5. Shakespeare in Love
I am in the minority, and I know I am. I think Shakespeare in Love is an underrated movie. It’s far from perfect, and it sure as hell is not deserving of a best picture win. It was a part of an Oscar-bait-laden year (perhaps because this year followed the successful year for Titanic, and studios wanted to follow in its footsteps). It won up against the epic Elizabeth and the moving Life is Beautiful.
It also won up against the two war greats Saving Private Ryan (the safer, but more moving of the two films) and The Thin Red Line (which is less Hollywood-feeling but more nerve-wracking). Depending on who you talk to, either of those two war films should have won (Steven Spielberg did win Best Director this year, so that might sway your choice).
Shakespeare in Love is a nice twist on a historical icon, but it’s also a niche film that takes the safe road in order to work; it never quite takes a leap in order to fully realize its fictional story about William Shakespeare having a muse that affected his works. Unlike a similar film like, say, Amadeus, Shakespeare in Love worked at the time but might not be as affective now.
Once again, I am in the minority here. I cannot stand Braveheart. Does it have its strengths? Sure. It was great with its technical effects for its time (some of these stunts have aged super poorly, but some still look tremendous in 2018). It’s also a go-to film if you love war epics that have intense speeches, many casualties, and long runtimes. It also took part in one of the weakest years out there for the award.
It won up against the period piece Sense and Sensibility, the space drama Apollo 13, and the talking pig favourite Babe (yes, I have a heart for this film, too, but it being up for Best Picture is very surreal). The underdog Il Postino (otherwise known as The Postman) likely was not going to win, because the Academy has never given the Best Picture award to a foreign film (and the amount of foreign films to be nominated for this award is very low).
In all honesty, any winner here outside of Il Postino would feel extremely safe depending on who you talk to, so I guess I’m glad the Braveheart fanboys got their wish with this one.
3. Driving Miss Daisy
Driving Miss Daisy is cute, but it really does not take any risky roads for a film that deals with race relations and classism. It was up against four other Oscar-driven films created with the idea of success in mind.
It beat the Irish biopic My Left Foot, the sports fantasy Field of Dreams, the inspirational Dead Poets Society, and the war biopic Born on the Fourth of July. All of these films have some sort of merit, and all of these films likely have a place in the hearts of many. It does say a lot, though, that the winner amongst the pack of these films feels the safest.
The film has to be a certain level of easy in order to feel the most Oscar-bait driven out of the pack. It truly is. We witness an unusual friendship in Driving Miss Daisy, but that’s kind of all we see. There aren’t any sharp turns. We kind of just go slowly forwards and reach our destination, literally like we’re the titular character being chauffeured from point A to point B.
I think people are still scratching their heads over this one. Crash has its fanbase, including Rogert Ebert who declared the film the best of the year. When it won, though, every news outlet froze. The expected winner, the romantic drama Brokeback Mountain, did not go home with the top prize. Neither did the non-conventional biopic Capote, the thrilling Munich (one of Spielberg’s better films in the new millennium), and the political drama Good Night, and Good Luck.
Crash is a multi-plotted film that deals with many forms of bigotry with various pairings of citizens within one city. It’s far from the worst film ever, but this win definitely feels like an escape-plan win; the Academy panicked and didn’t want to award a riskier film, so everyone went with the easier option.
Crash does get more hate than it deserves (I don’t love the film, but it’s far from the worst Best Picture winner ever), but that may be because people are still outraged over this sanitary win.
1. Out of Africa
This HAS to be the number one pick, because Out of Africa is likely the reason why we still deal with Oscar bait films to this day. Was it the first film built for awards wins to win Best Picture? No. Did it create a wave of films just like it? Absolutely. It’s over long and stale story wise. It does have incredible music and stunning visuals, though.
However, you know the intention of the cast and crew here when you see the films leads being Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (both are Oscar winners in different categories). Then you get half an hour into the film, and you realize that this film really is not as great as its aesthetics imply. It’s all passion, and no thought.
Out of Africa beat out The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi’s Honor, and Witness. All four of these films also feel as though they had awards in mind, but none of these works feel as though they have aged as badly as Out of Africa.
Out of Africa caused a sensation in the Academy, it set a precedent, and we are still paying for it to this day. It is the ultimate instance where an Oscar-bait film succeeded, because we can acknowledge its trickery decades later, and we can see why many subsequent winners got the top prize.