Friday, 3 November 2017

The Oscars - the worst/unfairest Best Picture winners of all time

Lost to The English Patient!
Ben Shapiro tweeted a list of his picks for worst-ever Academy Award Best Picture winners this morning - mainly, I think, to get in a dig at super-liberal Kevin Spacey, who seems to be  in a spot of bother at the moment. Here's Shapiro's Hateful Eight: American BeautyCrash, Birdman, Moonlight, The English Patient, Midnight Cowboy, Tom Jones, Cimarron. This sort of list is well-nigh meaningless without criteria - i.e., worst-directed, worst-scripted, worst-acted, etc.  But that's all a bit difficult given the restriction on the number of characters you can use in a tweet. Looking at Shapiro's list, I get the sense that he's objecting to the meretricious nature of some of these films - they're superficially attractive or meaningful, but delve beneath the surface dazzle or the film-makers' portentous social or political "message", and you realise there's either nothing under the gloss, or that the values the film embodies are repellent...

I'm with Shapiro on American Beauty. It was a good watch, but I have no idea why mega-rich sleazebucket Hollywood liberals feel they have the right to sneer at the constricted lives, questionable tastes and petty hypocrisies of suburbanites: do these arrogant wankers never look at themselves in the mirror and wonder whether the alternative lifestyle they're offering is in any way superior to the "little" people they have such fun eviscerating in their films? I was once asked to write about American Beauty as a conservative film, but I had to point out that it was, in fact, a pile of festering, cultural Marxist poop which reeked of the lazy, snobbish attitudes of the 1960s counterculture, when pop stars and film-makers constantly sneered at those boring, pathetic, hard-working, tax-paying dweebs who weren't shagging dolly birds, doing drugs and hanging out with The Shrimp and David Bailey, and - worse - didn't want to anyway!
Lost to The Sting
As for the other films on Shapiro's list, I have to admit I haven't seen many of them - at least, not all the way through. I saw some clips of the 2014 winner, Birdman, and could think of no earthly reason why I'd want to watch the rest of it.  I was blithely unaware that it had won Best Picture.

I did see Crash, the 2006 winner, and I enjoyed it - Sandra Bullock and  Matt Dillon gave strong performances, and while many conservatives interpreted it as an attack on the inherent racism of America, I didn't see it that way. Perhaps I need to watch it again, but in a choice between Crash and a movie about cowboys discovering the delights of taking it up the chuff (I managed about 10 minutes of Brokeback Mountain), I'd pick the former.

I'd literally never heard of Moonlight, which apparently won the Oscar for Best Picture last year. It had an all-black cast, so obviously it deserved the award for that alone. (Something called Spotlight won it the previous year. It's about kiddy-fiddler Catholic priests in Boston. Perhaps Hollywood should consider a film focussing on kiddy-fiddlers in Hollywood. Research should be easy enough - they could just phone their chums and ask for details of what they got up to over the weekend.)
Lost to You Can't Take It with You
The English Patient? I lasted 15 minutes.

Midnight Cowboy? Well, hold on there, sonny! Admittedly, the prize should have gone to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, which is still thoroughly enjoyable (we saw it en famille earlier this year), and, yes, there are some sequences in John Schlesinger's film which haven't aged well (the psychedelic party and the fantasy Miami scene in particular) - but it was an enthralling film with two great central performances. And it didn't half made yer fink.

Tom Jones won the award in 1963, when it could have gone to The Great Escape, Charade or From Russia with Love, none of which even made the shortlist. I've caught snippets of Tom Jones since first seeing it in the '60s - and Shapiro may have a point: all that cheeky lustiness and bawdiness and over-ripe acting hasn't aged well, and I have no desire to see it again.

Cimarron (1932)? I can't comment: if I've ever seen it, I've forgotten the experience.
Lost to The Greatest Show on Earth
Of the Oscar-winning movies I have seen,  the unfairest  - in the sense that there were far worthier titles available that year - are as follows:

Cavalcade (1932/33) - when they could have gone for 42nd Street, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang or The Private Life of Henry VIII.

You Can't Take It with You (1938) is an oddly annoying Frank Capra film - they could have picked The Adventures of Robin Hood or Pygmalion, both of which are still insanely watchable.

Going My Way (1944) - Bing Crosby as a singing priest, for God's sake! And what did they pass over? Double Indemnity, that's what.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) - a Cecil B. De Mille film about a circus, instead of High Noon. Clowns.

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) - yeah, it's fun, but not half as much fun as The King & I.
Lost to Marty
Gigi (1958). Yes, it stars the lovely Leslie Caron, but it's a fun movie about training a little girl to be a high-class prostitute, as far as I can see. I'm not a big fan of either Vertigo or Touch of Evil, but both were more deserving - as were Ice Cold in Alex and The Defiant Ones.

The Sting (1973) - unlike Butch Cassidy (the previous Paul Newman/Robert Redford hit), this has aged very badly. It should have been The Exorcist - or, given the Academy's aversion to horror,  American Graffiti.

Rocky (1976). Very watchable, of course - but they could (and should) have gone for All the President's Men, Network or Taxi Driver. 

Ordinary People (1980). So unmemorable, I had to look it up just now.  Robert Redford's directorial debut. Boring. Should have chosen The Elephant Man.

