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Top 10 Worst Best Picture Oscar Winners

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Giving out awards for films is obviously a subjective enterprise. One person's Godfather is another's Norbit. However, with the 86th Academy Awards coming up, I wanted to look back and see which winners simply made no sense, either because of their competition or simply because their nominations are baffling.

Narrowing this down to 10 was no small feat and as someone still in the first half of their life (notwithstanding bus accidents or freak lightning strikes), I focused on the last 40 years of the Oscars. Part of this is an admitted lack of all-time film knowledge, part of it is that it seems the Academy Awards have become more and more a product of behind-the-scenes posturing than a true selection of films based on merit over this time period (or maybe I'm being naïve).

I could start a rant on the increasing tendency for Hollywood to worry more about producing quantity than quality but instead, let's get on with the list. The year listed by each selection is the year of release (the awards are given the following year) and although I could have been nice and done this chronologically, some winners are simply more painful to the mind and soul than others … and deserve to be shamed that much more.

10. 1965: 'The Sound of Music' Beats 'Doctor Zhivago'

The Sound of Music
© 20th Century Fox
I know there are plenty of people who love Julie Andrews spinning on an Austrian hillside - and it's a very good film. However, it doesn't capture the epic scope or haunting romantic tones portrayed by Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. And just because one film is a family favorite shouldn't matter. By that logic, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory should have been nominated to scoop up the Oscar and beat The French Connection in 1971.

9. 1985: 'Out of Africa' Beats 'The Color Purple'

Out of Africa
© NBC Universal
This was a night which would see painful history being duplicated as Steven Spielberg's film went 0 for 11 (Only 1977's Turning Point shares this dubious distinction). Not doing anything to help the perception that Academy voters were anything but color blind, it was also a statement about who Hollywood royalty were in that era. I have a suspicion that if Meryl Streep and Robert Redford had starred in Ishtar, it could still have gained at least a nomination.

8. 2006: 'The Departed' Nets Scorsese His Lifetime Achievement Award...

The Departed
© Warner Bros Pictures
...Beating 'Letters from Iwo Jima,' 'The Queen,' 'Little Miss Sunshine.' 'Babel' an Afterthought." Or at least that's what I would have written in a newspaper headline following the film's win. After picking other directors and movies ahead of Martin Scorsese in his prime, voters finally felt they had something good enough to award him the Oscar. The win was doubly disturbing to myself as it was also the first remake to win the award, setting a sad precedent for possible future winners (Thankfully, 2010's True Grit had no chance).

7. 1994: 'Forrest Gump' Beats 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'Pulp Fiction'

Forrest Gump
© Paramount Pictures
Full disclosure: I love Forrest Gump. It might have been my favorite film of the year and I think its filmmaking was worthy of a nomination. However, The Shawshank Redemption is truly masterful and Pulp Fiction helped changed the landscape of cinema. (I have no idea what Four Weddings and a Funeral was doing on the list.) It appears the friendly nature of Forrest won over voters (plus it marked Tom Hanks going back-to-back in Best Actor wins, which had only been done previously in the category by Spencer Tracy).

6. 1999: 'American Beauty' Beats 'The Cider House Rules,' 'The Green Mile,'...

American Beauty
© DreamWorks Pictures
...'The Insider,' and 'The Sixth Sense'

A decent film whose merits were overinflated because of the subject matter and a few very good performances, this is a classic example of a movie simply peaking at the right moment. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20 but looking at the other films, all four of them have had a much stronger lasting effect. And when looking back on winners of this award over time, there's a certain posterity that would be nice.

5. 2005: 'Crash' Beats 'Capote'

Crash
© Lionsgate Films
I'd say it also beat the rest of the competition (Brokeback Mountain, Good Night, and Good Luck, Munich) but I don't consider them stellar competition. Missing from the nominees were A History of Violence, Junebug and Mysterious Skin, but Oscar snubs are as old as the awards themselves. Crash's win felt like the Academy trying too hard to show it had no racial bias in their votes; ironic since the film felt like its filmmakers were trying too hard to remind people racism still exists (and making it seem like everyone in Los Angeles had an ethnic axe to grind).

4. 1976: 'Rocky' Beats 'Taxi Driver,' 'Network' and 'All the President's Men'

Rocky
© MGM
Sure, everyone loves an underdog and Rocky captured the attention of the masses. But as feel-goody as it may be, it lacks the intensity and brilliance of arguably Martin Scorsese's best film and Robert De Niro's best performance. Network and All the President's Men also encompass more than just one man's struggle to overcome the odds. If anything, I think Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" should get more credit for this win than it does.

3. 1998: 'Shakespeare in Love' Beats 'Saving Private Ryan'and 'The Thin Red Line'

Shakespeare in Love
© Miramax
Umm … so that happened. I guess the voters got tired of letting big epics and war films win Best Picture and wanted something fluffier. Though if they were going to go with a British period piece, Elizabeth was the far better choice. Shakespeare in Love is romantic, featuring some good acting and costumes but when's the last time anyone said, "You know what I consider a stupendously crafted film? Shakespeare in Love.?" Uh huh, I thought so.

2. 2002: 'Chicago' Beats 'The Pianist'

Chicago
© Miramax
All I can chalk this travesty up to is Hollywood hoping it meant the return of the musical. Since then, audiences have been treated to such amazing works as Burlesque and Nine. Oops. I actually like musicals … when they're good. Chicago was an overrated production, with most of its success due to the quality of the original music and story than the manner in which it was recreated by Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger.

1. 1997: 'Titanic' Beats … Well, Does It Matter What It Beat?

Titanic
© Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox
No it doesn’t, though the answer is Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, As Good as It Gets, and The Full Monty (Wait, The Full Monty? Whatever). I get that people swooned over the epic romance … or at least, I realize that people did as the film would go on to become the highest grossing film until director James Cameron topped himself with Ferngully in Space - otherwise known as Avatar (3D ticket prices didn’t hurt). However, just because people were in the mood to watch Leo and Kate in a doomed romance (she couldn’t have shared that floating debris?) doesn't mean the film is ANY good. It's a bloated epic more interested in pushing technical boundaries than asking for quality acting or a passable script; and if Billy Zane could have shot straight, it could have been over in half the time. Quite simply, Titanic is the most overrated film of all time and made the movie not only about a sinking boat but a continued sinking respect for the Academy's selections in general.

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