Sometimes, the Academy is just wrong. There's no better way to put it. There are hundreds of movies made every single year, and after year's end a weird governing body called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, comprised of Hollywood's elite, get together and decide what awards to give themselves. The most coveted prize among these pristine Academy Awards is the Best Picture trophy, awarded to the picture that these people find to be, well, the best. But there are some years where, even when they all seem to think that it's worthy of taking home that trophy... it just isn't. Here are some examples.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
I'm not disparaging Cecil B. DeMille, but this was a movie about the circus. An expertly-made movie about the circus, sure, but it was basically a documentary about Barnum and Bailey. Giving the Best Picture Trophy to this movie instead of the superior High Noon and The Quiet Man doesn't necessarily represent an act of idiocy or lunacy on the Academy's part (we'll get to those later), it just shows that they really weren't in tune with the movies that were good enough to stay with us decades down the line.
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
This is where we get into idiocy. This just isn't a very good movie. I applaud the effort to award fantasy and comedy over history and spectacle, but if you watch this movie alongside its contenders, namely The Ten Commandments, Giant and The King and I, you'll notice the running trend of the winner being far inferior to its contenders. Even Giant was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress... and the "best" movie wasn't....
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Okay, I will admit that I may be wrong on this one myself. This is strictly just a matter of my own opinion, but in the year that this came out, we had The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, and, best out of of all of them, To Kill A Mockingbird. Peter O' Toole is great, I'm not debating that, nor am I debating the epic grandeur of Lawrence of Arabia, but at the end of the day, Gregory Peck's monumental turn as Atticus Finch wins me over, and so does the film.
My Fair Lady (1964)
Another good movie, another year where there were several better choices. As a musical, Mary Poppins hit more emotional notes. As costume dramas go, Becket was more lavish. And as a piece of commentary, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was more en pointe. My Fair Lady is a charming little movie with some good performances, and as undeserved trophies go, they didn't hit too far off-target with this one.
The Sting (1973)
American Graffiti. End of story.
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
As Sterling Archer would say "There we go again, with the race card!" That's what this movie winning Best Picture was all about. It's a quaint little movie, and Morgan Freeman is great in it, but I seriously have a hard time believing that people outside the Academy saw this as the best movie in the same year as Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams and My Left Foot. Sorry, not even Hans Zimmer's charming little score can convince me.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
This one is hard for me. I love this movie, I really do. Such a lavish and uplifting film, with great acting and terrific music. It really is a great movie. But in this same year we saw Saving Private Ryan, Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful and The Thin Red Line. With the exception of Thin Red Line, I would say every one of these films deserved the trophy more than this wonderful production.
American Beauty (1999)
I may again be in the minority here, but I simply preferred The Sixth Sense. And I think it's also a bunch of crap that Haley Joel Osment didn't win an Oscar for his performance. American Beauty was fine, I guess, but both Sixth Sense and The Green Mile represented higher levels of cinematic artistry.
I. Love. This. Movie. I really do. But let's face it, all the spectacle and glory of the musical numbers doesn't change the fact that it won against four other tremendous movies (Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist). And, let's face it, Chicago was pretty shallow... but maybe that was the point...
Like many, many others on this list, Crash is not a bad movie. It's a pretty good movie. But in the year it was released, we had Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich. Crash had something to say about poverty, and I commend it for that, but as a cohesive whole, it hasn't held up as well as its competitors.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Oooh, this is where I start to get angry. I hate this movie. It may have had a great story and some decent performances, but I hate it. It won instead of the epic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the excellent Frost/Nixon, and The Dark Knight. Now, I realize that Dark Knight wasn't even nominated, but because of that simple fact, the Best Picture category was expanded to ten nominees instead of five, which was an utterly stupid decision which has led to even more mistakes. And Slumdog has a lot to do with that. It has been six years since Slumdog and Dark Knight came out, and I have one question for you: Which film has had more impact on the way we make movies? I rest my case.
The Hurt Locker (2009)
I just don't get this one. This movie didn't really have a story, it was more like a collection of sketches about life in the armed forces. In the same year, we had Inglorious Basterds, Up, Up in the Air, Precious, District 9, A Serious Man, and a few others. After I watched The Hurt Locker, expecting this grand, mind-blowing masterpiece of cinema, I was left scratching my head.
Another good movie. I actually really enjoyed Argo. Ben Affleck is a visionary director and chose a great topic. When I watched it, I watched it again the next day. And the process that Ben Affleck and his crew went through to make the movie look the way it does? Seriously thorough. I really have only one qualm with this movie, that being Affleck's casting of himself. But Django Unchained? Les Miserables? Lincoln? Silver Linings Playbook? Life of Pi? Honestly, it felt like it was chosen in the spirit of "they'll never see it coming."
12 Years A Slave (2013)
........Okay. I'm going to try and be calm about this one. On paper, all the pieces added up to a Best Picture winner: great acting, great sets, costuming, music, writing, direction, and a great story to tell. But in execution, it all reeked of desperation. The film was plagued with the feeling that the filmmakers wanted the Oscar so badly, they were willing to do anything for it, including the production of Oscar bait. Every scene begged for it on its hands and knees, "Please give us Best Picture!" And what's worse, the ending scene of the film was so bland and anti-climactic, it renders any and all of the powerful journey before it fairly moot. It was a dishonest film, made for the wrong reasons, and in a year when we had stuff like Her and Nebraska, or even Philomena, it seems wrong that we should give someone the Oscar just because they want it.
So there you have it. That's my list of movies that, in my opinion, didn't deserve to win the trophy they walked away with. Let's hope we don't make the same mistake for at least a couple years.