Sometimes the Academy Awards Give the Prize to the Wrong Films
Time will tell if "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) deserves to be added to our list (although we were happy that it won). Here is the DaRK PaRTY list of unworthy winners of the distinction of Best Motion Picture.
Titanic Year: 1997 Director: James Cameron
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton and Gloria Stuart
Plot: A free spirited, poverty stricken lad stows away on the Titanic and falls in love with a wealthy teenager promised to a powerful (and utterly evil) industrialist.
Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: “Titanic” at its essence is a gaudy melodrama disguised by its all-star cast and $200 million special effects extravaganza. But the biggest flaw in the film is the fact that 1990s sensibilities are transported back to 1912 – as if the doomed passenger ship fell into a time warp before being sunk by an iceberg. Kate Winslet is a liberated woman – at a time when there weren’t any (she even flips another character the bird). Then there’s the romance between Winslet and DeCaprio that is so corny that it could be the main ingredient in a cornbread recipe.
The Oscar Competition: “L.A. Confidential,” “As Good As It Gets,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The Full Monty”
Film That Should Have Won: “L.A. Confidential.”
Forrest Gump Year: 1994 Director: Rober Zemeckis Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright Penn, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson and Sally Field
Plot: A dim-witted, Southern boy grows up in the latter half of the 20th century and is able to overcome his feebleness to become a Vietnam war hero and a successful shrimp fisherman – while participating in many historical events.. Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: These days it’s hard not to think about Robert Downey Jr.’s rant in “Tropic Thunder” (2008) about actors going “retard” to win an Oscar and not consider Tom Hank’s performance in “Forrest Gump.” Hanks plays Forrest as a slack-jawed moron with a heart of gold. His gravelly, clogged-nasal passages monotones may be the most irritating performance ever to win an Academy Award. The movie is pedestrian at best, but its real crime was snatching the best picture award from “Pulp Fiction,” a movie that continues to withstand the test of time and remains one of the most influential in the last three decades. The Oscar Competition: “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Quiz Show,” “The Shawshank Redemption.” Film That Should Have Won: “Pulp Fiction.”
Gladiator Year: 2000 Director: Ridley Scott Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Djimon Housou, Derek Jacobi and Richard Harris. Plot: A Roman general in line to replace the ailing Emperor Marcus Aurelius is betrayed by the emperor’s son, Commodus. The general’s family is murdered and escapes execution, but only to be captured by slave traders. He becomes a gladiator and uses his battle skills to catapult himself to fame and to position himself as the new emperor of Rome. Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: “Joey, do you like gladiator movies?” Captain Oveur asks the little boy in “Airplane” (1980). Clearly, the answer should have been no. The artistic appeal of “Gladiator” remains a mystery – as its nothing more than a clichéd action adventure set in ancient Rome. It’s a depressing, cynical movie that has no heart – and no color (it looks as if it were filmed through dirty cotton). Joaquin Phoenix plays the nasty, cowardly Commodus like a petulant child channeling Nathan Lane numbed down on painkillers. It’s a painful experience to watch the overacting Russell in a series of pontificating speeches about fairness, justice, and blah, blah, blah. The Oscar Competition: “Chocolat,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic.” Film That Should Have Won: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Dances with Wolves Year: 1990 Director: Kevin Costner
Starring: Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Tantoo Cardinal and Jimmy Herman Plot: A burned-out Union soldier about to have his leg amputated tries to commit suicide, but instead ends up a hero. A general’s doctor saves his leg and the officer, John J. Dunbar, is transferred to the western wilderness. He meets a tribe of Sioux and drops out of white man’s society. Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: “Dances With Wolves” is like a wine you fell in love with at a trendy restaurant, bought a bottle of it, and then a couple of years later you pop it open it has turned to vinegar. And, of course, it surprises you. But try watching “Dances With Wolves” again and you’ll find that it’s heavy-handed and very preachy. It also treats its Native American subjects as children rather than a race of adults. And, of course, the white men are portrayed as despicable monsters. It’s all too simplified, black-and-white and as a result, the movie suffers for it. The Oscar Competition: “Awakenings,” “Ghost,” “The Godfather, Part III,” “Goodfellas.” Film That Should Have Won: “Goodfellas.”
