- The 91st Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, will be held on February 24.
- The Oscars ceremony celebrates achievements in filmmaking and has named the best picture winner every year since 1929.
- Some best picture winners have been forgotten over time, like “The Great Ziegfeld.”
- Others won over films that critics say were more deserving, like how “Crash” won over “Brokeback Mountain.”
Not every best picture winner has remained as memorable as films like “The Sound of Music” and “The Godfather.”
Here are 10 movies that took home the best picture Oscar at the Academy Awards that have fallen through the cracks of film history.
Critics thought “The Great Ziegfeld” ran too long at three hours.
The dramatic musical “The Great Ziegfeld” won the award for best picture at the Academy Awards in 1937.
The movie revolved around Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (William Powell) and the spectacular shows he put on throughout his life. In addition to best picture, Luise Rainer won the award for best actress and choreographer Seymour Felix won for best dance direction.
The early years of the Oscars celebrated many classics like “It Happened One Night” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” but “The Great Ziegfeld” has generally been overlooked in Academy Awards history.
It is widely regarded as too long with a runtime of nearly three hours. In addition to the length, the musical numbers in the film have been largely forgotten and the plot seems to lag for modern audiences.
Critics thought “Cavalcade” was a plodding depiction of British domestic life.
“Cavalcade” was a 1933 period drama that followed the lives of two families from 1899 to 1933: the working-class Bridge family and the upper-class Marryots. Touchstone events covered in the film ranged from the death of Queen Victoria and the Titanic disaster to the South African War and World War I. Of its four nominations, “Cavalcade” won three, including best picture, best director, and best art direction.
Although the tagline on the poster promised it would be “the picture of the generation,” the movie hasn’t stood the test of time. Modern critics seem to agree that recent TV shows like “Upstairs Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” have done a better job of capturing British life during this time period.
In 2014, Radio Times critic Sue Heal wrote, “Critics at the time loved this rather sanctimonious jaunt through history. Seen from the vantage point of post-Second World War egalitarianism, however, it all appears quaint and riddled with accepted class differences.”
“How Green Was My Valley” was a drama that beat out “Citizen Kane.”
The 1942 best picture winner was “How Green Was My Valley,” a drama set in a mining village in Wales that centered on the Morgan family. The picture starred Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O’Hara and was nominated for 10 Oscars. It ended up winning five awards – best picture, best actor in a supporting role, best director, best cinematography, and best art direction.
Despite its many awards, “How Green Was My Valley” is not as memorable as its best picture competitors, which included Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” a movie that is generally considered to be one of the best films in cinematic history.
It is largely liked by film critics, but “How Green Was My Valley” has its fair share of critical reviewers, including Jamie Gillies of Apollo Guide who described it as “a tedious working-class drama that did not deserve the accolades it received.”
“The Greatest Show on Earth” was a look at life in the circus, but critics think the director’s other works deserve more praise.
Director Cecil B. DeMille was best known for films such as “The Ten Commandments,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “Samson and Delilah.”
However, DeMille only won one Oscar in his prolific career when “The Greatest Show on Earth” won the award for best picture in 1953 (he was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his overall career that same year). The movie followed the lives of circus workers like trapeze artists, clowns, and an elephant trainer as they put on a show.
The film was nominated for five Oscars and won two for best picture and best writing. While the movie was under the capable direction of DeMille, many critics argue that the film flailed in comparison with his other cinematic triumphs. Cinema Sight’s Wesley Lovell wrote, “A soap opera under the big top, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ features little in the way of a plot and more in the line of a hollow spectacle.”
“Around the World in 80 Days” is a product of its time.
Director Michael Anderson practically invented the concept of the film cameo when he created “Around the World in 80 Days,” which has no shortage of celebrity appearances throughout the adventure film. The 1956 movie, based on the novel by Jules Verne, follows Phileas Fogg as he attempts to travel around the world in 80 days. It was nominated for eight Oscars and won five: best picture, best writing – screenplay, best cinematography, best scoring, and best film editing.
While the movie, and the number of cameo appearances, tickled critics when it was released in the mid-1950s, it hasn’t seemed to age well. Today, the film effects and contemporary references just seem to show the film’s age. Many dissenting critics agree that it is simply too long, including James Berardinelli of ReelViews who said, “With its lazy, somnambulant pace and endless stream of cameos, ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ seems to be unfolding in real time.
