There’s an awful lot of attention given to underrated movies that people might have missed that should be seen immediately, but what of the overrated movies? What of those films that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, those notorious judges in charge of handing out tiny golden statues that signify cinematic excellence, deem worthy (but actually, you know…aren’t?).
Every film on this list has won or been nominated for an Academy Award of some kind, be it Best Picture, Best Actress, etc. Whether they were unworthy in comparison to other nominated films or they were just plain unworthy, we’re going to ask the question…why the fuss?
15. Dances With Wolves (1990)
Directed, produced and starring Kevin Costner, 1990’s Dances With Wolves was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. With seven Oscars, Dances With Wolves is one of the most “Academy approved” films of all time. And it’s not even a bad film, as the war epic features a strong plot, solid acting and a refreshing theme that suggests history as told by the white male is not always the correct version.
So why is it on this list, you ask? Well, for starters, a little film called Goodfellas came out in 1990, directed by a man who goes colloquially as Marty. That’s right; Dances With Wolves is on this list not because of what it won, but because of what something else didn’t win. Twenty five years later people still lavish praise on Goodfellas, which is a superior film in most every way to Dances With Wolves, which is why the latter is kicking this list off at the #10 position.
14. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
This one is a pretty famous miss by the Academy, and its often cited as one of the most unworthy Oscar winners of all time. Like many films on this list, Shakespeare in Love isn’t really all that bad of its own merit; Gwyneth Paltrow is suitably majestic as the love interest of renowned playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes), and the film plays well enough overall. Decent cinema fodder, if nothing else.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately…) for Shakespeare in Love, it happened to win seven of the thirteen Oscar nominations it received that year, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Costume Design; and while history may show no outrage over the latter three victories, the fact that Shakespeare in Love was named Best Picture over the absolutely devastating war epic Saving Private Ryan is a mistake that many fans have still not forgiven the Academy for.
13. The King’s Speech
Practically the definition of “Oscar bait,” The King’s Speech was a shoe-in for a Best Picture nomination right from the get-go. A historical drama following King George VI (Colin Firth) and his struggles to overcome a speech impediment after unexpectedly inheriting the English throne from his brother, The King’s Speech features great performances from Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush as the King’s vocal coach, but it’s not an important or outstanding film by any means.
Rather, The King’s Speech is yet another unremarkable period drama overhyped by Academy voters that barely broke new ground. Looking back, it’s even more embarrassing that this film took home the top prize when you consider it was up against the likes of Black Swan, Inception, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, and True Grit (and that’s not even the entire list), all of which were better, more deserving films.
12. Forrest Gump (1994)
Remember all those things we said before, about some movies not being terrifically awful in and of themselves, but paling in comparison to the films that they conquered in their quest for the coveted Best Picture Award? Yeah, all of that plays here too, except in this case there are two films that were much more deserving of Best Picture than Forrest Gump, the 1994 film which followed a lovably slow man played by Tom Hanks as he works his way through history’s most iconic moments.
That’s right, two; both Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption are both consistently cited as two of the greatest films ever made, and it’s astounding to think that both of them were beat out for Best Picture by a film whose most iconic line references a box of chocolates. Again, it’s not like Forrest Gump is an inherently bad film; it’s charming, if a little unspectacular. But man…Pulp Fiction AND Shawshank? Let the outrage commence (continue?).
11. Drive (2011)
Let us foreground this one by stating that Drive, in theory, sounds like an unbelievable film. A movie starring Ryan Gosling as a mechanic/stunt devil who moonlights as a wheelman? Unreal. Unfortunately, the film’s potential is never truly visualized as director Nicolas Winding Refn gets a little too carried away with his art house sensibilities and forgets to include, well…the driving.
While the film was hailed as visionary and a received almost universal critical acclaim, we couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed while watching (and we don’t think we’re alone in that sentiment). The film lacks substance, an unfortunate characteristic that renders the entire ordeal a bit flat, and considering the incredible soundtrack (seriously, it’s next level good) and a deceptively sinister performance by Albert Brooks, it seems a genuinely wasted opportunity.
10. The Tree of Life (2011)
Written and directed by notorious recluse Terrance Malick, 2011’s The Tree of Life was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography. Let’s get one thing straight, right here…the only one of those that was deserved was Best Cinematography, because the film is gorgeous to look at. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer much else except a jumbled plot and some vague, uninspired ramblings about creation and the origins of the universe.
As pretentious as it is confusing, The Tree of Life is an extremely polarizing film that received both boos and applause when winning the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. While some critics maintain it’s one of the greatest films ever made, we here at Goliath just can’t feel the love when watching. And Sean Penn? Enough of Sean Penn!
9. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
It’s no secret that the Academy adores movies about movies, especially when that movie is commenting on current Hollywood trends, which is why it’s hardly surprising that Oscar voters went gaga for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s dark comedy Birdman back in 2014, insufferable alternate title and all. Starring Michael Keaton as a washed up actor best known for playing a famous superhero as he struggles to launch a Broadway comeback, Birdman is the kind of film that hits you over the head with its cleverness (for example, it really wants you to “get” the riff it’s doing with former Batman star Keaton having played Batman).
Everything in this movie is designed to make you aware of its “importance”; that it’s not a superhero movie but a movie about people struggling for their art. What’s most frustrating about Birdman is not that it shouldn’t have taken home the Best Picture or Best Director awards, but that the Academy didn’t hand it the one award it did deserve: a Best Actor prize for Keaton, who is admittedly outstanding in the lead role. In other words, Birdman is worth a watch for Michael Keaton’s performance but it’s not a film anyone is going to be talking about in 20 years, let alone 10.
8. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Considered a surprise winner when it took home the big prize in 1957, Around the World in 80 Days is now widely regarded as one of the worst Best Picture recipients of all time. A shallow comedy based on Jules Verne’s novel of the same name, Around the World’s success at the Oscars can be attributed largely to the sheer scale of its production.
Featuring over 140 sets, 8,552 animals, 74,000 costumes, and 68,000 extras, this film set (and still holds) many records in the film industry and back in the mid 1950s, there were few films that could rival it in terms of scale and spectacle. Still, Around the World in 80 Days’ ambitious production numbers are about the only thing about it that has aged well and the more time passes, the more egregious it is that far superior films such as The Ten Commandments and The King and I didn’t take home the top prize instead.
7. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Based on the play of the same name, Driving Miss Daisy follows the bond between Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy), a wealthy, retired widower and her black chauffeur Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman) over several decades in the late 1940s to early 1970s. Held up as a groundbreaking film exploring such issues as racism and antisemitism, Driving Miss Daisy was nominated for ten Oscars at the 62nd Academy Awards and took home four awards, including Best Picture.
Unfortunately, the film has no teeth when it comes to such issues and is more of a pleasant, occasionally boring movie about friendship. Based on the premise alone, you would assume that Tandy’s character starts out as a bigot who slowly changes into a more tolerant person, but she’s painted more as an old lady stuck in her ways rather than someone who is horrified at the very thought of hiring a black driver. Driving Miss Daisy makes for a great movie to watch with your grandmother on a Sunday afternoon but ultimately, it’s much too safe and bland to have beat out much better films such as Dead Poets Society and My Left Foot for Best Picture.
6. American Hustle (2013)
Nominated for an astounding 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and all four acting categories (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress), American Hustle is a classic example of all style and no substance. Sure, it walks pretty and talks pretty and it looks great in a fancy dress, but when you try and remember a single thing that happened in the film, you sort of come up…well, blank.
And maybe that’s the true genius of the film, that it “hustles” the audience into investing over two hours of their life watching this strange, convoluted plot unfold. No doubt there’s talented actresses and actors across the board, as stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Christian Bale are among the finest in their chosen field, but for some reason the film insists on whittling away at their likability by spending far too much time in petty disagreements and zero plot/character development. Hustled, indeed.
5. Argo (2012)
Ben Affleck has established himself as a great director and from a technical standpoint, Argo is an impressive work that tells the story of an interesting moment in the history of U.S. foreign relations and the unexpected role Hollywood played in it. Unfortunately, Argo is also a completely irresponsible piece of filmmaking that distorts well-documented facts in favor of manufacturing contrived narrow escape sequences that paint its American protagonists as heroes who expertly outsmart the barbaric Iranian enemy.
Essentially, Argo is a thinly-veiled piece of propaganda and an insultingly inaccurate one at that. In an Oscar race that delivered much better historical dramas in the form of Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty (the latter of which, while also filled with inaccuracies, at least uses them to make a salient point about the War on Terror), there’s simply no reason Argo deserved to be awarded the Academy Award for Best Picture.
4. Crash (2004)
It doesn’t matter who you speak to; nobody can quite figure out how Crash managed to win the 2004 Academy Award for Best Picture. Sure, it won Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing as well, but those don’t seem nearly as egregious as the film, which interweaves several storylines into a heavy-handed spoon-feeding of life lessons on racial tensions in Los Angeles, winning the Best Picture award over the likes of Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s incredibly moving drama that I’m sure you all remember for its famous tent scene.
3. The Blind Side (2009)
Loosely based around sport author Michael Lewis’s 2006 non-fiction text The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which deconstructs the evolving left tackle position in the NFL by following the inspiring story of Michael Oher, an impoverished young African American male taken in by a wealthy Southern family who just happens to be an absolutely stellar athlete and future college star (he went two seasons at Ole Miss without allowing a sack), The Blind Side starred Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohly, the wealthy Southern mother who takes in Oher and gives him a chance to transcend his poor socioeconomic status and achieve NFL greatness. Seeing the problems already?
Criticized heavily for the dramatization of Oher’s life (the athlete himself is not a fan of the movie), The Blind Side leans far too heavily on melodrama and Sandra Bullock, for all the goodwill Miss Congeniality has earned her, was not deserving of her Best Actress win, nor was the film worthy of its Best Picture nomination.
2. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Directed by Trainspotting‘s (1998) Danny Boyle and starring Dev Patel, Frieda Pinto and Anil Kapoor, Slumdog Millionaire (2008) is the kind of film that we’ve come to expect the Academy to love; it takes a classic rags to riches story that traffics heavily in melodrama and cliché and mixes it with a rich, exotic location (in this case, the slums of Mumbai, India). It’s the kind of film the Academy generally drools over, which is why it comes as little surprise that the film received 10 nominations in 2008, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
However, to go back and actually watch Slumdog Millionaire is not a particularly enjoyable experience; the film really does rely far too heavily on well-travelled emotional fare and criticisms about the film’s negative portrayal of India are very justified. While this was a pretty weak year for Best Picture overall, we could’ve seen the compelling Frost/Nixon (2008) as a more worthy alternative.
1. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Had anyone other than Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence been tasked to lead 2012’s Silver Lining Playbook, it’s quite possible the film would’ve gone down in history as a fairly unremarkable romantic comedy about a bipolar man (Cooper) who attempts to get his life back on track with the help of a young widow (Lawrence). Spoiler alert, they do some dancing.
It just so happens that Cooper and Lawrence were two of the hottest names in the business when this flick was released, and the resulting hype that led to eight Oscar noms, including Best Picture and Best Director, seems particularly unwarranted on repeat viewings. Simply put, it’s just not that strong a film.