In the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science’s soon to be 81 awards ceremonies, countless awards have been handed out. The most important of these awards is the coveted Best Picture.
Now, every single year there’s an award won that appears rather questionable. Sometimes it’s just something or someone we really wanted to win that wasn’t necessarily better than the eventual winner. Sometimes a movie or person so undeniably deserving of the prize is passed up and the award is thrown elsewhere, which usually sparks an uproar. Then there’s those innocent and rare occasions when an award is given out without a second glance; but after some time passes these choices may seem just a little more questionable. This is a list for those times.
In honor of this year’s Oscars ceremony taking place tonight, I’ve decided to offer a peek at the history of Best Picture winners — who won, who maybe should have won, and even who might have won knowing what we know today. Should The French Connection have beaten A Clockwork Orange? Should One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest beat out Jaws? Can you say today that E.T. is better than Ghandi, or not a chance? These are far too difficult examples to say, but some years offer up runner-ups who we may just hold higher and closer to our hearts today then we did then.
In hopes of tonight not holding any enraging upsets, please enjoy The Most Questionable Choices In Best Picture History. Oh, and keep in mind that these are just food for thought mixed with a little personal opinion. Sometimes it’s just a little trippy to think about what was and what might have been.
Click on over to the other side to check out the list. Bolded at the top are the year, followed by the winning picture vs. what perhaps should have been the winner. Images are typically for those who may be considered better today.
1941 — How Green Was My Valley vs. Citizen Cane
While I wasn’t around in the early days, which makes it much harder to tell whether a decision was legit or not, the very first year to catch my eye and make me scratch my head was 1941. That year, ten movies were nominated for Outstanding Motion Picture, with How Green Was My Valley taking the top prize. One of the other movies nominated that year had a very hard struggle to get where it was and it even was almost not released at all, but today, it’s one of the most recognizable titles of all time and consistently at or near the top of lists choosing the greatest movies ever made. Knowing this information back in 1941 would have surely landed this movie the award it never won. That movie was Citizen Kane.
1964 — My Fair Lady vs. Dr. Strangelove
Twenty-three years after the first curious year, a movie called My Fair Lady, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, took the Best Picture crown. While this movie is a classic and was well-deserving of its win, another film on this list stands out to me: Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This movie is just as good and just as relevant today as it was in 1964, which makes one wonder that if we knew then what we know now, would things have been different? A comedy about a government struggling to stop a nuclear war from erupting, supported by the legendary trio of performances by the late, great Peter Sellers makes me think they just might have been.
1976 — Rocky vs. Taxi Driver
We all love Rocky and we all love a good underdog story. We all may not love Rocky‘s five sequels so much, but the character and the movies are some of the most recognizable in history. However, another movie was nominated in 1976 that demands that you see it and wonder. The movie is called Taxi Driver, and it was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred a young Robert De Niro and an even younger Jodie Foster. Looking at it now, would this dark tale of a young insomniac taxi driver who slowly loses his grip on reality win the ultimate prize over the underdog boxer? I feel it just might have.
1977 — Annie Hall vs. Star Wars
This is a tricky one. One of the other movies nominated in 1977 is also one of the most important films ever made, as well as the start to one of, if not, THE biggest and most financially successful franchises of all time: Star Wars (the original). While Star Wars is as incredibly important as it is, can you say today that it’s a better all-around movie that should have beaten Woody Allen‘s comedy Annie Hall? I think I have to say things worked out perfectly fine here. While George Lucas‘s saga is the stuff of legends, it does have its down points. Also, a lot of people would choose The Empire Strikes Back over it any day. On the other side, if you haven’t seen it, Annie Hall is a really great movie; it’s funny and smart and quite possibly the best that Allen has ever made. I know my saying this could shock and anger Star Wars fans worldwide, but in this particular case, it’s hard to say anything should be different about 1977.
1981 — Chariots of Fire vs. Raiders of the Lost Ark
This one could be the first really hard-to-swallow selection. I was born this year, but to this day I have not seen Chariots of Fire. It may be a great movie, I don’t really know, but I look at the fact that Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated that year and it just makes you wonder. While Indiana Jones has become another larger-than-life title/icon, recognizable all over the world by all ages, you just never ever hear anything about Chariots of Fire, and this says something. Honestly, the only things I know about the movie is that it was about running, and that the song was used in that Nintendo game, Track and Field. Even to this year with our hopes of The Dark Knight getting nominated, you can see the examples of how action movies aren’t always looked at as they maybe should be.
