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The 5 Worst Best Picture Oscar Line-Ups Of All Time

Awards
by Oliver Lyttelton
February 20, 2012 2:57 PM
48 Comments
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Alright, you've already seen our picks for the five best BEST Picture years, the Oscar years that you can actually look back on and not wince if you're a fan of movies and just-deserved prizes. So let's keep it simple: here are the five worst years below, the ones that make fans of cinema rather crazy and that have had people bitching about it ever since.

The 5 Worst Best Picture Line-Ups

1949
The Best Picture Nominees:
"All The King's Men" (winner), "Battleground," "The Heiress," "A Letter To Three Wives," "Twelve O'Clock High"
What Else Could They Have Nominated? 
"Adam's Rib," "The Third Man," "Kind Hearts & Coronets," "Manon," "On The Town," "Passport To Pimlico," "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon," "White Heat"
Why Is It One Of The Worst? Anyone who thinks that the Oscars picking sub-standard fare is a recent development needs to cast their mind further back; because when the not-all-that-great "All The King's Men" (remade less successfully with Sean Penn in 2006) is the best of your five nominees, you're in trouble. Made up of two post-WW2 patriotic crowd-pleasers in "Battleground" and "Twelve O'Clock High," and two forgettable melodramas in "The Heiress" and "A Letter To Three Women," it's a positively dull five, especially given that British cinema was having something of a renaissance, Jimmy Cagney was giving his signature role in "White Heat" and there was even an ace musical in "On The Town."

1956
The Best Picture Nominees:
"Around The World In Eighty Days" (winner), "Friendly Persuasion," "Giant," "The King & I," "The Ten Commandments"
What Else Could They Have Nominated?
"War and Peace," "The Searchers," "High Society," "La Strada," "Baby Doll," "Beyond A Reasonable Doubt," "Bob Le Flambeur," "Forbidden Planet," "The Killing," "A Kiss Before Dying," "The Red Balloon," "Seven Samurai," "Somebody Up There Likes Me,"
Why Is It One Of The Worst? At the very peak of Hollywood's television-battling streak of megabudgeted blockbuster epics and museums, few years were quite as grim as this one. It's not as if they were lacking in quality studio product: "The Searchers" was released in the same year. The fucking "Searchers." And yet only one of the five, "Giant," is really worth its place, the other being impressive spectacles (or in the case of "Friendly Persuasion," a lesser knock-off of "High Noon," right down to the presence of Gary Cooper), but fairly insubstantial. And "Around The World In Eighty Days," is generally a film that tops polls of the worst Best Picture winner ever.

1968
The Best Picture Nominees:
"Oliver!" (winner), "Funny Girl," "The Lion In Winter," "Rachel Rachel," "Romeo & Juliet"
What Else Could They Have Nominated?
"2001: A Space Odyssey," "Rosemary's Baby," "Planet of the Apes," "Faces," "Hour Of The Wolf," "If..." "The Killing Of Sister George," "Night Of The Living Dead," "Performance," "The Producers"
Why Is It One Of The Worst? A year after the Oscars were divided between the coming of the new guard ("Bonnie & Clyde," "The Graduate") and the death of the old ("Doctor Dolittle," "Guess who's Coming To Dinner"), as detailed in Mark Harris' briliant book "Scenes From A Revolution," the Academy kicked back in a big way, with one of their weakest ever line ups. We could just about stomach "Romeo & Juliet," even if it's far from Zefferelli's best, but otherwise we got two musicals far from the best the genre had to offer, a mediocre period piece and Paul Newman's worthy, but dull directorial debut. All drab choices in a year where the counter-culture was crossing over to the mainstream with the psychedelic likes of "2001," "Yellow Submarine" and "Performance."

2004
The Best Picture Nominees:
"Million Dollar Baby" (winner), "The Aviator," "Finding Neverland," "Ray," "Sideways"
What Else Could They Have Nominated:
"Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind," "Dogville," "The Motorcycle Diaries," "Before Sunset," "Collateral," "The Incredibles," "The Sea Inside," "Friday Night Lights," "Vera Drake," "A Very Long Engagement"
Why Is It One Of The Worst: 2004 admittedly wasn't a banner year for the movies, but still, can you find a duller line-up in Oscar history than this one? "Sideways" was worthy of inclusion, but otherwise we got Clint Eastwood's by the numbers, on the nose boxing/euthanasia tale, arguably Martin Scorsese's worst film, a super-dull Miramax drama with Johnny Depp (see also: "Chocolat") and a standard musical biopic, admittedly one anchored by a strong central performance. All this in a year with "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind," arguably the finest film of its decade. We're still only eight years on from the fact, but we can't imagine any of the five really living on in cinema history as anything other than footnotes.

