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Best... What? II: Electric Boogaloo — Five More Dubious Best Picture Winners

Titanic So here's the thing: I'm stupid. Hopelessly, hopelessly stupid. Why? Because last week, when I wrote about less-than-deserving films that somehow managed to rise out of mediocrity to swipe the Best Picture Oscar from far more deserving films... I somehow managed to blank on the single most successful film ever made that didn't feature 9-foot tall blue treehugging salamanders. Stupid! Stupid stupid stupid! Please accept the following as my attempt at a make-good:

1. Titanic
Oh, right. Titanic. Jackass. How the hell could I possibly have forgotten about Titanic? Except, you know, for the very real possibility that I blocked it out because it's 14 hours' worth of overwrought Harlequin romance gobbledygook punctuated by bland overtures of class warfare, lots of really really really boring dialogue, and - God help us all - Celine Dion. But wait: there's more! Kate Blanchett getting nake... no, wait. That was Kate Winslett. Sorry. Always get them confused. And Leonardo DiCaprio making the transition from incredible young actor to MOVIE! STAR! And Billy Zane making his last major pre-Zoolander film appearance. And "King of the World!"

Crimony. "King of the World." Let's all join hands together for a moment and hope that somebody, somewhere, is kicking Jim Cameron in the groin for that line. AND for re-using it when Titanic won a boatload (see what I did there?) of Academy Awards. 

Look. I know that something like a billion people saw and loved Titanic, again and again and again. Here's the thing: YOU WERE ALL WRONG. It's not a very good movie. It's just not. You know what's good about this movie? Two things:

a) The present-day scenes. What can I say? Bill Paxton = good times. 

b) That long sequence - about 12 hours into the film - when the fucking boat actually sinks. That? Was cool. 

Everything else? Suckfest. When Leonardo finally slipped beneath the waves? I wanted to cheer. Not so much because I was glad he was dead... well, okay: I was glad he was dead... but more so because I hoped with ever fiber of my being that his death might indicate that at long last this movie was coming to an end. 

Given all of which: the fact that Titanic beat out not just L.A. Confidential - easily one of the best noir films of the past 25 years, plus an astonishingly good adaptation of a James Ellroy book I'd always presumed would be basically unfilmable - but Good Will Hunting? Seriously: Titanic is a better film - in any way, shape or form, beyond box office receipts - than Good Will Hunting? Not on this earth.

2) Ordinary People
Looking back, it's easy to spotlight why Ordinary People beat the astonishingly better The Elephant Man and - this is the true head-smacker - Raging Bull for Best Picture in 1980.

•  It was the first film directed by Robert Redford, and he delivered something with legitimate artistic merit. There are few things that Hollywood loves more than when an iconic actor suddenly stretches into directing and produces the kind of Important! Work! that they feel deserves recognition. It's a self-congratulatory thing. That's not to say that Redford didn't do a decent job with the film - because he did, even if it set a precedent for ponderous and more than slightly dull filmmaking he'd later continue across the likes of Quiz Show and A River Runs Through It - but as an actor-turned-director, he's not remotely in the same ballpark of the likes of Clint Eastwood, for example. 

• It featured Mary Tyler Moore - America's sweetheart at the time, remember - as the cold, hopelessly embittered mom in the film's broken family. I don't think there's really an equivalent now to the MTM phenomenon of the 70s, when her eponymous show was the most popular and beloved thing on TV, and her transformation from spunky, newly-single woman trying to make her way in a male-dominated newsroom to the apparently heartless matriarch of Ordinary People was just astonishing to people.

Raging Bull, the film that SHOULD have won? Was daring filmmaking in ways that the Academy was just not ready to embrace at the time. It's a brutal film, filled with brutal characters who treat each other terribly and who don't possess the emotional or intellectual language to explain what's going on in their heads. And unlike 1977's Rocky - which features a protagonist from a not-entirely different socioeconomic strata - they don't possess the redeeming quality of being... lovable. There's nothing lovable about Raging Bull, or the people in it.

But. It's. Brilliant.

(And btw: The Elephant Man? I won't get into it here, but this now-largely forgotten film is just terrific. Honestly. Tragic and lovely and haunting in about a dozen different ways. If you've ever wondered what kind of film David Lynch was capable of making before he got permanently drunk on his own weirdness? This is the answer. And I say this as someone who loves Wild at Heart: The Elephant Man is better.)

3. Driving Miss Daisy
It's probably a clear sign that a given year's Best Picture is not, in fact, a Best Picture if it becomes a kind of cultural shorthand for something negative. And let's be honest: when's the last time you heard someone mention Driving Miss Daisy in a sense that didn't imply indentured servitude? 

