Sunday, March 26, 2006

Best Picture Oscars: The Worst of the Best

The Siren interrupts her Joan Crawford belated birthday tribute to alert her readers to a venue for venting. Blogger Edward Copeland, sensing a wee bit of disgruntlement in the film blogosphere after Crash's Oscar win, has given us an opportunity to vote for the Ten Worst Best Pictures of All Time. The intrepid Mr. Copeland is using a point system, whereby you rank your choices from Worst to 10th Worst and point values are assigned accordingly. Balloting ends March 31. Here's the list of Best Picture winners. You can send your selections to Naturally the Siren couldn't pass up this kind of opportunity. She's sending Mr. Copeland a plain, unadorned list, but is sharing her reasoning with her patient readers.

1. Going My Way A slobbery Great Dane cheek-lick to the Catholic clergy. Whimsical, wholesome horror. (The sequel, The Bells of Saint Mary's, is no favorite of mine either, but at least you have Ingrid Bergman adding a little sparrow-chirp of sex appeal.)

2. Rocky There is a noble American tradition of boxing movies--and this is the one that gets the Oscar?

3. Ben-Hur Not a patch on the silent version, a particularly irritating entrant in the Great Faith Demolition Derby of the 1950s, and the film some say cost Wyler any street cred with the Cahiers crowd. Stephen Boyd gives a marvelous performance, and yes, the chariot race is exciting, though let us not forget its pitiless violence and the obvious mistreatment of the animals. Otherwise, Ben-Hur is preachy, overlong and burdened with a lousy supporting cast. Haya Harareet, who courteously disappeared after this one, is the most vacuous love interest the Siren has seen in any Oscar-winning movie.

4. My Fair Lady Why does this have such a good reputation? Rex, who had been doing the part for ages at this point, stomps all over his fellow actors, so busy acting he forgets to do any reacting. Audrey, so good elsewhere, demonstrates here as in Breakfast at Tiffany's that she could no more portray a woman of the lower classes than she could fly. Nothing can dim the beauty of that incredible score, but the Siren plays her London cast recording over and over, and is never tempted to watch the movie again.

5. The Greatest Show on Earth This one, bad as it is, gives the Siren a small pang because she does enjoy it. It's most entertaining, in an Ignatius J. Reilly sort of way. Still, when she remembers C.B. DeMille's voiceovers, the ludicrous plot and Betty Hutton warbling "Come See the Circus," she has to list it.

6. The Sound of Music If it weren't for the Austrian Alps, Christopher Plummer (who called it "The Sound of Mucus") and Eleanor Parker (about twenty times more appealing than Julie Andrews, though her part is too short and usually cut to ribbons for TV showings) the Siren would not be able to sit through this. When Parker, as the Baroness, silkily mentions boarding school, can you honestly say you don't wanna holler "Amen"?

7. Out of Africa Easily the most boring Oscar winner I have seen.

8. The Great Ziegfeld I know I did a generally supportive post on Luise Rainer, and she's good here. But otherwise, this is such a programmatic rags-to-riches-to-heartache biopic that even Powell and Loy can't save it.

9. Hamlet This selection may raise eyebrows, but the Siren has seen many versions of Hamlet. This one, in terms of vigor, flavor and originality, is preserved in aspic.

10. Around the World in 80 Days Wears out its welcome, despite David Niven and the wonderful scenery. Of the cameos, only Charles Boyer and Ronald Colman actually play their parts, as opposed to popping onstage to milk applause.


Unexpectedly, in going over the Best Picture list the Siren discovered that with the exception of Going My Way, which just makes her gag, there wasn't a single winner so bad she could derive no pleasure from it. The other nine films on her list all have something enjoyable about them, even if it's just the scenery, as in Out of Africa.

The Siren has not seen Cavalcade, Tom Jones, Dances With Wolves, Braveheart, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Lord of the Rings (any of 'em) or Crash. She badly wanted to list Braveheart anyway, because it's Newt Gingrich's favorite movie and during the whole Contract on America she kept hearing the House freshmen compare themselves to "the Wallace." Ethics prevailed, however (as the Newt found out, hee hee). If she hasn't seen it, the Siren didn't list it.

