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Best Picture...Probably Not

Posted on the 11 February 2011 by Conroy @conroyandtheman
by Conroy

Best Picture...Probably Not

Does this statue have any value?

The 83rd Academy Awards ceremony is still over two weeks away, but I want to be the first to write that this year's winner of the Best Picture oscar was not the "best picture" released in 2010. Now as you're no doubt thinking, I don't possess any powers that let me see the future. I'm making this claim because the odds are in my favor. The Academy has a long history of not awarding the most (or one of a few) deserving films with the best picture honor. I don't find this all too surprising, as I've written before, it takes time, many years, to fully evaluate a work of art.  Even so, the Academy seems to be especially poor at identifying the real best pictures, sometimes they aren't even close. The scales dropped from my eyes back in 1998, when one of the finest films of recent memory and universally acclaimed - Saving Private Ryan - didn't win.
To illustrate this point further, below I've provided a long list of the Best Picture winners, and those films that were more deserving. Before we get to the list, allow me a quick diversion.
We Get Awards Because We're So Great
This blogger finds the whole award circuit to be ridiculously self-important. The entertainment industry is of course populated by self-centered egoists, and that includes the "talent" and the management, so we shouldn't be surprised by the indulgent adulation we witness at these events. Every year you hear some pompous celebrity, Sean Penn comes immediately to mind, that declares how "important" peer-sponsored awards like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) are...please, don't these people know that no one cares? But I guess the glamorous movie elite will take any excuse to get dressed up and strut before the cameras, get interviewed by fawning "reporters", and adored by our celebrity-obsessed culture.
The Academy Awards, sponsored by the official-sounding Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, have a reputation for being a cut above the rest. In truth, the "Academy" is just made up of movie professionals...certainly no big deal there. The Academy doesn't release an official list of members, that information is far too important to share with the public. We don't want Academy member lobbied by producers or hounded by the press to support one film over another - can you imagine the scandal!?
For the record, I don't watch the Academy Awards, or more accurately, I barely watch them. I certainly don't waste my time with any other awards ceremonies. They're too long, with far too much celebrity worship. If they aren't even going to name the best pictures them I'm not going to waste my time. I do love movies however, and like so many of us, I appreciate high quality films. I'm sure many share my frustrations that the most public forum for honoring real cinematic quality if so often wasted. Which leads to the list...
Best Picture...Probably Not
Let's avoid evaluating the recent Best Picture winners, if it takes time to understand a genuinely impactful movie, then we should avoid the last say, ten years. Also, just to demonstrate the consistency of poor Academy choices, I'll present a 25 year span - 1975 to 2000. Witty and insightful commentary is provided where I felt compelled to comment (also some summary stats at the end):
1975 Best Picture - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. A marginal winner in my book, I don't love this film, and it's a little insulting for people with actual mental disabilities, but it is still a good movie. The other candidates from 1975 are Jaws and a film I love, Picnic at Hanging Rock.
1976 Best Picture - Rocky. I really like Rocky, re-watchable, very entertaining, genuinely moving in parts. Almost certainly the best thing Sylvester Stallone has ever done. The scene during the championship match when Rocky gets up after being knocked down and apparently out, urging Apollo Creed to come and fight is one of the great moments in any film. That noted, Taxi Driver could have easily won and is almost certainly a better film. The film is effective and off-putting the first time you watch it, and it's only gets better with subsequent viewings.
1977 Best Picture - Annie Hall. No arguments and no other contenders. This is Woody Allen's masterpiece and one of the finest movies ever made.
So far, so good, the Academy has done a pretty decent job...that ends now...
1978 Best Picture - The Deer Hunter. This movie is wildly over-rated. It jumps around (and I don't care if that's intentional), silly in many ways - the Russian Roulette is over-the-top and unrealistic. The prelude to Vietnam is way too long. We should view The Deer Hunter looking back from Michael Cimino's later monster flop, the unwatchable, Heaven's Gate. The Deer Hunter is self indulgent, overwrought, and unbelievably bleak, not a good film. The real best picture from 1978 has to be the amazing Days of Heaven. A movie I find magical, and one that Terrance Mallick has never come close to matching.
1979 Best Picture - Kramer vs. Kramer. Sure this is a good film, but the Academy was aware that 1979 saw Apocalypse Now, Alien, and Being There, right?

Best Picture...Probably Not

Better than Raging Bull...not a chance.

1980 Best Picture - Ordinary People. The best picture was not one of the best movies ever - Raging Bull, or even The Empire Strikes Back, The Coal Miner's Daughter, or The Elephant Man, but Ordinary People. What the hell...how can it not be Raging Bull!?
1981 Best Picture - Chariots of Fire. Consider the great films from 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, Das Boot, Gallipoli, The Road Warrior, Thief. This is starting to make no sense.
1982 Best Picture - Gandhi. No way. Blade Runner...E.T....Tootsie...Sophie's Choice...these movies were screened for the Academy right?
1983 Best Picture - Terms of Endearment. A few adjectives: sappy, sentimental, melodramatic. How about Scarface, Tender Mercies, The Right Stuff, and Risky Business?
It gets worse in 1984 and 1985, except those years sucked in movies generally...so maybe there really were no better choices....

