It’s once again the Oscar season. That time of year when Hollywood is celebrating its greatest achievements from the previous year. The best performances, direction and writing are all acknowledged by their peers. But, of all the twenty-four televised categories, non loom higher or provide more prominence to a film than that of Best Picture. Many have been quoted as saying that to be nominated is an honor in and of itself. This may be true, but only in this category does it really mean almost as much as winning.
Suddenly every single one of these pictures become renowned and important. Out of hundreds of movies released that year, these are the ones that really deserve attention. Or so the Academy seems to be saying. These are the films that will be discussed for months. Ask any cinephile and they’ll tell you that films nominated for Best Picture suddenly become the only films that matter during the months from when they’re announced as nominees until the winner is finally rewarded on Oscar night.
I’m not claiming that Oscar knows best. I know that just because a film is nominated, or even wins doesn’t necessarily make it the definitive film of the year. Just that the ten films on this list feel particularly out of place in such illustrious company. Even if we don’t always agree that the best film has been nominated, or that all of the films should have been nominated, it’s usually agreed that they all reach some form of greatness.
However, as this list will attest, there have been some rather mediocre movies that somehow slipped through the cracks. To be fair, most of the entries on this list aren’t necessarily bad movies. The majority of them are actually pretty good. They just don’t deserve to be nominated for Best Picture of the year. So, without further ado, here are the worst Best Picture nominees from most to least deserving.
10. Out of Africa (1985)
Out of Africa practically has Oscar-bait written all over it, and is by-far the most deserving nomination on this list. Based on prominent literary material, about a beloved literary figure, and starring Meryl Streep, its nomination was practically inevitable.
The product itself, however, is less than the sum of its parts. Sure it’s beautiful to look at. The cinematography by David Watkin did win a much deserved Oscar. And the cast, also including Robert Redford and Klaus Maria Brandauer, are all phenomenal. It also contains a highly affecting romance, but it spends so much time with its camera lingering on the breath-taking African landscapes that it starts to feel like a tourism advertisement than a serious narrative film.
Speaking about the story, it’s actually rather stiff, often dull, and the film is just eventually just goes on too long. There’s no arguing that this tale of a woman’s strength and passion is quite powerful. I certainly wouldn’t argue with its many admirers about its quality or power. My argument is simply that it is not a better film than Back to the Future, Brazil, Blood Simple and The Purple Rose of Cairo. And that, ranked against those fellow 1985 releases, Out of Africa should never have been a contender.
What makes this nomination all the more contemptible, is that the film actually won. A travesty which only becomes more obvious as time goes on. While Out of Africa may remain a beloved film, it is definitely not the best picture of 1985, and should never have even been nominated in the first place.
9. Seabiscuit (2003)
There’s no denying that Seabiscuit is certainly one of the most endearing films of 2003. Both a box-office champion and critic darling, as well as an immense crowd pleaser, it easily became the surprise hit of the summer. But, while critics liked it, not many were necessarily screaming its praises. And no one was expecting it to still be considered by the time Oscar season came along.
Especially considering that it’s very rare for a film that isn’t released between October and December to be nominated. And those that do manage to linger in the mind throughout the year tend to be overwhelming spectacles, such as Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan.
I suppose it is charming that a film about a literal dark horse candidate that comes from behind to beat all odds and become a respected contender would itself share that same fate. While that makes for a great story, it doesn’t alter the fact that this isn’t one of the five best films of 2003. Sure, it’s up there, in the top ten, maybe. It is a remarkable story, told with great enthusiasm by director Gary Ross. It boasts flawless performances from the likes of Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper.
Of course, Oscar has a history of rewarding extraordinary true stories that champion the strength of the human spirit, especially ones that evoke sympathy. Still, it’s hard to support the inclusion of this rather conventional sports drama when you consider that 21 Grams, American Splendor, The Station Agent and Cold Mountain were also released that year.
