From “Rebecca” to “Sound of Music,” here are the first five award winners who weren't worth their weight in Oscar gold
What are the biggest Oscar blunders in the most important category, Best Picture?
This list is a personal one and obviously others will have different opinions. I’ll just try to explain my reasons for including what’s on my list of the top 10.
Here the first half:
Am I really doing this? Am I starting with film by Alfred Hitchcock?
Not because "Rebecca" is a bad film. I don’t find it great and neither do most Hitchcock fans. Say the name and you think "Psycho," "Rear Window," "Vertigo," "North by Northwest" and "The Birds." You never really think of "Rebecca."
But this is the only Best Picture award Hitchcock ever won, and there’s something just massively wrong about that.
The film is pretty tame even compared to other Hitchcock movies of the era like the "39 Steps," "Foreign Correspondent" and "Spellbound."
"Rebecca" is almost a footnote in Hitch’s career. Even failed experiments like "Rope" get more respect.
And the importance of Hitchcock’s real masterpieces can’t be understated. They literally created the film language we know today. It was those visual, expressive, vibrant films of his that inspired the Auter theory — that lead directly to the French New Wave movement, which in turn influenced the filmmakers of the late 60s and early 70s in Hollywood.
And the only Best Picture awarded to Hitchcock, the only connection the award has to the very legacy of modern filmmaking is Rebecca?
9. "The French Connection"
I'm going to get some flak for this one, but hear me out.
I love "The French Connection." I can watch and re-watch that car chase a dozen times. The bar scene is still amazing to watch.
However, a long time ago, there was an article that dared to question the movie’s greatness. It said the plot was paper-thin, the characters one-dimensional, and that the famous car chase made no sense story-wise.
“Pure crap,” I thought back then. But now… I still love that car chase, but I have to admit that guy was on to something. The chase is pure plot convenience in a film that has more than its share. The story is VERY thin.
The cops begin their investigation because they spot a random hood throwing around cash. Good thing they went to that exact club that night.
The characters have zero development. Popeye Doyle is the same half crazy SOB at the end that he is the beginning. Gene Hackman actually fought with director William Friedkin over this very subject. Ironically Hackman would win the Oscar for Best Actor.
The Academy was stunned by the razzle dazzle of this film and by the gritty portrayal of police work. They shouldn’t have been. The style was borrowed heavily from the French New Wave and the Academy had already awarded a New Wave film the Oscar (Tom Jones from the British branch of the New Wave. A film that had both style and story.)
The subject matter was old hat too. The 70s were a golden age for realistic crime dramas. Writers like Joseph Wambaugh gave readers a look at how real police behaved and operated. See "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" to get an idea just how little story and character or in "French Connection."
It gets a little easier from here on out.
Like "French Connection," I do like this movie. I can watch the ship breaking apart and sinking over and over again.
Unlike "French Connection," there’s not much else to hold my attention other than the effects and the stuntwork. The story is gigantic ball of cheese. And not good stinky cheese either. That bland industrial stuff that has no actual milk in it. The best thing you can say about the script is that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio do their best to save it.
The Academy again was dazzled, not by the effects but by the box office returns.
"Titanic’s" massive success, which had as much to do with its release strategy than the movie itself, powered this film to a win. So now the Oscars have the distinction of having a story that would make a Harlequin author blush with embarrassment on its pantheon of greatest movies.
7. "Rain Man"
This movie is the Best Picture equivalent of Marissa Tomei in "My Cousin Vinny."
Your response is “Really?” Really? Best Picture? That Guy?
It’s not a bad movie. It’s just very, very average. And it’s not the first C-plus film to get the A-plus with sparkles and gold stars by the Academy, but it sticks with me the most. Even before "Tropic Thunder" demolished the mentally challenged Oscar-bait role, Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal in "Rain Man" bugged me. It came across as too cute.
But an even bigger problem, the whole dramatic tension of the movie rested on Tom Cruise being able to play edgy next to this adorable character. At the time, Cruise wasn’t up to it. He gave us the faux edginess he’d been using in his "Top Gun"-through-"Days of Thunder" phase.
This wasn’t the Tom Cruise of "Magnolia," "Jerry Maguire" and "Collateral." As for the writing and directing, the movie was pleasant. It was witty in parts. It was also predictable, melodramatic, and as deep as a parking-lot puddle. It displayed zero ambition beyond pleasing the general audience and raking in some dough.
6. The Sound of Music
There’s a debate about which musical is the worst Best Picture recipient.
People rag on "Oliver!" mostly because it won over "2001: A Space Odyssey." That was a terrible miscarriage of justice, but the film itself is excellent and I won’t begrudge it the hardware.
There’s a ton of animosity towards "Gigi," which I just don’t get. Sure it’s frothy on the surface, but underneath it is a pretty dark and sophisticated story about an innocent young girl being groomed to be a courtesan.
An "American in Paris" gets jeers for not being "Singin’ in the Rain." It’s still a good musical in its own right and unlike Hitchcock’s "Rebecca," "American" is representative of the innovation Gene Kelly brought to musical films.
I’m not going to count 1929’s "Broadway Melody" because there were barely any good movies that year when Hollywood made the transition to talking pictures.
"Going My Way" hasn’t aged well but for me it’s not contest.
The worst musical ever to win Best Picture is "Sound of Music."
It’s the worst because it is the worst musical with the worst songs. The songs in "Sound of Music" have become a joke.
They are saccharine, cloying, leave a bitter after taste and probably cause cancer in mice.
They are about nothing and often have zero emotion behind them.
The only number that tries to have some meaning is “Edelweiss.” And how can a story about fleeing Nazis have the all edginess of a bowl of Jell-O.
"Oliver!" had Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes. "Gigi" and "American in Paris" have tons more complexity.
And neither one had Nazis in them. The direction is as lazy as the song writing. Set up camera, roll playback, action, rinse and repeat.
"My Fair Lady" blows this one completely out of the water at every frame. I grew up with this movie, watching it every year during the holidays (Easter or Christmas.)
But honestly, that’s where it belongs, among "Rudolph Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Here Comes Peter Cottontail, not with "Midnight Cowboy" and "Schindler’s List."