As Mark Lisanti recently wrote on Grantland: "No mass cultural event has the capacity to infuriate like the Oscars." Much of the time the Oscar voters have brought in on themselves.
Over the years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has made some extraordinary blunders at Oscar time, mistakes that look even worse years later when film historians have had a real chance to put things in perspective.
And it's not like there have been just a couple boo-boos. In fact, the only problem with putting together this list was deciding which bungles to include. So, let's limit things to the 10 worst picks for best pictures:
1) "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952)
Cecil B. DeMille's circus extravaganza has gone down in history as the worst film ever to win best picture. (Except for a harrowing train crash scene, it's almost unwatchable.) To make matters worse, it beat out Fred Zinnemann's "High Noon" and John Ford's "The Quiet Man" (probably the best-remembered film of the year, "Singin' In the Rain" wasn't even nominated). Although the political climate of Hollywood at the time might have played a role -- "High Noon" producer Carl Foreman would soon be blacklisted -- it's more likely that the voters saw it as their last chance to honor the aging DeMille.
2) "Oliver!" (1968)
"Oliver" is a perfectly fine musical but when it was transferred to film by director Carol Reed, it became bloated and bombastic. Yet, the
3) "Crash" (2005)
It was a jaw-dropper when it was announced on Oscar night and it's even more of one now. How in the heck did a cinematic mess like "Crash" ever beat out Ang Lee's precedent-setting romantic drama, "Brokeback Mountain"? Especially since "Brokeback" won best director and best adapted screenplay? An absolute head-scratcher.
4) "Gandhi" (1982)
The Oscar voters have had a long love affair with epics -- for better and for worse. In hindsight, "Gandhi" is a pretentious snooze with absolutely no insight into the revered spiritual leader and precious little nuance. And yet it beat out Steven Spielberg's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," which is as sweet and wondrous today as it was 30 years ago. Oh, and did we mention that "Gandhi's" director, Richard Attenborough, won best director over not only Spielberg but also Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot"), Sydney Pollack ("Tootsie") and Sidney Lumet ("The Verdict")? Highway robbery.
5) "Shakespeare in Love" (1998)
What do the Oscar voters have against Steven Spielberg? "Shakespeare in Love" was perfectly charming film with some nice performances. But Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" was a defining World War II epic that still grips audiences years later. (The Omaha Beach sequence is one of most extraordinary bits of filmmaking ever.) When "Shakespeare" was announced as the winner, it was such a huge upset that presenter Harrison Ford looked absolutely stunned.
6) "Ordinary People" (1980)
Boy, talk about a film that didn't age well. The Robert Redford film was very much of its time, an angst-ridden look at a family coping with tragedy. Now it seems clumsy and unconvincing. To make matters worse, it won out over "Raging Bull," the Martin Scorsese boxing film that has come to be admired as a true classic and makes many lists of the top 10 American films ever made. This one really leaves movie historians shaking their heads.
7) "How Green Is My Valley" (1941)
This was one case where John Ford let his sentimental side get the better of him and the result was a fairly mawkish tale of Welsh mining family at the turn of the century. Also in the running that year: "Citizen Kane." You know, the Orson Welles film, right? The one that is generally considered the best American film ever? The Oscar voters didn't see it that way at the time, perhaps because merely nominating it didn't endear the Academy to the powerful William Randolph Hearst, the model for newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane.
8) "Rocky" (1977)
I'm as fond of "Rocky," the ultimate underdog story, as anyone. But should it have won best picture in a year where the nominees also included "All the President's Men," "Network" and "Taxi Driver"? Don't think so.
9) "Forrest Gump" (1994)
This another film that hasn't aged well. What seemed rather sweet and engaging two decades ago now comes off as contrived and silly -- and Tom Hanks' performance (which won best actor) really seems strained after all these years. On the other hand, Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and Frank Darabont's "Shawshank Redemption" are as fresh today as they did back then. Not the worst mistake the Oscar voters ever made but not their finest moment either.
10) "Dances With Wolves" (1990)
Man, you want to talk about a butt-numbing film? Kevin Costner's revisionist western seems to go on forever (get that man an editor!) even if a few of the battle sequences are pretty spectacular. Another nominee that year: Scorcese's "Goodfellas," one of the greatest crime dramas of all time. Recount!
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