At Least 10 Best Picture Winners Worse Than Green Book
The dust has settled. It's been a few days. Green Book is no longer the most recent target of our frustrations. Now that we have had some time to simmer down, was Green Book winning bad? It still is. But is Green Book that bad? No. It is an entertaining and thoughtful film that, sure, maybe could have done more, but is far from the worst film ever. Many people have been quick to call it the worst Best Picture winner ever (or in a long while). It isn't great, but that label is way too harsh. In fact, I would argue it isn't even true.
I will take it up a notch and insist that at least ten out of the other ninety winners are worse (maybe more, but ten is enough). You can consider this a list of the ten worst Best Picture winners ever. I'll make it more current and deem these flicks ten best picture winners that make Green Book seem like The Godfather in comparison.
This is the film most people referred to on Sunday night, as Green Book was crowned the worst Best Picture winner since this work by Paul Haggis. Crash is extremely flawed, but it does at least try to raise a good message in a little too many ways. There are moments that shine as powerful sequences, and parts that fall flat in comparison. Most of this backlash is likely because Brokeback Mountain was predicted to win by many, and Crash stayed true to its name and won by surprise. I don’t think Crash would be so notorious if it wasn’t for this outrage.
Every musical number is way too long, and a lot of the characters are way too irritating. You can find a lot of magic within the sets and costumes, but otherwise it's as if Oliver Twist asked for more one too many damn times. The worst part is how super quick the final scene is in the most contrasting way: why didn't we at least get a second to breathe in the one moment of pure optimism in this film? Oliver!’s filmmaker Carol Reed directed The Third Man, so I’m not entirely sure how we got to It’s A Small World 2.0 over here.
8. Out of Africa
Gorgeous cinematography. Beautiful music. Strong performances. An absolute slog. Out of Africa is a testament to the necessities of screenwriting and editing. Sure, it is an epic to behold aesthetically, but it says a lot when most of the film is almost a chore to get through. Like a great subject with a poor teacher, Out of Africa is both engaging and tiring. It’s a shame, because you can see so much to love with this film, and yet every time you try to give it another chance, you can see why it’s a testing of patience (it also doesn’t age well with each viewing).
7. Going My Way
This film is inoffensive, but it truly feels like the most peculiar Best Picture winner ever. Nothing really sticks this film out as particularly moving, epic, innovative or memorable. It's Bing Crosby being the charming showman that he is, and he teaches young boys how to sing in a choir. That's basically it. You can't even call this film safe. Going My Way just is the least Best Picture Best Picture winner ever, because nothing makes this religious musical a classic, a daring feat, or even just an imaginative piece (where even the worse films on this list at least seem like attempts). Never underestimate the powers of Crosby’s legacy, I suppose.
6. Driving Miss Daisy
Another film that was brought up since Sunday was Driving Miss Daisy. In all seriousness, Driving Miss Daisy is truly worse than Green Book. At least with Green Book, you have a start and a finish in terms of where Tony and Doc are going. In Daisy, the two subjects share a car and each others company for decades in a never-ending-all-American-feel-good-pedestrian purgatory. It leaves you feeling nice and warm inside, but it is severely lethargic as a developed story. Driving Miss Daisy wasn’t nominated for Best Director, and Academy Awards host Billy Crystal joked that the film must have directed itself; thirty years later, and that statement holds much more truth than Crystal seems to have realized.
5. The Broadway Melody
This film truly leaves much to be desired now, but back during the start of talkies, The Broadway Melody might have made more sense. First off, it has been reported that there was possibly the first colour scene in cinematic history during this film (a shot that has been deemed lost), so there might be a marvel we are missing. There are the musical numbers, which audiences used to the silent era were being blown away with. Now, we have a film where the music is jumbled because of poor recording practices, and a typical story of success and failure. The Broadway Melody is an easy film to poke fun at nowadays for being “the worst Best Picture winner” to some, but I feel for it because it clearly had a time and place.
I always get flack for this, but I cannot stand Braveheart. It is a three hour macho fest that feels like an eternity. A couple of pros: some of the inventive special effects have aged well (some really have not). The final cry for "freedom" is moving, albeit difficult to witness because of the torturing. Otherwise, Braveheart has aged as well as Mel Gibson's social status. It won Best Picture during one of the slower Academy Awards years in recent memory, and it’s only fitting that the top honour went to this endurance test. Who needs hours of fighting and speeches?
Everything happens in Cavalcade, and yet nothing happens in it. You follow the Marryot family's legacy through a handful of major events in history, including World War I; interesting note, Titanic is not the first Best Picture winner to be based on the vessel, as you witness the sinking of the Titanic here (or allusions to it, anyways). As for the characters, you never really get to experience much growth outside of these vignettes. You can understand each piece, but not the magnitude of the whole like it was intended. Maybe back in 1933, this seemed like an innovative idea (a story told by a family’s evolution, rather than a strict plot), but that idea has been done much better since.
2. The Greatest Show on Earth
Cecil B. DeMille's disastrous circus epic involves Jimmy Stewart as a fugitive clown, feuding acrobats, Charlton Heston as a ringmaster, awful rear projection, dolls as props during stunts, and three bloody hours of hell. People speculate that this film won, because the coveted High Noon (by Fred Zinnemann) was written by Carl Foreman, who was at that point being maligned for his ties to communism. Gee, thanks guys. Zinnemann went on to win two Best Picture awards after this mea culpa (From Here to Eternity, and A Man for All Seasons), but sadly DeMille’s worst film is the only one to pick up the prize for all the wrong reasons.
There is no worse Best Picture winner than this, and don't even try to explain why Shakespeare in Love or Forrest Gump should be here (they aren’t perfect, but they are a million times better than this). This sexist, racist film has aged excruciatingly poorly for those very reasons. The male lead (Yancey Cravat, played by Glenn Ford) leaves for a chunk of the film, returns at the end and is rewarded over his wife (Sabra Cravat, played by Maria Schell) that saved the day (who actually sticks around and picks up the pieces). Slaves fan the Cravat family from the ceiling. Most of the film is Yancey tooting his own horn, with one or two moments of real danger (for brief seconds). Politics aside, it's just an awful film. Boring. Nonsensical. Meandering. Again, that whole lead character thinking he’s hot stuff for an entire film is lousy to witness.
The only good moment is the opening sequence, where settlers fight for their lives to claim land in Oklahoma. On my first viewing, I thought “maybe I would be in the minority and like this film”. Nope. Cimarron is insane, and just lousy filmmaking (even by 1931’s standards). It has brutal pacing, wooden planks for characters, awful storytelling and not enough positivity to redeem it. It isn't a chore to watch Cimarron. It's a flat out waste of time. It truly is the worst Best Picture winner of all time, and Green Book seems like a great movie to put on tonight in comparison.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.