Five Best Picture Winners That Are Actually Stinkers
The Academy Awards are supposed to honor the best in cinema, but they often recognize films that are entirely forgettable
Some incredible and unforgettable films have walked away with the much-coveted Best Picture Academy Award in the past. Films such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Braveheart,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “Platoon,” and “The Deer Hunter” have been among the movies to hold Hollywood’s top prize.
They all won for one reason or another. They challenged audiences in the right way at the right time, they said something new about the human experience — or maybe they were just the most entertaining films of their year.
Despite recognizing many wonderful films that are still debated, discussed and watched today, Oscar voters don’t always award the best of cinema — sometimes they don’t even recognize good cinema. A film often wins because it had the right Oscar campaign, played to the right audience, or had the right showy social message that allowed everyone in Hollywood to pat themselves on the back with a golden statue after promoting such work.
Often, most of the films nominated have a limited audience outside of the entertainment industry. It’s become more fashionable to recognize smaller, agenda-heavy projects most of America hasn’t heard of — which can lead to mediocre and forgettable films’ winning the night’s top honor.
This Sunday’s Best Picture Academy Award nominees happen to be among the most populist batches yet. Save for “Call Me By Your Name” — a film about a gay relationship between a teenager and a man in his 20s — every movie has done considerable business at the box office and been fairly well-received by audiences.
Among the nominees this year are the blockbuster hit “Get Out,” the controversial but powerful “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” and, of course, the big-wet-kiss-to-the-press movie of the year, “The Post.”
We’d like to say Hollywood is changing its ways, but this year is likely a fluke. And if “Call Me By Your Name” wins the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday night (and it very well might), we’ll know why — Hollywood wanted to promote the “right” social message by propping up a film that doesn’t deserve to stand with the likes of “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” or “The Sting.”
That said, here is a look at five Best Picture Academy Award winners in the past that did not deserve the honor.
1.) “The Hurt Locker.” This was one of the most overpraised films of the past 10, maybe even 20 years. People went wild for it. It scored a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and went home with not just the Best Picture Academy Award on Oscar night, but also Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow), Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. It was also nominated for three other awards, including Best Actor for Jeremy Renner.
“The Hurt Locker” is not a totally inept film. It “looks” great and has capable performances, but it’s so obvious. Every character’s emotional arc is seen a mile away.
The story follows a seemingly unkillable bomb defuser (EOD) in Iraq as he’s partnered with someone who is not quite as ready to throw his life on the line.
People overpraised “The Hurt Locker” because Hollywood had been trying and failing for years to make an anti-war film about the going-ons in the Middle East.
Countless films tried and failed to warn of the terrors of the modern war — “Green Zone,” “Lions for Lambs,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “Redacted,” etc. None were any good, and American audiences rejected each one.
“Hurt Locker” was the first film that succeeded in some small way by not being a total mess. The flick fails in its writing. Everything is obvious from the opening quote to the final shot.
Everything is obvious from the opening quote to the final shot.
Plenty of films about the wars in the Middle East summed up the horrors of combat and had a lot more complex and emotional things to say about a soldier’s journey, but those didn’t win a Best Picture Oscar — “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor” jump to mind.
It’s worth noting that those films domestically made $350.1 million and $125.1 million, respectively. “The Hurt Locker” wasn’t all that widely seen. It made just $17 million in comparison.
2.) “Titanic.” This was a smash hit because it dropped at the right time. It entered theaters as the most expensive movie of all time — and people were incredibly curious to see what director James Cameron had managed to create with a whopping $200 million.
Most of the budget seemed to go to the film’s final hour, during which we witness the infamous crashing of the Titanic ship and the frantic attempts to survive by those on board. The truth is, that’s the part of the movie that works. It is heart-wrenching and emotional, and still looks impressive to this day. It does, however, border on bad taste at times as we sometimes feel Cameron lingering on certain images to elicit an emotional response.
If only what came before that final hour were any good. It’s a typical rich-girl-falls-in-love-with-poor-boy-story. It’s a melodramatic love story that comes nowhere near reaching the heights of cinema’s best romances.
Nonetheless, “Titanic” walked away with a Best Picture Oscar, though it has always felt like it received the award more for its technical prowess than its actual story. Since its release, the film has been openly mocked for Celine Dion’s on-the-nose theme song of sorts and, of course, a plot point many still debate the merits of — was there enough room on that door for Jack?
3.) “The English Patient.” This might be the most boring movie to ever win the Best Picture Academy Award — and that is really saying something.
Every frame of the muddled movie oozes seriousness and self-importance. It almost borders on being a parody of a cliche “Oscar-bait movie” at times.
The plot is enough to put anyone to sleep. A nurse tends to a plane crash victim who had a sweeping love affair that is told in flashbacks, and it all takes place at the tail end of …. zzzzzzzzz.
“The English Patient” never feels like a movie about people, but rather a film about actors showing off for a couple of hours. This is one of the worst films to win the Best Picture Academy Award. In film circles, there is almost zero discussion of the flick today — and for good reason.
4.) “Schindler’s List.” The biggest problem with this film is its director, Steven Spielberg. This is not to say the man is a bad director. On the contrary, he is one of cinema’s titans and has pushed cinema forward with some of his efforts.
Where Spielberg is most comfortable is with populist efforts like “Jaws” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” These are great works that can still be enjoyed today.
His dramatic efforts are often less successful. Sure, he chooses heart-wrenching and powerful true stories at times, such as that of Oskar Schindler, a man who saved a great many Jewish lives during World War II, but he never quite gets these stories the way other dramatic directors do.
The trouble is that Spielberg doesn’t have the same biting artistic voice of other filmmakers. When it comes to personal stories, he seems to have very little to say.
The trouble is Spielberg doesn’t have the same biting artistic voice that other filmmakers have.
“Schindler’s List” is, quite frankly, boring. It is a flat movie about an incredible story. There are countless World War II documentaries far better than this movie.
You never get the sense you know Oskar Schindler in this film, which would seem to be the entire purpose of doing a dramatic narrative film rather than a documentary.
Spielberg is simply documenting certain things with his camera, never giving the movie a sense of life.
This film was, however, wildly popular, which was very likely due to the story itself, which is an incredible one. “Schindler’s List” not only won the Best Picture Academy Award, but it was also a box office hit and it earned near perfect reviews from critics.
5.) “Shakespeare in Love.” This is a fun film if you’re just looking for an enjoyable couple of hours that you’ll likely forget about. It goes down easy and leaves you with a few smiles; there’s nothing wrong with that, but the best picture of the year? Seriously?
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“Shakespeare in Love” is a perfect example of an Oscar campaign working in overdrive. Disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein was famous for these — and it worked out big-time for this lovable but nowhere near great film.
A young Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is uninspired, but finds inspiration when a woman becomes his new muse. That very same woman pretends to be a man to get a role in his new play.
A cute film — but awarding it the Best Picture Oscar was one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes.