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411 Movies Top 5 2.28.14: Top 5 Most Undeserving Oscar Winners
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 02.28.2014

Welcome to Week 415 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.

The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: Oscar Week: Most Undeserving Oscar Wins - This should be a fun one. The top 5 least deserving Oscar wins. This is not just bad movies or actors either. It could even be a movie you liked, but there was a better option that year.


Bryan Kristopowitz

Honorable Mentions: Fargo loses to The English Patient, Raiders of the Lost Ark loses Best Picture

5. Alan Arkin wins Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin is a great actor, sure, and he did a good job in Little Miss Sunshine, but did he really deserve to go over Eddie Murphy, who had essentially run the table with the other major acting awards for Dreamgirls? No, he did not. Who gives a shit if he did Norbit right after Dreamgirls? Why should that matter?

4. The Matrix wins Best Visual Effects

Everyone in the world seemed to be in awe of the hip and edgy "bullet time" special effects in The Matrix, although it didn't take long for everyone in the world to get sick of them. No one seemed to be all that into the special effects employed for Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, mostly because of Jar Jar Binks and the whole "Star Wars isn't cool anymore" thing. And look at which movie had the more enduring legacy. Is anyone trying to "re-imagine" bullet time? The Phantom Menace deserved to win.

3. The Hurt Locker beats Avatar

I know I'm not supposed to like Avatar because it's a big movie, it made lots of money, and its story isn't innovative or "original." The Hurt Locker is the kind of movie I'm supposed to get behind because it's a relatively small movie (remember how one of the Hurt Locker producers was admonished because of an open letter asking voters to pick the "small" movie because it was small?) and it "deals with real people in the real world." And yet no one seems to remember The Hurt Locker. Why is that? Why has that movie passed on and why does Avatar still excite people? The Academy got it wrong. Avatar was Best Picture for 2010.

2. Shakespeare in Love wins Best Picture

I still can't figure out how Shakespeare in Love defeated Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, the movie that should have won back in 1999. Did it have something to do with in Love producer Harvey Weinstein putting together a better Oscar campaign than Spielberg? Was it a case of a general lack of effort by Spielberg because, really, how could he lose with such a powerful war movie? Regardless of the reasoning, Saving Private Ryan should have won. It got jobbed.

1. Annie Hall wins Best Picture

Back in 1978 Woody Allen's Annie Hall defeated Star Wars for Best Picture. That just makes no sense. Even if Annie Hall is one of Allen's better movies, is it really better than Star Wars? On any level? Not a chance. Star Wars changed movie making and still matters today. Annie Hall is just a movie by Woody Allen that you may watch on TV when it shows up. It doesn't endure. Shouldn't timelessness matter at least a smidge when voting for these kinds of things? Baffling.

Jeremy Wilson

Dishonorable Mentions: The King's Speech (Best Picture, 2010), Crash (Best Picture, 2005), The Cider House Rules (Best Adapted Screenplay, 1999), Any time Dances with Wolves beat GoodFellas in 1990, Dead Poet's Society (Best Original Screenplay, 1989), Gandhi (Best Picture, 1982), Ordinary People (Best Picture, 1980), Helen Hayes (Best Supporting Actress, 1970), Goldie Hawn (Best Supporting Actress, 1969), Cliff Robertson (Best Actor, 1968), Rod Steiger (Best Actor, 1967), Rex Harrison (Best Actor, 1964), Pillow Talk (Best Original Screenplay, 1959), The Greatest Show on Earth (Best Picture, 1952)

5. Renée Zellweger winning 2003 Best Supporting Actress

Renée Zellweger won an Oscar. RENEE ZELLWEGER WON AN OSCAR. That's pretty much all there is to it. What makes it worse is that it was her third consecutive Academy Award nomination in three years. Largely seen as a make-good for not giving her an Oscar the previous year when Chicago was taking major awards home, Zellweger didn't have to go up against the most star-studded field in the category's history, but in reality any of the four other nominees (Shohreh Aghdashloo, Holly Hunter, Marcia Gay Harden and Patricia Clarkson) would have been preferred. Add in the fact that not even Miramax (then in its Oscar winning heyday) and previous winner Anthony Minghella could get the extremely Oscar bait-y Cold Mountain a Best Picture nomination or even another win out of its seven total nominations. Zellweger followed up her Oscar win with the sequel to Bridget Jones' Diary and was never head from again, thus somehow managing to have even less of a post-Oscar winning career than Cuba Gooding Jr.

4. Roberto Benigni winning 1998 Best Actor

The weird Italian who ran over the backs of chairs to accept his award remains one of the most indelible, awkward and head-scratching moments in Oscar history. But while everybody remembers Benigni climbing over fellow attendees, they tend to forget that he knocked off some serious heavyweight competition to win, including Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan), Ian McKellan (Gods and Monsters), Nick Nolte (Affliction) and Edward Norton (American History X). Even those who like or admire Life is Beautiful tend to agree with the sentiment that Benigni as charming as he may have been to 1998 Americans and AMPAS voters took an award that should have gone to McKellan or Nolte. Both of the latter remain Oscar-less. Meanwhile, Benigni followed the globally beloved Life is Beautiful with his own live-action version of Pinocchio, which ended up with a Rotten Tomatoes score of zero.

3. Art Carney winning 1974 Best Actor

Art Carney is a television legend, having won 6 Emmys, 5 of which came from his collaborations with Jackie Gleason. However, he was up against heavy competition in 1974 and although he took home a Golden Globe for Lead Actor in a Comedy or Musical for his work in Harry and Tonto, it was still a surprise and remains so that he ended up winning the Oscar. In a field that included Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II), Jack Nicholson (Chinatown), Albert Finney (Murder on the Orient Express) and Dustin Hoffman (Lenny), the Academy went with the performance that made them feel good about their old, white selves. Perhaps some of the more dramatic performances split the vote, but however it occurred, it remains one of the most puzzling stunners in Academy history.

2. Carol Reed beating Stanley Kubrick for 1968 Best Director

Oh, the 1960s. They started out so promisingly for the Oscars. The Apartment, West Side Story and Lawrence of Arabia won back-to-back-to-back Academy Awards for Picture as well as for their respective directors to start the decade. After that, however, the quality of winners...fell off. The culmination of this slide into Oscar mediocrity was 1968's race, which was just pretty much a mess. There was a tie for Best Actress, the Best Actor winner was widely stated to have won more because of "excessive and vulgar solicitation of votes" and the Best Documentary winner was later stripped of its award because it had actually played in theaters the year before. Ultimately though, very few remember those races and instead remember 1968's race as the year that the bloated musical Oliver! won Best Picture and Carol Reed beat Stanley Kubrick for Best Director. 45 years later, Oliver! finds itself in the bottom third of Oscar winners, while 2001 is recognized as one of the greatest films ever made. Kubrick himself is also recognized as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time; in fact his 1968 award for Best Visual Effects remains the only statue Kubrick actually won. Needless to say, many of the '60s Oscars winners haven't aged well.

1. How Green Was My Valley winning 1941 Best Picture

There's a reason this is the go-to answer for all-time Oscar "mistakes." John Ford's How Green Was My Valley is a fine film. It earned Ford a legend in the history of American cinema his third Oscar. However, sometimes these are less about the quality of the winner and more about the competition that victor beat. In this case, we're talking all-time greatest movies. Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. John Huston's The Maltese Falcon. Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion. All three are considered classics and Welles' Citizen Kane is widely believed to be the greatest American film ever made. Meanwhile, How Green Was My Valley has become a cinematic footnote, the answer to perhaps the most well known Academy Award Trivial Pursuit question of all time.

Michael Weyer

5. Bob Fosse

When I was coming into a true love of cinema, I was startled to find out some things about Oscar wins I had taken for granted. Among them was the discovery that Francis Ford Coppola did not win the Oscar for the first Godfather film. Instead, it went to Bob Fosse for the musical Cabaret. To be fair, Fosse did do a good job with that movie but it's not really that memorable today, certainly not to the level that Godfather is. Coppola would end up getting the award for the sequel but still annoying that the Academy decided to award Fosse for a musical work most others could have done instead of a man who created a true American classic.

4. Cher

It's not that Cher was bad in Moonstruck, it's a fun comedy and she does well in it. But Best Actress? Hard to see it as today, you could imagine a lot of actresses able to do just as well in that role. Even more jarring was that she beat out Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Holly Hunter in Broadcast News and Meryl Streep in Ironweed, all far stronger roles that deserved the gold more than this singer. This was mostly just for Cher's fame rather than true talent and how some comedy roles really aren't worthy of the gold.

3. Art Carney

Of all the roles Al Pacino should have won the Oscar for before Scent of a Woman, you can probably argue The Godfather Part II was the one. Pacino was nothing short of brilliant in the film and it stands today as a fantastic performance. But he ended up losing to the man still best known for playing Ed Norton in a little dramedy about a man on a road trip with his cat. It's not a bad movie per se but in no way did it deserve the Oscar over Pacino's fantastic turn as Michael Corleone. Pacino would have to wait nearly twenty years to finally get the elusive statue he should have won over this rather forgettable part.

2. The Greatest Show on Earth

You can talk a lot about Crash or Dances With Wolves. But the all-time least deserving Best Picture winner has to be Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 circus epic. It's a B-level storyline with the all-star cast slumming through roles without any real drive to them. Leaving aside how arguably the best movie of that year, Singin' In the Rain wasn't even nominated, you still had High Noon, Ivanhoe and the Quiet Man all in the running so to give Best Picture to this was a controversy that would echo for quite a while in Hollywood. It was more due to DeMille's power than any real love for the film and showcased how the old habit of having the studios stuff the ballot boxes hurt a lot. A truly terrible choice that loses some Oscar luster.

1. Roberto Benigni

If ever there was a time Academy voters let their emotions overwhelm their common sense, it was in 1999. Benigni's performance in Life is Beautiful wasn't that good but his wild acceptance speeches at previous shows like the Golden Globes had won over voters and critics and made for good television. He went totally wild when Life won Best Foreign Film, making a spectacle climbing over seats to grab the Oscar. That was one thing but to give him Best Actor over a field that included Ian McKellan, Edward Norton and Nick Nolte was a massive slap in the face for acting, obviously voters just wanting to hear another speech from him. It actually seems like the Academy is ashamed to remember this and the fact Benigni's career has basically fallen hard after that win shows that Life was just a lucky break. One of the worst acting wins of all time and still annoying to imagine this goofball taking an award over three performances that truly deserved it.

Terry Lewis

5. The Hurt Locker

This maybe a bit controversial but I don't feel The Hurt Locker holds up well enough 5 years later. Perhaps I'm being harsh considering Locker is still a damn good movie, but is it worthy of an Oscar? No. A big no from me.

Sometimes the raw realism gets in the way of being possibly a more coherent movie, like the bullet wiping scene when Eldridge wipes blood off bullets whilst James and Sanborn are waiting for him to reload. The enemy snipers don't seem to notice this for THREE MINUTES, despite being at an advantage, and that really took me out for awhile. The super slo-mo at times, whilst being a very cool effect, just seems out of place at times for style rather than effect. In fact, the cinematography can be seen done better and more emotionally effective in something like The Shield. At times, like when Sgt. James showers in his full uniform, the camera just feels like it's tossed around for the sake of it and approaches comedy, completely ruining an otherwise good performance. The music capping off the film as the credits roll is a big wrong choice too, as it's something you'd expect after seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger kick some ass, not to see a man addicted to war going back to it. Nitpicking maybe but if you are going to put something on a pedestal and say "this was the film for us for the last year", it should be near review proof.

On the plus side, the cast is worthy and look where Jeremy Renner is today just off the back of this performance alone. The story of a bomb disposal team working in dangerous Iraq is engrossing, if a little drawn out, and the end sequence where James can't save the innocent civilian with a bomb vest and decides to go back because he loves his work as he's a war junkie is an emotional climax worth savouring. Yet, this was considered better than District 9, Up and Inglorious Bastards for Best Picture and I can't say it's better than those three alone myself. Good but not bowl over amazing.

4. Milk

This won Best Actor for Sean Penn's performance of gay 70's politican Harvey Milk and also Best Original Screenplay. All well & good and it's a fascinating subject matter with Milk's struggles to get a homosexual man into the office of San Francisco, but god it's overlong. Milk could with a trim even from an unreasonable two hours runtime. It's keen to get EVERYTHING about Milk's quest, even the numerous failures, in which is fine but at times my mind wandered away after we see yet another failed campaign. I get that the man is fighting the tide but I feel insulted that the screenplay feels the need to batter me with repetitive sequences. There's also simply too much fluff dedicated to background characters who contribute to the plot of Milk getting into office as much as I did and considering Harvey Milk was a pioneer for homosexual men, the film doesn't really give him his due.

