Ever since Wings beat out Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans at the very first Academy Awards on May 16th 1929, the Academy has had a history of giving the Best Picture award to movies that were generally the safeand popular choice. With very few exceptions, such as No Country for Old Men, they generally havent been especially artistic or ground-breaking. Just look at 1941, when the safe film, How Green Was My Valley, beat out the far-superior, far more challenging and ground-breaking Citizen Kane.
Most of the films that did win in these cases had their own merits. While The Greatest Show on Earth wasnt nearly as interesting or morally complex as High Noon, it still had its good points and was a worthwhile film. But sometimes the Academy really screws the pooch and picks a movie that had no business winning anything other than a whole stack of Razzies. This article is dedicated to these movies, and we shall go over them in chronological order.
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
David Niven is a saving grace in this otherwise bland and uninteresting adaptation of Jules Vernes famous novel. He plays Phineas Fogg, the adventurer who decides to fly around the world on a dare. Less a quality film than a somewhat more serious version of Its a Mad, Mad, Mad World, right down to a couple dozen pointless celebrity cameos, the film nearly feels like it takes 80 days to grind to a conclusion. It looks beautiful, but its really not a good movie.
Consider that the film won over Giant, The King and I and The Ten Commandments, and Around the World in 80 Days looks even weaker.
West Side Story (1961)
Robert Wise was a man of many great talents. He made such wonderful films as The Sound of Music, The Sand Pebbles and The Day the Earth Stood Still. However even the greatest directors have their bombs, and while some would argue Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was Wises bomb, this movie, although popular, was far worse.
The music was mediocre, the plot (a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet), was by its very nature predictable and the lead characters were all as boring as could be. While it might be decent escapist fare for some, it certainly had no business winning Best Picture, especially in a year that included the far superior, and not even nominated, Breakfast at Tiffanys. Cinematic crime.
Somewhat surprisingly to those raised on the many, many sequels, the original Rocky won not only Best Picture, but also Best Director and Best Film Editing, with Sylvester Stallone getting a Best Actor nomination. This was before we all found out that this is essentially the only character he plays in any movie.
The plot is simplistic, the characters are, at best, two dimensional, and while the fight scenes were interesting, they werent anything to write home about. Also, bear in mind: this movie beat out Jaws, Network and All The President's Men!
Rain Man (1988)
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise were near the pinnacle of their earning power with this movie. Hoffmans career sputtered out after Hook and Cruises took a near fatal wound after Oprah, but at this point both were doing quite well. So its astounding to me that they chose to be in this movie, which is not really much more than a Hey, what can we learn from special people? story. The story is boring & obvious, Cruises character is an uninteresting jackass, and Hoffmans is really one-dimensional. This movie, directed by Barry Levinson, was a study in wasted talent.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Speaking of what can we learn from special people movies, heres this 1994 pile. The movie showcases a Disney-ish version of American history, gives us a really dull title character (whose brain is nearly as slow as the film itself), and contains some special effects that at the time were ground-breaking but now are just cringe-inducing.
The central message of Conform or you shall suffer like Robin Wrights character, was also a tad sinister. And again, this films win is even more unpleasant when you consider it beat out the far superior Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption.
Ah, yes, another crappy 1990s film. The history here is just horrible, the story brings two-dimensional to a whole new level and the acting, aside from that of Patrick McGoohan, is nothing to write home about. While the battle scenes are epic and interesting, the history behind them is completely ignored. This is a movie that gave us the Battle of Sterling Bridge and didnt bother to include a bridge.
The film may have re-inspired Scottish independence movements, but it just inspired me to find a better movie to watch.
American Beauty (1999)
Pretention, thy name is American Beauty. Confusing, uninteresting, dull and plodding, with a few interesting shots, but otherwise not anything exceptional. To this day, I still dont understand why people fell in love with this film. I suppose some people thought it was daring to have a main character tempted by some jailbait. Its certainly more daring and interesting than the movies central message of Suburbia! Wow, what a sucky place!
This is just my list and not the only one posted in the history of this site dealing with the same question (Check out Stu Cummins' piece HERE). Whats yours?