“Dances with Wolves” won over films like “Goodfellas.”
An adventure drama with Kevin Costner in front of and behind the camera, “Dances with Wolves” centered on a military man who befriends Native Americans as he lives in the wilderness. The 1990 movie was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven: best picture, best director, best writing, best cinematography, best cinematography, best sound, best film editing, and best music – original score.
Many at the time viewed “Dances with Wolves” as a sweeping epic, but it has largely been forgotten in the past three decades. The movie even beat out Martin Scorsese’s stylish and poignant film “Goodfellas” for best picture, which is arguably more memorable to film-goers.
Also troublesome to some is the way in which the film attempts to handle complex issues like race and imperialism with a white lead at its helm. Critic Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The important issues raised by the film – centered on the cultural, racial, and moral struggle that took place on the American frontier – are glossed over in favour of a juvenile fantasy of male bonding around the campfire.”
Critics thought “Driving Miss Daisy” was well-intentioned but forgettable.
A film set in the changing South, “Driving Miss Daisy” followed a well-to-do woman (Jessica Tandy) and her driver (Morgan Freeman) as their relationship progressed through the years. A critical darling, “Driving Miss Daisy” was nominated for nine Oscars and won four, including best picture, best actress for Tandy’s performance, best makeup, and best writing.
The movie impressed critics in 1989, but the themes on racial equality are heavy-handed in retrospect. It also beat out top competitors like Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July” and Peter Weir’s beloved “Dead Poets Society.” Film critic Candice Russell of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote, “Embalmed in good intentions, ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ is a creaky adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play.”
“Shakespeare in Love” is one of the few romantic comedies to win best picture, but its competition is remembered more.
Romantic comedies rarely win big at the Academy Awards, but in 1999, “Shakespeare in Love” swept the Oscars. It controversially won over “Saving Private Ryan,” which critics expected to be a shoo-in for best picture. The movie, which was nominated for 13 Oscars in total and took home seven, was a fictionalized account of William Shakespeare’s life and starred Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes.
The film is largely likable and some critics have defended its win, but it seems baffling in retrospect that such light-hearted fare beat out films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line.” Perhaps Oscar voters were looking for something lighter after “Titanic” took home the best picture Oscar in 1998.
“Crash” won over films like “Brokeback Mountain.”
A drama anthology film with social-political themes, “Crash” had huge stars like Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, and Don Cheadle at its helm. The 2004 movie follows various people in Los Angeles as their lives interconnect through tragedy. “Crash” was nominated for six awards and won three: best picture, best film editing, and best original screenplay.
Like “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Dances with Wolves,” the main issue with “Crash” may be the clunky way viewers felt it dealt with race and social issues.The fact that it won the award for best picture is even more bewildering considering that it was up against Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” which starred Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as two married men who wrestled with their love for each other.
“I don’t think there’s a single human being in ‘Crash,'” Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in The Atlantic. “Instead you have arguments and propaganda violently bumping into each other, impressed with their own quirkiness. (‘Hey look, I’m a black carjacker who resents being stereotyped.’) But more than a bad film, ‘Crash,’ which won an Oscar (!), is the apotheosis of a kind of unthinking, incurious, nihilistic, multiculturalism. To be blunt, nothing tempers my extremism more than watching a fellow liberal exhort the virtues of ‘Crash.'”
“The Artist” has fallen by the wayside in comparison to other recent winners.
Only the second silent film to win the best picture after “Wings,” “The Artist” starred Jean Dujardin as a film star in the silent era of Hollywood who grapples with fame and ego. The movie was nominated for 10 Oscars in 2011 and won five including best picture, best actor, and best achievement in directing.
A fun and inoffensive romp, “The Artist” is an enjoyable picture and generally well-reviewed. However, “The Artist” is forgettable mostly because it arguably hasn’t held as much impact on the film world as other Oscar winners in recent history like “12 Years a Slave,” “Moonlight,” and “Birdman,” which have pushed the boundaries of storytelling and cinematography in new, unique ways.
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