With Academy Award nominees being announced on Tuesday, it only seems fitting to look back at previous Best Picture winners and mourn the defeat of some of our favorite films. It's not that many bad movies have won the most prestigious Oscar of them all, but there are certainly some winners that feel absolutely average. The following films are, at the least, decent movies. However, they are films that I believe had no business winning Best Picture, and they all stirred some sort of controversy in the film community over their victory. Without further ado, here are seven times the Academy seriously misfired.
7. 'The King's Speech' (2010)
Should Have Won: The Social Network
The Academy is well known to possess a soft spot for historical dramas, and The King's Speech winning Best Picture of 2010 is no exception. Colin Firth brings a nuanced performance as a young King George VI working with a therapist to overcome his stutter. While the film achieved both critical and box-office success, it hasn't remained in the consciousness of viewers as well as several other films from the same year. It's a movie that rode its wave of popularity all the way to the Oscar and then seemed to vanish from conversation. With a bit more foresight, the Academy could really have picked a film with more lasting impact. Instead, they played it safe (as they often do).
6. 'The English Patient' (1996)
Should Have Won: Fargo
In a similar boat as The King's Speech, this historical epic delighted Academy members just long enough to take home the trophy. The English Patient is a tedious, nearly three-hour movie about longing and infidelity in the Italian Campaign of World War II. There are definitely worse films, but in a year so rich as 1996, it's curious how a film like this managed to claim the highest of prizes. Perhaps with some serious trimming and a bit more substance, the film could qualify for such a high honor. As it stands, however, it's not even close.
5. 'Ordinary People' (1980)
Should Have Won: Raging Bull
The directorial debut of Robert Redford himself, Ordinary People follows the breakdown of a family after their teenage son dies in a boating accident. Cleverly written and engaging from start to finish, the film is undoubtedly one of the finest films on this list. Unfortunately, it was forced against Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, a masterpiece now hailed as one of the greatest films ever made.
I may be personally bitter for including Ordinary People in this spot, but there's definitely consensus far beyond myself that Scorsese deserved the win. Yet another case where the Academy failed to recognize the profound legacy that a film would achieve, we're left with a disappointing Best Picture record that simply can't be undone.
4. 'Kramer Vs. Kramer' (1979)
Should Have Won: Apocalypse Now
Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman bring their A-game to this moving drama about a family torn apart by divorce, but even major star power couldn't bolster this movie to greatness. With cliché plot points and an overall predictable story, Kramer vs. Kramer is far from Best Picture material. It probably deserves the most credit for its cultural impact, depicting shifting views on divorce and the American family that developed in the 1970s. However, these themes are the only thing propping up a movie without much cinematic merit otherwise. Up against a masterpiece of far greater scale, it's a wonder how Kramer vs. Kramer managed to snag its victory over Apocalypse Now.
3. 'Crash' (2005)
Should Have Won: Brokeback Mountain
Rarely has a film faced such heavy opposition to win Best Picture and actually claimed the prize. The clear favorite at the 2006 Academy Awards was Brokeback Mountain, though many cite anti-gay sentiment among parts of the Academy for Crash's upset victory. With an ensemble cast and an energetic direction, Crash is an epic story that conveys both social and racial tensions in the city of Los Angeles. Often called one of the least memorable Best Picture winners, the film is criticized for being overstuffed and for exploiting audience emotions to achieve its end result. Even Paul Haggis, the film's director, has been on record claiming that the film did not deserve to win Best Picture.
2. 'Chicago' (2002)
Should Have Won: Gangs of New York
2002 was a dry year for great movies, and many believed that Martin Scorsese would finally claim Best Picture for his criminal epic Gangs of New York. Or, maybe Roman Polanski would take the prize for his crushing World War II historical drama The Pianist. Viewers were instead shocked to find Chicago, a divisive musical, finish on top. While the film was an innovative approach to the musical film genre, Chicago left a sour taste for many audiences. The film was clearly the most dazzling movie of the year, but it didn't accomplish much else, leaving us wondering whether a film with so little substance really deserved this sort of accolade.
1. 'Shakespeare In Love' (1998)
Should Have Won: Saving Private Ryan
Often hailed as the worst Best Picture ever, there's really not much wrong with Shakespeare in Love — it's just pretty average. A historical narrative in which Joseph Fiennes portrays William Shakespeare, the film checks plenty of boxes when it comes to Oscar-bait material. Aside from Gwyneth Paltrow's charming performance, there's not much to love about this movie, but that didn't stop it from sweeping the 1999 #Oscars and taking home seven golden statues. It's likely the most mediocre film to ever bring home the gold, and tons of film buffs are still bitter. Don't even think about mentioning this movie to a Saving Private Ryan fan. Yikes.
Though it can be disheartening when our favorite films don't make the cut, we have to remind ourselves that the Academy is a subjective body just like any other group. All kinds of factors play into a film's consideration, including both inherent bias from the voting body or perhaps just shady dealings behind closed doors. With all eyes set on this year's ceremony, we can only hope that the Academy makes the right call and bestows a worthy film with the highest of honors. (That film, of course, is Moonlight.)
What other Oscar upsets can you think of?