The Siren thinks some films unfairly get their "bad" reputations from resentment over what they defeated. How Green Was My Valley is a beautiful, poignant, well-acted film, but it will forever be despised by many for beating the obviously superior Citizen Kane. Shakespeare in Love is a contemporary example. This is a marvelous romantic comedy, with a fresh and clever script by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard (one of the Siren's favorite playwrights). But because it beat Saving Private Ryan, people dump all over it. The Siren counters, waving her copy of A Room of One's Own, that a movie is not a masterpiece simply because it deals with war, and another movie is not automatically fluff because it deals with the feelings of women and playwrights in a drawing room. Ryan, which has a brilliant opening and some very moving sequences, is still a flawed film with an overextended third act, some muddled Philosophy of War thinking, and a closing shot so insultingly, thuddingly obvious that the picture should have been disqualified on that basis alone.

The Broadway Melody is probably going to turn up on a lot of lists, but the Siren would like to point out that as an extremely early musical it won for its novelty more than anything else. It isn't so much bad, as it is an antique. Of course, the Siren freely admits her soft spot for golddigging showgirls, and she enjoys Bessie Love and Anita Page in this movie.'s Hindsight Awards, a site the Siren loves, re-reads and mentally argues with all the time, ranks Cimarron as the worst Best Picture winner of all time, citing a bloated story line and racism that was jarring even in its day. The Siren has seen Cimarron, but remembers it so dimly that she didn't feel comfortable evaluating it one way or another. Probably she was watching it for Irene Dunne and trying to ignore everything else.


goatdog said...

My ten:
1. The Broadway Melody: I think it is bad, as well as antique. It falls apart completely when compared with, say, Applause, another very early backstage film (although not as much a musical as Broadway Melody) that also managed to be a great film.
2. The Sound of Music. What you said.
3. Tom Jones: I remember my hatred of this film better than I remember the film, but I can't bring myself to watch it again.
4. Titanic: not even the special effects were good.
5. Crash: this one will probably drop off the list as the years take the sting off its victory.
6. Oliver!: I have just three words for you--(1) oom, (2) pah, (3) pah.
7. Cavalcade: see my comments for Tom Jones.
8. Gladiator. Admittedly, not a bad action film, but a terrible Best Picture.
9. Forrest Gump. The most annoying winner.
10. Driving Miss Daisy.

I have to admit that I sorta liked Going My Way and sorta loved Hamlet. I have not seen The Greatest Show on Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, My Fair Lady, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Ordinary People, or Gone with the Wind.

The Siren said...

You really may be right about Broadway Melody but I just couldn't list it, considering it spawned so many other movies I loved. Besides the two stars, I find the chubby chorus girls incredibly endearing.

The fact that you haven't seen Gone with the Wind goes a long way toward alleviating my guilt over not seeing all the ones on my list. Tell me, since you didn't list it, but apparently saw it--you don't think Cimarron is as bad as all that?

Richard Gibson said...

'Tom Jones' is not *that* bad. I have to admit I watched it recently and it wasn't as good second time around but it's an interesting time in British cinema, a move away from the kitchen sink dramas.

An interesting follow on exercise would be to vote on what film should have won in all of these years. In 1963, when Tom Jones won there were some good films:

'Kramer v Kramer' is terrible.

The Siren said...

Richard: In my mind, there's no question The Leopard was the film of 1963, though your link says all it got was a Costume Design nomination.

I remember liking the KvK performances very much, but I suspect that one has dated badly.

Exiled in NJ said...

Danny Peary did a book on your suggestion about who should have won in the major categories, if I recall. Oscars, like baseball comparisons, can spawn so many arguments.

At the time I hated The Apartment and loved Tom Jones; today I realize the former is a summing up of the Wilder philosophy, spawned his Viennese upbringing, while I am afraid to watch the latter again for fear of cringing.

The late 50's-early 60's were the period of 'See, we can still compete with television' mindset with the Academy, and so Fair Lady, Music, West Side Story etc were given awars for being triumphs at the box office. To give a best picture to Hud, for example, would have been a sacrilege.

Braveheart deserved something for the guts of its makers to spend money on what then was a total gamble with taste.

The film that featured players spouting 1997 dialogue and attitudes on a 1912 ocean liner winning over Curtis Hanson's LA Confidential will always be my worst. And I can't use the How Green excuse with it!

