Monday, September 3, 2012

The Ten Worst 'Best Picture' Oscar Winners...or something like that.



 
So, with the idea of doing the Top Ten best Oscar Best Picture winners, started by The Cinematic Spectacle, I noticed a comment on his page by Sati over at Cinematic Corner where she suggested doing a ‘Ten Worst’ Best Picture list.  So, pulling from the same pool of Best Picture winners I’ve actually seen, this is what I came up with.


I want to be up front and say that none of these films are loathsome to me.  I actually give them all C grades, and so they aren’t at the bottom of the cesspool or anything.  They are somewhat frivolous, lazy, uninspired, overpraised, at time insulting and somewhat vapid films, but I don’t hate any of them and actually find slivers of enjoyment in all of them.


But, to call them the best of anything is…well…hilarious.


I’ll start with the ‘best’ of the worst and work my way down to, well, the worst (so that would mean that #10 is my favorite of these least favorites, and that #1 would be the absolute worse Best Picture winner, in my humble opinion).


Gigi

My friends chastise me for this often.  I mean, how could a film that has won 9 Oscars, SWEEPING through and snagging every award it was nominated for, not be good?  Then again, I’m not here to say it isn’t ‘good’, I’m just hugely skeptical about it being great.  At the end of the day, ‘Gigi’ just didn’t make me smile the way I expected it to, and it actually put me to sleep the first time I saw it.  I know that this is often lauded as one of the great musicals of all time, one of Minnelli’s finest hours, but I find this marginally entertaining and largely catatonic.

I think that my real dislike for this film stems from my inability to fully embrace Leslie Caron as an actress.  I just find her so incredibly dull and off-putting.  I had this same epiphany while watching ‘An American in Paris’, a dashing film that survived thanks to a stellar performance by Gene Kelly, but ‘Gigi’ really drives this home for me because her character is the reason for the film’s existence and she is the catalyst for the film’s every move.  She is just so bland a creature.  I don’t see the draw and outside of her obvious good looks, she doesn’t bring much to the table.  It takes a great deal of ‘suspension of disbelief’ to concede that she would grab hold of anyone’s heart.  Catch their eye; sure, but they’d be bored stiff soon enough and walk FAR away.  Blaming all of my dissatisfaction on Caron is probably unfair, but when you consider that so many other facets of the film are top notch it seems legitimate that it was her central role in the film that turned me so far off.  That isn’t to say that her suitor, Louis Jourdan is a bursting bowl of charisma himself (he matches her blandness rather well), but the supporting cast is delicious with Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold delivering iconic and Oscar worthy performances (how they didn’t at least receive nominations is ridiculous).  The sets, the cinematography, the costumes; all of it is completely on par with what we expect from classic Minnelli, and yet it is the film’s ill pacing and vacant lead actors make this a chore to get through.

So, I don’t despise this movie or anything.  I mean, it isn’t awful, but it isn’t fun either.  It is merely there; a visually arresting bore.

 
The King’s Speech

All bitterness aside, ‘The King’s Speech’ borders on a delightfully fine film.  It’s well paced and acted and unusually witty in certain areas.  At the end of the viewing experience you won’t feel the uproarious amount of inner-triumph that the promotional campaign tried to shove down your throat, but you will be wearing a smile; and why not.

‘The King’s Speech’ has charm.

Here’s my issue; ‘The King’s Speech’, while ‘quote-unquote’ delightful, is also teetering on elevated mediocrity.

The truth of the matter is that the film is pretty but somewhat vapid.  When all is said and done, you walk away thinking “was that it?” and wondering what all the hoopla was about.  I understand Firth’s Oscar and I understand the nominations (most of them at least) but I’ll never understand how a film with very little depth could manage what this film did.  I understand the whole idea that watching someone overcome their seemingly small obstacles can be encouraging and uplifting, but even the way that it is presented in the film borders on the absurd (placing more weight on his speech than the imposing war was kind of ridiculous).  While it bypasses the redundancy for the most part, it also loses some connective tissue in the process.