Yes, yes... we know: this is EXACTLY the kind of highbrow, socially relevant film that Hollywood loves to love and congratulate itself for making. Noble, non-white person teaches white people to become better, more sensitive white people. Hooray for liberal guilt, gilded in soft focus and good intentions.

What's really remarkable is the fact that in retrospect, Driving Miss Daisy was probably the weakest of the five films nominated for '89's Best Picture. Born on the Fourth of July? Alright... not a great movie, but still certainly better than Daisy. Field of Dreams? Not a perfect film, but there's a host of very good reasons it's so profoundly beloved, and why millions of American men get a little misty at the words, "Wanna have a catch?" And My Left Foot and Dead Poets Society... just terrific, tremendous films, on every conceivable level. If I had to choose one, I'd probably go Dead Poets - if only because I'm something of a Peter Weir whore - but really, as long as it's not Driving Miss Daisy... you're on the right track. 

4. Crash
Is there any argument over this? I didn't think so. Even the day after the 2005 Academy Awards, people were greeting the news of this Best Picture selection with, "Crash? Really?" 

Yeah. Really. In retrospect, no one seems quite sure how or why it happened, but somehow Crash walked away with the shiny gold dude while Ang Lee and the Brokeback Mountain crew... didn't. Hell, even Munich - not even one of Speilberg's five best films - was clearly head and shoulders above Crash as a film. So how did it happen? 

Damned if I know. I saw it on DVD right after it won the Oscar and pretty much forgot about it immediately afterwards - beyond the basic plot of "LA is a fucked-up place" - so I just tried to read the Wiki summary of the film's plot to refresh myself. It was so confusing that I fell asleep twice. 

Seriously... does anyone have a differing opinion on Crash? Anyone? Anyone?


5. Chariots of Fire
Science teaches us that 1981 was almost 30 years ago, and as such it's hard to feel too strongly one way or another about the fact that Chariots of Fire won Best Picture. And really... we all know and love the Vangelis Chariots of Fire theme, so how bad could the movie be? 

The answer: not that bad... but really, kinda boring. And as we've now learned and know by heart, a movie can be anything but boring. And in a year when Chariots of Fire was face-to-face with the elegaic beauty of Henry Fonda's swan song in On Golden Pond, the epic ambitions of Warren Beatty in Reds, and - for God's sake... Raiders of the Lost Ark! The most balls-out fun movie of all time! Bullwhips! Snakes! Avenging Old Testament angels! Melting Nazis! Who in their right fucking mind would choose jogging Brits over melting Nazis? 

The only way that Chariots of Fire beats Raiders of the Lost Ark is in the best usage of a quasi-disco overture by a Greek national during a jogging montage scene. It wins that one, hands-down.

Otherwise? Raiders, dude. Not. Even. Close.

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I love these posts. Can you make them into a series. Perhaps: Pieces of Overrated Crap.

My favorite line is this from this post: "Look. I know that something like a billion people saw and loved Titanic, again and again and again. Here's the thing: YOU WERE ALL WRONG."

When I think of that movie beating out Good Will Hunting, I literally get stabby.


Overrated Pieces of Crap. It rolls of the tongue, doesn't it?? I'll 2nd that vote on a new segment at MamaPop.

Also,James Cameron annoys the snot out of me. I want to kick him in the nads.


I agree about Ordinary People in theory, but I still don't like Raging Bull. Even though I love DeNiro. And Scorsese.


I didn't hate Titanic (even though man-child Leo grosses me out) but I LOVED Good Will Hunting. Loved it hard. Subconsciously named my son Will after it. Wrote Mrs. Katie Damon in my notebooks. Composed poetry. Etc. etc. It Change My Life (how, I don't know, but it Felt that way at the time). I cried when Titanic beat it for Best Picture.
I was clearly mentally unstable in my early teens but you get my point. Titanic? No way. I still cry just thinking about Good Will Hunting and I wouldn't watch f-ing Titanic now if you paid me.


I'd seen Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures, prior to Titanic, and of course, fell madly in love. Watching her speak American on a boat of cheese made me sad. Your article made me giggle. Thanks!

cindy w

I happen to love "Driving Miss Daisy" because I grew up in the South and a lot of that movie was startlingly close-to-home for me. But up against "My Left Foot" or "Dead Poets' Society"? No.

And "Crash"... GAH, Crash. It was an ok movie. But Best Picture? Really? No way.


Titanic:Terrible, terrible movie. Didn't deserve anything but derision from anyone. However, you forgot what I consider to be the only redeeming factor of that movie: The hand, in the steamy car window. Okay, cheesey as all hell, but gorgeous, perfectly framed and iconic. The seventeen hours on either side of it, total waste of celluloid.

