The Sunday Dozen: The Worst Best Picture Oscars

I stopped watching the Oscars a few years ago. As a film history buff, I was appalled when they sidelined the special awards. They used to be a highlight of every ceremony. Additionally, the Oscarcast poses this question: Can a trainwreck be boring?

I’ve kvetched in the past about some of the movies that won the Best Picture Oscar. It’s time to get specific and name names. I’ve also picked alternate winners for the dozen worst winners.

I’m channeling the late great Siskel & Ebert who had an annual show: If We Picked The Oscars aka If We Picked The Winners. They were usually right, and the Academy was often wrong. This post is dedicated to Gene and Roger.

The featured image features posters of the movies that should have won. Who wants to see a poster for the four truly awful winners: The Greatest Show On Earth, Ben-Hur, Braveheart, and Crash?

As to the other winners, they were simply not as good as one or more of the other nominees. My taste runs to gritty and edgy films, which rules out several winners. Shorter Adrastos: I’m a film snob.

This week’s list is arranged in chronological order. I obviously still care a smidgen about the Oscars because I’m writing this list. I’m still not watching.

On with the show, this is it.

 1952: The Greatest Show On Earth was a vacuous movie directed by the dread Cecil B. DeMille. It’s easily the worst movie among the Dozen.

My Pick:  High Noon was a landmark film that was the baby of Carl Foreman who was blacklisted by the Hollywood studios not long after the Oscar shebang. What’s not to love about the ultimate Gary Cooper performance? Yup.

1959: Ben-Hur has been made three times. The Oscar winning movie is the boring middle child of the Ben-Hur trio. Sword and sandal epics were big in the Fifties, which led to a lot of endless movies. Ben-Hur clocks in at 212 minutes. Oy just oy.

Somehow Charlton Heston was named best actor for this mess but that’s a story for another list. Have I told you lately how much I hate Heston’s acting?

My Pick: Anatomy of a Murder is one of the best of the overlooked nominees. It’s a courtroom drama that was edgy for its day and still packs a punch. It’s one of the finest flicks of director Otto Preminger’s career and features fine performances by James Stewart, Frank Albertson, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, George C. Scott and real-life hero Joseph Welch.

All that and a score by Duke Ellington makes Anatomy of a Murder one of the best films of the 1950’s.

1964: Don’t get me wrong, My Fair Lady is a good movie with a great performance by Rex Harrison. Since Harrison wasn’t a big star, Jack Warner insisted on casting Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle instead of Julie Andrews. It was a mistake. When in doubt cast someone who can do their own singing.

My late father would want me to pick Zorba The Greek as the best picture of 1964. But it’s the second-best nominee of the year. Sorry, Dad.

My Pick: Dr. Strangelove is satire at its most scathing. It’s one of the funniest films ever made. Too funny for the Academy’s voters, I suppose. It is perhaps the best film of the 1960’s. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be scared at the prospect of nuclear war. It contains Peter Sellers’ best performance, which is saying a lot. Viva Kubrick.

1976: Rocky is a nice little movie with a great story behind it. It was also the worst movie nominated in 1976. Look at this list: Network, All The President’s Men, Bound For Glory, and Taxi Driver. Any of the others would have been a worthy winner but the Adrastos Oscar goes to:

Network was considered unrealistic and outlandish at the time of its release. It has proven to be prophetic. The advent of Fox News proves the point.

At least Paddy Chayefsky and Peter Finch won their categories as to the rest:

1980: Ordinary People is a sincere and earnest little movie directed by a big star of the day, Robert Redford. It is not, however, even close to being the best picture of 1980.

My Pick: Raging Bull was too gritty for Oscar voters. They’re lucky that Martin Scorsese wasn’t vindictive enough to unleash the real Jake LaMotta on them. Sure, he was 58 at the time but he could still kick ass.

1981: Sincere and earnest movies were in fashion with Academy voters at this time. That’s why another nice little movie, Chariots Of Fire won the prize. Maybe it’s the insidiously catchy music by my countryman Vangelis that convinced Oscar voters to make this mistake. Oh well, what the hell.

The winner was the fourth best movie nominated but the third best, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, had no chance of winning. The second best was Louis Malle’s Atlantic City.

The Adrastos Oscar goes to:

Warren Beatty’s historical epic Reds. There was not a chance in hell that a movie about commies would win an Oscar in the early days of the Reagan Revolution. Was Ronnie still a voter? Beats the hell outta me.

1987: The Last Emperor was a good but overlong epic. If a movie has a running time of 165 minutes, it needs to be livelier than this Bertolucci joint. It does, however, perk up whenever Peter O’Toole is onscreen.

There were two other worthy films nominated: Hope and Glory and Moonstruck. But the Adrastos Oscar goes to:

Broadcast News was a landmark film in my life: the first movie I saw during my first year of law school when all I did was study. More importantly, it was the first film I attended with Dr. A. Then it was back to the books.