The Siren said...

The whole notion of a "Best Picture" is probably insupportable, especially in a year when you have very good movies in wildly differing genres.

The Apartment must rank as one of my favorite movies, period, let alone favorite Best Picture winners. Mr. Copeland is promising a "Best of the Best Picture Winners" poll for next month, assuming this poll doesn't kill him, and that should be almost as much fun. He says that 60-some-odd of the 70-some-odd best pictures have had votes, which I find very funny. It will be interesting to see the handful of movies get NO votes for "Worst Best Picture."

goatdog said...

I can appreciate BM for its historical importance, the trend it spawned (one of my favorites too), the technical innovations, etc., and I liked Love and Page, but it was just painful to watch.

I can't include Cimmaron, because I don't remember much about it, aside from having watched it over ten years ago. I don't remember hating it, but it's one of the winners and nominees that, once I finish all of them off, I'll have to revisit.

I'm saving GWTW for the end, like a delicious dessert after a very long, multicourse meal of varying quality.

I've noticed a lot of disdain for The Apartment on several of the movie blogs I read, and I'm glad this isn't one of them. It's one of my favorite winners, and it's near the midway point on my top 100 films list.

You might have said this elsewhere, but how many Best Picture nominees haven't you seen?

The Siren said...

M., the ones listed in the post are the only ones I haven't seen. I thought I hadn't seen All Quiet on the Western Front, but realized not long ago that I had, but I was a teenager and I don't remember it well. That's a whole separate category (Best Pictures I Barely Remember) with other entrants including Marty, You Can't Take It With You, Patton and Gandhi. I also think I haven't seen The Sting.

Disdain for The Apartment? I find that baffling. Along with The Crowd, it's the greatest take on the office lives of ordinary Americans I have ever seen. Knocks The Office and Office Space right into the recycle bin.

goatdog said...

I was wondering about how many nominees you haven't seen, not how many winners. I'm afraid to list the ones I don't remember anything about. That would be a very long list, I think.

The Siren said...

OMG, nominees. It's been a long morning and my reading comp is shot, apologies! I guess I would need an Excel document or something. I was looking at the nominees in 1929, for example, and I don't think I have seen a single one!

Edward Copeland said...

Yep, a best best picture contest is planned for April once this one is out of the way. At last count, 63 of the 78 best picture winners have received at least one vote as one of the worst.

Peter Nellhaus said...

My list was slanted towards newer films like Chicago (Rob Marshall is no Bob Fosse, or even a George Sidney or Charles Walters), and Dances with Wolves which made me long for the unpretentiousness of Andrew McLaglen. One of the older films I listed was Marty which should have been disqualified on the basis of being a remake of a television drama.
What's your favorite Hamlet? Mine are Nicol Williamson directed by Tony Richardson, and Richard Burton directed by Geilgud.
While it's not in writing as far as I know, I think it's the law that Best Picture winners are required to be the most boring of the five nominated films.

Joshua said...

Amen on the inclusion of "Hamlet." I consider myself a great friend of Shakespearean cinema, but I can't stand Olivier in any of his Shakespeare films. His style of acting is so studied and carefully wrought that it turns Shakespeare's furious language into anemic drivel. Give me Ethan Hawke's completely unhinged, amateur digital videographer Hamlet anyday.

Gloria said...

Why making a list? When some of my ever favourite films only get one of these pedrea "technical" Oscars (if any) the Academy Awards themselves are to me a guarantee of forgettable cellulloid (there are exceptions, of course).

Indeed, "The Great Zigfield" is a bit of a bore, yet I confess the "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" number, while much of a "cake" scene manages to haunt me night and day

*Cultural note: La Pedrea is the name given to the small prizes in Spanish lottery: little else than a return for the lottery ticket. By extension, the word to refer to a scant consolation prize

surly hack said...

Sorry if I wander a bit off-topic. The Academy Awards are a joke and I have little interest in Oscar trivia. The case of Howard Hawks is typical. His best work was never recognized and he was nominated for a prestige, over-stuffed turkey like Sergeant York:

"...director Howard Hawks, one of the most celebrated of American filmmakers, who ironically, was little celebrated by his peers in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences during his career.

