The Academy Award for Best Picture should go to the film that will stand the test of time. The award should go to a film that will resonate with audiences for decades to come; a film that we can all collectively look back on and say that was truly one of the best films that came out that year. A film worthy of being honored and remembered.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case. And understandably so, as picking the best film of the year is a highly subjective undertaking. An undertaking that is hard for a small group of mostly older white men to always get right. Now to be fair, my feeling is that while they do not always pick the best and most worthy film, it's pretty rare that the Academy selects to honor a bad film. A complete flop that we will all collectively ignore after awards season. Most of the time, if the best doesn't win (again subjective) then in my opinion at least a top 10 or top 5 film gets the nod, and that's not too terrible a thing, all things considered.
But then there are the years where the inexplicable happens. The Academy decides in their infinite wisdom to prop up a film and call it the Best Picture of the year that has zero business being on that pedestal. Many of times, the film shouldn't have even been a nominee to begin with. The reason or rationale.. who knows. Call it politics. Call it making up for past grievances, which again is really politics. Call it being caught up in too much hype and publicity. Whatever the reason, it tends to happen every once and a while. Far too often for my tastes, if I'm being honest.
Here are the worst (or best examples, depending upon how you look at it) of the Academy completely dropping the ball with Best Picture calls over the years.
#1, with a bullet: Shakespeare In Love, 1999.
Does anyone remember this movie? Did anyone even particularly like this movie? I did see it. And it was okay. Not a terrible film. But NOT the kind of movie that we should be honoring as great. If you remember this award's season, then you probably will remember this as the absolute worst call in Oscar's history.
Reason being, consider the other nominees:
Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line
Can you honestly tell me that Shakespeare In Love is the best movie of those 6? Now try that again, with a straight face? My guess is you cannot. Saving Private Ryan should have won. It stands the test of time, as perhaps the greatest war movie ever made. Subjective, for sure. But consensus still rings true over a decade later. I would have rather seen Life is Beautiful win as well. Now that was another great movie that I remember still as being worthy.
#2, the super boring: The English Patient, 1997.
Can anyone watch this film, without falling asleep at least once? Give it a cinematography and a few acting nods and call it a day. Sure, maybe even nominate it for Best Pic out of the kindness of your heart. I mean, it did at least try to be epic, and sort of succeeded at times. But don't let it win! I hated this pick. Especially with the likes of:
Secrets & Lies
Sans Secrets & Lies, any of those other 3 should have won over The English Patient, easy. My vote would be for Fargo or Jerry Maguire. A romantic dramedy can win every once in a while, and should right? But really, Fargo was tops that year.
#3, the perfectly adequate: Argo, 2013.
Fine film. No real complaints. Saw it in the theaters and didn't feel gypped at all. But Best Picture? Why? What did everyone see and feel during this movie that I did not? I still don't understand. Even some of my friends were happy with it winning, and I just don't get it. Not when you also had:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Honestly, I thought every single one of those above films were better suited to win over Argo. All of them. Particularly Django, Zero Dark and Beasts.
#4, the year The Pianist lost: Chicago, 2003.
There was no better film in 2003, at least out of the nominee list than The Pianist. Hard to find another person that has seen both that would disagree either. If that person is you, please in the comment section below, explain yourself. Also, Gangs of New York was better too. (the other two that year: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers & The Hours.)
#5, the film hardly anyone saw then or since: Out of Africa, 1986.
In a year where the Academy nominated The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi's Honor, and The Witness, it was really a down year for the Oscar's nominating crew. And perhaps a down year for Hollywood and film as well. Oh wait, no it wasn't. You also had: Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Cocoon, The Goonies, Rocky 4... you're telling me you would have rather had Out of Africa win than almost any of these others?
Wouldn't it be a much more telling cultural story if Back to the Future had won? I think so. Either way, of the nominees, The Color Purple was clearly the pick that the Academy lost out on. A fantastic film that, like I've said a few times now at litmus, stands the test of time.
Every year, there are films that don't even get nominated, that I honestly think would be a better measuring stick for what culture deems as the Best Picture of the year. But even with the picks they do trump up, these to me are the 5 of the modern era that the Academy completely got wrong. At least they did honor The Gladiator and The Departed... they are not always wrong, and that's what keeps me watching.