The Worst Best Pictures of All Time

Over at Grantland, they’ve been running down the “greatest Oscar travesties of all time”. Since no one at Grantland has a cultural memory that goes back further than Rocky, their “greatest” travesties of “all time” don’t include anything earlier than, well, Rocky — which wasn’t even a travesty because the original Rocky is a very good movie.

Early in our marriage, my wife and I wanted some kind of hobby to do together. We both love movies, so we decided to watch every Best Picture winner, in order. It took us over a year, and some of the earlier movies were quite difficult to find. (This was the late 1990s, before Netflix, Hulu, etc.) Believe me, it was terribly disappointing to search all over town for a copy of an older film to rent or borrow, just to discover it was awful. These terrible Best Picture winners are etched into my brain forever.

5. The Lost Weekend (1945)

I lost 2 hours watching The Lost Weekend.

I lost 2 hours watching The Lost Weekend.

Being an alcoholic is terrible. You have now seen The Lost Weekend.

Though there are a couple of great scenes with Doris Dowling as a fast-talking bar floozy who doesn’t finish the ends of words. “Go out with you? Don’t be ridic.”

4. The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)

The Greatest Show on Earth

Not the greatest film, though.

Hey kids! Do you like the circus? Oscars voters of 1952 did, giving the Best Picture award to Cecil B. Demille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. This, along with Around the World in 80 Days, was basically an award for a really expensive, visually stunning (for the time) film whose production values are now dwarfed by most network dramas. It was also a bit of a “lifetime achievement” award for the great filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, which means that the award was really given for how good all his earlier movies were, not for this one. If you’ve ever been to an actual circus, you don’t need to watch this.

3. Gigi (1958)


I still shudder.

The movie begins with a creepy old man (Maurice Chevalier) singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” and only gets creepier from there. The plot involves a girl/young woman being trained by her family to become a prostitute courtesan, which is a woman who sleeps with men in exchange for money and gifts. This is all played as a romance between Gigi and the man to whom she is going to be sold given, who decides to marry her instead of taking her as his mistress. What a catch!

2. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Kramer vs. Kramer

The perfect movie if you want to feel sad.

People in the late 70s liked being sad. Depression was the order of the day. If you’re feeling good about life, watch the three Best Picture winners from 1978 to 1980 — The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Ordinary People — and that won’t be a problem any more. Kramer vs. Kramer is one long, depressing journey through a couple’s divorce, with lots of sad shots of sad Dustin Hoffman and his sad little son walking around sadly. I think Chariots of Fire won in 1981 just to help everyone recover from the late 70s.

1. Cimarron


“Terrific as All Creation” – Also, the worst tag line of any Best Picture

Until 1992’s Unforgiven, Cimarron, about the settlement of the Oklahoma territory, had the distinction of being the only Western to have won Best Picture. Two scenes capture how perfectly awful this movie is.

Early in the film, Cimarron (actually, his name is Yancy, but I always just call him Cimarron) is asked to preach the inaugural sermon of the town’s new church, despite being an outspoken skeptic who runs the town newspaper and has no training, ability, or apparent reason to deliver a sermon. Whatever. In his sermon, he denounces the town bad guy and proceeds to shoot him dead in the middle of the sermon. No one sees a problem with this.

Later in the film, because Cimarron is a restless kind of guy, he abandons his wife (Sabra), family, and the newspaper business and disappears into the frontier. His wife, however, takes over the newspaper and makes a pretty good go at things. The movie jumps across several decades, showing her building the tiny newspaper into a frontier media empire and becoming one of the most important people in Oklahoma. Pretty great ending, right? Not exactly. Cimarron is discovered as a washed-up, homeless drifter who has spent the ensuing years working odd jobs in the Oklahoma oil fields. He’s reunited with Sabra — who announces that she has been keeping the business safe for him and hands it all back over to his control. Yes — having built a publishing empire, she gives it all to the worthless bum who abandoned his young children and can’t keep a steady job. This is supposed to be a loving act. I’m sure her hundreds of employees were pretty excited about the prospect of the company being run by a hobo.

Hands down, Cimarron is the worst Best Picture of all time.

