How Green Was My Valley (1941)
It’s got beautiful cinematography, John Ford as the director, and a three-hankie plot about a Welsh mining village. Those are the pluses. The minuses: mismatched accents and the still-outrageous fact that it beat Citizen Kane.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Cecil B. DeMille’s three-ring schmaltzfest stars Charlton Heston as a granite-jawed circus manager lording over a menagerie of trapeze artists, lion tamers, and one sad-eyed clown named Buttons (Jimmy Stewart). DeMille had a rep as Tinseltown’s king of pomp and excess, and here he does that rep proud. Show is big and bright and busy, and there isn’t an honest moment in it. It’s dated, hokey nonsense. Yet it somehow managed to beat High Noon.
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
They don’t make ’em like this anymore. And for that we can all be thankful. Mr. Elizabeth Taylor, a.k.a. producer Mike Todd, whipped out his sizable checkbook to entice a ”celebrity” cast of thousands (look, it’s Noël Coward… and Cantinflas!) to appear in this globe-trotting Victorian-era train wreck. James Dean’s Giant was robbed.
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
This tasteful period piece about the power struggle between Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More is the cure for what ails you. That is, if you suffer from insomnia. And for a movie about Henry VIII, there’s not nearly enough drumstick eating. We’d much rather watch Liz Taylor screaming and swearing at Richard Burton in 1966’s also-ran, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
That exclamation point in the title is easily the most exciting thing about this Dickens musical. Folks like to complain about how square the Academy is now, but the movie shows just how hopelessly geriatric and mothbally it used to be. Oscar voters swooned for this cavalcade of singing, dancing, pocket-picking ragamuffins and didn’t even nominate Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.
Ordinary People (1980)
In which director Robert Redford looks deep into the heart of the American dream and discovers… it’s a Lifetime movie! Okay, maybe I’m being unfair. Because, seriously, how else would I have learned that rich, white suburban folks are as screwed up as everyone else? The biggest outrage, of course, is that Ordinary People beat Raging Bull — to this day, the biggest headscratcher in Oscar history.
Chariots of Fire (1981)
If I said that a movie about a bunch of pasty British dudes running in slo-mo to Muzak for two hours was the greatest cinematic experience in the year of our Lord 1981, you’d say, ”You’re an idiot!” But the Academy said it was better than Reds and Raiders of the Lost Ark. So who’s the idiot now?
It’s said that Gandhi slept beside naked women to test his willpower. Well, sitting through Richard Attenborough’s three-hour-plus biopic isn’t that torturous, but it’s close. Ben Kingsley is amazing, yet wouldn’t you rather watch E.T. or Tootsie?
Out of Africa (1985)
There isn’t a better actress on the planet than Meryl Streep. But even she can’t fake any believable chemistry with Robert Redford in this Ralph Lauren?goes?to?Lion Country Safari advertorial. It had the good fortune of going up against weak competition like Kiss of the Spider Woman and Prizzi’s Honor. Talk about a pillow fight.
The Last Emperor (1987)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s stately epic about the life of China’s boy emperor, Pu Yi, is visually intoxicating (if a little flashback-heavy). But the main character is a dull cipher. You know who isn’t? Everybody in Broadcast News and Moonstruck, both of which lost.
Dances With Wolves (1990)
It’s a good thing Martin Scorsese won Best Picture for The Departed in 2007. Otherwise, the guy might’ve pulled a Travis Bickle. First Raging Bull loses. Then GoodFellas gets whacked by this endless, preachy Kevin Costner ego trip. Look, I can get behind an inspirational movie about Native Americans, just as long as it ain’t this one.
Forrest Gump (1994)
You know that guy who stole your girlfriend, then turned out not to be a jerk after all? That’s how I feel about Forrest Gump. It’s not an aggressively bad movie (well, aside from all of the Southern-fried Foghorn Leghorn homilies); I’ll just never get over the fact that it broke Pulp Fiction‘s heart.
The English Patient (1996)
With the notable exception of Seinfeld‘s Elaine, this khaki-colored Harlequin romance managed to put a catnip-like spell on people. I have no clue why. It’s so shameless about wanting to win Best Picture (right down to its epic slowness) that it should’ve been called For Your Consideration. Honestly, which movie would you rather watch again: this or the Coen brothers’ Fargo? The prosecution rests.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Clever premise. Delicious wordplay. Great Oscar campaign. Better than Saving Private Ryan? Methinks not. Seriously, which of those two movies will people be talking about in 50 years?
For a movie about race and stereotypes, Crash is both simplistically black-and-white and loaded with characters who are themselves stereotypes. Paul Haggis’ L.A. mosaic preaches to the choir, and in return, Left Coast Academy members could pat themselves on the back for handing over the big prize. We said it then: Brokeback Mountain should’ve won.
The King's Speech (2010)
If you believe that the Academy’s gotten hipper, here’s why you’re wrong: The King’s Speech, a perfectly fine upper-crusty period piece that could’ve been made anytime in the past five decades, bested The Social Network, which showed us how we live now. Wrong again, Oscar.