By John H. Foote
They are not necessarily bad films, but they are the worst choices for Best Picture. This happens for a variety of reasons.
First, is the film a movie for the ages? As an Oscar-winning Best Picture, it should be. Will it be forever remembered as a great film? Again, it should be. Second, and most important, what was the film nominated against and did great films lose Best Picture this, a lesser work. Next, was its choice as Best Picture a shock? Was it a huge surprise? Did the audience go oddly silent for a few seconds before polite applause?
Through the years, many times, when something that will be forgotten in a year bests a film that will be discussed for the next fifty years, yes, I get angry. It makes no sense to me that a film winning Best Director is not the years Best Film. I have given thought to putting my foot through the TV screen after hearing Best Picture announced many times.
The following twenty represent the films I believe had no business winning Best Picture. There is no favouritism here, I honestly believe none of these films deserved to win Best Picture. Period.
Here we go.
1933 – Cavalcade
Over King Kong? Seriously? King Kong is a miracle of visual effects and storytelling, positively breathtaking, but the Academy, still in its own infancy did not nominate the film for anything. Anyone ever heard of Cavalcade? I have seen it, once, and it was unmemorable. Kong, on the other hand, is and remains unforgettable.
1938 – You Can’t Take it With You
The play, an old chestnut is often performed in summer stock theatres and is as dated as the film they made of it. Directed by the great Frank Capra, this was the least of his great work in the thirties. In a year that saw the groundbreaking work of Walt Disney in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I cannot believe such a weak film won, or that Disney’s animated wonder was snubbed.
1940 – Rebecca
Hitchcock’s only Best Picture winner, despite greater films later in his career. Not a fan, for me he made three great films, Lifeboat (1944), Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960), the rest have a cold, calculated feel to them, oddly inorganic. John Ford won Best Director for his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, which should have won the top prize. Ford’s’ film holds up, Rebecca looks old fashioned and dated. The Great Dictator, Chaplin’s’ lacerating attack on Hitler, a vicious black comedy, could also have been a most worthy winner.
1941 – How Green Was My Valley
To be clear, I love the work of John Ford, he is a visual poet with a knack for guiding good actors to greater heights. This lovely sentimental film about mining families in Wales is a fine film, but in no way is it a greater film than Orson Welles Citizen Kane. Boldly acted, directed and written by Orson Welles, there are more innovations in this film than any other movie in history, it pushed through the ceiling.
1944 – Going My Way
Admittedly I dislike fluff, sentiment. It just does not work for me. Bing Crosby was a likable actor, more star than a true actor, and never played anyone other than Bing. And this film won over Double Indemnity? A chilling, frightening film noir about terrible people committing murder? One of Billy Wilders Greatest Films? Shameful that it lost, to this.
1948 – Hamlet
Were critics impressed with Olivier’s perfect pronunciation of the Bards words? Must have been because nothing in this self-important, pompous mess suggest greatness. And to think this film defeated The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) which won Best Director and Best Screenplay! Sir Laurence was the single most overrated actor of his time.
1951 – An American in Paris
What? Over A Streetcar Named Desire? Only one of the greatest films ever made, beautifully adapted from one of the greatest plays of the 20th century! The dancing in An American in Paris created a new language on screen, but Best Picture…hardly. A Streetcar Named Desire is the only film in movie history I believe should have swept the Oscars, winning Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress and Screenplay. It would have added Cinematography, Score, Art Direction and Editing to its haul. But nnnnoooo….
1952 – The Greatest Show on Earth
The guffaws, loud and growing through the years continue for this big soap opera set in the circus world. At least three films were far more deserving, High Noon, The Quiet Man, and the not nominated Singin’ in the Rain. That this won over them is the greatest joke on earth.
1956 – Around the World in 80 Days
One of those “spot the star” movies. Irritating. Unnecessary. The Searchers was the year’s best, The Ten Commandments the best of the nominated films. This one only feels like eighty days of viewing. Painful.
1958 – Gigi
Gigi is pretty, like candy floss, you enjoy the taste while it is in your mouth but can go a year before trying some more. The film is enjoyable, but after seeing it years ago, I can honestly state I never once thought about it again. Ever. The best film of this year was The Defiant Ones, a tough, powerful racial drama. Hard candy always lasts longer than cotton.
1964 – My Fair Lady
Again, a fine adaptation of a great Broadway musical but curiously…empty? Rex Harrison always played, well, Rex Harrison, a pompous, stuffy ass. Audrey Hepburn gave the film a nice boost of energy but was not permitted to sing the songs. Though she was terrifically entertaining, it was not a complete performance. And, really? This over Dr. Strangelove… (1964)? Honouring the old guard, they missed a chance to celebrate the new blood.
1965 – The Sound Of Music
Precocious urchins singing in the streets, a nun falling in love with a father, the Alps, not so bad Nazis…Jesus where does the madness stop? Julie Andrews is brilliant, she deserved a second consecutive Best Actress win for this. But Best Picture for this sugary sweet film? Nope. Not when it was nominated against David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago, a superb however flawed epic.