Although his friend, contemporary, and the director arguably closest to him in terms of his talent and output, John Ford, told him that it was he, and not Ford, who should have won the 1941 Best Director Academy Award for "Sergeant York," the great Hawks never won an Oscar in competition and was nominated for Best Director only that one time despite making some of the best films in the Hollywood canon. The Academy eventually made up for the oversight in 1974 by voting him an honorary Academy Award, in the midst of a two-decade long critical revival that has gone on for yet another two decades. To many cineastes, Howard Hawks is one of the faces of American film and would be carved on any film pantheon's Mt. Rushmore honoring America's greatest directors beside his friend Ford and Orson Welles (the other great director that Ford beat out for the 1941 Oscar). It took the French, the `Cahiers du cinema" critics, to teach America to appreciate one of its own masters, and it was to the Academy's credit that it recognized the great Hawks in his lifetime"

Yeah, right.

Exiled in NJ said...

It was time for me to cast a ballot and I was surprised to see three musicals, and not Broadway Melody, on my list. None of my choices were from before 1960, probably because while I might have thought other films should have won in those years before that date, I really had no rooting interest. When it came to picking two of three among Rain Man, Rocky and Cuckoo's Nest, three very manipulative films, any film with Cruise must be on the list and the Philadelphia background kept Stallone off.

Patrick Wahl said...

A bit pressed for time, but I did not like American Beauty at all. Pretentious and consdescending, I just did not get anything about that film or understand why it was so popular.

katiedid said...

I've not seen Cimarron so I couldn't vote for ( or given the system, against?) it. Here's my ballot that I submitted:

1. The Greatest Show on Earth (neat bits, but lord is it ever long, and boy oh boy I've watched it mulitple times and I STILL can't remember the plot. It's kind of a bright, shiny and entertaining mess, not a best picture.)
2. Cavalcade (gagging to watch, and not worthy of viewing except for historal education of a sort)
3. Gigi (I can't be neutral on this. Sure, it can be an enjoyable flick, but it's just not one of the best ones in my mind.)
4. Out of Africa (You are SO right. Snore city. I think when you try to watch it you can actually feel time moving, and it's moving towards your kitchen and trying to stick its head in the oven.)
5. Ben-Hur (I also feel it gets preachy as you say, and frankly the thing as a whole is tedious.)
6. Gladiator (Overrated. There is some great acting, but I feel there are some serious flaws in the plot as well as plodding obvious plotting and some annoying pacing in parts.)
7. The Sting (It's not that it doesn't have its amiable charms, and I know there's like a million and one people who love this film, but honestly, I'm just... not moved by it. I know! I'm apostate!)
8. Crash (They may as well have had it rain anvils. It's not to say it's a terrible movie, it's just not... great.)
9. Around the World in 80 Days (Okay, so I have this weird thing with David Niven where I never like him in a role, I either love him or I hate him. Here? Hate. And the film itself is intellectual and sentimental pablum.)
10. Rain Man (This one is not perhaps going to be a popular choice, but I found the movie grating. It too was preachy, and while I think Hoffman did well in trying to play his character as a human being, he sadly DID descend into a bit of caracture. And some of the writing was not helping him avoid that - I've found myself in the recent-ish past feeling like they are indulging in making fun in a mean way of the character. That's distracting overall through the whole movie to me. More importantly, I think Mississippi Burning was robbed! And it even ran against Dangerous Liasons, which is one of those films that people debate over, but I feel it was still better than Rain Man. And now I'm so cheesed over Mississippi Burning just by typing this I hope I don't regret placing Rain Man this low on the list. Grrrrr.)

katiedid said...

I want to add sorry for some of the garbled language - and I now that I look at it I also want to register my annoyance with the treacly-ness of Rain Man too. Heh. Boy I really hate it, even though I can see how it works for some folks.

theduckthief said...

For me, it would have to be Cimarron. The only scene I liked was at the very beginning where everyone's racing off to stake their land. The movie goes downhill from there.

VP81955 said...

I always like to think there's an alternate universe where Julie Andrews is in the film version of "My Fair Lady" and Audrey Hepburn is in "The Sound Of Music." (Or, perhaps, Mary Martin recreating her Broadway triumph in the latter.)