The Academy Awards, or Oscars if you will, don’t have the greatest credibility. When stars such as DiCaprio, Pitt and Depp can’t claim a prize despite their talents, few can take the ceremony seriously. This also is true for the Best Picture award; the crowing achievement, the biggest prize, the loudest gong for cinema. But as we know, often the winner succeeds because of other factors away from the screen; specific themes, direction, appeal to certain sections of society. And even though the award means nothing to us, the viewers, it still generates a degree of annoyance when the wrong film gets called out.
Hindsight is a marvelous thing, and as years pass by we can look at the winner (and the losers) and see which film aged better, which film is still a classic and which film truly deserved the accolades. Unsurprisingly, if the awards were to be pushed into a recount, we’d have a new list of victors. But which years were the most obvious? Which Oscars were the most undeserving? Here are 10 movies that shouldn’t have won Best Picture, accompanied by the poor entries that wonder how they failed in the eyes of the Academy. Through analysis, it seems some actors and directors are completely shunned when it comes to the crown.
10. 12 Years a Slave (2014)
Should have won: The Wolf of Wall Street
12 Years a Slave uses a rehash of the brilliant track in Inception, plays the race card and tells another tale of slavery in a period with countless demonstrations on the big screen. It wasn’t the best year for film, but there were other entries more captivating and memorable than this. Man gets captured, man becomes a slave for bastard slave drivers, man stands up for himself, man is saved; this is a common story arc without originality. But the Academy went with the safe option, instead of opting for the more diverse The Wolf of Wall Street or Captain Phillips. When Avatar utilised the same story arc as Dances With Wolves, everybody focused on the negative. Here, due to the sensitivity and power of perhaps two scenes, 12 Years a Slave was handed gold. The major flaw was boredom.
9. Slumdog Millionaire (2009)
Should have won: The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight was the best movie of the year. Put aside the amazing (and award-winning) performance of Heath Ledger, and The Dark Knight is still a film that changed the superhero genre forever, linking the concept with reality. Slumdog Millionaire is a great movie, but its premise was based on an Indian boy winning a game show due to the questions coincidently following his life story. Some of the questions (who is the third musketeer?) are simple minded, and we only see five questions answered in a game show of 16 (and three lifelines were utilised). Realism is stressed, but it appears unrealistic especially with some of the acting. The Dark Knight on the other hand pushes realism and the chaos is all the more believable. While Indian life was pushed into the spotlight by Danny Boyle, the way it was projected was through exaggeration and stereotyping characters. Is it a film that calls for repeat viewing?
8. A Beautiful Mind (2002)
Should have won: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Academy has an issue with fantasy movies. While Return of the King won Best Picture just two years later, it was the uproar that caused the victory. The Fellowship of the Ring was the ground-breaking achievement in cinema this year, not A Beautiful Mind, which Russell Crowe didn’t even win a Best Actor award for. With mathematics and schizophrenia as the subject matter, A Beautiful Mind is a beautiful film about a man demonstrating the human ability to overcome adversity and strive for greatness. But what was the reason for victory? Acting and directing, or the outstanding achievement in film? Adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s book into such a visually stunning, journey-driven and orchestral film annoyed Hollywood; fantasy isn’t supposed to challenge for the crown.
7. The King’s Speech (2011)
Should have won: Inception
Now that four years have passed, we still talk about Inception and the original idea Christopher Nolan had in constructing a film based on dream. We don’t talk about The King’s Speech. Ever. Did anyone watch it twice? The movie is about a speech problem. Yes, it was the speech problem of a King of England, but speech issues are common throughout the world. Colin Firth cried, but nobody cried with him. This is a demonstration of the Academy not rewarding fresh ideas. It feels like a stage play, moves like a stage play and ends like a stage play. When people list their favourite films of all time, Inception receives mention through direction, acting, ideas and the ending. The King’s Speech would be lucky to sell fifty copies through DVD sales next year, worldwide. What really is the requirement for a Best Picture?
