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

Categories: Film and TV

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.

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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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