It’s the time of year when Hollywood’s best and brightest campaign against one another to win the illustrious title of Best Motion Picture of the Year. While I love the Oscars and have memorized the past 90 Best Picture nominees, some of the Academy’s choices are questionable. Though this year’s ceremony has been plagued by a bevy of controversies and underwhelming Best Picture nominations (“Bohemian Rhapsody” or, as I call it, the serious version of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”), it’s looking more and more likely that the Academy will reward the most deserving film nominated, Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma.”
In honor of Sunday’s Oscar ceremony and the small chance that a mediocre film could win this year, here are five films that should not have won Best Picture and alternative choices that were more deserving of the top prize.
“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)
There are few cinematic ordeals more arduous to sit through than a bad comedy. This poor excuse for a comedy follows a horned-up, lazy and plagiarist version of William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) as he writes — or instantly develops — “Romeo and Juliet” while falling in love with Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), an heiress-turned-aspiring-actress with a shoddy British accent. I could discuss at length the mishandling of Shakespeare’s character, the horribly contrived romance or the annoyingly “clever” dialogue, but when it comes down to it, the biggest crime of “Shakespeare in Love” is that it simply isn’t funny.
The script alone reads like a satirical portrayal of late ’90s rom-coms and a skewering of Shakespearean tropes. But the director and actors, aside from Judi Dench and Ben Affleck, play the scenarios and dialogue completely straight, with no sense of self-awareness. “Shakespeare in Love” is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Should’ve Won: “Saving Private Ryan” revolutionized the war film genre with its man-on-the-ground, almost documentarian approach, which heightens the veracity of each scene. Most single out the opening Normandy landing scene and its masterclass of war terror and suspense as the high point of the film, but almost every battle scene should be considered the epitome of grand suspense filmmaking. Steven Spielberg’s film is not only a lesson in master moviemaking but also an exploration of an intriguing parable of war, valuing the life of one man over another and whether or not the conflict is worth it in the end.
The perennial choice for last place on almost any Best Picture ranking is “Crash.” The film’s scattershot approach to Los Angeles race relations offers some compelling ideas to tackle its themes. But ultimately, it’s too sprawling to come to any conclusion more complicated than “racism is bad.” At times, “Crash” wades so far into melodramatic waters that its efforts to be compelling become laughable. For instance, Anthony (Ludacris) runs over a Chinese man with his car and steals the victim’s car only to find out that he is a human trafficker and releases the prisoners into the streets of Chinatown. Additionally, the film’s monologues are painful and ineffective. If remade as a mini-series, “Crash” could give due respect to each storyline. But as it stands, we have a film in which Sandra Bullock plays a racist who falls down some stairs and is magically cured of her racism.
Should’ve Won: Ang Lee’s unique take on the Western, “Brokeback Mountain,” is one of the most affecting romances of the 21st century. The ill-fated love story of cowboys Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is a beautifully made, vulnerably acted, dissection of the unrelenting tough-guy persona present in most Westerns.
“Driving Miss Daisy” (1989)
The cinematic equivalent of dry chicken, “Driving Miss Daisy” is bland, uninspired and hard to get down. This film is an adaptation of the eponymous play, which is evident because all the major drama happens offscreen. A synagogue is bombed late in the film, but because it happens offscreen, the audience barely registers the plot point. This movie describes the growing friendship between the elderly Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) and Hoke Coburn (Morgan Freeman) so flatly that it can only be summed up with a resounding “meh.”
Should’ve Won: Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” delivers a subtle rumination on Ron Kovic’s life before and after being paralyzed in the Vietnam War, played by the perfectly cast Tom Cruise in his first truly dramatic role. The film’s delicate portrayal of Vietnam veterans who come home to little to no aid has an unrelenting power not found it most post-war life films and is truly a testament to Stone’s skill as a director.
“The English Patient” (1996)
To keep an audience engaged, a movie should answer a single, important question early in its runtime: Why should we care? “The English Patient” does not answer this question until more than two-and-a-half hours into the film. The film tries to justify its laborious length with sweeping shots of the desert, a grand orchestral score and romantic dialogue, but the story simply doesn’t warrant this epic presentation. The film’s tragic affair between cartographer Almasy (Ralph Fiennes), tasked with mapping Northern Africa, and Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) could cover an impactful 90-minute film. Unfortunately, the movie is stretched so thin that any insight or deeper meaning is replaced by the clock you’ll keep checking to see if its almost over.
Should’ve Won: “Fargo” is a film noir in which the dastardly villain is a stuttering nincompoop, the hitmen are essentially a dysfunctional married couple with poor communication skills and the hard-boiled detective is a sweet, pregnant, Minnesotan woman who tries to see the good in everyone. The Coen Brothers’ Minnesotan masterpiece is a brilliant examination of a simple mid-Western community is both riddled some of the best dark comedy they’ve ever written as well as a sense of melancholy at the unfortunate state of the world.
“The Shape of Water” (2017)
“The Shape of Water” is a castle built on a marsh. It looks pretty, but the foundation ends up collapsing in on itself. Its production design and cinematography are truly breathtaking, with a gorgeous turquoise overtone throughout the film and powerful performances by Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins. Their acting compensates for a lack of any other developed characters. The film’s main problem is that it tries to be an adult fairy tale, but is completely childish in almost every way. From its painfully uncomplicated themes and a litany of plot holes to the shoehorned sex and violence, the film is a tonal and structural mess. Couple all these shortcomings with a twist ending that spits in the face of the film’s central message and watching “The Shape of Water” ends up feeling like getting hit in the face by a damp towel.
Should’ve Won: “Get Out” is at once one of the sharpest satirical films of the decade as well as one of the most psychologically terrifying. Jordan Peele’s social horror tackles the tried topic of old white people being racists and flipping it on its head. “Get Out” has some of the most effective uses of foreshadowing in film history with almost every line and action in the first half setting up the twist and climax for it to achieve its unrivaled emotional catharsis. To top it all off, no film has shown the effectiveness of TSA better than “Get Out.”