2008
The Best Picture Nominees:
"Slumdog Millionaire" (winner), "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader"
What Else Could They Have Nominated:
"The Wrestler," "The Dark Knight," "Happy-Go-Lucky," "Wall-E," "Che," "Hunger," "Man On Wire," "In Bruges," "Synedcoche: New York," "Let The Right One In," "The Class," "The Visitor," "Waltz With Bashir"
Why Is It One Of The Worst? After this year, the Academy decided to expand the field from five to ten, and while it was generally assumed to be for ratings reason, there must have been a few Academy members in the Kodak Theater looking up at the five nominees and realizing that they didn't like a single one. We're actually in the pro-'Slumdog' camp, even if it was far from our favorite of the (admittedly weak) year, but Fincher's dragging, Gump-ish 'Benjamin Button?' Ron Howard's less than compelling "Frost/Nixon?" Gus Van Sant's messy, awards-baity "Milk?" "The Reader," which must number among the worst films ever to get nominated? If ever there was a year to honor Pixar and superheroes, or documentaries like "Man On Wire" and "Waltz With Bashir," surely any would have been preferable to the middlebrow mediocrities on display here.

Other Bad Years:
1947: "Gentleman's Agreement," "The Bishop's Wife," "Crossfire," "Miracle On 34th Street," saved by "Great Expectations"
1955: "Marty," "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing," "Mister Roberts," "Picnic," "The Rose Tattoo"
1959: "Ben Hur," "Room At The Top," "The Diary Of Anne Frank," "A Nun's Story," saved by "Anatomy Of A Murder"
1987: "The Last Emperor," "Fatal Attraction," "Hope and Glory," Moonstruck," saved by "Broadcast News"
1995: "Braveheart," "Apollo 13," "Babe," "Il Postino," "Sense & Sensibility"
1999: "American Beauty," "The Cider House Rules," "The Green Mile," "The Sixth Sense," saved by "The Insider"
2006: "The Departed," "Babel," "Letters From Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Queen"

You're certainly going to have an opinion on this one, aren't you? "Crash" winning the Best Picture in 2005 is obviously a recent travesty, but considering the competition -- "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Good Night, and Good Luck,"and "Munich" -- it's actually a good Best Picture year. It just so happens that the decision went south. 

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48 Comments

  • WAT | December 14, 2012 2:05 AMReply

    >>What Else Could They Have Nominated?
    >The Third Man
    >Manon
    >La Strada
    >Bob Le Flambeur
    >Seven Samurai
    >etc. etc.

    Please tell me you aren't *that* American.

  • Michael | October 27, 2012 1:06 AMReply

    You have terrible opinions.

  • Skip Young | October 7, 2012 3:23 AMReply

    I just saw "12 O'clock High" recently, and it's one of the 3 best movies I've seen this year. Does Lyttelton feel a war picture must be a protest movie to be worthy of respect? Another of the 3 best films I've seen this year happens to be "The Last Emperor", which also gets panned in this article. Still, Lyttelton came up with a great subject for an article, and he makes many valid points. Another year that was saved only by the winner (All Quite on the Western Front) was 1930. The other nominees were mediocre at best: The Big House, The Divorcee, Disraeli, The Love Parade. Surprising since that was the year of Animal Crackers, The Blue Angel, Hell's Angels, L'Age D'Or, and Anna Christie (the German version).

    One could write another article just about isolated unworthy nominees/winners like: Cleopatra, The Greatest Show On Earth (winner), A Touch Of Class, The Turning Point, All That Jazz, Fatal Attraction, The English Patient (winner), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, In The Bedroom, Million Dollar Baby (winner), Crash (winner), The Reader, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

  • Daniel Hicks | August 22, 2012 3:27 PMReply

    I'm afraid I have to disagree with you Mr. Lyttelton.

