The beginning of 2012 will bring two of our favorite seasons here at P.C.H.A.: Election Season & Oscar Season. They have many similarities: the candidates are usually douchebags; the media takes every twist and turn way too seriously; spending money often equals getting votes. But, the most important rule in both campaigns is: you only need to beat the opponents you’re running against.
In searching for both Presidents and Best Picture winners, we often mistakenly search for perfection. But just as Obama only has to be good enough to beat the 2012 Republican field of fucktards, so does a Best Picture winner only have to beat its competition. Just because a weak movie wins or a strong movie loses doesn’t mean that a horrible decision has been made. Oliver!, Out Of Africa, and Slumdog Millionaire should be near the bottom of any ranking of Best Picture winners, but looking at their competition (Funny Girl, The Color Purple, and Frost/Nixon) makes it hard to claim the choice was outrageous. On the other hand, Sunset Boulevard, Chinatown, and There Will Be Blood all seem like no-brainer Best Pictures, but a glimpse at the films they lost to (All About Eve, The Godfather Part II, and No Country For Old Men) shows that no robbery took place. Sometimes you get Kennedy/Nixon and sometimes you get Bush/Kerry.
That’s not to say, however, that the Motion Picture Academy isn’t capable of some truly short-sighted decisions. Here are the ten worst cases of Best Picture robbery:
note: I also took into account the flagbearer aspect of Best Pictures. For instance, I may greatly prefer Dr. Strangelove to My Fair Lady (1964), but realize that a.) some of that is personal taste, and b.) My Fair Lady is a perfectly acceptable mainstream classic.
1944 – Double Indemnity – lost to Going My Way
Billy Wilder won Best Picture the next year with The Lost Weekend (and in 1960 with The Apartment), but his classic film-noir about insurance fraud is one of the best examples of the genre. Going My Way stars Bing Crosby as an unconventional priest with a heart of gold. Neff said.
1952 – High Noon – lost to The Greatest Show On Earth
The Fred Zinnemann films From Here To Eternity and A Man For All Seasons eventually won Best Picture, but he should have had a third with this Western classic. Gary Cooper plays a sheriff who has just married the Quaker Grace Kelly and renounced violence, only to find a criminal he put away is coming to town vowing revenge. The Greatest Show On Earth is a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza starring Charlton Heston as a circus manager, with Jimmy Stewart as a clown who never takes off his makeup.
1956 – Giant – lost to Around The World In 80 Days
Around The World In 80 Days was basically the Avatar of its day, a big sprawling epic that showed off the film industry’s technological innovations, especially the film format created by producer Mike Todd. Not even James Dean’s last performance in an absolute classic could overcome it. (Irony Alert: Giant starred Elizabeth Taylor, who was married to Mike Todd. His death two years later, leaving her with his patents, was the basis for the bulk of her fortune).
1967 – Bonnie and Clyde/ The Graduate – lost to In The Heat Of The Night
Just because this double robbery is understandable doesn’t mean it’s defensible. Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate were dramatic/comedic twins that helped set up the ’70s cinema revolution. In The Heat Of The Night was a well-meaning social issues drama about how even a redneck sheriff can learn black people aren’t that bad, assuming those black people are Sidney Poitier.
1976 – Network/ Taxi Driver – lost to Rocky
It’s hard to even conceive of an alternate universe where this one turned out right. Even 35 years later, Network and Taxi Driver are extreme in their politics/violence. Rocky was an entertaining underdog tale, featuring a complete unknown who made his own luck by writing, starring and directing. I like Rocky… it would be defensible in many years, just not in one that featured two of the best movies of all-time.
1979 – Apocalypse Now – lost to Kramer vs. Kramer
Francis Ford Coppola had already written one Best Picture winner (Patton) and directed two more (The Godfathers) in the ’70s, so it’s hard not to see this as a sign of egomaniacal asshole fatigue. But, if anybody out there would choose to watch Kramer vs. Kramer over Apocalypse Now today, please kill yourself.
1980 – Raging Bull/ The Elephant Man – lost to Ordinary People
Violence-fetish N.Y.C. guy and freak-fetish arthouse boy versus Robert Redford with a nice family drama. Coupled with the previous year, it’s hard not to think Oscar voters were trying to swing back from the risky impulses of the ’70s (much like the country was doing with Reagan, come to think of it).
1990 – Goodfellas – lost to Dancing With Wolves
Debatably the greatest mobster movie ever gets beaten out by debatably the worst/most patronizing Best Picture winner ever. Biggest robbery of all time.
1994 – Pulp Fiction/The Shawshank Redemption – lost to Forrest Gump
Oscar voters often fall for mediocre movies that have a sense of timelessness about them, and Forrest Gump is one of the best examples. Today, its tone comes off as stultifying instead of sweet. But, much like Rocky, it would be acceptable in many years, but not against one of the strongest slates ever. Pulp Fiction was the best movie of the ’90s. And if that was too extreme, The Shawshank Redemption is another classic (this might be considered unfair, because Shawshank was a bomb before video/television resurrected it, but since even Quiz Show would have been a better choice, fuck ’em).
2005 – Munich/Brokeback Mountain – lost to Crash
Munich is the most underrated movie of the past decade, but its politics probably precluded it. Brokeback Mountain will probably date as an issues drama, a la In The Heat Of The Night. But Crash is the biggest piece of shit to ever ride a temporary wave of momentum to Best Picture. It won for the same reasons as Forrest Gump, but I’d rather be forced to watch Gump like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange for months than sit through a half-hour of the abortion that Oprah crowned.
note: I originally included last year’s The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech, but since part of the point of this is to judge with some perspective, I decided to skip it.