Ordinary People: Crap, up until you told me 8 seconds ago that it won an Oscar, I totally thought this was made for TV for like HBO or something. Wow.

Crash: Still in shock. Terrible choice. That'll go down in history as the year that Oscar fell asleep at the wheel.


Aside from, I think, two funny lines, I could NOT believe Crash was even mentioned at the Oscars. It was a movie about racism for white people who were previously unaware that such a thing existed. I mean, I guess it's good that SOMEONE is getting through to the blissfully privileged and unaware, but I don't think that gives anyone permission to make such a shite film.


Titanic was so horrible. I once had a coworker who was obsessed with Titanic. She had a whole ROOM full of movie memorabilia, and declared she would leave her husband of six months for Leo Dicaprio "If he'd have me." She claimed to have seen the movie---in the THEATRE, mind you--at least fifty times.

I once asked her if she didn't find it depressing to watch, considering the dead, frozen bodies in the water (and the dead, frozen baby, OMG). I pointed out that the end of the movie was obvious from the get go, "Ship sinks. Lots of people die. Rose is the old lady." You'd have thought I accused her of skinning kittens, she wigged out that much. That movie attracted the weirdest people.


This makes me think of another needed thread here: "Movies That Had Bill Paxton That Were Robbed Of The Best Picture Oscar" ... !

- Aliens. See in this case Cameron would have said GAME OVER, MAN! or YOU GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BITCH instead of "I'm King of the World!" while waving his Oscar. Muuuuuch better.

- Apollo 13. You can't watch the launch sequence without simultaneously blubbering like a baby and swelling up with pride for what the nation once was. I'm ... actually serious about that.

- Spy Kids 2. Two words: Ricardo. Montalban. Five more words: In a flying wheelchair.

I could go on.

Suzy Q

Crash was just a pretentious, awful piece of shit. Ordinary People was...ordinary. Chariots of Fire was so boring, I couldn't get throught the first 15 mintues.

I totally agree with norm re: Apollo 13. *snif*


@Jennie Don't tempt me. Yeah, it might seem appealing now... but come December, when I'm going over "Worst Best Editing Oscars?" You're gonna hate me.

@MrsChaos You're not alone in the nads-kicking-wishing category.

@BaltimoreGal It's not an easy movie to love. I can certainly see how for some people it would be something to admire, rather than something to enjoy. That said, it floats me boat. (That was my attempt at a St. Patrick's day callout, btw.)

@Katie #1 How you like them apples?

@Katie #2 I inspired a giggle! That may be a first for me.

@Cindy W GAH indeed.

@Jessi "The seventeen hours on either side of it" = 100% spot-on. Well done.

@kdiddy Given that I aspire to one day become blissfully privileged, I'm hesitant to badmouth them. They remember that kind of stuff when you're on deck to be taught the secret handshake.

@Karen Your co-worker = deranged fruitbat.

@norm And, lest we forget... Frailty. The ne plus ultra of Bill Paxton performances.

@Suzy Q Yeah... Chariots of Fire is just TOUGH to sit through. So. Freakin'. Dull.


My husband, and a number of male friends, might cut you for implying A River Runs Through It is anything less than the perfect-male-bonding-movie-with-deep-meaning movie.

Chariots of Fire. LOL. You just reminded me of a little-known fact that I only recently learned: my mid-20s bachelor brother-in-law was born to it. Seriously. They played that theme over and over, 'til he came out. My guess is that, rather than cry for the first time, he lunged for the tape recorder's STOP button.


What norm said. Totally.

Apryl's Antics

Once a movie wins an Oscar, I am automatically aversed to seeing it. I blame "Chariots of Fire".


OK, I every time I see "Chariots of Fire" I keep thinking "Chariots of Eggs"



Ok, so I *just* saw 'Chariots of Fire' for the 1st time, thinking it would be inspiring because I'm a runner. Not. So. Much. It was way boring, and I fell asleep. I was wondering if I was missing something, and I'm thinking not.


Ok, so I *just* saw 'Chariots of Fire' for the 1st time, thinking it would be inspiring because I'm a runner. Not. So. Much. It was way boring, and I fell asleep. I was wondering if I was missing something, and I'm thinking not.


Is this thing on? Just checking. I could not stop laughing from the original post all the way through the comments.

Not a fan of the awards shows so I didn't know until just NOW which movies beat the crap out of others. Titanic over Good Will Hunting?!? Nothing should have beat GWH. As for the rest, I'm in total agreement as well.

Just wondering, did it hurt to fall asleep at your keyboard?

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