    For me the number one on this list is 1952's "The Greatest Show on Earth"
    which was chosen over "High Noon" Moulin Rouge" and "The Quiet Man"
    True it was directed by Cecil B. DeMille, but so what?
    "All the Kings Men" is riveting compared to this one. Just a small part of this monstrosity as an example: Jimmy Stewart plays a clown that never takes his makeup off. Because of something in his past? No one knows. Perhaps this was the original inspiration for Stephen Kings "It" and "Killer Clowns From Outer Space" That just the tip of the iceberg. Take a look and see if you don't agree.

    However friends remember the Best Picture award IS a popularity contest. And in the case of Cecil B. he'd lost out to the surprise hit "It Happened One Night" against his "Cleopatra" both starring Claudette Colbert.

    So when 1952 rolled around they might just have thought "Let's give it to him." "Or we owe him one" Not knowing. of course that he would make "The Ten Commandments" in 1956. A masterpiece (We've all seen it, right?) compared to "The Greatest Show On Earth".

    In 1956 it might have been "Cecil's got one and this is probably Todd's only shot at it"
    It's also wise to take in the backdrop of circumstances in which the film was made. Mike Todd went broke producing the film. Creditors seized everything they could get their hands on with his company including the print of the film. He was escorted to the editing sessions of the film by security where the film was kept in a locked vault until the film was completed.

    So here was the story, an American g0-for-broke story; of a man who puts it all on the line to complete his film. A story more interesting than the film itself, perhaps. And the Hollywood crowd obviously loved the back-story and well, could they, the purveyors of "happy endings' be so cold-hearted as to not give him the prize? In this case no.
    And if you go to Wikipedia and look at the image of the poster, a review in big print shouts. "Michael Todd's show makes this a better world" How could you vote against that?

    So just looking at the films themselves one might wonder...Why? But when you put it all into context, it doesn't make the films any better, however it can show the reasons why a particular film, for a brief time had a sheen, an effervescence, and a story behind it that captured the imagination for a time. But like waking up the morning after a wild party, empty and half-empty bottles of champaign strewn everywhere, one wonders, through the haze of a hangover, what all the fascination was about.

    From Wikipedia article: In his memoirs, [David] Niven related that Todd completed filming whilst in considerable debt. The post-production work on the film was an exercise in holding off Todd's creditors long enough to produce a saleable movie, and the footage was worked upon under the supervision of Todd's creditors and returned to a secure vault each night, to be held, as it were in escrow.
    The film's release and subsequent success vindicated Todd's considerable abilities.

  • Steve | March 1, 2012 7:41 PMReply

    Opinions are opinions, so your dissing of great movies movies like Lion in Winter and Sideways can be overlooked. But I should note that "The Third Man" could not have been nominated as a 1949 movie. It was not eligible until 1950, when it won Best Black and White cinematography

  • Evan | February 27, 2012 3:40 PMReply

    Can we please stop the Eternal Sunshine love train and "forget it" as the viewers did. It is incredibly overrated and is just messy all the way around. Million Dollar Baby deserved the win, even if it was a bit by the numbers. 2006 deserves inclusion much more than those - as The Aviator is probably down there with The Departed as one of Scorcese's lesser efforts.

    That being said, I am not offended by Eternal Sunshine taking any of the non-Sideways/Million Dollar slots, but Collateral? Friday Night Lights? Before Sunset (MUCH weaker sequel)? Dogville? And worst yet, the inclusion of the awful (and incredibly propogandized) Motorcycle Diary (did you really think Che's swim across the Amazon was less sappy/sacharinne than Depp's performance to the dying Winslet or that the actual honest portrayal of Ray Charles was outdone by the more sugarcoated exploits of young Che?). Give me abreak.

  • Arnie | February 27, 2012 10:17 AMReply

    Twelve O'Clock High was an incredibly insightful movie into the real-life struggles of war-time unit leaders. It was required viewing for leadership training at the U.S. Air Force Academy when I was a cadet in the 70s, and I understand it is still being used in their training today. I know of NO other movie that has ever proved as valuable!

  • Sean | February 22, 2012 11:07 PMReply

    Does EVERY blogger have to use "arguably" as a qualifier before an insane fringe opinion? I hate to break it to you, Oliver, but there's little argument that "The Aviator" is a great Scorsese film.

  • SP | February 21, 2012 6:15 PMReply

    You're straight tripping on The Aviator.

