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Posted at 3:08 PM ET, 03/ 5/2010

Oscars 2010: The least win-worthy best pictures

By Jen Chaney

No matter which film wins best picture at this year's Academy Awards -- even if it turns out to be "Avatar" -- it's unlikely to go down in history as one of the worst best pictures ever. Say what you will about having 10 nominees, but this field, for the most part, is pretty solid.

That said, several past recipients of Oscar's highest honor have been perceived as less-than-stellar works of cinema, especially when compared with the Oscar competition they faced that particular year. The Huffington Post recently shared this look at undeserving best pictures.

Meanwhile, I offer this list of five of the least win-worthy best pictures in modern times.

"A Beautiful Mind" (2001): This perfectly adequate Ron Howard drama completely oversimplifies the complexities of dealing with mental illness. Plus, I think all of the other nominees that year -- "Moulin Rouge!," "In the Bedroom," "Gosford Park," or even "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" -- were truly the better pictures.

"Dances With Wolves" (1990): Gorgeous to look at, but boring as a high school film strip, this Kevin Costner epic triumphed over Martin Scorsese's stunning and far more compelling mafia saga, "Goodfellas."

"Crash" (2004): This one gets picked on a little unfairly. I don't think this drama of interconnected L.A. stories is a bad movie. It's just that Ang Lee's appropriately restrained and beautifully acted "Brokeback Mountain" is a better one, and should have won the statuette.

"The Last Emperor" (1987): Look, I've got nothing against Bernardo Bertolucci. But raise your hand if you saw this movie. Okay, now raise your hand if you saw any or all of the four other best picture nominees: "Broadcast News," "Fatal Attraction," "Hope and Glory" or "Moonstruck." My case, rested.

"Gandhi" (1982): My parents let me stay up late so I could watch "E.T." win its well-deserved Oscar for best picture. Imagine my disappointment when some long-winded biopic snatched the trophy from the extra-terrestrial's long, gray, knobby fingers. That bitter pill, in a weird way, sparked my lifelong fascination with the Academy Awards -- in all their thrilling and frustrating madness.

Want more debate about best picture options? Check out this video of Ann Hornaday and I discussing this year's nominees, and, later today, visit our Oscar page to see which nominees Ann and I would like to see win on Sunday night if we got to choose. (Which, of course, we don't. But it's fun to pretend.)

And, last of all, feel free to cast your own vote in this poll:

By Jen Chaney  | March 5, 2010; 3:08 PM ET
Categories:  Awards Season  
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My husband and I frequently have this conversation. I might watch "A Beautiful Mind" if it is on TV, but "Dances With Wolves" - no way. The true test of a film's greatness if it stands up to multiple viewings. Example: Forrest Gump won for Best picture over Pulp Fiction. Forrest Gump is a joke at this point, but PF can be watched over and over again.

Posted by: akmitc | March 5, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Wow, The Last Emperor is on there simply because few people saw it? How sad. I've seen all five nominees from that year, and I absolutely agree with the Academy on that one. It was a magnificent film and it seems the only controversy over its win was about the paltry amount of money it made. Take that one out of there and replace it with "Shakespeare in Love" (or go a year earlier than "Gandhi" and take the classic example of "Ordinary People" over "Raging Bull") and you do have a pretty decent list. "Crash" takes the undeserved Oscar winner cake for me.

Posted by: lauramaer | March 5, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Excellent point, akmitc! I really liked (not loved) Forrest Gump . . . the FIRST time I saw it. After that, it was just so much hokum.

As much I enjoyed Titanic (what can I say? I'm a sucker for a disaster/romance flick), I don't think it was the best picture of 1997. LA Confidential should have won. Or even Good Will Hunting. Definitely not As Good As It Gets. And speaking of that movie, I don't think Jack Nicholson or Helen Hunt really deserved their Oscars that same year. I mean, Jack was playing Jack with OCD, and Helen was playing her Mad About You character, but she's a single mom. Not REAL acting. Greg Kinnear did the best job in that whole movie & he got shafted! Argh - I'm still bitter about that.

Posted by: blahblah6b | March 5, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

unfair to pick on Crash? That movie may be the stupidest comment Hollywood has ever made on an important subject.

Go to google right now, and type "crash is". The auto-complete robot will give you two frequent search terms: "crash is a terrible movie" and "crash is overrated".

I picked one search result more or less at random, and it is right: "This movie should be sentenced to 100 million hours of community service."

Posted by: hungrypug | March 5, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm still ticked that Goodfellas didn't take best picture and that was, what, 20 years ago? Some of these best picture winners just don't hold up over time.

Have to disagree about the Last Emperor. It's a shame it isn't widely known and didn't earn much money. It is a heart breakingly beautiful movie. Sorry, Liz, your case, not rested.

I think the Academy has made a mistake widening the field to 10 movies for best picture. I would hope that that means that comedy could get more consideration as a "best" -- what I think will happen is comedies will still get ignored and good, "3-star" movies will get elevated to a level that they don't really deserve.

Posted by: NW_Washington | March 5, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

NW_Washington, I agree. Presumably the Academy is allergic to copying the Golden Globes' wiser system of separate categories for dramas and comedies/musicals.

Under the new Oscar system, the best movie could theoretically win with just 10% of total votes + 1 (yeah, improbable, but I'm betting this year's winner garners less than 20%). Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 5, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm with you on all these as bad choices to win Best Picture (though sue me, I liked "The Last Emperor") but I can't agree on "Brokeback Mountain." UGH. Like watching tumbleweeds. Dragged on forever.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | March 5, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

I loved Crash and have no issue with it winning Best Picture. The Last Emperor was a gorgeous picture and I really disagree that any of the movies on Jen's list are undeserving. My picks for least win-worthy:

The Departed
Forest Gump
Terms of Endearment

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