“And the Oscar goes to…”
The most prestigious award of Oscars’ night is unsurprisingly also one of the most disputed. Even for years after, what film won and whether it should or shouldn’t have is widely debated. And in the case of films that are ultimately deemed ‘unworthy,’ the criticism surrounding their win can often overpower all other elements of the film.
Sadly, many ‘Worst Best Pictures’ as the films come to be known as, are actually pretty great films in their own right and do not deserve the negativity that their wins generate. The problem is that these films are judged against the other nominees from their years and in this case, they can appear to be weaker films. Another problem surrounding Best Picture winners is simply the passing of time – what was seen as a brilliant film in the forties or fifties may indeed not have aged well and so is viewing badly by modern audiences.
Judging Best Picture winners in their own right can reveal that these films are far better than their reputation would suggest and that these films are worthy recipients of the award.
1. The King’s Speech (2010)
The King’s Speech was to the Academy voters as catnip is to cats. Namely it’s a British, historical drama, and this genre of film often goes down very well at the Academy Awards. At the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011, The King’s Speech won four awards including Best Picture. It was up against 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. The King’s Speech also earnt Colin Firth his first Academy Award, as he picked up the award for Best Actor.
Since its Best Picture win, The King’s Speech has often been mentioned when discussing unworthy recipients of the award. Many believe that the film’s greatest draw is the central performance by Firth, and that bar that, the film doesn’t have much going for it. But The King’s Speech should be praised for far more than great performances.
The film not only boasts a number of technically brilliant elements, including the use of wider than normal lenses to convey and evoke the King’s feelings of discomfort and constriction, but The King’s Speech also communicates an incredibly universal and important message – we all have a voice and we all deserve to have that voice heard. Often, we may feel that it is a struggle to be heard or to express our emotions, and The King’s Speech is a film that shows that struggle playing out in a relatable and inspirational way.
2. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Best Picture winners featuring Russell Crowe in a leading role are like buses, you wait for ages and then two turn up at once. Following on from Gladiator winning Best Picture the previous year, A Beautiful Mind won the award at the 74th Academy Awards. It was up against Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Moulin Rouge!
A Beautiful Mind, though well received critically, was the subject of some controversy due to its portrayal of John Nash and his family, which some deemed inaccurate and inappropriate. The filmmakers responded to this by saying that the film was only a representation of Nash’s life, not a retelling.
Since A Beautiful Mind’s Best Picture win, the film has predominantly been seen as one of the weaker Best Picture winners, not due to it necessarily being an unworthy winner, rather that it is one of the more forgettable winners of the award. However, this is a slightly unfair way to think of the film. A Beautiful Mind is one of the most watched biopics of all time and has been praised by many for its portrayal of mental illness – something that so many films get wrong.
3. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Viewed by many as one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time, romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture at the 71st Academy Awards in 1999, triumphing over Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, and The Thin Red Line.
Shakespeare in Love has also been the subject of controversy due to it being widely believed that its Best Picture win was engineered by its producer Harvey Weinstein who went on a blitzkrieg campaign of lobbying and bullying to ensure the film’s success. Regardless of why and how it won, it is felt that Steven Spielberg was robbed, and that Saving Private Ryan deserved the win. In fact, in a recent poll, many Academy members named it as the film they most regret nominating.
Sporting wonderful costumes, a breakthrough performance by Gwyneth Paltrow and a witty script by Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love may be one of the slightly more ‘frothy’ Best Picture wins, but it is also one of the most accessible for audiences who had not already seen it. This accessibility should not be underestimated, as Shakespeare in Love is a period film that has a timeless and easy watch quality to it.
4. Titanic (1997)
Titanic has often been the subject of vitriol amongst film fans and audiences – a strange phenomenon when Titanic is one of the most successful films of all time. Someone must have liked it, because not only was it the first film to gross over one billion dollars, it also won eleven Academy Awards. Titanic won Best Picture over As Good As it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting and L.A Confidential.
Recently, the Academy announced a new award that would see one of the most popular films of the year awarded an Academy Award. This announcement was met with much negativity and the idea was quickly quashed and withdrawn. Perhaps this can give us a clue as to why Titanic is often criticised. Titanic was not only a critically acclaimed film but was also hugely commercially successful. From that, we can certainly say that it was a popular film.
Regardless of whether you like the film or not, Titanic is a film that deserves its recognition and deserves to be praised rather than criticised. Not only did it pair together two great young actors, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, in the inception of a fantastic partnership that would see them go on to make several films together. Titanic was technically astounding, employing special and previously unseen techniques on pre-production, production and postproduction.
5. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
This is another film that is widely considered to be one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time. The Greatest Show On Earth was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two – Best Story and Best Picture. It was up against High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge and The Quiet Man.
The Greatest Show On Earth is a film that may very well suffer from simply being what would be called ‘a film of the time’ and the fact that it has possibly not aged well is why it is frequently cited as an unworthy Best Picture winner. As at the time of its release, The Greatest Show On Earth was incredibly popular and well liked amongst audiences.
The Greatest Show On Earth may not be a film that audiences look to now as a great film, but there is one thing that film fans can certainly thank The Greatest Show On Earth for, and that is inspiring the young mind of one of the most popular filmmakers of all time. Steven Spielberg credits the film as one of the major inspirations that led him to pursue film. In his remake of The War of the Worlds, there is a scene that shows two children channel surfing and The Greatest Show On Earth is being shown.