1968 – Oliver!
Over 2001: A Space Odyssey, a landmark? Insanity reigns. Nope, enough said.
1973 – The Sting
Though a beautifully crafted film with high wattage star power, no one will ever convince me this was a greater film the American Grafitti, which deserved to win, The Exorcist or The Way We Were. Or Paper Moon. And Day for Night, The Last Detail and Serpico. Shall I continue? At least twelve films were stronger and more worthy winners than this film. But damn, it does look good.
1976 – Rocky
In a year when the Best Picture nominees included masterpieces like All the Presidents Men, Network, and Taxi Driver, how did this little love story-boxing film best them? OK, we know how just as we know it was undeserved. The three aforementioned films are each for the ages, unforgettable statements about society right then as it was happening.
1978 – The Deer Hunter
A case of being bamboozled by the blatant lies of a Director. Had the voting happened one month later, no way The Deer Hunter wins. Cimino lied about being a veteran, thereby lying about what he claimed to experience in Vietnam. The film is predicated on lies! The film impressed critics BEFORE they started digging into Michael Cimino’s background, but once they were onto him? Forget it, but the trouble was the liar was showered with accolades. Coming Home, which explored veterans returning home, and won three Oscars, would have been a greater, wiser choice.
1979 – Kramer vs. Kramer
A perfectly great film, beautifully acted, directed and written. The problem? It is forever in the substantial shadow of Francis Ford Coppola’s surrealistic war epic Apocalypse Now, just as every film from 1979 is, was, and remains. Ask yourself, which film is still being discussed? One of the cinema’s greatest, most urgent works of art.
1981 – Chariots of Fire
My jaw hit the ground when it was announced this very minor movie had won Best Picture, besting Warren Beatty’s Reds. Beatty had just won Best Director moments before they announced this boring film was the year’s best picture. Beatty made a sweeping, romantic, historical biography that deserved to win and it is a blight on the Academy that it did not.
1982 – Gandhi
Even the films’ Director knew it was not the year’s best film! On his way to the stage, an embarrassed Richard Attenborough stopped to apologize to Steven Spielberg for besting both he and his film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for Best Picture and Best Director. Gandhi’s greatest hits turned the controversial Indian leader into a saint who did everything but walk on water and raise the dead in the film. E.T. was why movies were made, a dreamscape of a film. Gandhi, the film is nearly forgotten.
1995 – Braveheart
Though an enjoyable, sprawling epic about the fight for Scotlands’ freedom from England in the 1200’s, I wonder if the film and Mel Gibson were awarded for pulling it off? This same year Ron Howard made his finest film, Apollo 13, which I thought was the year’s best picture. But there were others worthy too. Toy Story, Seven, Dead Man Walking, Sense and Sensibility, Nixon, The Bridges Of Madison County…just a great year. Gibson went on to make better films but was not nominated for either.
1996 – The English Patient
I hated this movie, absolutely loathed it entirely. During the “great” cave scene I was silently seething, “just die, please die so we can go home.” Yes an unpopular opinion but I ask you, does anyone even discuss or remember this film? A far better choice would have been the heroin addiction black comedy Trainspotting! Jerry Maguire would have worked, or The Crucible, or Fargo. God, anything but this nightmare.
1998 – Shakespeare in Love
Another film wins Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound, Best Cinematography and Best Director, but this frothy comedy wins Best Picture? Harvey Weinstein and Miramax spent a fortune on the Oscar campaign for the film, smearing other films along the way. The result? Arguably the greatest film to explore combat and WWII, Saving Private Ryan is not a Best Picture winner. And it should have been.
2001 – A Beautiful Mind
The Academy decided they needed to honour Ron Howard as a make-up for not honouring Apollo 13, for not nominating him as Best Director. But for this ordinary biopic with a twist? No. The real Best Picture was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the greatest trilogies ever made. I still do not see how Howard and his film won.
2005 – Crash
The look on Jack Nicholson’s’ face when he opened the envelope announcing this as Best Picture said it all. WTF, said his face! An ok film bests a couple of masterpieces? Well, it has happened often through film history. Brokeback Mountain deserved to win, Munich would be a close second. Instead, the party for Brokeback Mountain was crashed by this soapy study of racism. Wear a helmet to see it because it tends to be you over the head.
2011 – The Artist
A dazzling film based entirely on a gimmick. It is a silent film eighty four years after the advent of sound. Acted with dazzling power by Jean DuJardin, with a true thousand watt movie star smile, it bowled over Hollywood winning Best Picture. Today, just seven years later it is barely discussed or remembered. Alexander Payne’s heartbreaking comic drama The Descendants should have won, and George Clooney, never better should have won the Oscar DuJardin claimed. The case of a good film winning, when a great one should have.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.