15 Inferior Best Picture Oscar Winners (And the Enduring Classics They Beat)
1990: Dances With Wolves
The Classic It Beat: Goodfellas
At no point should Kevin God Damn Costner have won an Academy Award for Best Picture, not when he's in competition with Martin Scorsese at the top of his game. Hell, not even if he were up against a Martin Scorsese at the middle or dead gutter bottom of his game. Dances With Wolves was decent enough, I suppose...decent enough for James Cameron to rip off for Avatar, anyway. But Goodfellas remains maybe the best gangster film of all time not to feature a Corleone.
1994: Forrest Gump
The Classic It Beat: Pulp Fiction
Let there be no mistake: The acting saved Forrest Gump. Excellent performances buoyed what was a weak, simplistic, anti-intellectual screenplay which suggests that all of life's difficulties can be dealt with handily as long as you don't think about them too hard. Pulp Fiction, on the other hand, was so damned funky, gritty, smart, stylish and all-around balls-out awesome that practically every film even tangentially related to crime ripped it off for the rest of the decade. Enormously influential and endlessly cool, it's what every independent filmmaker aspires to.
1996: The English Patient
The Classic It Beat: Fargo
Craig touched on this already, but we need to reiterate: The English Patient, while a decent film, just does not have the cleverness, quotability and humor of the Coen Brothers' darkly manic snow noir. The cast delivers on every level, and you've got to love a crime flick in which the hero is a pleasant, pregnant Minnesota woman whose chirpy Yooper accent hides a sharp, keen mind. Arguably the Coen Brothers' best film. Relax, Lebowski fans, I said "arguably."
1998: Shakespeare in Love
The Classic It Beat: Saving Private Ryan
Shakespeare in Love is a passably pleasing evening's entertainment, but Saving Private Ryan is a war movie like none had seen before. Gritty realism pervades every frame of a film that starts with horrifying butchery yet still somehow ends on an amazingly hopeful note. Have a few people shed tears watching Shakespeare in Love? Probably. But everyone bawls at the end of Saving Private Ryan. And rightly so.
2001 and 2002: A Beautiful Mind and Chicago
The Classics They Beat: The Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers chapters of The Lord of the Rings saga
Look, I understand that the Academy didn't want to just lavish awards on these films for three years in a row and deny other films those awards for having the bad luck to be made between 2001 and 2003. But it fucking should have. Instead of saving up all its goodwill for Return of the King, Hollywood should have been behind all three films in this amazing, groundbreaking, life-affirming, soul-repairing trilogy. Because they deserved every award they were nominated for. You know it and I know it, and it was fallacy to pretend otherwise.