1990 — Dances With Wolves vs. Goodfellas
As we get into more recent years, with a much more fresh memory of winners and losers, you have to stop wondering if time and knowledge would change the outcome of a Best Picture winner, and start wondering why something just didn’t win to begin with. Dances With Wolves is a very good (albeit very long) movie, with a wonderful story, solid acting, beautiful scenery, and that huge, epic feel that Oscar loves so dearly. Another movie was nominated that year, though, and we know it as Goodfellas. I really don’t even have to ask if anyone thinks it would beat out Kevin Costner’s western today, because it’s just that popular and that loved. I’d be more curious to see if it would have won only the next day. Thankfully, many years later, a little movie called The Departed made up for this… at least in the mind of Mr. Scorsese.
1994 — Forrest Gump vs. The Shawshank Redemption vs. Pulp Fiction
Allow me to start this one by saying that I love Forrest Gump and think that it more than deserved its Best Picture win, even if it’s not my favorite of the 1994 contenders. The reason that I bring up this year is because it just may be the most impressive year for Best Picture nominees. Ever. While Gump is fantastic and easily a legit winner, two other huge titles were nominated that year that would have movie lovers arguing for weeks over the real best picture of the group: The Shawshank Redemption or Pulp Fiction. It hurts my brain to even begin thinking about these movies in comparison to one another, so I won’t even try. It’s just worth noting that any one of these three could win on any particular day. A peek at IMDB would show Shawshank and Pulp Fiction as two of the top five movies of all time, with Forrest Gump at 44. Out of 250 movies, this is a mind-blowing Best Picture group, which was rounded off by Quiz Show and Four Weddings and A Funeral.
1997 — Titanic vs. Good Will Hunting vs. The Full Monty
Another super-power year was 1997. Titanic seemed to take home the Oscar before the nominees were even announced, but when you look back at the nominees now, does it still loom large over everything else? Also nominated that year were Good Will Hunting and The Full Monty [and LA Confidential]. You could make cases for all of these in their own right, and in some cases you might be correct. The truth here though, is that Titanic was just too damn huge, and too damn good to not vote for it, and that fact stands true to this very day. It’s still breathtaking to watch that movie and just take in the size and scope of everything that James Cameron created.
1998 — Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan
It’s still difficult to even type that out. 1998 goes without saying; everyone knows the deal, everyone knows what happens, and it’s hard to find even one person who can legitimately make an argument otherwise. This year’s Oscars will quite possibly forever be known as holding the very worst choice in Academy Awards history. While Shakespeare in Love is a perfectly fine film to watch, no human being with a soul can look me in the eyes and tell me that it’s better than Steven Spielberg’s brutal World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan. It’s as simple as that. For me personally, a Life is Beautiful — which was also nominated that year — is also a better choice than Shakespeare, but considering it pulled off the rare feat of being a foreign language film and nominated for overall Best Picture, that was enough.
2002 — Chicago vs. Gangs of New York
Another painful one to see, it’s still amazing to think that this musical took home Best Picture. Again, a good movie in its own right, but the very best movie of the year? That’s a little harder to swallow. While you can’t say that The Hours or The Pianist were so good that they should have won, you could scream your argument for the other two runner-ups. One was the second (and favorite of some) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers. The other brings us yet again to Mr. Martin Scorsese with Gangs of New York, the movie I personally think deserved the prize then and still today. This year still pains me to think about for Denzel Washington‘s win over the unbearably good Daniel-Day Lewis as Bill the Butcher in Gangs.
2004 — Million Dollar Baby vs. Finding Neverland vs. Sideways
When Million Dollar Baby pulled off the win, I remember being pretty happy. I enjoyed the movie and love Clint Eastwood, so there was nothing to dislike. Now, five years later you have to look back at this one as a little curious. While the movie is still a good film and it’s not easy to make an argument against it, two of the other films nominated do stand higher than it in my world: Finding Neverland and Sideways. Neverland isn’t all that hugely popular, so it would more likely be back with the other nominees The Aviator and Ray, but it’s hard to look at Sideways and put it below any of them. This curious selection may just go hand-in-hand with the infamous snub of Paul Giamatti in the acting arena.
This completes our list of Oscar’s most curious winners over the past 70 years or so. As we become more recent, it’s harder to see or say what might be questionable. Will we look back 20 or 40 years from now and say “How could Crash have possibly beaten Munich?”, or “There’s no way No Country For Old Men was better than There Will Be Blood!”? We just may.
One thing is for sure, though — if anything but Slumdog Millionaire wins on tonight, we may just have an instant addition to this list of questionable Best Picture winners.