Every now and again you’ll find yourself facing someone else’s DVD rack and think to yourself, ‘dear me this is the most tragic assemblage of footage, I’ve ever seen aside from Rishi Sunak outing himself as a chronic Coke fiend’.
The point being that movies are highly subjective, and as such, it makes it a tough call to pick the year’s winner and ensure it will stand the test of time.
Sometimes, however, the choices for Best Picture seem more off the mark than badly thought out apology video, and warrant none of the usual ‘I wouldn’t want the job of picking one sympathy’.
Goodfellas, Apocalypse Now and Citizen Kane all inexplicably missed out on a Best Picture win to name but three. Yet equally inexplicable is some of the films that have won. Below we’re looking at the worst Best Pictures that those fateful little envelopes have ever spewed out.
The worst Best Picture winners of all time:
Birdman is impressive, in the same sense that pairing the right wine with a fish course is impressive. The conceit of the film is that it invites you to marvel at the mastery prowess without imparting anything other than a sheep dressed in admittedly fantastic garments. The skill involved is undeniable, Emmanuel Lubezki turns in some of the greatest cinematography work ever, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu gets a fine tune out of the entire ensemble, but dialogue exchanges like: “If you weren’t afraid what would you do to me?” To which Mike Shiner replies, “I’d pull your eyes out of your head… and put them in my own skull, and look around, so I could see the streets the way I used to when I was your age.”
There is so much style on display, but any substance is riddled with trite pretence. The originality shown in the rolling-shot technique meets its counterpart in a script that rolls out critics baying for big star blood and a humourless take on Raymond Carver’s blue-collar search of meaning in life. In short, like a synchronised swimming it’s very impressive, but what’s the point?
The King’s Speech (2011)
Even on paper The King’s Speech sounds dull as dishwater to anyone who hasn’t got subscription to Royal’s Weekly. The classic story of overcoming adversity to snatch triumph from the jaws of fated despair, is an overused cinematic story, but at least it is usually about somebody who has encountered more atrocities than an entire season of Casualty and not only lived to tell the tale but went on to win Wimbledon, Crufts and a Nobel Prize in the same year – all The King’s Speech has to offer on this front is one of the most privilege people in history undergoing speech therapy to deliver a few essentially unimportant words.
Once again the acting is highly creditable but aside from that the whole thing seems almost like a parody of an Oscar-baiting film. On its inevitable journey to a triumphant speech, the only surprise the whole narrative offers up is that they managed to stretch it out over an hour and 58 minutes.
The restraint it takes not to succumb to the blatantly obvious derogatory pun of calling this movie a car crash is comparable only to the films ability to steadfastly avoid the social disparities that it sets out to tackle in the first place. It is the cinematic equivalent of a piece homework on social studies that didn’t read the source material so just chocked the essay full of a lot of ‘very, very, very’….
Pulling together an anthology picture is inherently a difficult task. Babel pulled it off two years later, unlike Crash it embraced the format to cover more ground. Crash, on the other hand, reaches for more ground than it is capable and, in the process, not only spreads itself thin, but completely fractures.
Shakespeare in Love (1999)
Shakespeare in Love is another impressive film, but boy would you loathe to meet the person who says it’s their favourite. Surely the point of movies is to be effective enough to invoke such an emotional response that they transcend the silver screen and enter people’s lives as boon to the grind. Shakespeare in Love is not what you’d term a ‘terrible movie’ by any means, but Lord help the soul who has a poster of it on their wall.
In 1998 the two main films in competition were Saving Private Ryan and Life is Beautiful, with cult classics like The Big Lebowski not even nominated. All three of those films make Shakespeare In Love seem about as memorable and affecting as a cheese sandwich.
The English Patient (1997)
Much like Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient is perfectly fine but if you think it’s better than Fargo then you best contact a doctor for a frontal lobotomy, pronto!
When films like The English Patient win Best Picture, it is worth remembering the history of the Oscars or some context: Hollywood, as we know, was the invention of an all-conquering turn of the century American immigrant who saw a chance to make millions from the growing art form of cinema, and then his all-conquering commercial wave met with the stiff upper lip of Palm beach. The pratfalls were ditched in a bid for respectability and the Academy Awards was the highbrow pitch.
This affrontery of respectability has been worn ever since. You’d be mad to think that Fargo’s leg-in-a-woodchipper antics were less entertaining than The English Patient, but if you were a betting folk then you’d take a punt on The English Patient from the title alone.
If Chicago snatched a win during Hollywood’s camp golden age then that would’ve been fair enough, but this was 2002! At this stage was singing, dancing and cinematic Edam really that merit worthy?
If anything, this win, more so than any others, epitomises the problem with awards. Over the year’s films like Stalker and Apocalypse Now have pushed their creators to their artistic limits, even to the determent of their health, broken new ground in cinema and left a seismic impact on the art form, but because Chicago is some geriatrics golden age wet dream, it has a ‘wonderful night out at the biggest party of the year’.
Admittedly judging film is very subjective, and Chicago might just not be my cup of tea, but you’d be very hard pushed to argue that it did anything to reinvent the wheel.
Dances with Wolves (1991)
Historical films are always a hit at the Oscars, they have no choice but to take the past seriously. In the last 50 years 17 Best Picture wins have been based on real events.
The poignant nature of confronting the past is something that sets itself up to be revered. However, when the history that is tackled is later ridiculed for inaccuracies it can leave the Academy with pie on its face.
Historical portrayals don’t always have to be textbook; an ethical judgement call can be made on whether there is room for the narrative to wiggle provided it is done judiciously. Still, taking liberties on the atrocities that Native American’s suffered through is far from ideal.