The 10 Worst Films to Win the Best Picture Oscar

Every year, when it’s Oscar season, we try to convince ourselves that this time, a film will win the Best Picture Oscar, not because it’s an ‘issues’ movie, not because it features great period detail and theatre-bred British talent, not because Harvey Weinstein has used his considerable heft to pummel the voters into submission, but because it’s genuinely the best film to come out in that 12 month span. Of course, this is a matter of opinion; but there are several films that over time have been proven to not be deserving winners in the year they won, and we thought we’d round up 10 of them, to point and laugh at.

It’s also worth pointing out that, while this is the Academy Awards and therefore, is ostensibly purely the opinion of the titular Academy, who have no responsibility to anyone but themselves, they are by far the most prestigious movie awards ceremony going, so it could be argued that they are the de facto ‘Kingmakers’, and should behave as such. A lot of the films that make up this list aren’t bad films, just not the best films made that year. A common complaint is that films are ‘Oscar bait’. Cynically-engineered to appeal to the Oscar voters and hoover up awards. This is perhaps exacerbated by the horribly skewed voters’ demographics, 94% of whom are caucasion, and also 77% male. So read on, to find out what we think are the 10 worst films to win this coveted award…

10. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

In black and white, it’s impossible to verify how green this valley is, after all

Even though John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley is no bad film, with its beautiful cinematography and Welsh mining town setting. It’s definitely not a stone-cold classic whose reverberations are still being felt, decades later. Its only crime? Being released in the same year as Citizen Kane, a film whose influence still reverberates, and is still thematically relevant today. Even if Vertigo did recently knock it off the top spot of the BFI 50 Greatest Films of All Time list.

9. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

 

In fairness, if Freida Pinto smiled at me, I’d probably give this film ‘Best Picture’, too

There’s no doubt that it was a lean year, the year Slumdog Millionaire won the award, what with it being up against Frost/Nixon, The Reader, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttonbut that’s no excuse for it being an ill-deserving winner. In fact, this is an example of an Oscar nomination actively undermining the film. Sure, on the back of a deceptive marketing campaign that blindly promised “The feel-good film of the year!” alongside pretentions to social realism in Indian slums, the fact that this slight, cheesy story was told quite effectively was lost. With the film being either blindly over-praised or conversely over criticised, it’s hard to gauge its true quality, but it’s not better than Milk. Danny Boyle is a great filmmaker, who has made some great films in Sunshine28 Days Later, and Trainspotting, but hopefully in years to come, this will not be seen as the highlight of his career.

8. The King’s Speech (2010)

 

I felt like screaming, too…

Of course, Tom Hooper didn’t make a bad film with The King’s Speech, but what he did make was a film that has been seen a thousand times before, dressed in a slutty Oscar-baiting dress that showed a bit too much leg.

Harvey Weinstein’s involvement? Check. British thesps acting posh? Check. Period setting? Check. Stirring overcoming of adversity? Check. The story was nothing new, the film did nothing interesting formally, and the story structure was utterly rote and could have been guessed at merely from the title. Now, I am biased here, but in the era defined by the internet, a film that dealt with the formation of that most influential of websites, Facebook, in such a distinctive, epoch-defining way would seem to automatically be the more deserving choice, which is why it’s baffling that The Social Network lost out. So too, did Inception, with the Academy not seeing fit to reward Christopher Nolan’s original idea blockbuster (rare as unicorns) with an award, and stayed in its comfort zone. 

7. Titanic (1997)

Yes, this really does happen in the film. And yes, it is as bad as it looks

It was the year Labour came to power for the first time in 18 years by a landslide, the Spice Girls got to number 1, and, mystifyingly, The Teletubbies were successfully traumatising a generation. It was also the year that James Cameron became the self-anointed “King of the World”. Titanic swept the Oscars like a mawkish, overlong, overwrought, tidal wave, setting gargantuan box office records in the process. James Cameron may not be the King of the World, but the guy does know how to make bank at the box office. Too bad the film’s lousy.

6. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Don’t believe the hype: there are no chariots in the film

“The British are coming” Colin Yelland famously YELLED into the microphone upon collecting his screenwriting Oscar for this stuffy, over-hyped, period (there’s that word again) film. Of course, quite apart from the fact that British talent has always shone in Hollywood, and continues to do so to this day, Yelland’s hubristic statement was undone by his new friends in the Academy. A British film didn’t win best film until 1996’s The English Patient, a film that very nearly made this list, and technically isn’t even British. The soundtrack’s pretty good, though.

 5. Chicago (2002)

 

Oh Richard Gere, what has Runaway Bride done to you?

Now that 10 years have passed, it’s head-scratchingly difficult to believe that this film actually won Best Picture.

Even with the obligatory holocaust drama The Pianist being nominated for the award, Chicago still somehow came away with the statuette clutched in its overly-manicured hands, skipping away into the night. It wasn’t the best year in film history, it has to be said, so I do cut the Academy some slack on this one, but had they been brave, and gone for something like Minority Report, it would have genuinely caught us unawares, truly making for an Academy Awards ceremony to remember.

4. Driving Miss Daisy 1989

Racial harmony has rarely been so dull

At this point, I have two confessions to make: 1. I actually like Driving Miss Daisy. I don’t like it very much, but I do like it. And 2. I have to be a hypocrite and say that the Academy should have given the award to typical awards-bait My Left Foot. I say this because it was an unusually saccharine year for Best Picture nominees, and the least self-consciously lachrymose film in the field was Daniel Day-Lewis’ career kick-starting performance as a writer and painter with cerebral palsy. In terms of achievements, a rich, white, Jewish woman in the deep South gaining some common humanity with her African-American driver just doesn’t really stack up too well. I do kinda like it though. Sorry.

3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

 

This image is the best part of the movie. It’s not even a good image.

*Cough* GOSFORD PARK *cough*.
2. Braveheart (1995)

That’s right Mel, just hold that pose… Hold it, hold it, HOLD IT! That’s it, we got it, you look authentically rugged and Celtic.

Out of all the films to make this list, this is probably the most fun to watch. Why put it on here then? Well, because it’s a pile of b*llocks isn’t it? Historical inaccuracies (in real life, Princess Isabella was 3 years old at the time the film purports William Wallace fathered her child), unnecessary demonisation of the English (they were pretty bad to begin with), homophobia in its portrayal of Prince Edward, and is probably the best example of the anglophobia present in Hollywood. Mel Gibson later revisited the fertile ground of anti-English sentiment with his equally historically-fastidious The Patriot.

1. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

 

Yes, back in 1998, this is what passed for entertainment

For Gwyneth Paltrow’s seminally-annoying acceptance speech for Best Actress alone, this film should have been tarred and feathered. But the mere fact that Terrence Malick’s first film in 20 years, the star-studded The Thin Red Line was also nominated, and didn’t win is a travesty. Or how about the bravura opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan warranting recognition? Nope, the Academy decided, in their infinitely finite wisdom, to give the award to a fluffy historical fiction that played fast and loose with fact in order to make a twee romantic tribute to the English language’s greatest writer. Destined to become a pub-quiz answer, and nothing more than that, if there is any justice in the world.

TA

2 Comments

  1. Jonathan Walton says:

    Good list from 7 to 1. If I was a filmmaker I’d rather be on the list that didn’t win, such is the quality of films that don’t receive the award. Dances With Wolves should be on here, for daylight robbery of Goodfellas. And sorry to be pedantic but the image you have for number 10 looks like Young Mr Lincoln, not How Green Was My Valley (which I love!).

    • TomA says:

      Doh! Oh well, glad you agree with 7 to 1 at least. Oscars aren’t the be all and end all, is the moral of the story. As ably demonstrated by this list…

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