  • Tobi | February 22, 2013 2:23 PM

    Thank you. I'm a huge Scorsese fan, and it's not Taxi Driver or anything, but The Aviator is a great film (stumbles a bit towards the end, but still).

  • Fred | February 21, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    Regarding 1968, it's hard to pick which is most in error: tagging "The Lion in Winter" as a mediocre period piece or the inclusion of "Performance" among the shoulda-beens two years before its release.

  • Brian | February 21, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    "The Aviator" as Scorsese's worst? I find it to be among his best (though I've only seen "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," "The King of Comedy," "Goodfellas," "Cape Fear," "Casino," "Gangs of New York," "The Departed," "Shutter Island," and "Hugo") I really would love to know what makes you rank that film so low.

  • Brian | February 21, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    "The Aviator" as Scorsese's worst? I find it to be among his best (though I've only seen "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," "The King of Comedy," "Goodfellas," "Cape Fear," "Casino," "Gangs of New York," "The Departed," "Shutter Island," and "Hugo") I really would love to know what makes you rank that film so low.

  • Evan | February 27, 2012 3:41 PM

    I would like to know what makes you think its so great. Blachett's over the top portrayal of Hepburn was awful to everyone but the Academy, and while the first half was very good, it dragged ass in the second (a trait shared with Gangs of New York). I am not a Scorcese fan in general, but it is nowhere up there with Raging Bull.

  • Monty | February 21, 2012 8:32 AMReply

    "The Aviator", Scorsese's worst film?! Oh my...

  • Helgi | February 21, 2012 6:21 AMReply

    Dont forget 1971 or 1976, A Clockwork Orange and Taxi Driver.

  • Glass | February 20, 2012 8:03 PMReply

    Fuck yeah! Way to not hold back on all of these. The 1999 nominees are especially insulting (even though I loved Insider and American Beauty, the other three stood in the place of some of the best movies of our generation).

  • Ethan | February 20, 2012 7:44 PMReply

    Try as they might, Mr. Toro's comment proves that the playlist is simply a gussied up version of aint it cool news. sigh.

  • Kevin | February 20, 2012 7:58 PM

    Just wait until you see our Top 50 Toy Fair Finds post. It's gunna rock.

  • James | February 20, 2012 7:20 PMReply

    Not sure what else was nominated, but the year the Greastest Show on Earth won (horrible movie and to me the worst best picture ever), but it was a bad winner. I enjoyed Gentleman's Agreement, so I disagree on that, but White Heat was magnificent.

  • Adam | February 20, 2012 7:16 PMReply

    Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). That is all.

  • Mannn | February 20, 2012 6:48 PMReply

    1999 was actually a great year, but those were some bad choices (except for The Insider).
    They could've nominated Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Three Kings, The Matrix, Eyes Wide Shut, Straight Story, Boys Don't Cry, Sweet and Lowdown, Election, Topsy Turvy and All About My Mother. Damn...

  • Tobi | February 22, 2013 2:26 PM

    The 1999 lineup was straight garbage, yeah. The nominees could have been 'American Beauty,' 'Being John Malkovich,' 'The Insider,' 'Magnolia,' 'The Matrix'. And I mention this as someone who can't stand The Matrix. Also, 'Insider' wins that lineup IMO.

  • jimmiescoffee | February 20, 2012 10:14 PM

    1999 was stacked for sure. Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Three Kings, Eyes Wide Shut, the insider are all decade favorites of mine.

  • Mannn | February 20, 2012 6:54 PM

    I forgot: Fight Club was also released in 1999.

  • Remy | February 20, 2012 6:24 PMReply

    "A Letter to Three Wives" is far from a forgettable melodrama and I'm guessing you probably called it so based on its title. But then that's a matter of taste. Also, the Academy was NEVER going to nominate a movie like "The Night of the Living Dead" for Best Picture, especially 43 years ago, when it took them decades to acknowledge and award much higher-profile horror movies. When compiling such lists, you should also try be realistic.

  • Denis | February 21, 2012 4:12 AM

    Completly agree

  • Ray H | February 20, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    The Reader gets a ton of hate leveled at it, but I actually think it's the best of the 2008 nominated movies.

