I recently published an article that looked at the Worst Academy Award choices for Best Actor. That list was relatively easy to keep down to ten because despite some howlers such as Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou and Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful, for the most part the Academy Awards for Best Actor haven’t gone to utterly undeserving winners. Picking the ten worst choices for Best Picture is a whole other story. In fact, it would probably be a lot easier to pick the ten times the Oscars got it right. Hmm, now that I think about it, that wouldn’t be easier; it would be impossible.
10. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. 2003.
I’m sorry, but I just don’t get the fascination with this film series. Nine hours to tell a story that barely warrants a 30 minute cartoon. And the last one was the longest, most boring one of all. Alright already, we get it, throw the damn ring in, Frodo; oh wait, turns out you aren’t even the hero of your own story, you have to get your boyfriend Sam to do it for you. Puh-leeze! What a piece of sleep-inducing crap. This was the year Hollywood should have gone out on a limb and given Best Picture to an animated film. If Finding Nemo wasn’t the Best Picture of 2003, I don’t know what was.
9. Titanic. 1997.
The only reason this monstrous affront to cinema doesn’t rank higher is because it faced tepid competition. I mean, jeez, Wag the Dog and Waiting for Guffman weren’t even nominated. As Good as it Gets was clearly the superior films of those nominated, though mainly because I prefer the novel L.A. Confidential to the watered-down movie version. But let’s face it, even Spice World was more deserving of an Oscar than this soulless piece of celluloid garbage.
8. Dances with Wolves. 1990.
Kevin Costner and a mullet beats out Ray Liotta and his goodfellas. Yeah, need I say more?
7. Gandhi. 1982.
Wow. Think back to 1982 and the movies that didn’t win Best Picture: E.T, Tootsie, Fanny and Alexander, Moonlighting, My Favorite Year, Personal Best, Pink Floyd: The Wall, The Return of Martin Guerre, Sophie’s Choice…Porky’s. Instead, this deservedly forgotten deadheaded epic was the one movie released in 1982 that members of the Academy thought was the best of the year. Stunning.
6. Ordinary People. 1980.
The only reason this is on the list is because Raging Bull is such a spectacularly superior movie. The only reason it isn’t listed higher is because it’s the best movie on the list.
5. Around the World in 80 Days. 1956.
Apparently there was something in the water in Hollywood in the 1950s. How else to explain the mental disturbances that led to such an outpouring of horrific choices for Best Picture Oscar in one decade? Around the World in 80 Days isn’t the worst movie of the 50s to win an Oscar. And that’s the real shame here. I mean, hey, these guys could have gone with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Searchers or Lust for Life. Heck, even Giant would have been a better choice. Around the World in 80 Cameos is more like it; I think the reason this won is that every star who popped up in it voted for it.
4. Gigi. 1958.
I mean, you know. What was with the Academy in the 50s? True, a lot of the competition was crap, but for crying out loud this is the year Ingmar Bergman released Wild Strawberries. One of the greatest films of all time and it’s not even nominated, meanwhile this piece of unwatchable dreck is rewarded with an Oscar for Best Picture. And if you don’t wan to go foreign, this was also the year that saw Orson Welles direct Touch of Evil. Here you have two films that are any serious film lover’s list of the twenty best movies ever made and a freaking musical about a stupid French girl wins the Academy Award for Best Picture? Oh my gawd! And just to embarrass any Academy member still living who voted for Gigi I might also add that 1958 was the year that saw Vertigo, The Fly, The Big Country, The Black Orchid, The Blob and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, any one of which deserved an Academy Award for Best Picture more than Gigi.
3. The Greatest Show on Earth. 1952.
Had 1952 been a better year for movies, it’s doubtful this could have won. Even so, the real best English-language movie of that year wasn’t even nominated, Singin’ in the Rain. The Greatest Show on Earth not only holds the distinction of the worst movie to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture, but also the corniest. It is truly bad filmmaking from a director who had seen far better days, Cecil B. DeMille. By this point DeMille was a hack with only one really entertaining movie left in him, The Ten Commandments. If you want solid evidence that Cecil B. DeMille was a great director, find a copy of The Buccaneer.
2. On the Waterfront.
For more on why this so-called classic is an utter piece of crap, please read my article here.
1. Rocky. 1976.
Rocky is the single worst choice for a Best Picture Oscar not because Rocky is the worst movie to ever win, but rather because of what it beat out. In addition to a very fine Woody Guthrie biopic Bound For Glory, this derivative and simplistic tale beat out three bona fide masterpieces that would have been solid contenders in any year: Taxi Driver, Network and All the President’s Men. I personally would go for the latter, but you’d get no argument from me had any of these three beaten Rocky. Some Rocky fans like to complain that the sequels diluted the franchise. I, on the other hand, see no difference at all between Rocky and Rocky II, III, IV, V…whatever. They all suck.