toward the end of December.

  • t6

    Chicago was excellent. Actually, I think it improved on the original Fosse…which I think suffered from Fosse’s meanspiritedness and a shakey overarching concept. Chicago, the film, left me breathless at some sequences. I watch it over and over…and I’m both and sci-fi/fantasy geek and a theatre geek.

    So. I think I have to go with Crash. It insulted me that it won.

  • ceti

    Some of those comments by the OFCS are ridiculously close to being trollish in their peeved feelings for certain films.

    The only film I didn’t see on this list is “Chicago”, all the others were definitely a bit overrated (although perhaps not undeserving of the Oscar), just as Fellowship of the Ring was the best of the three films. Crash, Forrest Gump, Driving Miss Daisy, and Shakespeare in Love stand out as the weakest of the lot.

  • Jim Mann

    I can’t believe Shakespeare in Love isn’t on the list. People are talking travesty but don’t mention that this forgettable fluff beat out Saving Private Ryan, a film that transformed modern war filmmaking and left its stamp on nearly every war film make in the last twelve years?

    I disagree.

    First of all, I don’t find Shakespeare in Love to be fluff. It’s not a big epic film, but it has some of the sharpest dialog in years, a creative plot, and very good acting.

    As for Saving Private Ryan, how did transform modern war filmmaking? Granted, it had a great opening sequence (and I think many people mostly remember the film for the first half an hour) and a moving ending. But what came between was basically an extended episode of the old TV show Combat.

    I go back and watch Shakespeare in Love at least once a year. I was very happy when it won the Oscar.

  • Christina

    BRAVEHEART for several reasons, not the least of which is that I really, REALLY hate it when women are killed in the beginning of a movie and Our Hero spends the rest of the film avenging her. Where were you when she needed you, Boychick?

    And I will never get over FORREST GUMP winning over PULP FICTION – another movie that, like GOODFELLAS and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, changed the way we look at films forever. But you know what they say – stupid is as stupid does.

  • Mark B.

    Sometimes winning the Best Picture Oscar winds up being a permanent curse. Many of the winners were very, very good films in their own right, certainly deserving of being among the Top Five of their given years…but since they weren’t the best choice of the year end up paying a permanent price in terms of reputation, even though they’re still terrific movies. Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction, Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas, Ordinary People over Raging Bull and Rocky over Network are some relatively notorious recent examples but you could go back as far as All About Eve over Sunset Boulevard (1950), The Best Years of Our Lives over It’s A Wonderful Life (1946, even though I know MaryAnn is more of a Best Years fan), and maybe most notoriously, How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane in 1941.

    So…worst Best Picture Oscar winner of all time? It’s tempting to go back to 1929’s Broadway Melody or 1931’s Cimarron, both of which are pretty creaky and unwatchable. And I still think 1947’s Gentleman’s Agreement is dull, talky and obnoxiously self-congratulatory in ways that Crash is currently (and I think unjustly) accused of being. But all three of these WERE, for the time they were made, pretty state of the art. On the other hand, The Greatest Show on Earth wasn’t even very good by Cecil B. DeMille standards; I’ll watch his ridiculous but wildly enjoyable The Ten Commandments (made in 1956, four years later) ten more times before I watch it once. Hell, I’ll watch his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments before I watch The Greatest Show on Earth again.

    So, yep, I guess Betty Hutton on a tightrope (or horse, or shot out of a cannon, or whatever) takes the cake.

  • Muzz

    Forrest Gump probably annoys me the most, of those. I found it a completely vapid piece of work that thought it was so much more (I haven’t seen Crash as yet). The others are probably guilty of this too but I managed to ignore it. It’s what Gump says and represents that drives me nuts. It was a satirical book that was turned into schmaltz. It was the old sixties counter-culture finally giving up and vanishing into a cloud of self congradulatory nostalgia.
    Titanic was annoying initially, but I can’t summon up the passion to be mad at it. It’s just so thin. Gump at least could have meant something. All I really remember clearly about the Big T was “Come on Rose Come on!””This way Rose!’ for, like, an hour.
    Braveheart still has a lot of geek love, I think, but it’s such a bizarre mish mash of cheesy tropes.
    Gladiator I found an odd choice; well made and fun, but a bit messy. Seemed like it was a big apology to Scott for years of not quite getting there and to Russty for them passing over The Insider.

    So, yeah; Gump still raises my hackles, possibly magnified by all the accolades.

    As an aside, wouldn’t it be something if the academy went completely mad and gave it to The Hurt Locker in a bout of art-meets-zeitgeist not seen since The French Connection got it?

  • JennMT

    Jumping on the Crash bandwagon here. I’m still upset at that one. *gag*

    Close second is, as previously mentioned, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ beating out ‘Saving Private Ryan’. I was only in high school when this happened, but remember being appalled. (I even like ‘SIL’, but it was not a Best Picture.)

  • MarkFilipak

    I think this subject is sick. Oscar wins are mostly political. It’s nominations that really matter, if anything matters at all (which, it doesn’t). It’s like being in the Olympics. What does it matter whether you win – You’re there!! Stop with the “U! S! A!” chanting. It’s embarrassing.

    For example, Brokeback Mountain is awesome, but so’s Crash. Why choose between them? They both are extremely well done with superior craft. I have both of them and regularly watch and enjoy both of them. Don’t be suckered into making a false choice. Kick the “best of” habit and enjoy life.

  • funWithHeadlines

    I’m with Jim Mann on the Shakespeare in Love issue. People get so dazzled by the opening 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan (and it is Best Picture material up until that point), the rest of the movie is merely good but not great, and derivative. Shakespeare in Love was totally original, amazingly well-written, directed and acted, but consistent from beginning to end. The better picture won, but patriotism makes people see it the other way.

  • Have to admit that I didn’t see Shakespeare in Love, but I wasn’t a big fan of Saving Private Ryan. The opening is great, but I don’t remember the second half all that well, and the bookends to the movie are just so, so bad, some of the worst, most treacly, nauseating stuff that Spielberg has ever done.

    The film’s legacy is also tarnished slightly by the fact that I hate that washed-out, high-grain cinematography. Sometimes it looks good (put to better use in Minority Report, IMO), but every time I’ve seen it since then, I’ve pretty much wanted to scream. Don’t filmmakers understand that it makes their movie look intensely boring?

  • MaSch

    Christina, on men who avenge their murdered loved ones: “Where were you when she needed you, Boychick?”

    Yeah, because if women who have male partners get murdered, it is because said male partner is not enough of a real man to protect her. *headdesk*

    Blame the script writers for this lazy clichee, but blaming a character for not being omnipotent when it comes to protecting women is a bit too steeped in, ahem, patriarchal ideology.

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