  • shark | February 20, 2012 5:00 PMReply

    I don't understand listing '87. Moonstruck and Hope and Glory are good movies. :(

  • Bwoos | February 20, 2012 4:09 PMReply

    Think you're being harsh on The Aviator - a very well crafted mix of historical piece and psychodrama. Scorsese used modern techniques brilliantly recreate old Hollywood, parts of the film match the movies of the era; whilst the psychological portrait at the centre is brilliantly done. His best of the decade.
    Lord of the Rings winning in 2003 makes that year one of the worst surely

  • Ivon | February 20, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    You are an idiot who probably hasn't seen a quarter of these films.

  • Gvas | February 20, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    Seriously? William Wyler("arguably" an iconic filmaker)'s masterpiece and one of Joseph L.Mankiewicz ("arguably" another iconic filmaker) finest works are forgettable melodramas? "Arguably" you didn't even bother to watch them.

  • AT | February 20, 2012 3:57 PMReply

    I agree with some of this. But I just have to say Finding Neverland was not boring or bad. I've never even met anyone who hated that movie. That film definitely deserved to be nominated. It's one of those films both critics and the audience can love.

  • Gabe Toro | February 20, 2012 4:26 PM

    "Finding Neverland" is such a dull, boring piece of shit that makes JM Barrie look like a tremendous, kiddie-fiddling tool. One of those biopics that knows nothing about its subject.

  • Lena | February 20, 2012 3:33 PMReply

    I'll also agree with you on 1968. I recently watched Rachel, Rachel and it was good but doesn't hold up well. As for your Heiress, 10 Commandments and King and I hate, please cease and desist!

  • Collin | February 20, 2012 3:33 PMReply

    Damn, guys. Couldn't possibly comment on everything here, but I think Milk is an amazing film. Is it possible for anyone to make a movie that deals with some serious and timely social issue without being labeled awards-baity?

  • Steve | March 1, 2012 7:43 AM

    I thought Milk was kind of a mess. If you've not seen the documentary, do so. It is much, much better and more powerful

  • Amy | February 20, 2012 7:03 PM

    I agree. I actually thought it was a very well-executed and political movie, and definitely one of the best biopics in recent years.

  • Lena | February 20, 2012 3:31 PMReply

    I fully agree with 2008. That was just boring and wrong on so many levels. The Dark Knight Rises, should have been nominated and they KNOW it.

  • Evan | February 27, 2012 3:46 PM

    Wow, Dark Knight Rises, coming out this summer and winning the 2008 Best Picture Oscar would be quite the feat indeed.

    That said, Wall-E, The Wrestler, and Let the Right One In (and possibly Waltz with Bashir) > The Dark Knight. Granted Dark Knight is greater than The Reader, Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon. But in general, Dark Knight still wouldn't have deserved the cut over those three films. In a weaker year than 08 though, it definitely woulda earned a place.

  • Jeff | February 23, 2012 9:40 PM

    Mike, whoever you are you are my new favorite person.

  • Mike | February 20, 2012 3:38 PM

    Are you writing this from the future??

  • bop | February 20, 2012 3:21 PMReply

    The shade for The Heiressand A Letter to Three Wives is really the most embarrassing thing here.

  • steve | March 1, 2012 7:46 AM

    Yes, he really missed the boat on these two films. The Heiress is terrific.

  • Skippy | February 26, 2012 5:01 PM

    So agree--"A Letter to Three Wives" is a sly satire of life in suburbia in post-World War II America and "The Heiress" is based on an award-winning play that in turn was based on a Henry James novella. I really hope they didn't get dismissed as "melodramas" because they're movies that focused on women.

  • JD | February 20, 2012 3:14 PMReply

    Okay, hold on. I agree with most of this article overall, but--let me just zero in on one thing: The Last Emperor's best picture nomination in no way shape or form needs to be justified by sharing the list with Broadcast News. Okay, two things: and The Heiress is far from a forgettable melodrama....

  • Clint | February 20, 2012 3:07 PMReply

    2006 wasn't weak. Disagree with its inclusion. 2008, The Reader stands out to me as the most "wtf" worthy inclusion, just as another Daldry film did this year. I would say 2008 was much stronger than this year though. With an exclusion of Moneyball and The Tree of Life, the nominees for this year... including 90% of the acting categories as well.... are straight up embarrassing.

  • Sean | February 22, 2012 11:06 PM

    Does EVERY web writer have to use "arguably" as a qualifier before an insane fringe opinion? I hate to break it to you, Oliver, but there's little argument that "The Aviator" is a great Scorsese film. Ever seen "Box Car Bertha"?

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