I love everything about this movie, especially the casting of William Hurt against type as a dipshit news anchor. Broadcast News was shut out at the Oscars. How could Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks not win?

The movie had several handicaps as far as voters were concerted: it was a dramedy, it was the brainchild of Teevee’s James L Brooks, and it was kin to Network.

The mere thought of this scene makes me spritz flop sweat like Albert Brooks:

1990: Dances With Wolves is another good if overlong movie directed by a big star of the day, Kevin Costner. Holy Ordinary People, Batman.

The best thing about Dances is that it put Mary McDonnell and Graham Greene on my radar screen. Thanks, Kev.

My pick: Goodfellas was the number one film on my Martin Scorsese Dozen and deserves all the accolades it has received over the years. It’s among the finest American movies ever made.

1995: Braveheart is a truly terrible movie starring and directed by Mel Gibson who was a big star of the day. I detect a pattern.

It was mercilessly mocked by the Guardian’s Alex von Tunzelmann in her Reel History column. She thought it was horrible history and shitty entertainment. I concur.

Gibson’s abomination was the worst film nominated in 1995. Check out this list: Apollo 13. Babe, The Postman, Sense and Sensibility, and The Postman. Any would have been worthier than this fakakta film, but the Adrastos Oscar goes to:

Apollo 13 is a tight suspenseful movie with many fine performances. Since those of us who were alive at the time followed the real events avidly, the movie is the opposite of Gibson’s McMess: largely historically accurate.

Is there a better tagline in movie history than this?

1997: Titanic is a good movie but it’s another example of the Academy voters’ preference for quantity over quality. Its running time is a staggering 194 minutes. I had a nightmare after seeing Titanic: I was trapped in a room in which it played on an endless loop. The dream was like A Clockwork Orange on steroids.

My Pick: LA Confidential is the best neo-noir film ever. It was based on the James Ellroy book that seemed impossible to adapt but they pulled it off.

The cast is to die for. The movie was particularly good for the careers of Aussie actors playing Americans. Guy Pierce and Russell Crowe come on down.

2004: Crash is the second worst winner on this list. Suffice it to say that’s a confusing mess. I didn’t like it when I saw it and to say it hasn’t worn well is a grotesque understatement. Ugh just ugh.

Picking an alternate winner  is tricky since there are four movies of equal quality all of which are better than Crash: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich.

The Adrastos Oscar goes to:

Good Night and Good Luck tells the story of Edward R, Murrow standing up to red baiting bully Sen. Joe McCarthy. I was directed by a great star of the day George Clooney and features a fabulous lead performance by veteran character actor David Strathairn.

2014: Birdman is another movie whose entire title I refuse to type out. It’s among the best movies on the worst Oscar winner list but it’s not an epic achievement like:

My Pick: Boyhood was filmed from 2002-2013 and captures the life of a young man in Texas, the home state of writer-director Richard Linklater. Linklater has made many fine films, but Boyhood is his masterpiece. It was shut out at the Oscars except for Patty Arquette. Oh well, what the hell.

That concludes this episode of the Sunday Dozen.

Regular readers expect lagniappe at this point and I hate to disappoint. Here’s Gene and Roger’s unsolicited advice to the Academy:

The date is that of the Oscarcast, so this covers 1997. They both got it right by picking LA Confidential. Yay, Team Chicago.

The last word goes to the much missed Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.

6 thoughts on “The Sunday Dozen: The Worst Best Picture Oscars

  1. You see, Peter, another example of why we get along.

    I saw Titanic in the theaters and by the big lifeboat scene with Leo, I was very close to Elaine in Seinfeld about The English Patients – screaming at the screen “JUST DIE ALREADY”.

    LA Confidential was the right choice.

  2. 3 hour movies need an intermission a la Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus. They sell those big ass sodas so people gotta pee.

  3. While I disagree with a few of your choices, I wholeheartedly agree about High Noon, Anatomy of a Murder, Network, Broadcast News, Apollo 13 (though Sense and Sensibility would also suffice), L.A. Confidential, and anything but Crash. This year’s Oscar show was actually pretty good, the best in many years, with the inexplicable exception of the odd Disney promo halfway through the show.

  4. ABC is owned by Disney. They basically use the network as their PR mouthpiece. The “Little Mermaid” tribute amounted to a free commercial for their upcoming movie , within the Oscar telecast itself.

  5. My favorite was the 100th anniversary of Warner Brothers. They bragged about creating the first talking feature film , without mentioning the studio built its entire reputation on a blackface minstrel movie. Then they showed a montage of classic movie clips , half of which were made by MGM.

  6. This is probably an unpopular opinion, or maybe I’m ahead of my time, so I’m just going to say it: I finally saw Babylon, and I think THAT should possibly have been Best Picture. There is so much packed into that film about art and artists. Maybe in the future, others will have the same opinion.

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