by Jason McCullum
Award shows have quickly become one of the most flawed forms of entertainment criticism and approval. At the end of the day, it is all a popularity contest, that’s why Taylor Swift wins every Grammy and Meryl Streep wins every Oscar, even if they happen to put out aggressively mediocre work. Regardless, they are still events that I look forward to, specifically the Oscars. In the best years, I look forward to surprising upsets but all too often, the intrigue comes from seeing how the Academy will refuse to change and, ultimately, let me down. Over my next two articles, I will pay tribute to both ends of the spectrum, but let’s start with the negative and count down the five worst mistakes the Academy has made when selecting the best picture…
Honorable Mention: 2014 (Won: Birdman - Should’ve Won: Boyhood)
This selection is by no means the offender that the following five will be as it is far too rooted in personal preference to get too worked up about. I love Birdman, but Boyhood holds such a special place in my heart. Something about watching that movie when entering my teenage years gave me such a deep understanding of Mason and the heavily flawed life that he experiences. But putting my individual feelings aside, the film is so well executed under such a unique format. The ambition of Boyhood, in my opinion, was well deserving of Best Picture, or at least some greater recognition than just the Support Actress win. With that aside, let’s begin this list proper.
5. 1976 (Won: Rocky - Should’ve Won: Taxi Driver)
For all the Scorsese films that went up for Best Picture that probably did not deserve nominations (namely Wolf of Wall Street and Irishman), his two greatest accomplishments in cinematic history were pretty massive snubs. In 1991, Goodfellas lost out to Dances with Wolves, but in my opinion, the bigger offender was the lack of awards given to Scorsese’s real magnum opus, Taxi Driver. Its loss to Rocky in ‘76 is an early case of the Academy selecting the more popular movie, not necessarily the better movie. Almost undeniably, Taxi Driver has not aged well as Travis’ heroic moment in the end could be interpreted in a less than admirable manner by today’s standards. However, within the context of the ‘70s, Taxi Driver is a triumph that deserved more praise than it got. The film showed off Scorsese’s natural chops for directing a visually appealing, yet disturbing, tale and helped to assert De Niro as a uniquely impressive actor, a title he has maintained to this day. It is pretty easy to see why the Academy would opt for the all ages, inspirational Rocky, which is admittedly a good watch that holds up. Still, it is a shame that the deranged nature of Taxi Driver held it from obtaining the glory it truly deserved.
4. 2017 (Won: The Shape of Water - Should’ve Won: Get Out)
This entry runs a bit lower on the list because of two major factors: 1. The Shape of Water is very good and 2. Get Out won Original Screenplay, which certainly helped lessen the blow. Still, in my ideal world, the awards would have been swapped with The Shape of Water getting screenplay while Get Out took home Best Picture. While Gulliermo del Toro certainly had seniority, Jordan Peele’s masterful directorial debut is arguably one of the strongest debuts of the 21st century, and potentially of all time. Not only does Peele craft his world perfectly by creating a really excellent horror movie, but he also manages to throw plenty of meaning at his audience. The film never relies on a typical white savior and rather keeps its central character alert to the racism he is faced to deal with. No longer is the audience in fear of a killer clown or a talking doll, but rather viewers sit in agony, witnessing the horrific realities of being Black in America. So no disrespect to Guillermo del Toro who seems like a wonderful human being and has proven himself to be a top notch filmmaker. But the Oscars should ultimately select the films that we will remember for years to come, and I would argue that Get Out has stuck with people more over the last five years.
3. 2018 (Won: Green Book - Should’ve Won: BlacKkKlansman)
BlacKkKlansman’s Best Picture snub was sort of the inverse of Get Out’s; Peele deserved the Oscar for recognition of a strong start to his directing career while Spike Lee deserved it because this far into his legendary career and he still has not gotten it. Of course, he should not have received it if the movie were bad, but BlacKkKlansman is arguably one of his strongest movies ever. Lee’s Best Screenplay acceptance speech was an emotional delight and it is thank goodness he got at least one of the big three awards. But more than any other filmmaker, the Academy owed Lee after snubbing Do the Right Thing by not even giving him a nomination for Best Picture. While all of this roots deeply in personal opinion, the most important factor is that Green Book is simply not on par with BlacKkKlansman. While both Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen deliver excellent performances, the story was problematic upon release and has only gotten worse since then. The white savior arc overshadows the friendship between races' story; and while it was unlikely intentional, it shows a lack of diligent care compared to what Lee and company put into their film.
2. 1994 (Won: Forrest Gump - Should’ve Won: Pulp Fiction)
Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. But Forrest Gump really did not deserve Best Picture. Similarly to Green Book, it is a relatively pleasant watch while it is on, but runs far too problematic upon deeper analysis. Even more so, the film does not go as deep as it probably could and simply focuses on viewer remembrance of real events and affection toward Tom Hanks to carry the film. While The Shawshank Redemption was also very deserving of Best Picture in ‘94, Pulp Fiction was received wonderfully upon release and has aged incredibly well, becoming one of the most significant efforts among filmmakers since. Quentin Tarantino mastered his bizarre, film noir revival directorial style that was presented on his debut Reservoir Dogs. It also perfectly balances the ability to mock the film industry while also taking inspiration from classic watershed films of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Pulp Fiction somehow manages to move cinema forward while also reminding audiences where it came from, which sounds pretty deserving of Best Picture to me.
1. 1997 (Won: Titanic - Should’ve Won: Good Will Hunting)
I saved the absolute best, hottest take for last. Titanic is arguably the most successful movie of all time due to its ability to attract hardcore film buffs and casual viewers in a way that few other major blockbusters have. Additionally, it had James Cameron attached which is an instant sell for most people and it helped launch the career of Leonardo DiCaprio to the super stardom he holds today. However, it is also (unbelievably hot take incoming) one of the most boring movies that I have ever seen. Few films deserve the three hour plus mark and Titanic is definitely not one of them. So many of the joyous scenes feel unnecessary while the dramatic parts drag on for ages. Yes, it’s historical. Yes, it’s pretty to look at it. But none of that excuses how bloated and pretentious the film is as a whole.
On the flip side of things, Good Will Hunting is one of the best and most criminally underrated movies of the ‘90s as it will always be overshadowed by the much more critically and commercially successful December 1997 release. I truly do not think there are enough good things to say about the film. Gus Van Sant has an impeccable ability to create genuinely beautiful imagery without focusing on big effects. The cast all stands out with Matt Damon and Robin Williams arguably delivering the most impactful performances overall. However, this does not take away from Minnie Driver’s subtly emotional ability to care deeply for Will (Matt Damon) and the fact that Ben Affleck’s final scene in the movie displays such an impressive wide array of emotions without relying on any dialogue. Danny Elfman offers up a stunning score and Damon and Affleck’s screenplay is legitimately probably my favorite script of all time. Everything the movie does it does exceptionally well and manages to stand as a rewatchable dramedy that also delivers exhaustingly heartbreaking sequences and motives throughout. It is a perfect example of completing a film that perfects everything and deserved recognition as the Best Picture.
Be sure to comment any Best Picture nominations that you thought got snubbed and be on the lookout for part two of this article, when I count down five times that the Academy selected the right Best Picture.