8. The Godfather Part III (1990)
While at first glance, The Godfather Part III seems like an obvious choice for Best Picture nominee. If for no other reason than the fact that Parts I and II were not only nominated for Best Picture, but won. And it’s likely for that reason, and that reason only, that this film was nominated. This is a beloved Hollywood property. Everyone was ready to love this highly-anticipated sequel, and hoping to witness its director, Francis Ford Coppola return to his glory days, after years of being little more than a hired hand.
But, hopes and dreams do not an award nomination make. Considering the disappointment and hostility towards the picture at the time of its release, it actually is surprising that it received any nominations at all, especially this one. Particularly, if you look at the film on its own, apart from its predecessors. Then you can see just how frivolous the film really is, and not at all deserving of its nomination.
I suppose lack of stiff competition also played its part. Its closest competition was probably The Grifters. However, other superior pictures such as Edward Scissorhands, The Hunt for Red October and Dick Tracy certainly deserve its place, as well. The Godfather Part III isn’t necessarily as bad as its reputation might suggest.
Not that any of this would’ve made a difference anyway. The only real awards competition in 1990 was between Dances with Wolves and Goodfellas. Another decision that was bungled by the academy, but that’s a discussion for another list.
7. Cleopatra (1963)
Cleopatra is a film better known for the drama behind-the scenes than that which takes place on the screen. It was publicly scrutinized during its production, due to its inflating budget (which eventually wound up bankrupting 20th Century Fox), and the on-set romance between stars Burton and Taylor (who were both married at the time, though not to each other).
This turned out to be great PR, because the film wound up the highest-grossing film of 1963, and received 9 Academy Awards nominations. Four of which it won, and deservingly so. In fact, all of its nominations are justified, except for that of Best Picture.
It sure looks like the kind of movie that would win Best Picture, but I find it hard to believe that enough people could even sit through this 4-hour history lesson, let alone vote it Best Picture afterward. There are certainly moments of greatness in this story of Cleopatra’s relationship with Julias Ceaser and subsequent romance with Marc Antony. But you truly have to have the patience of a saint and sit through a lot of rubbish to get to it all. At least a good half-hour of its running time is spent just lingering on the scenery, and, I suppose for all the money they reportedly cost, you can’t blame them.
With the help of some editing and tighter storytelling, the film could’ve been condensed to a more bearable three hour running time, and might have actually been worthy of its nomination. As is, it’s hard not to consider this simply a pity nomination. As if they decided that since so much was spent on it, it must be worth nominating. However, compared to other 1963 releases, The Great Escape, Hud and Charade, it’s hard not to resent this choice even further, regardless how much it cost.
6. Chocolat (2000)
Chocolat is simply a case of whimsy dressed up as classy. Like Out of Africa, it certainly has all the trimmings of a prestigious picture. An Award-winning director, (Lasse Hallstrom, The Cider House Rules) an international cast, and impeccable art direction. But, while it appears sophisticated on the surface, it quickly begins to crumble into mediocrity upon further inspection. Namely the fact that its plot, involving a sweet, mysterious shopkeeper, whose magical chocolate turns an entire town into characters from a daytime soap-opera, is beyond silly.
This film’s nomination can only be attributed to one thing. And that is, quite simply, great campaigning. Here is a prime example of mega-producer, and Miramax studio head, Harvey Weinstein’s strong arm of the law at work in Hollywood.
There’s no other reasonable explanation why this pretentious fairy-tale would be nominated over such estimable films as Almost Famous, Requiem For A Dream and You Can Count On Me. There were even other, better whimsical pictures to choose from, such as High Fidelity and Billy Elliot. But, none of those aforementioned alternatives were Miramax pictures.
Now, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but everyone knows that Weinstein and Miramax banked heavily on Oscar nominations to boost their company’s clout, as well as box-office. And, as charming as Chocolat is at times, it is nowhere near Oscar-caliber. So, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, as the only Miramax picture in the running that year, this film likely owes its spot more to business politics than its quality. So, while not necessarily the worst film on the list, it is the most dubious of all the nominations.