We are thrilled that the Academy honored 12 Years a Slave as the best picture of 2013. We could not agree more wholeheartedly. They made the right decision this year. Sometimes, they don’t.
Here’s our take on the worst films to win best picture, but not the worst choice in a category. When John Ford’s bland How Green Was My Valley can take the prize from Citizen Kane, you come to realize that the Academy sometimes can’t tell a true masterpiece from a decent film.
Rather than point to short-sighted votes that gave a certain year’s top prize to a lesser nominee, let us commemorate bad films of the last 40 years that had no business being nominated, let alone winning. So, yes, Ordinary People should never have beaten Raging Bull, but it’s not a bad movie. You know what is a bad movie? Crash.
Crash is a movie Robert Altman might have made had Altman been lobotomized. Trite, self-important, self-congratulatory, pretentious and backhandedly racist, Paul Haggis’s film is a travesty that should have withered and died without an audience.
In an interview before the film was released, Haggis revealed that he and his wife had been victims of a carjacking, which became the inspiration for the film. Two young black men stole not only their car, but the video they were returning. Because the video was a foreign film, Haggis says, he decided to leave that detail out of his movie. He didn’t think the audience would believe it. Which is to say, he was so bothered that these thugs fit the stereotype that he decided to write a film about the experience, leaving out the part where the thugs did not fit the stereotype.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Schmaltzy, sentimental, sanctimonious, manipulative nonsense. There may be no film more contrived to knee jerk its audience toward shallow, meaningless, feel good self-congratulation than this. The ever-likeable Tom Hanks creates an amiable simpleton we can all root for and mock simultaneously without feeling badly about ourselves.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A slick, hollow Hollywood cliché of one-dimensional heroes struggling to be the heroes we know they really are. Don’t look for nuance or layers or flaws. Struggles, yes. Flaws? No. These are admirable people behaving admirably despite their heart-wrenching circumstances. Plus, aren’t they pretty?
Out of Africa (1985)
Redford! Streep! The manly hunter and the baroness find romance among the sweeping scenery of Colonial Africa! Nice to look at, maybe, but there’s no chemistry here, very little of anything to hold your attention, and after two and a half hours of relentless boredom, you’re so glad it’s over you can’t even think to ask “is that it?”
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
All these years later, far removed from the tales of a historic studio campaign that successfully overcame the shadow of Saving Private Ryan, you look at Shakespeare in Love and see little more than a star-studded TV movie. Fluffy and slight, this choice will continue to age ungracefully.