In order for a film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture it means everyone has to love it, right? Not necessarily. In fact, since the history of mankind there has never been any piece of art that has garnered unanimous acclaim. Even Death of A Salesman received some negative reviews and not just from salesman trade publications which had some problems with the play’s realism.
Movies are no different. According to the website rottentomatoes.com, the best reviewed movie ever is The Wizard of Oz which received one negative review from Otis Ferguson of The New Republic who said “it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet.” I’m not really sure what that means but he goes on to say it’s “painfully literal” and that the cast, with the exception of Frank Morgan “…try too hard or are Judy Garland” which is definitely negative.
When you’re dealing with “Best Picture” award winners you’re in pretty rarefied air but even the best air can be tinged with the faint aroma of skunk. All of the movies listed below received good reviews but not as good as you’d think. We took the data from metacritic.com which takes all reviews and gives them an aggregate score. A score of 90 to 100 means the movie received universal acclaim. A score of 50 to 74 denotes a mixed or average score. So, if you’ve seen an Academy Award Winner and thought to yourself, it wasn’t that great, you were not alone because all of these films received a score from 64 to 76. Please enjoy the 8 most poorly reviewed Best Picture winners from 1987 on:
8. The Last Emperor – 76/100 (1987)
This 219 minute true life story of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last ruler of the Chinese Ching Dynasty told in flashback managed to beat out Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, and Moonstruck. Perhaps they decided to award the prize to the longest film that year. Vincent Camby said “Ultimately it’s a let-down.” Rita Kempley of the Washington Post said “it’s docudrama that dazzles, but basically Pu Yi (the lead) was a bore.”
Truthfully, the film, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, feels a little bit like medicine. You should like it because it’s good for you but you really don’t. In fairness, though, I can’t watch three hours and forty five minutes of anything.
7. Titanic – 74/100 (1997)
Fine, I’ll say it, except for the sinking part, the film’s a colossal bore clocking in at well over three hours. Billy Zane is so over the top, it’s a miracle he doesn’t twirl his moustache and laugh manically when doing something evil. I’m not alone as Richard Corliss from Time said “The regretful verdict here: dead in the water.” Kenneth Turan from the L.A. Times wrote “To the question of the day–what does $200 million buy?–the 3-hour-and-14-minute “Titanic” unhesitatingly answers: not enough.”
Yes, it’s long, melodramatic, and not nearly as good as Good Will Hunting or L.A. Confidential. Perhaps I’m bitter because I was forced to see this film twice and one of the times the woman directly to my right cried hysterically from start to finish.
T5. A Beautiful Mind – 72/100 (2001)
I have no beef with this one at all. It tells the story of physicist John Nash in a totally original way that really sucks you into the events. It takes you places but without being manipulative. Sure, it’s long, clocking in at over one hundred and thirty five minutes long but that seems to be some kind of a prerequisite for best picture award winners.
Like, I said, I have no beef with this movie but a significant amount of critics did. Wall Street Journal critic, Joe Morgenstern, said “it isn’t the device that’s so crude, but the execution.” Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press said the film “tells us little about paranoid schizophrenia, less about genius, and next to nothing about Nash.” My favorite though has to be Rick Groen of the Globe and Mail who wrote “In the hands of a better director than Ron Howard, such a protean mix of reason and madness could have made for a tale of Shakespearean complexity. Instead, all we get is a feel-good flick.” What’s wrong with a feel good flick?
Yes, A Beautiful Mind did benefit from a particularly weak year in the best picture catagory, it was up against Gosford Park, Moulin Rouge and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring but it’s still a great movie.
T5. Dances With Wolves – 72/100 (1990)
Also really long at just over three hours, the movie beat out Goodfellas, which is one of the greatest movies of all time. However, my main problem with it is that it doesn’t hold up well. It’s the story of John Dunbar, a Union officer at the end of the Civil War who decides to travel to the western frontier to man a fort or, as he said, “to see the west before it’s gone.” Speaking as someone in 2014, I can tell Johnny Dunbar that it’s still there.
While at the fort, Dunbar eventually meets and joins up with a Sioux nation and eventually becomes a member of the tribe, marrying fellow caucasian, Mary McDonnell, known as “Stands With A Fist.” Around this point, I usually fall asleep. Luckily, critics, like Vincent Canby, stayed awake long enough to write “its triumph is that it is never exactly boring, only dulled. It’s a movie in acute need of sharpening.” Yes, say it Vinny! Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly wrote, “…Costner isn’t quite a filmmaker. Working from a script by Michael Blake… he comes up with a ploddingly ”mythic” story that never succeeds in portraying the Indians as full- fledged human beings.”
4. Crash – 69/100 (2005)
Let’s look at racial problems in America one heavy handed vignette at a time! Perhaps David Edelstein of Slate said it best when he wrote, “The theme is racism. Let me say that again: The theme is racism. I could say it 500 more times because that’s how many times the movie says it, in every single scene.” A.O. Scott wrote, “Americans from radically different backgrounds are brought together by a grim serendipity in Paul Haggis‘s frustrating directorial debut.” Of course, Roger Ebert loved it. So, to summarize; Crash is definitely heavy handed and over acted but on the plus side, it’s only 112 minutes long.
3. Braveheart – 68/100 (1995)
177 minutes of white people fighting, specifically Scotts vs. English nobles, both races known for being bleeders. It was only much later, thanks to the Malibu police and his former Russian girlfriend, that we knew about Mel Gibson‘s love of violence. Still, it did win best picture against Apollo 13 and Babe in a weak year.
Desson Thomson of The Washington Post called it, “A rambling disappointment.” Tom Gliatto of the usually celebrity friendly People magazine wrote, “The movie is full of battle scenes, all of them interchangeable.” You know, maybe some people are just prejudiced against the Scotts.
2. Rain Man – 65/100 (1988)
How is this movie the second lowest rated best picture award winner? What’s not to like? You’ve got a young, cocky Tom Cruise who was in the sweet spot of his young, cocky period. You have Dustin Hoffman creating a totally original character and it’s a road movie. The subject matter was interesting enough to interest Steven Spielberg and Barry Levinson but like the saying goes, haters gotta hate.
Geoff Andrew from Time Out wrote, “There is no story, no motor, and given the nature of the premise, nothing much can happen.” What movie was he watching? There’s a perfectly valid ticking clock to propel the action which is the motor. Nothing can happen except for two brothers who hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years to get to know each other. Hal Hinson from The Washington Post wrote, “Neither Levinson nor Hoffman was able to penetrate the mystery of their subject.” Idiots…
1. Gladiator – 64/100 (2000)
In 2000, Russell Crowe was on a roll. He had starring roles in L.A. Confidential and The Insider and had completed A Beautiful Mind. Most people in his position would make a really pretentious movie to show how great an actor he is but Russell Crowe does a gladiator flick. Pretty freakin’ cool. And yet, some people didn’t like it. Maybe they should be forced to face Maximus in the arena.
If so, David Edelstein of Slate would have to answer for saying, “Gladiator’s combination of grim sanctimony and drenching, Dolby-ized dismemberings left me appalled.” J. Hoberman from The Village Voice would be held accountable for saying, “self-proclaimed ‘world-creator’ Scott only intermittently obliterates the turgid narrative and mediocre dialogue.” Both men, if forced to face our man in the arena, would be crapping in their tunics.