Life is inherently unfair. But you know what’s even more unfair (if you’re a movie lover)? The Academy Awards. The following is our opinionated list of the worst films ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The story is similar for all: they haven’t aged well. Stories that may have had some edge in their day have dulled through the years and we’re left with slightly embarrassing, often boring films peopled by phony characters menaced by even phonier straw men. In honor of the Academy Awards (a statue we love to hate) we present our dingy dozen:
|Won't you please Take It With You?|
The impact and allure of this film (and the play upon which it was based, for that matter) have been lost in the mists of time. The message is, “It’s okay to be slightly eccentric.” Filled with hammy performances and comic book villains (No, you may not be the slightest bit odd-ball!) and a whole lot of tedium.
Message: Feel free to be ever so slightly off-beat; but not too much.
Shoulda won that year: The Awful Truth
1947: Gentleman’s Agreement
Right after World War II, this “attack” on antisemitism was tepid at best. After the horrors of World War II, you’d think a stronger statement could be made and in fact, deserved to be made.
Message: Antisemitism is sort of bad; kind of.
Shoulda won that year: Great Expectations
|All time most deceptive title.|
Not by a long shot. In this circus drama, Betty Hutton does more than chew the scenery; she virtually swallows it whole, which would have been a more amusing circus act than the ones you’ll see depicted here. I’ll save you a lot of pain: the clown did it.
Message: Stand back or she’ll get you, too.
Shoulda won that year: High Noon
1956: Around the World in 80 Days
Corny, cheesy, and limited. A big budget “extravaganza” that feels oddly cheap, but perhaps it’s the low-budget ideas at play. The strangely goofy tone makes this film the grandfather to the 60s show Laugh In. Embarrassing turn by Shirley MacLaine as an Indian princess.
Message: Refuse to allow travel (read: education) to change you. It’s just a lot of baloney after all.
Shoulda won that year: The Ten Commandments (An extravaganza with staying power)
|The Original Rock|
Stallone’s performance is a collection of grunts and squeaks. The entire Stallone project is as nuanced and subtle as an avalanche. It’s a poor man’s On the Waterfront, but this time, the washed-up fighter comes back better than ever. Talia Shire as “Yo, Adrian” is a straw girl, the attractive lady with glasses and baggy clothes. “Hey, you’re pretty without your glasses!” is about the level of drama here. Inspiring? Only if you’re aiming low.
Message: I coulda been a contender. Oh, wait—I am a contender! Awesome!
Shoulda won that year: Network
1980: Ordinary People
Speaking of subtle, this film is as subtle as a smack in the head with a baseball bat. Mary Tyler Moore’s ice queen mother was so over-the-top she created a straw woman for the ages. Also includes cornball over-simplification of psychoanalysis, the obvious source for the even crumbier depiction of psychiatry in Good Will Hunting.
Message: Everything is mom’s fault because she’s so cold.
Shoulda won that year: Raging Bull OR The Elephant Man
|I could learn to love that laugh!|
Actually, no I couldn't.
It’s no wonder F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for Best Actor here and not Tom Hulce, who was also nominated and had the great advantage of playing the actual Amadeus. Hulce’s performance has not aged well. In fact, it’s downright dreadful. His limited gifts as an actor stand in stark contrast to the genius of Mozart. Hulce makes what should have been a classic film virtually unwatchable. I think Milos Foreman was trying to be cute: hire an actually annoying person to play the annoying Mozart; he just forgot to hire an actual actor.
Message: I am not a talented person, but I can (supposedly) play one in the movies.
Shoulda won that year: The Killing Fields
1985: Out of Africa
In short, this film took a scintillating true story and found the boredom within. Not offensive; just a mind-numbing snooze-fest and a big, fat waste of talent.
Message: Let’s sit here and stare at stuff some more.
Shoulda won that year: Witness
|You only seriously exploit the|
ones you love.
Who loves autistic Raymond more: the people who want to keep him locked up in an institution for the rest of his life, or the brother who wants to exploit his card-counting talent to advantage in Vegas?
Message: Why don’t you just take me out back and shoot me now?
Shoulda won that year: Mississippi Burning
1990: Dances With Wolves
Stunning western vistas but wall-to-wall clichés in this unacknowledged pastiche (read: rip-off) of popular (and better) westerns. For example, borrows (steals) memorable scene from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Filches real-life Chief Crazy Horse’s personal story, gives it to Kevin Costner’s character (the ultimate indignity suffered by the great Chief). The “twist” that Native Americans are gentle proto-hippies is just as patronizing as earlier one-dimensional depictions of Native Americans as blood-thirsty.
Message: Always be groovy.
Shoulda won that year: GoodFellas
|Luckiest man on earth.|
It’s great to be pure of heart; and a bit slow.
Message: Never question the status quo, ever. Ever.
Shoulda won that year: Pulp Fiction
Profound and mind-blowing—if you’re a bit of a dope. Hokum masquerading as a movie with a message.
Message: Racial prejudice is bad. (A controversial statement in 1955, not 2005.)
Shoulda won that year: Brokeback Mountain