9.05.2014

Ranking the Best Picture Winners: The Good, The Meh, and the Ugly (Part 1)



These lists were going around the Internet a year or so ago, so I’m a little late to the party.  But I didn’t think it was right to weigh in without actually having seen all 86 films in question, which I can now proudly (read: exhaustedly) claim to have done (where’s my prize?).  Here goes:


86.  Cavalcade (1933)

While none of the films to win Best Picture seems to me downright execrable, there are a fair number of them that border on unwatchable, this one probably being the unwatchable-ist of all.  It’s a March-of-Time-type deal written by Noel Coward, whose name meant more to audiences of 1933 than it does today.  That’s the only explanation I can come up with for this film having appealed to anyone, ever, though there’s also the bigness factor to be taken into consideration (the production values were, for its time, colossal, and when it comes to winning Oscars bigger is often better, today as then). 


85.  Cimarron (1931)

This tedious, overlong Edna Ferber saga spans some fifty-five years in the lives of a family of Oklahoma homesteaders.  It’s kind of a Western version of Cavalcade—and feels only barely less interminable.  Its also some twenty minutes longer.  A film that begs the question: is it possible to take seriously a Western in which the hero is named Yancey Cravat?


84.  The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

As with Oliver!, this can perhaps only be understood as a “career win,” here given to director Cecil B. DeMille, who was in his seventies at the time.  Also file under Bigness Factor (come see over one hundred animals!  Three dozen stars!  Etc.).  For sheer camp value, or on any level, really, The Ten Commandments is way better. 

83.  Oliver! (1968)

God, I loathe this film, which reeks of late-’60s studio-picture bloat and desperation.  (See also the even-worse Doctor Dolittle, itself an improbable Best Picture nominee the year before.)  That it was made by the estimable Carol Reed, and that such masterpieces of 1968 as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rosemary’s Baby were (perhaps not surprisingly) overlooked, makes its success even harder to swallow. 


82.  Chariots of Fire (1981)

Discussed here.  


81.  A Beautiful Mind (2001)

I remember calling bullshit on this movie the very first time I saw it.  I was in my late teens, and it marked the first time I found myself offended by what I would later learn to identify as middlebrow awards-bait.  It’s true that my critical sensibility at that time was still taking shape, and I’ve changed my mind about plenty of movies since then, but I think I was right about this one from the beginning.  “Serious” acting from Russell Crowe, Ron Howard’s bland direction and Akiva Goldsman’s self-important screenplay make for a deadly combination. 

List continues here.

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