Gandhi (1982). I've tried to watch Gandhi on numerous occasions. I've started at the beginning, in the middle, and half an hour from the end: nothing works. It is a dreary, indigestible lump of pompous, misleading, ludicrously over-reverential hagiography. They had ET the Extra-Terrestrial on offer.
Lost to Out of Africa
Out of Africa (1985) - or "Offrica" as Meryl Street insisted on pronouncing it - was, on reflection, well-nigh insufferable, but at least it kept out The Colour Purple. However, they should have gone for Witness, obviously.

As for giving Best Picture to The English Patient (1996), when they could have gone for Fargo - FARGO!!! - well, words fail me.
Lost to Ordinary People
The last one on my list is the aforementioned American Beauty, which kept out the excellent The Sixth Sense. Then again, it's well-known that you're not allowed to award prizes to spooky films: in 90 years, the Academy has awarded the Best Picture Oscar to exactly one film from the Horror, Science Fiction or Fantasy genres (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003) - unless, of course, you count the ghost in Olivier's 1948 Hamlet (which should have lost to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, of course, while Oliver 's1955 Richard III should have got it instead of Marty).

There are plenty of other winners I have either disliked or utterly loathed - e.g. Braveheart, Titanic, Schindler's List, The Departed - but the Dirty Dozen on my list (I just checked, and they are now the Filthy Fourteen) are the ones that really get my goat.
Lost to Cimarron


  1. I really enjoyed your post. Absolutely spot on. I know you are unwell these days, but your critical faculties remain untouched.

    The award of the Oscar over the years has often been a travesty, as you indicate. Just think of the three British actors James Mason, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole with 20 nominations between them, but not one win.

    I have had the voting process explained to me a number of times, but as with the War Of the Roses, the Schleswig-Holstein Question and the American Electoral process my mind can only retain it for a few minutes and then it all recedes. My problem.

    Robin Hood - "insanely watchable." I am glad that you have kind words at last for my Tasman hero. I have another friend and cinema buff who sneers at the great Errol. He is exceptional in "They Died With Their Boots On" [see his farewell scene with Olivia de Havilland before The Big Horn on You Tube] and " The Sun Also Rises". And he holds his own [yes, Errol!] against the great Bette Davies as Essex.

    OK, the Coens missed out in 1996 with "Fargo", but got it for "No Country for Old Men" -in 2008. These must be two of the best "modern" American films ever made. As you say, "The English Patient" - deadbeat schlock. Are we now finally rid of these Fiennes brothers? The last time I saw "Rafe" was in a film version of "Coriolanus" set at the time of the Bosnian War and Rafe had his head shaved. It was painful.

    Anyway, for what it is worth, thanks for a very interesting post.

    1. I don't think I've changed my mind about Errol Flynn. Like John Wayne, he was a pretty crappy actor, but a great screen presence: they were both perfect in roles which better actors wouldn't have handled half as effectively.

  2. SDG has a point. In my view, Burton should have received the Oscar for his role as Major John Smith of the Grenadier Guards in Where Eagles Dare (1968). Those of us who have seen it will never forget the passion and sincerity with which he intoned the words "Broadsword calling Danny Boy" as things fell apart around him. Lesser actors might have taken the view that what they were being asked to say amounted to little more than a summons over short wave radio for a conversation to commence. Burton saw it for what it was - the high point of a great work of art - and gave it the full range of expressive force that he brought to absolutely every line he was required to emote on stage or screen. Once seen, never forgotten,

    I would have gone for Bad Day at Black Rock in 1956 (not even nominated) over Marty but maybe the Academy thought a sappy middle age love story was more reflective of US public opinion at that time than a drama about the fate of a Japanese American in small town America during the war.

    1. Ah, yes, the great "Where Eagles Dare". Harry Enfield included a moving tribute to it in his 1989 television programme, "Norbert Smith: A Life", which featured clips from "Dogs of Death", starring Richard Smashed, Dick Booze, Oliver Guinness, and Peter O'Pissed. (I can't provide a link, because Channel 4 have blocked it on YouTube.)

  3. It does rather seem like those great British actors have been continually overlooked.
    There was a cinema on Market street in San Francisco that to put it kindly had seen better days, which used to rerun some of the movies mentioned in Mr. G's excellent post such as Midnight Cowboy and a little known gem Emperor Of The North-never has an audience so resembled the characters in the movie. As for Around The World in Eighty Days, the 1989 TV version had (with one exception) a far more distinguished cast.
    It's a pity this post wasn't available before I saw Birdman-could have saved me 20 equivalent pounds at an extortionate box office.

    1. Michael Winner once watched his own film, Death Wish, in a cinema in New York. He reported that, when the lights went up at the end, every single member of an audience which had applauded the film looked like a dangerous mugger.

      As for the TV version of Around the World in Eighty Days - yes, indeed, the cast is extraordinary. As for the "one exception" you mention - all three parts of the series are available on YouTube, albeit in rather poor quality, which makes it difficult to spot this mysterious figure. Could you furnish us with the episode number and the time at which this actor appears? I spotted one or two possibles - but even at full-screen it was hard to tell!

  4. The audience during the showing of Emperor of the North gave the expression "bums on seats" a certain realism.
    Yes a mystery why several speaking parts were expunged from the TV Around the World in Eighty Days when it hit The States and YouTube. Surely it couldn't be for their lack of acting skills! The credits show some names in blue and others in red which may explain something. The actor in question had up to that time appeared in a variety of Cantonese gangster films as the gweilo bad ass and got his break in Eighty Days in a dialogue with Ustinov.It appeared in its entirety in Hongkong, and Manila and possibly elsewhere.