15 Inferior Best Picture Oscar Winners (And the Enduring Classics They Beat)

Categories: Film and TV

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire
Last Wednesday, Craiggers hit on some forgotten Best Picture Academy Award winners, films which have slipped through the cracks of society's consciousness for one reason or another; either for being too of-the-moment, not having enough quotable lines, or for simply not having held up very well -- hindsight is 20/20, a man convicted of DWI manslaughter once told me. And how true it is.

Sometimes those negligible films wind up beating out classics which, looking back on it now, should easily have taken the top honors. Here are 15 examples of exactly that.

1951 An American in Paris, a romantic musical starring Gene Kelly
The Classic It Beat: A Streetcar Named Desire

However big a fan you are of An American in Paris, it's rarely mentioned now, even by people who love musicals. A Streetcar Named Desire, on the other hand, was a revolutionary film, tackling mature subject matter with a gritty intensity not seen before, particularly on the part of breakout star Marlon Brando. Brando famously killed the "Why I Oughta!" school of stiff, dead-eyed acting single-handedly with his portrayal of the loathsome, unhinged and drop-dead-sexy Stanley. His method acting approach is still in common use today, and Streetcar is performed as a play and studied in film classes even now.

1964: My Fair Lady, a romantic musical
The Classic It Beat: Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

I've got nothing against romantic musicals, in principle. But did a musical version of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion deserve to win over Stanley Kubrick's astoundingly prescient, entirely original dark comedy? I would submit that it did not. But then, you're reading the writings of a man utterly unmoved by the mawkish strains of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."

1967: In the Heat of the Night
The Classics It Beat: The Graduate, Bonnie & Clyde and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

In the Heat of the Night is a fine film with fine performances, don't get me wrong. But aside from the racial politics, it plays out as a fairly standard detective story. Perhaps that was what was revolutionary about it, but the films it beat were unique in every way. The Graduate was an unsettling slow-burn of an anti-love story, Bonnie & Clyde was a fast-paced, ultra-violent gangster romance with a modern bent, and as for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, well, it proves that In the Heat of the Night wasn't even the best "Racism Is Dumb" film starring Sidney Poitier that year. Having a black man marry a white girl in 1967 was far more daring than a black man simply being a decent detective, and it had Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn to boot.

1971: The French Connection
The Classic It Beat: A Clockwork Orange

This represents the second time in a row Stanley Kubrick's genius got screwed out of its proper accolades. Once again, The French Connection is a fine film, a taut, suspenseful thriller, but in no way was it the meticulously produced, staggeringly innovative mindfuck that was A Clockwork Orange, still controversial after all these years, and still packing a hell of a phallus-shaped punch. The French Connection will remind you why everyone loves Gene Hackman, but A Clockwork Orange will ruin "Singin' in the Rain" for you. Forever.

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Nick R.
Nick R.

Ugh, English Patient losing to Fargo. That is just factually wrong.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

That scene from Streetcar still gives me chills.


I gather you never actually saw The Last Emperor. A piece of cinematic art direction without equal, filled with great performances from some of China and Japan's finest actors that gives us a glimpse into the personal life of one of the last great monarchs of Asia. I suppose it can't compete with bunny boiling, but there is some poop humor in it, so maybe you'll see it now.


I was with you until 1994.  Let's face it, if you thought all Forrest Gump was about was just a simpleton tumble weed and seeing what life brings, you pretty well missed the entire point of the movie.  Hanks was merely a simple vessel who took us through a few generations of America growing up from a child with crippled legs (post war shackles) through teenagers, early adulthood and middle age in the 90s.  It is the story of us, with us pretty much meaning the baby boomers, but, really what America became from post WW2 through 1990s and the beginning of the AIDS era.  

Further, you also failed to mention what might have been the best movie of that astounding year for American movies, The Shawshank redemption.  Not even a mention?  Come on!  


"This represents the second time in a row Stanley Kubrick's genius got screwed out of its proper accolades."

I keep watching Mr. Kubrick's movies, looking for the genius part and I can't find it anywhere. His work, (mostly) is passing-to-good film. I still prefer his "The Shining." There's simply a cold, emotional distance in his work, (like a painfully antiseptic examination room) that puts me off the man's work, kinda like George Lucas.

Gotta agree with you on the last third of your list, though. Those award-winning ~ahem~ films, mark my shift (and acceleration) from movies to books. Ron Howard and Kevin Costner should be given a monthly stipend to NOT make movies.

John Seaborn Gray
John Seaborn Gray

I'm not a Baby Boomer, so I'm not anywhere near as obsessed with / reverent towards their own life story as they are.

You're right about one thing though: I should have at least mentioned The Shawshank Redemption. If the Academy needed to pick a crowd-pleaser, that's the one it should have been.


Boy-howied, that was the best-est, golly-gee-wiz, boot-strappin', tea-baggin', Repub'can maverick porn ever. Best part of all, the coloreds an' women died. That'll teach'em to stay in their place.

Nick R.
Nick R.

OK, wow, that's what I meant. I'm pretty dumb, so.

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