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Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ten "Best Pictures" That Had No Business Winning the Oscar

Not just the "worst" Best Pictures ever, but winners that showed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be motivated--at least at the moment--by an agenda not related to honoring excellence in motion pictures. We're listing ten "Best Pictures" that honestly had no business winning an Oscar for Best Picture. This list isn't so much about which "Best Pictures" are "worst," it's more about wondering what the Academy was collectively thinking during their worst lapses of judgement.

10. The Return of the King. Sorry, J. R. R. Tolkien fans but you understand what I'm getting at, right? The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy, and the movies made from the books aren't meant to stand alone. The first two Ring movies didn't win Best Picture, so what's so special about this one? The Academy needs to address how to handle multi-part serial films that are becoming so prevalent--they just don't compare to films meant to be a stand-alone work. (Maybe the Academy can borrow the Spanish telenovela and develop a new category, "cinenovela" for these multi-part franchises.)
Each book in the Tolkien trilogy could sustain three movies on its own, the way The Hobbit was brought to the screen. As magnificent as the Lord trilogy is, there's plenty of opening for an even grander interpretation.

9. Forrest Gump.  One of only two or three Best Pictures I've found sitting through to be a chore and a bore. By the end I didn't care about any woman, baby, shrimp boat or box of chocolates. The Academy (and fans) must've fallen in love with the gimmicks. (Look, Tom Hanks is shaking hands with JFK!)
Underneath the special effects is a demeaning moral morass of a plot, prettied up with platitudes about the power of prayer. The film was widely criticized for stereotyping the disabled and trivializing racism. (All a bullied cripple has to do is run fast enough, and the braces fall off and he's cured. Ending racism's as simple has handing a lady her book.) Then we're all supposed to feel so sorry for the woman and the baby. Hasn't any Hollywood screenwriter ever heard of birth control?

8. The Titanic.   As a Best Picture, Titanic isn't disastrous. It looked good, made fans of special effects happy, and gave cinema two unforgettable characters--Jack and Rose. Except the story of the Titanic is one of history's greatest disasters, and turning it into a disastrous backdrop for a disastrous love affair is more suited to a YA graphic novel than a Best Picture. The combined acting of Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart can't redeem the character of Rose. (What woman throws expensive jewelry away?)
If only the Academy had the courage to look past the box office and honor The Full Monty.

7. The Deer Hunter.  Movies about Vietnam were trendy in 1978 and the 51st Oscars were hyped as a contest between Jane Fonda's sentimental romance, Coming Home, and the edgier Deer Hunter. So the Academy chose what, in retrospect, looks suspiciously like Heaven's Gate set in Vietnam. It has actually nothing to do with Vietnam, or our veterans, or much of anything else. It's demeaning to our Vietnam experience and offensive to those who demand that movies make sense.
The most enduring movie of the 51st Oscar season had nothing to do with Vietnam--it was The Buddy Holly Story.

6. Crash.  Being branded forever as the film that robbed Brokeback Mountain doesn't make the ideal legacy for any Best Picture. All the Oscar nominees that season dealt with major moral issues: terrorism, racism, homosexuality, crime and free speech. How Crash sneaked into the nominations and then into top place no one's ever satisfactorily explained. The movie opened to mixed reviews and has a lower Rotten Tomatoes rating than its competitors. Not only was Brokeback Mountain a better movie, so were Munich, Capote, and Good Night and Good Luck.

5. Oliver! Ads said, "Freely adapted from Dickens' Oliver Twist," meaning, of course, any resemblance between this musical film and the classic novel is pure coincidence. Why did the Academy honor it? Maybe because Hollywood was, at the time, under pressure to provide family entertainment. Oliver! was sold as a nice family musical. It was about a child thief, and a woman is beaten to death protecting him, among other pleasantries of Dickensian slum life, but it was a nice family musical.
For comparison here's some of what the 41st Oscars considered and rejected: The Lion in Winter, Funny Girl, Romeo and Juliet, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Subject Was Roses, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

4. The English Patient.  The first two hours are a slimy soap opera, while the final forty-five minutes turn into the kind of flakey WWII spy drama that Mad Magazine was making fun of when that war was barely over. Juliette Binoche beat Lauren Bacall for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, likely because she could cry on cue while assisting the suicide of the English patient. (Lady, if you feel that bad, just don't do it, OK?)
Hiding in the minor award categories for the 69th Academy Awards was the far more deserving Ghosts of Mississippi.

3. Slumdog Millionaire. Honoring this piece of poverty/torture porn as Best Picture in 2008 allowed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to feel good about global poverty without actually doing anything about it. Slumdog isn't a movie, it's more like extended product placement for the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' So that's the solution for global poverty--answer a few trivial questions and win a game show. Milk and Frost/Nixon were trampled by the Academy's slumdog-mania.

2. The Godfather, Part II.  You know when you see a film and there's a scene or two tacked onto the end, a "then what happens" that we don't really need to know? The Godfather, Part II (and The Godfather, Part III) are just several hours of "and then what happens" that we don't really need to know after the end of the original Godfather. Then they're mashed up with a few flashbacks that look like unnecessary outtakes from the original movie--and as if that weren't enough, it beat Chinatown.

1. Terms of Endearment.  Biggest clinker-stinker ever to get away with winning the Oscar for Best Picture, marketed as some kind of breakthrough for female-driven films in Hollywood. It actually insults women, being nothing but a third-rate afternoon soap opera pawned off as a feature film with A-list stars. Shirley MacLaine won't have anything to do with drunken womanizing Jack Nicholson next door--except she does because it's in the script. Meanwhile audiences are supposed to be appalled that the daughter (Debra Winger) is married (boo-hoo) to an assistant professor (boo-hoo) and moves to (boo-hoo) Iowa (boo-hoo) where she conveniently dies (gets her out of Iowa anyway). The Academy passed over The Right Stuff for this?

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