In the end, ‘The King’s Speech’ is a fine film that will make you smile, but that is all.  You won’t remember this in ten years.

 

Lawrence of Arabia

I’ve recently read a review for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ that I think says it all.  The review says "If your only option is to view a `pan & scan' version, it's best not to bother; this is a film for which the widescreen format is utterly mandatory." Now, what they are saying without realizing it is that this movie is less a film and more a spectacle. It's a mere Hollywood blockbuster masked over and presented as an Oscar caliber production. I know that this is a film lauded by many and is considered one of the greatest films of all time, but in all honesty I have to say that it is a beautiful yet somewhat empty film.

It is like a really pretty painting. It has beautiful landscapes and beautiful people, and yes, on a big screen it looks utterly amazing; but like that picture the purpose of `artist's intent' is left up to the audience to uncover alone. It is an ambiguous journey that winds up being unfulfilling since we are given little to no real insight on who this Lawrence really is. Peter O'Toole tries very hard, and with what he is given he delivers quite well, but in the end he cannot shed much light on this man and thus his efforts go forth unsuccessful.

 

Forrest Gump

I know that I should love this movie since everyone else in the world does, but I can't help but get this overwhelming singe of disappointment every time I sit down to watch this movie (which isn't often, but I recently watched this for the third time thinking that maybe I was harsh on it the first two times). `Forrest Gump' is what I consider mediocrity done extremely well. It's what happens when you take a cliché ridden story and fill it with gimmicky characters who speak mind-numbing (albeit entertaining) dialog. There is a layer of originality that spreads itself thin over the film, but overall the film is bogged down by its own aspirations. It is trying way to hard and failing most of the way. It is not a bad film, but it is nowhere near the top of the pack, not even in 1994, which was a subpar year in general.

I am not for one minute saying that no movie should be made about wounded war vets or the mentally handicapped or the drug addicted floozy, but when so much of it is thrown into the same pot it begins to feel as if no one involved with this project has an imagination.

The film feels very force-fed at times, like its spoon feeding the audience mouthfuls of manipulated sympathies. I know that I am like the last person to complain about that since I cry every time I watch a Ron Howard film (talk about emotional manipulations) but Ron Howard has a way of making all that syrup go down smooth; and Zemeckis doesn't (at least for me).

I just don't buy it.

 

Braveheart

I have found that this film is very popular to those who are told it is great because it won so many Oscars and confuse its epic scope for actual quality.  ‘Braveheart’ is very pretty to look at.  The cinematography is superb and from a technical standpoint, the film still sends chills.  The battle scenes are beautifully cut.  The costumes and production design are stellar.  The score is rapturous when needed (a tad overdone in parts to be honest though) and Mel Gibson’s direction can be confused for great because on the outset it appears like he’s done a technically savvy job (although I truly account most of the films visual grace to the film editing and cinematography over Gibson’s rather clichéd direction).

Still, at the heart of this movie is an emotionally vapid presentation that is masked over by standard heart swelling ‘root for the underdog’ camaraderie and is utterly littered with horrific acting that only bogs down the film’s overall impact.

This script is just BAD.

One thing that I noted rather heavily was the way that Gibson really tried to portray William Wallace as a variation of Jesus Christ himself.  The way he visualizes the man (especially after his capture) is very symbolic and almost tasteless in parts.  In fact, the way that Gibson visualizes this film as a whole is rather distasteful.  There are heavy demeaning elements that bleed forth from Gibson’s obvious personal feelings (the film is subtlety sexist and not so subtlety bigoted) and this can at times become overwhelming.  Look at the portrayal of the homosexual Prince.  The first half of the film is no better than a soap opera (those glances are grossly over exaggerated and they do not instill a feeling of love but one of cheesy fabricated emotions). 

It is technically beautiful, and Sophie Marceau is not only stunning but she delivers a marvelous performance that is too good to be a part of this overrated fluff.  Still, ‘Braveheart’ is not a good film; like at all.

And that ending is ridiculous.