1984 Best Picture - Amadeus. Worthy when considering the competition. Though I still say The Bounty with a young Mel Gibson is way under-rated.
1985 Best Picture - Out of Africa. This year really did suck!
1986 Best Picture - Platoon. Valid, though my choice would still be Aliens, perhaps the best sequel not named The Godfather, Part II. By the way, 1986 saw the best movie featuring Hannibal Lector, Michael Mann's Manhunter...absolutely better than The Silence of the Lambs (see below).
1987 Best Picture - The Last Emperor. When is the last time anyone ever sat down and watched this movie? Better picks, hold on, much better picks: Wall Street, Full Metal Jacket, No Way Out, Broadcast News, and don't laugh, a movie that gets better and better with age, Predator.
1988 Best Picture - Rain Man. Flawed, but okay. The only other possible choices are Working Girl and The Last Temptation of Christ.
1989 Best Picture - Driving Miss Daisy. Drive me to a better movie ("whoa, Conroy, spare us the awful puns") like Born on the Fourth of July, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Glory, and the under appreciated Scandal.
1990 Best Picture - Dances With Wolves. Is this the most over-rated recent film (see next entry)? I couldn't understand the praise this film received when it came out (and I was 10) and I still can't. Hello, Goodfellas! Also, Avalon, Awakenings, The Hunt for Red October, Internal Affairs, Misery, Total Recall. I mean it when I write that all of these films are better than Dances With Wolves...definitely better.

Best Picture...Probably Not

Winner: Most Over-rated Film

1991 Best Picture - The Silence of the Lambs. Okay this is the most over-rated recent film. Anthony Hopkins is so over-the-top, he's a caricature. Compare to Brian Cox's menacing Lector from Manhunter. And the whole student FBI agent story - never happen. This is a solid, professional piece and no more. How about JFK (a film that demonstrates how effective propaganda can be; total fiction but as good as film-making gets), Terminator 2 (a rare sequel superior to the original).
1992 Best Picture - Unforgiven. Easily the best film.
1993 Best Picture - Schindler's List. One of the best movies ever made. A rare instance of truth on film and should be required watching for every child - a lesson of what people can do to one another.
1994 Best Picture - Forrest Gump. Wait, did I already declare another movie the most over-rated? This sentimental, unbelievable, gimmicky movie can't stand up to Pulp Fiction (Academy, hello!), Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. I mean come on, Pulp Fiction has become a landmark of modern film, and it never gets old!
1995 Best Picture - Braveheart. Way too many missteps in this movie, especially when they weren't needed. I absolutely prefer the Scottish of Rob Roy. Not to mention the great Apollo 13 (one of the few movies to glamorize engineers - my day job) and the brilliant Heat. There was also Sense and Sensibility, Casino, Nixon, Leaving Las Vegas, and The Usual Suspects. (1995 was a great year for good films.)
1996 Best Picture - The English Patient. I admit that I do like this movie. Fargo and Sling Blade are better though.
1997 Best Picture -Titanic. The ship sinking was impressive, but like Cameron's later Avatar, what the f**k happened with the story! God does it suck. The characters keep saying each others names, when their in the same room and the scene hasn't changed...the old lady throws a priceless jewel to the deep and a dead guy she barely knew 82 years earlier instead of giving it to here family members...don't get me started, I could go on all day. Please watch L.A. Confidential, Contact, Good Will Hunting, or even Cop Land instead.

Best Picture...Probably Not

"Can you believe we beat Saving Private Ryan!'

1998 Best Picture - Shakespeare in Love. Not Saving Private Ryan...Shakespeare in Love...how did this ever happen? It was unbelievable then, it's far more unbelievable now. Gweneth Paltrow in drag - and we're supposed to buy that? As I stated above, this is the poster child example demonstrating the the Academy doesn't know what the hell it's doing. Oh by the way, there was also A Simple Plan, The Thin Red Line, even Ronin and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
1999 Best Picture - American Beauty. I'm not even sure that American Beauty is a good movie, let alone best picture! This movie is awkwardly cynical, it's characters are improbable but at the same time we know everything about them (they're retread composites) almost immediately. Rubbish. Boys Don't Cry, Fight Club, Election, The Sixth Sense, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Virgin Suicides are all much superior, and I would be willing to bet much more often watched.
2000 Best Picture - Gladiator. What, a standard action film loaded with silliness (I'm sure a lot of Roman Emperors fought slaves in the Colosseum) is the best picture? No. Try Traffic, instead.
Okay so 26 years and I would generously say the Academy picked the real Best Picture 9 times (35%) and that's if you count One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Rocky. They got it wrong the last seven years of this survey, and if we count from 1978 the percentage falls to just 6 of 23.
So I'll declare again, in two weeks time we're likely to not have awarded 2010 best movie.

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