6. Shakespeare in Love (1999)
Should have won: Saving Private Ryan
Is this an art film, a comedy or an ode to the great man himself? While the movie is entertaining and deserves the nominations (13 in fact), it is Hollywood rewarding the same traits as it always does; safety in the subject matter, a story arc that pleases the audience and characters attempting to move us into another period. Compare this to the horror of the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan; unforgettable, gory, effective and emotional. You feel the bullets piercing skin. You cringe at every lost limb. You care about the characters and understand the fear in their eyes. That is what filmmaking is about. War is graphic. We go to the movies to escape our reality and feel that of another; both movies achieve this, but which impacted the audience more? Paltrow‘s poor-accented Viola or Hanks as a leader in WWII? If the two movies stood side by side in your collection, which would you reach out for?
5. Annie Hall (1978)
Should have won: Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope
Woody Allen‘s Annie Hall fails in comparison to what the first Star Wars entry has done for cinema. The franchise continues four decades later, but few have heard of Annie Hall. Award-winning movies are meant to transcend time and leave a legacy for future generations, to bridge the gap between young and old, to be passed from parent to child to grandchild. Of these two films, which follows this direction? Woody Allen is egotistical, we know this, but here is his claim to self-gratification. It is a glimpse into the 70s, yes, but Annie Hall is a once-off view that takes an original look into a romance we don’t care for anymore. Compare this to the work of George Lucas, the start of a phenomenon, the rise of what many claim to be a religion, and it is a struggle to see how the Academy made such a blunder.
4. The French Connection (1972)
Should have won: A Clockwork Orange
This is perhaps nit picking more so than a wrong decision, but Stanley Kubrick‘s A Clockwork Orange is, simply put, a monumental moment in cinema history. His adaption of the iconic book is one of style, class, futuristic prediction and originality. The French Connection is a classic, but it has a disjointed feel and hasn’t aged well in comparison. A Clockwork Orange is a representation of youth in revolt, but the French Connection is another cop show action flick that stands above most others through Gene Hackman‘s performance and a unique car chase. Pitted against artistic prominence, and a recount would see a silver medal. The dialogue of A Clockwork Orange and the themes of brainwash, violence and drugs have entered pop culture in a way that requires further recognition.
3. Crash (2006)
Should have won: Brokeback Mountain
The 2006 ceremony was showered in controversy, as the favourite lost out to an unexpected nominee. Many believed it was due to the content revolving around gay cowboys, which was a shun not taken lightly (and quickly rectified by future awards). Even in the 21st century, many people didn’t want to be known as fans of Brokeback Mountain, despite its power and clear demonstration of great film making. The backlash was devastating. Critics were baffled. Crash was the easy way out, but they chose the wrong film to use as scapegoat. Crash had a dozen poor plot lines, while Brokeback Mountain had one clear story. Even the Crash director, Paul Haggis, believes there were other nominations more worthy than his entry. Even Munich was a more appropriate choice, and that is saying something.
2. Dances With Wolves (1991)
Should have won: Goodfellas
Dances With Wolves is a film with a strong lesson, utilised once again in James Cameron‘s Avatar; understand the enemy and you may join them, especially when love appears on the other side. But not much else happens here. Scorsese‘s Goodfellas is widely regarded to be his crowning achievement, the gangster movie that challenges The Godfather for bragging rights. Actors working in the crime genre still point to Goodfellas as a reason for getting in to the business, but few look to Kevin Costner and say “man, your performance alongside the Natives inspired me.” The stereotypical nature of the “conquering white men” is cringe worthy, the dialogue is poor, the slow pace is depressing and the conclusion is predictable; compare this to the antics of Joe Pesci and the style of Scorsese, and it seems to be a no-brainer in retrospect.
1. Forrest Gump (1995)
Should have won: The Shawshank Redemption
IMDB users rank The Shawshank Redemption as the greatest movie of all time. While Forrest Gump remains a feel-good movie, and features a spectacular performance by Tom Hanks, a re-vote would see Shawshank claim the prize. But unfortunately for The Shawshank Redemption, it took a while to develop a fan base. There are few (if any) movies in history that would now be able to claim glory against this title, and while Forrest Gump captivated audiences and sparked countless phrases to be repeated by viewers, it isn’t a heavyweight contender. Whenever The Shawshank Redemption is on TV, it calls to you. Forrest Gump has heart, but it remains cheesy, over-the-top and preaches luck. Then again, if you have Morgan Freeman narrating a story, it will generally beat out anything.