Well, here we are…we’ve come to the final part of our series on Oscar’s most undeserving winners. We’ve already pilloried choices in the Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, and Best Actor categories, and now we set our sights on the biggest award of them all: Best Picture.
Without further ado, here are the six most undeserving Academy Award winners for Best Picture. Enjoy!
6. The Sting (1973)
If there were one thing Hollywood traditionally obsessed over—and there are many, but if there were only one—it would be the early 20th century. There’s a certain nostalgia that the movie industry has placed on roughly the era from the Roaring Twenties to the years just before Vietnam.
Just look at the nominated films from the early ’70s, and you’ll see what I mean. The first two Godfather movies. Paper Moon. American Graffiti. Cabaret. And don’t forget 1973’s Best Picture winner, The Sting.
Here’s the thing about The Sting (pardon the rhyme): it’s a fun comedy and a rollicking good time, but it’s just too lightweight for a Best Picture winner. In any other year, this movie probably wouldn’t have won, and it’s still not entirely clear how it beat some of its more substantive competitors that year.
What should’ve won? The scary-as-hell ride of The Exorcist stunned everyone with its success and acclaim. True, it’s as hard to fathom a horror flick winning Best Picture as it is a light comedy, but looking back at that year’s films, it’s painfully obvious that The Exorcist is the only classic with staying power.
5. Dances With Wolves (1990)
We can use a couple of movie-critic cliches to describe Dances With Wolves. There’s “revisionist Western.” The film definitely looks at the frontier through its own unique lens. How about “feast for the eyes”? Dances With Wolves is a visually stunning picture for sure.
We can use another couple of terms to describe Dances With Wolves—overlong and overearnest. There’s a self-awareness to the movie that is painfully obvious from the start, and it detracts from the enjoyment and wonder that could have been. Dances With Wolves is a good move. A great movie? Almost. A Best Picture winner? Unfortunately, yes.
What should’ve won? If Best Picture had been completely up to me, the wonderful story of Awakenings would have walked away with the gold. But a little Mafia film deserved to win, too, and I’m talking about Goodfellas, not The Godfather, Part III.
4. The English Patient (1996)
Some movies try to be everything to everyone, and one of those films is The English Patient. Is it a war picture? Yes. Is it a mystery? Uh-huh. Is it a chick flick? Absolutely. Put all of those things together, and you get a lengthy, oddly-paced mess.
The English Patient came with its own hype. Everyone seemed to be extolling the virtues of this drawn-out, overwrought melodrama. Somehow, Academy voters fell for The English Patient, to the tune of nine Oscars!
What should’ve won? Fargo stunned nearly everybody with a shocking story told like no other film could. Secrets & Lies told its own tale in an equally fresh way. Either one would have been a perfect Best Picture choice.
In case you’re wondering, I feel like Elaine Benes when I express my disdain for this film. I’ll never understand it.
3. Out of Africa (1985)
A romance between Meryl Streep and Robert Redford sounds dreamy and irresistible—at least to baby boomers–right? Well, when it drags out over nearly three hours at a glacial pace, somehow it wins Best Picture.
Out of Africa is basically the story of author Isak Dinesen—real name Karen Blixen—and her love triangle with her husband, Baron Bror von Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a ne’er-do-well playboy who has bought an African coffee plantation, and Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), a British big-game hunter.
The scenery is sumptuous, and the acting is tremendous, save Redford, who doesn’t even attempt a British accent. What it boils down to is that Out of Africa is just so boring. There’s a line in the movie to the effect of: “If we are tested at all, it is for patience.” The true test of patience is making it through Out of Africa without dozing off.
What should’ve won? One Best Picture nominee garnered eleven nominations and won none, while Out of Africa took home seven statuettes, in one of the greatest robberies in Oscar history. Best Picture should have gone to The Color Purple without any doubt whatsoever.
2. American Beauty (1999)
Some movies are such a drag that when you finish watching them you realize that you’ll never get those two hours of your life back. That’s how I felt when I saw American Beauty.
American Beauty is one of those pictures that falls all over itself trying to show some sort of overwrought “dark side” to American life. Every character—including the teenagers—appears to be going through some horrible midlife crisis. Absolutely no one in the film experiences true, fulfilling lives because they’re all chasing temporary, momentary happiness.
The absence of any character or scenario of any redeeming value makes American Beauty a complete waste of time and a truly undeserving Best Picture winner.
What should’ve won? Two films among the nominees stand out head and shoulders above the rest. The Green Mile and The Sixth Sense both endeared and surprised moviegoers and critics, and either one should have taken home the prize.
1. Forrest Gump (1994)
I’ve already railed against Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the title character, but dang it, everything about Forrest Gump, with the exception of the soundtrack and Gary Sinise, is terrible! I’ve always hated it, and when I tell people that, they look at me the same way I look at people when they say they don’t like Star Wars.
Let’s start with the premise: a man of questionable intellectual capacity and awful haircut somehow makes his way into several historical events, utters a bunch of corny sayings, runs for three-and-a-half years, and fathers a child.
The script is moronic, the plot outside the bounds of suspension of disbelief, and the running time far too long. And Hanks’ accent may be the worst feature of the entire picture.
Somebody please explain to me what’s so great about Forrest Gump! I’ve never understood why it’s such a beloved film.
What should’ve won? Pulp Fiction shocked and electrified—and stood head and shoulders over anything else Quentin Tarantino has ever done. Robert Redford’s prestige project Quiz Show is the stuff of which Oscars are usually made. But the most surprising and artful film that year—in terms of writing, acting, and directing alike—was The Shawshank Redemption, the movie that most deserved the Best Picture Oscar.
There you have ’em! Thanks for coming along on this ride with me. Share your thoughts and picks in the comments section below.