I’m not really into the Oscars anymore. When I was a young and naive film nut, I thought that the Academy Awards was a legitimate attempt to honor achievements in the art form I loved most. Now that my heart is a desiccated grey lump and I am no longer equipped with the capacity to experience joy, I see the Oscars for what they are: a circle-jerk for publicists.
I am sure that a part of my turning away from caring about the Oscars are the multitude of crap films that have achieved the rare “pinnacle” of cinema: the Academy Award for Best Picture. So here are my choices for the 10 worst films to win the honor in the last thirty years. Each entry in the list also includes a subsection I call, “The Hell?!“, where I describe what should have won the stupid prize that year.
1. Crash (2005)
I rabidly hate this awful, maudlin, irritating wedge of garbage. Self-important, manipulative, and dumb as a box of rocks, I despise Crash for so many reasons, the primary one being how insistent it is that it is Important and that the filmmakers Know Better. I may have been more forgiving if its ludicrousness was leavened with any sense of humor, but no, this condescending claptrap is presented with a deadly serious manner. When it came to choose my least favorite Best Picture winner, it wasn’t a choice at all.
The Hell?! I would have been satisfied if any other film won other than Crash. How about Cheaper By The Dozen 2? Sure, why not. Be Cool? Cool with me. Of the other films that were actually nominated and didn’t win, both Capote and Brokeback Mountain are restrained, intelligent, and deeply emotional films with staggeringly great performances at their core: in other words, they are everything Crash is not.
2. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
I blame Y2K. We were all so delirious with fear at the upcoming Millennium Apocalypse, we decided to honor this safe, lame snoozer with Best Picture.
The Hell?! Was it that awful face-morph at the end of Saving Private Ryan that made it lose the award it should have won? Because, you know, the three hours before that were pretty damn good. I am also a big fan of Elizabeth, and I totally wouldn’t blame Cate Blanchett if she got drunk one night and knocked over Gwyneth Paltrow’s mailbox for stealing her Best Actress Oscar that year.
3. The Last Emperor (1987)
Maybe this emperor is the last one because all the other emperors died of boredom during the run time of this endless fucking movie.
The Hell?! I’ll admit, the competition for Best Picture for this year was pretty thin gruel. Fatal Attraction? Seriously? I mean, those idiots in the Academy didn’t even consider nominating RoboCop or The Princess Bride or The Untouchables, all of which are now universally recognized as classics?
4. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
A lot of people liked this. I wasn’t one of them. I’m probably being one of those contrarian jerkwads on the Internet when I say that I thought Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is a far more engaging film than Slumdog, what it is what it is, I suppose.
The Hell?! Geez, looking over the nominees for 2008, I don’t like any of them. Milk? Frost/Nixon? Bleh. So maybe I can’t fault them for choosing the middling Slumdog from a weak crop. The Academy should have nominated WALL-E (which was, by leaps and bounds, the best movie of 2008) and the brilliant In Bruges.
5. Gandhi (1982)
With a running time that feels as if someone turned on the VCR in 1982 and it is still going, Gandhi is cinematic brussels sprouts, experienced by many and beloved by none.
The Hell?! For once, 1982 had a killer lineup of Best Picture nominees: The Verdict, with its iconic Paul Newman performance; E.T., which was the biggest movie of all time for a long time; Tootsie, one of the essential early 80s comedies; and Missing, unseen by me, but it won the Palme d’Or in Cannes that year. Considering that formidable group, giving the award to Gandhi is a forehead-slapper, for sure.
6. Chicago (2002)
I really wish they would make movie musicals with legitimate theater people. Catherine Zeta-Jones has the talent pull it off on screen, but everyone else in this marginal adaptation looks like they are desperately playing catch-up to her. Not a bad movie, but not a Best Picture caliber one, either.
The Hell?! The Two Towers is a much better film in the extended edition than it was in the theatrical version, and I’m satisfied that the trilogy got all its well-deserved accolades the following year. Once again, the two best films from 2002 were not nominated: Adaptation and About Schmidt.
7. The English Patient (1996)
Other than seeing it in the theater, I don’t remember a damn thing about this movie. Was there a plane crash? Or something?
The Hell?! OK, I admit that I’m just bitter Fargo didn’t win. The Coen Brothers’ efficient, multi-layered masterpiece can be endlessly rewatched, and is so utterly incisive about how everyday evil (and everyday love) works, it’s difficult to imagine anything beating it for a Best Picture award.
8. Titanic (1997)
I don’t hate Titanic (though that Celine Dion song is pretty awful). It’s effective for what it is. But 1997 was a great year in film, and there were many other, better choices.
The Hell?! The wonderfully complex L.A. Confidential is so damn good, it’s shocking that it actually got nominated for Best Picture. Boogie Nights is an all-time favorite. Also worthy classics: Jackie Brown, The Sweet Hereafter, and Waiting For Guffman.
9. Dances With Wolves (1990)
I’ve only seen Dances With Wolves once, and if I remember correctly, I think I enjoyed it. “Tatanka”, right?
The Hell?! But I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Goodfellas. So, I include Dances With Wolves not because it’s a bad movie or even a mediocre one, but because it prevented one the unequivocally greatest films ever made from achieving the Best Picture award it so obviously deserved. Now go home and get your fuckin’ shine box.
10. The King’s Speech (2010)
The King’s Speech is fine. This movie is like an old shoe, in that it’s comfortable and does everything you expect it to do.
The Hell?! Except that it somehow beat out the massively ambitious Inception, a heady blockbuster that dares you to follow it down to the inner workings of the human experience. Also, The Social Network, which took the most banal subject imaginable (Facebook) and made its creation into a penetrating and riotously entertaining drama.
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