Casting the Dark Gilligan’s Island

Christian Bale as Gilligan

The three-hour tour has not been kind to Gilligan…

Isn’t the world ready for a remake of Gilligan’s Island? Not just any remake, either, but a dark remake, along the lines of Battlestar Galactica or Christopher Nolan’s Batman. Here’s who I would cast:

  • Gilligan: Christian Bale, at his Machinist weight
  • The Skipper: Jeff Bridges
  • The Professor: Russell Crowe – as time progresses, the Professor can sink into A Beautiful Mind-style psychosis
  • Mary Ann: Natalie Portman
  • Ginger: Christina Hendricks
  • Thurston P. Howell III: Frank Langella
  • Mrs. Howell: Helen Mirren, though I’m not sure the world is ready for a Mrs. Howell who looks good in a bikini
  • Bonus! Harlem Globetrotters: the Miami Heat

Who would you cast in the dark remake of Gilligan’s Island?

East Coast Bias in '80s Children's Movies

Just finished watching the 1985 Sesame Street movie Follow That Bird with my kids, and I was amazed at the Children’s Television Workshop’s horrible depiction of the Midwest. Sesame Street, of course, is based on a New York City neighborhood, with a decidedly “urban” look and feel, but random slams against the Midwest were the last thing I expected when sitting down for a nice Friday night movie with the kids. At the beginning of the movie, Big Bird is “adopted” by a family of dodo birds living in “Ocean View, Illinois,” which appears to be somewhere near Peoria.

Of course, the movie isn’t all “down with Middle America.” The cause of Big Bird’s Midwestern exile? Miss Finch, an overeager social worker who thinks Big Bird needs help finding a “real family,” whether he wants it or not. She decides Bird’s fate in a Boston board room, alongside the rest of her philanthropically-minded friends. So perhaps it isn’t Midwesterners that CTW looks down upon: just non-New Yorkers. 🙂

A quick rundown of the Dodos and their town:

  • The Dodos are idiots (as in “dumb as a…”). They fail to recognize Big Bird, even asking Bird if he has seen a large yellow bird on his plane.
  • They live in “Ocean View,” with no ocean within 1,000 miles.
  • The Dodos live in a bland suburb, with every house identical (except for theirs – it’s identical to the others, but hoisted up on a pole like a giant birdhouse).
  • The Dodo kids (“Donnie” and “Marie”) have no imagination – literally. When Bird says, “Let’s pretend I’m Snow White,” Donnie replies, “But you’re bright yellow.”
  • The Dodos are kinda racist. When Bird gets a postcard from Snuggy, they “tisk tisk” his choice of a non-bird best friend.

In other words, Dodos complete the list of Midwestern stereotypes: dull, small-minded, uncreative. Anyone with talent or tolerance has long ago flown the coop, so to speak.

Eh, who cares? It’s an awesome movie. Go watch it immediately. Here’s a small mushroom-flavored taste.

Somehow, I Don't Expect Much from Religulous

Comedian Bill Maher has a new movie coming out called “Religulous,” in which he mocks Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and attempts to encourage religious skepticism. The brief previews I’ve seen don’t look promising, and a story I read today has lowered my expectations further. The movie is produced by both Maher and Larry Charles, who also directed that model of cultural sensitivity, Borat.

Here’s Charles on religion, as quoted by the AP:

“If I believe that Jesus is God and you believe Mohammed is God, then no matter how tolerant we are, we are never going to meet,” Charles said.

Charles then goes on to conclude that religious violence between Christians and Muslims is therefore inevitable.

Except, um, Mr. Charles, Muslims don’t believe that Mohammed is God. And this is a guy who has spent the last year making a movie about Islam. Perhaps he needs to take my world religions class before making his next film.

Movies I Like: Once

The Guy and the GirlOnce is a wonderful movie – everyone must see it.   An Irish film, it tells the story of a jaded Dublin street musician (never named in the film – in the credits, he’s listed as “The Guy”) and a young Czech immigrant (also never named – “The Girl”) who meet and literally make beautiful music together.   Music fills almost every scene, whether the Guy and the Girl are playing together in a piano shop, writing music, listening to homemade CDs, or recording an album of the Guy’s songs.  Elizabeth and I were both struck at how realistic their songwriting process was – then we read the credits.  The Guy, played by Glen Hansard, and the Girl, played by Marketa Irglova, actually wrote the songs for the movie.  In a less well-done film, this could have been a mere gimmick, but in Once, it adds to the magic.  (Hansard and Irglova also recorded an album unrelated to the movie while it was being filmed.)

I can’t say too much more about why I like it so much without giving away the plot.  I will say that the movie is a powerful statement about the nature of true love, and I’ll leave it at that.

(BTW, Once is still playing at the Esquire.)