 

Slumdog Millionaire

Personally, I have never seen a film that was so over-thought and yet simultaneous so under-thought as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.  For a film that prides itself in telling elaborate stories to add layers to a humble ‘slumdogs’ apparent knowledge (a young boy actually wades through fecal matter for an autograph), this film all but seems to stop thinking completely in parts where it truly matters (like wrapping up a sloppy ending with a rather unlikely love story).  The film had a nice concept, but the script is poorly realized and comes off unnecessary and actually quite choppy in the end. 

Not for a lack of trying though.

There are many elements in play here, but the film doesn’t know how to tie them all together cohesively.  It is almost like the ‘gameshow’ aspect of the film was an afterthought, something used to connect the dots when instead it actually serves as a distraction.  Yes, I know that this is adapted from a novel; I’m just stating how the tone of the film came across to me, especially in the end, as the film is tying up loose ends. 

I won’t lie; I enjoyed this film, I was just disappointed.  For a film with such promise, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ easily finds itself suffering from generic clichés that haunt many films.  I expected more from Boyle.  I expected a film with this much praise to rise above those stereotypes and formulate something fresh and original.  The characters feel like skeletal variations (as in ‘lacking detail’) of many other characters from many other movies.  In the end, I was smiling but when the confetti cleared I was left pondering just how much better this movie really could have been.

And is it just me or was the ending credits nosedive into music video edited ‘You Got Served’ territory totally fun yet tremendously cheap feeling?  

 

Gandhi

Talk about a film that has not aged well in my mind, ‘Gandhi’ remains one of those Oscar sweeping epic biopics that I just don’t get the love for.  The man himself was truly remarkable, and his life’s journey from lawyer to leader is magnificent to comprehend, but the dullish way in which Richard Attenborough directed this film leaves me scratching my head.

I’m just going to quote a review written by someone on Amazon, because it basically says it all:

“It's a towering film to be sure, but in a soft, unmagnetic way that never shows it's pure unadulterated SOUL. Instead of looking INTO the leader's heart, "Gandhi" looks AT it; instead of bringing us closer to his ultimate message and tactical wisdom, he becomes a caricature a victim of his time and place.”

This is exactly my sentiments.  The film is very ambitious, by that ambition is misplaced in a director who doesn’t take the needed time to flesh it out completely.  Instead, the film becomes a one-dimensional portrait of a man I ‘wish’ I knew more intimately. 

 

You Can’t Take it With You

I like Capra a lot.  This, for me, was one of his weakest efforts.  While it has its moments, and a few nicely played performances, the overall feel of the film is underwhelming (and a tad forced) and comes off sloppy as opposed to Capra’s more polished and effective works.  In fact, if you took some of his best moments (‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’, ‘It Happened One Night’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’) and threw them together into one film you’d have ‘You Can’t Take it With You’, a film that should (but rarely does) work.

The whole idea of Grandpa Martin Vanderfof and his ‘life philosophies’ are really hit or miss.  The idea that one should enjoy his life as opposed to ruining it for wealth is a positive and poignant one, especially when you contrast his character with that of Anthony P. Kirby, his nemesis and polar-opposite.  But, realistically, the Vanderfof clan live a really absurd and pointless existence.  He is painted as a wise and sympathetic man, but he is rather foolish and irresponsible.  That, and it’s hard to believe that anything that happens in that house would actually take place.  It’s far too, silly. 

The film is really a hodgepodge of clichés, both society-wise as well as purely Hollywood-wise (every romantic-comedy cliché is thrown at the audience).

I liked it in parts, but as a complete package it is not one that I would recommend or care to really watch again.

 

Rocky

Okay, so I understand that the whole `underdog' routine is endearing, but I can't see anything truly remarkable or even special about this offering. There are plenty of films out there that follow this same structure, yet they offer us something more. You see, when a film is this `simple' it has to be on top of things when it comes to script and acting and really everything else that contributes to the movie watching experience.