As impressive as Penn's performance is, I feel he ends up portraying an archtype rather really setting into something truly unique, like Milk's life should be. There's alot of stereotypical characteristics which you'll find in gay men today reflected back here, yet I respect Penn going the extra step as a convincing homosexual man. Being honest, Penn was going up against Mickey Rourke's performance in The Wrestler which did alot more for me as the sympathetic ring warrior who was dealing with continuing life problems.

Milk wouldn't have been my first choice for a rental, but given that it's won Oscars I felt it was worth a watch yet I came away feeling extremely frustrated from a plot and script which doesn't seem to generate any gravitas to a fascinating life story.

3. Django Unchained

I find Quentin Tarantino a very hit-or-miss director. Some of his work inspires me, whilst others just seems like I'm watching him direct his personal fantasy cinematic tug. Django Unchained falls inbetween the two. I quite like Django for the most part, but right after Django is in that shootout at Candieland, the films drops off a cliff for me. For a film to win an award like Best Original Screenplay, it has to keep up with at least a solid plot and dialogue for the whole runtime. After the upside down torture scene, the film is primed to be "taken home" where we could have easily gone straight to Django having his final revenge on those who've wronged him. But No. We have to have a crowbarred in extended sequence where Django tricks a bunch of hick Australians in another escape and guess whose one of the Aussies? Quentin just has to shove his chin into the film somewhere. It's his prerogative I suppose and his film but it ruins the flow of the film to the point where it feels like it has to start again right near the end.

Also, I really enjoyed Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds but I really don't think he was the choice of Best Supporting Actor over Alan Arkin's brilliant and much more memorable turn in Argo. It just felt more of the same performance with a bit of a redemption storyarc which isn't a bad thing as Waltz is a very charismatic actor when he's told to go nuts like he is with Tarantino. Compared to Arkin's hard, horrible Hollywood producer though, it smacks abit of giving it to the popular vote.

2. The King's Speech

I don't really have a problem with The King's Speech. In fact, when I went out of my way to watch a few recent Oscar winners, I noted on Twitter that I quite enjoyed watching it and was impressed by performances by both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

But that's it - it's just an enjoyable film. Done well enough of course but hardly a game changer. This is the kind of film you'd get as a high end feel good movie. There's no real message or gimmick or basing of really important events. Whilst this does probably deserve to win awards in performances and director Tom Hooper deserves recognition for getting those performance, let's run through a list of films which this went over to lift Best Picture. 127 Hours. Black Swan. The Fighter. Inception. The Social Network. Toy Story 3. All of those I consider as good as if not better than The King's Speech and would have been a much more deserving choice of Best Picture.

1. The Artist

I'm not afraid at all to say to this film... I don't get it. I mean, I see what it is, a loving tribute to the black and white pictures of old which has it's charm. But this wiped the floor with the awards a few years ago. The Artist wears out quickly, doesn't do much and it's nearly plain frickin' boring at times. There's a time and a place to honor the great and proud history of cinema but putting this as Best Picture, what does it prove? "Yeah those old B&W films we used to do were really something huh?" No, not really. Modern cinema is vastly superior in terms of storytelling, acting and effects. I guess you could argue this is a B&W film with today's technology and it looks fine, but putting this as the Best Picture? Silly.

Not that it was a stellar list for the year I think The Artist swept the board, nor do I think Jean Dujardin doesn't deserve recognition. His performance is okay, punctured by that one AMAZING scene where he nightmares he's in a world of sound, after realising he's silent character and can't get anyone's attention to help him out. Yeah, he's doing a helluva lot of acting without actually saying anything but heck Karl Urban doesn't show his face in Dredd yet he does the most acting with just a chin and mouth anyone has in cinema and he's not nominated.

I honestly think The Artist really is too much of an art choice, compared to other previous winners. The French pretentiousness drips through to the point when the final "joke" is uttered, I lost it. Really overrated.


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