Movies | January 24, 2019 5:00 am

The Top 10 Worst Best Picture Oscar Winners

"Titanic," "Rocky" and "Crash" on RCL movie expert's list.

Kevin Costner holding an American flag in a scene from the film 'Dances With Wolves', 1990. (Getty Images)
Kevin Costner holding an American flag in a scene from the film 'Dances With Wolves', 1990. (Getty Images)
Getty Images

If Lady Gaga, newly minted Oscar nominee for Best Actress, wins an Oscar for A Star is Born it has the potential to make history as one of the worst awards ever given by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Tuesday’s nominations had their usual share of snubs and surprises. So sorry to Bradley Cooper for not being recognized for Best Director for his directorial debut (Or as Variety put it; “Cooper got Afflecked”). At least a Best Actor nomination might provide some consolation although it’s looking like mud in the tea leaves that his film won’t pull out Best Picture.

My favorite movie of the year, Roma, is ascendant. Shout out to its female stars, Yalitzia Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, for snagging well-deserved recognition in a Best Actress/Best Supporting Actress double play for two previously unknown Mexican actors.

Take a note, Bradley, the nutty highs and lows of awards season are all part of Oscar history.

You win some, you lose some — and some of the winners are losers! Here are ten Best Pictures that still leave me gobsmacked wondering why they got gold.


 I’ve taken heat on this one but when I see James Cameron’s bloated 1997 period disaster romance, I root for Billy Zane’s Snidely Whiplash villain over gooey dewy lovers Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio. Three hours and 14 minutes? The first thing I would do is cut the wraparound narrative with Bill Paxton’s shipwreck-obsessed treasure hunter (and Cameron alter-ego) – it’s all just whale blubber to the central story. Get me to the iceberg quicker! Even then, to me, Winslet and DiCaprio have as much spark as wet matches.   


Rarely has a movie’s title so aptly reflected an Oscar race: a car wreck. A mosaic of Hollywood neurosis, disgraced director and former Scientologist Paul Haggis’ pretentious multi-storyline portrait of Los Angeles swooped in to best some not crazy great opposition: Good Night, and Good Luck; Brokeback Mountain; and Capote. I would have given everything to David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence – but it wasn’t even nominated.   


Do you even remember this one from 1968? If you were channel surfing and it was airing in the middle of the big number “Food, Glorious Food” would you keep on clicking? Starring Ron Moody as the evil Fagin and Mark Lester as the orphan hero Oliver Twist, the Dickens downer as musical has its place in film history – directed by Carol Reed and considered #77 in the top 100 of British cinema by the British Film Institute.  But it was watershed year 1968: why not Franco Zeffirelli’s perfect Romeo and Juliet or Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey?    


 We all love a rags-to-riches story – and no one more than Sylvester Stallone. I have a very big soft spot for Ryan Coogler’s 2015 reboot Creed, but no one has ever accused Stallone of being the gold standard of writer-director-stars. Best Picture and Best Director in 1976 over Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver? You could say Stallone’s no Scorsese – or even Clint Eastwood.

A Beautiful Mind

The Academy, when faced with more challenging fare, often goes deep middle-brow. Ron Howard’s air-brushed 2001 biopic starring Russell Crowe as Nobel Prize winning schizophrenic mathematician John Nash sidesteps the not-so-pretty spousal abuse. Nash reportedly assaulted his wife (prettily played by Jennifer Connelly) at a faculty picnic where he held her neck down under the sole of his shoe. Antisemitism was another ugly attribute – not to mention the illegitimate child and the public indecency.  

The King’s Speech

 I love a stuttering Colin Firth as much as the next Anglophile but sometimes Masterpiece Theater-itis overcomes the Academy. Most episodes of The Crown are more nuanced, and yet this George VI overcoming a speech impediment period piece that again exhumes the monarchy’s embarrassing Edward VII abdication saga to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson (without addressing the dashing couple’s much more shaming Nazi sympathies) became the bland consensus vote of 2010.  

Shakespeare in Love

 The Academy-seducing power of Harvey Weinstein pre-fall is in full evidence in John Madden’s engaging 1998 bit of period piffle pushing Gwyneth Paltrow (another time for why she is the worst possible Pepper Potts) as the love of the bard’s life. A pleasant romp, a Saturday date movie, a pretty bit of cross-dressing – yes! But seven Oscars and the best movie over Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line or even the completely overlooked Rushmore, The Big Lebowski and Out of Sight?  Crack pipe, please.

Forrest Gump

When I saw Robert Zemeckis’ sprawling 1994 mess-that-would-be-Oscar at the Ziegfeld Theater, the woman beside me was weeping profusely. I sat beside her untouched, refusing to be manipulated. My only tears were for that take-me-seriously 142-minute running time. Maybe it’s just not my box of chocolates, but if there was ever a definition of poisonous kitsch in American cinema this would be it.   

Dances with Wolves

 I love me some Kevin Costner as a straight-laced, square-jawed American hero in The Bodyguard or The Untouchables or Field of Dreams. But Dances with Wolves is his Western Waterworld. Costner’s danger zone is when he takes himself too seriously and in this self-directed, tediously researched 181- minute film, his Native-American friendly U.S. soldier Lieutenant Dunbar is as serious-as-a-tomahawk and twice as deadly.

Kramer vs. Kramer

Let’s face it: Robert Benton’s 1980 divorce drama hasn’t aged well – and it seems like the point of Oscar is to cite the movies that will stand the test of time. Sure, in 2019, it reeks of white people’s problems but if that were a disqualifier, we’d have to toss a lot of movies down the well. What might have seemed fresh at the time seems decidedly middle-brow. And not nearly so incendiary as later behind-the-scenes tattles of the battles between groper Dustin Hoffman and rising star Meryl Streep (both of whom won Oscars) – and his “overstepping” slap on their first day of shooting.