Sadly, `Rocky' doesn't really offer us that. The acting is decent in some areas and outright atrocious in others (Oscar nominations for Shire and Young are REPULSIVE to say the least) and the script is average at best. The shining light here is definitely the direction, because John G. Avildsen manages to keep a gritty, realistic tone with the film that aids in at least making us feel a part of things. His handling of the boxing scenes are rather inspired I thought, and even though I've seen them done better (by Eastwood and Howard most recently) I have to say that what he did was, for the time, very commendable.

There are parts of `Rocky' that appear rather lazy to me.

Actually, a lot about ‘Rocky’ appears lazy to me; from the character development to the way the actors handle fleshing out their characters, this is just a hot-mess.

 

Crash

I just want to say that I am a person who believes in subtleties, especially when you're trying to make something believable and or relatable. When approaching the controversial subject of race relations one needs to use tact and discernment, not to avoid stepping on toes but to make the situations realistic. That is my biggest issue with `Crash'. It is far too blunt and outlandish with its racist propaganda it paints every occurrence throughout the day to be a race related issue, and we all know that that is just not the case. The script never allows the audience to soak up the real issues because we are too focused on the overly contrived scenarios.

I may be able to get behind the idea or concept that each and every human, at least in the America's, has a sliver of ingrown racism. This of course is due to the ever popular tradition of stereotyping and the heavy push the media gives to cementing those stereotypes into our heads. It's a sad predicament, but it's one that everyone is for the most part aware of. That said it was a shame that Paul Haggis couldn't have approached this film with a little more grace so as to make his statement truly affective. If he had just reigned in his constant barrage of racial slurs and stereotypes himself then maybe I could have walked away from this film feeling like it would make an impact, open some eyes maybe, but in the end I don't feel it could do that.

It's apparent to me that Paul Haggis was just trying way too hard and this subject should not be a difficult one to approach since it is an apparent problem, but it's within the subtleties that this becomes relatable and most importantly believable.

As many have noted, this film can be rather insulting.  I get that.  I don’t hate it like so many do, but to call this the best of anything is kind of a joke.

 

6 comments:

  1. Wow. Fantastic piece! You've been busy today. :) I'll post my top ten early next week.

    I enjoyed Gigi, but Caron is no great actress.

    The King's Speech, Forrest Gump, and Gandhi are good, but that's it.

    So glad Lawrence of Arabia made this list, but it might not make mine. Granted, you've seen 59 winners, and I've seen all 84, so I have more to pick from.

    Braveheart I like. But did it deserve Best Picture? No.

    I was originally convinced Slumdog was the best film of 2008. I actually saw it 4 times in theaters. Unfortunately, it hasn't held up well. I still admire it, but it's not the year's best.

    I'm a fan of Rocky and You Can't Take It with You. Sorry you were disappointed. :(

    Crash is not the best film of 2005, but I do think it's better than Brokeback Mountain. Sorry, but I actually do.

    Bit of trivia: I would only give one Best Picture winner a rating under 3 stars. I'll leave that film for my list next week though. :)

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    1. I can't wait to see your list! One of these days I'll get to seeing all of them, then I'll make adjustments to both lists. I find it interesting that you only give one Best Picture winner a rating under three, but then again, I give all of these a 3 (that would be a C in my book) with Crash teetering on a 2 (or D) on some days.

      Like I mentioned, I don't hate any of these films. In most cases I actually think that if they hadn't won Best Picture or garnered such undeserved praise I may have even liked them better than I did; but carrying a title like 'Best Picture of the Year' means you need to earn it, and I don't think ANY of these films did that.

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    2. Thanks. Be interested to see your updated lists later. 3 stars for me would be a B, sometimes a B-.

      Me neither. I do strongly dislike the one film I'd give less than 3 stars though. ;) I tend to give the winners a break because they're just what the majority of the Academy picked at that time. It's more like "Right now, most of us think this is the Best Picture of the Year".

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    3. LOL, I love that you tend to give winners a break and I tend to be harder on them ;-)

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  2. I like The King's Speech and Braveheart, but I completely agree on Slumdog and Crash. The fact the latter won over Brokeback Mountain is still making me mad.

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    1. Crash is one of those wins that will sour that taste of AMPAS for all eternity.

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