Rain Man Year: 1988 Director: Barry Levinson Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise and Valeria Golino Plot: A young car dealer in need of money when he finds out his estranged father has died. Heading home to settle the estate, he discovers that he has an older brother who is an autistic savant and been institutionalized for most his life. In order to get more money out the estate, dealer kidnaps his brother and they travel together across country – bonding. Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: It’s difficult not to like “Rain Man.” But here is another actor (Dustin Hoffman) “going retard” to earn a best actor award. Hoffman manages to avoid the syrupy performance that plagued Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” but the problem with “Rain Man” his character never transcend beyond Dustin Hoffman playing an autistic guy. In the end, “Rain Man” isn’t a bad movie – it just isn’t Oscar caliber and was only the third best movie nominated in 1988. The Oscar Competition: “The Accidental Tourist,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Mississippi Burning, “Working Girl.”
Film That Should Have Won: “Dangerous Liaisons.”
Oliver! Year: 1968
Director: Carol Reed Starring: Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Mark Lester, Jack Wild and Hugh Griffith. Plot: An adaptation of the Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist.” An orphan escapes a work school to become a pickpocket under the control of Fagin and Bill Sikes. A kindly and wealthy family later adopts him. Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: Amazingly, 1968 gave us “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and yet neither of these films were even nominated. Instead, we get a musical of one of Charles Dickens’ most damning novels of the British welfare system and class structure. One can only imagine how Dickens would have reacted to a group of destitute boys singing “Food Glorious Food” while dancing on streets of slop. The Oscar Competition: “Funny Girl,” “The Lion in Winter,” “Rachel, Rachel,” “Romeo and Juliet.”
Film That Should Have Won: “The Lion in Winter.”
The Greatest Show on Earth Year: 1952
Director: Cecil B. DeMille Starring: Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahhame, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Wilcoxon, Plot: A struggling circus hires the Great Sebastien to pump some life into the show. His arrival displaces Holly from her spot on the trapeze and the two enter into a dangerous competition against each other while fighting off romantic entanglements outside of the Big Top. Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: This may be the worst picture to ever bring home the Oscar and in light of the superior competition (notably “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man”) one can only wonder if uber-Hollywood power broker Cecil B. DeMille called in some markers. Vapid, big budget movie making at its tacky worst with a only a flimsy plot and endless shot of real circus performers and kids reacting to it. The Oscar Competition: “High Noon,” “Ivanhoe,” “Moulin Rouge,” “The Quiet Man.” Film That Should Have Won: “High Noon.”
How Green Was My Valley Year: 1941 Director: John Ford Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp and Roddy McDowall. Plot: The trials of ordinary people in a Welsh coal mining town. Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: An overly sentimental and romanticized pandering of the class that won the Academy Award because the United States was in the midst of World War II. The coal miners actually march home with picks on their shoulders singing loudly and happily as they exit the mines. The story is supposed to expose the harsh working conditions, but the movie’s kid-glove treatment of the miners dooms it. The Oscar Competition: “Blossoms in the Dust,” “Citizen Kane,” “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” “Hold Back the Dawn,” “The Little Foxes,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “One Foot in Heaven,” “Sergeant York.” Film That Should Have Won: “Citizen Kane.”
Going My Way Year: 1944 Director: Leo McCarey Starring: Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Frank McHugh, James Brown, Gene Lockhart and Jean Heather. Plot: A singing and dancing priest brings joy and solutions to social problems to his parish. Why It Shouldn’t Have Won: Bing Crosby as a priest who will break out into song at any opportunity must have charmed the Academy weary of the bloodshed of World War II. Because there really isn’t another reason for this forgettable movie to even be considered among the best pictures of 1944 or any other year. If you put “Going My Way” in a cup of coffee, you’d return it for being too sweet. It was up against three films that were far superior – especially in hindsight. The Oscar Competition: “Double Indemnity,” “Gaslight,” “Since You Went Away,” “Wilson.”