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Overrated & Underrated Oscar Winners For Best Picture

February 16th, 2009 9:00am EST | Andrew Payne By: Andrew Payne favorite Add to My News
GladiatorSaying a Best Picture winner is overrated is quite simple. If you think a movie is terrible and it won Best Picture ipso facto it is overrated. But what about an underrated Best Picture winner?

By definition, it should be impossible for a Best Picture winner to be underrated. Why? Because they already won - so their greatness is recognized. It's like having an underrated Hall-of-Famer or underrated Adult Film Award Winner, it should be impossible.

That simply isn't true, however. There are several Best Picture winners that have been completely forgotten over the years, many times due to a film they beat being though of as a victim of a miscarriage of Oscar justice.

This is true in many cases, but often it isn't. There are several Best Picture winners that have become so underrated, that many don't even remember they won. And, of course, there are many Best Picture winners that suck.

The following are the five most overrated and underrated Oscar Winners for Best Picture:

UNDERRATED

Gentleman's Agreement5. "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947)

Fear not, this is the most obscure film on the list, but also one of the best. It's a devastating portion of post World War II racism as experienced by Jewish residents of Manhattan. It concerns the plight of Philip Green (Gregory Peck), a widowed journalist who pretends to be Jewish in order to write an article about anti-Semitism. He discovers how deep anti-Jewish sentiment runs in the city and even in his own family. It sounds like the plot of a reality show, but it's really a brilliant ahead-of-its-time genre that deals with subjects of race and bigotry better than nearly any film.



In the Heat of the Night4. "In the Heat of the Night" (1967)

Another brilliant examination of race, "In the Heat of the Night" concerns homicide detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) helping out a racist sheriff (Rod Steiger) in a racist town solve a murder. It's become cliché at this point, but Tibbs quickly proves his worth to the sheriff and the rest of the town, as he showcases his expert detective skills. This is one of those films that seems dated, but it's only because it's been copied so many times. This usually leads to films becoming overrated in retrospect (because their decedents are often superior), but this remains an excellent snapshot of the times and a powerful portrait of racial tension. Sadly, most only remember it as the TV series they used to re-run on USA starring Archie Bunker. Now that's underrated.

The Apartment3. "The Apartment" (1960)

This movie was shockingly ahead of its time with the story of a man who lets his bosses use his apartment to cheat on their wives so that he can quickly move up in the company. Doesn't that seem controversial even today? Of course, a love triangle ensues as he falls in love with one of his boss' mistresses and woos her with a sort of schlocky charm that only Jack Lemmon could pull off. But this isn't all whimsy and wonder. Darker themes like suicide and inadequacy permeate this film for a very real portrayal of a courtship. Not at all the type of Hollywood romance that dominated the time.



How Green Was My Valley2. "How Green Was My Valley" (1941)

Perhaps the defining example of a film that became underrated because of what it beat. "Valley" bested "Citizen Kane", "The Maltese Falcon" and "Sgt. York" among others to take home the prize. Because it isn't held in such high esteem as its fellow nominees, many disregard it, but they shouldn't. This is an excellent tale of family and the hopelessness of oppressive work set in a Welsh mining town. In fact, it was such venomous take on the bleak condition of the working class and their need to organize that its writer eventually ran into trouble with the HUAC based on the screenplay. The film may not be as good as many that it beat, but that's just because those are some of the 50 best movies of all time. This is more like a top 75 film. Still pretty good, no?

Shakespeare in Love1. "Shakespeare in Love" (1998)

This movie will forever and always be known as the film that won instead of "Saving Private Ryan" and supposedly the most despicable example of how dirty campaigning wins out over filmic quality at the Academy Awards. Lost in all that nonsense is the fact that "Shakespeare in Love" actually deserved to win the award that year because it's an excellent film. First of all, it's absolutely hilarious. Secondly, it's an incredibly smart screenplay written by Tom Stoppard, who may be the smartest man alive. Thirdly, "Saving Private Ryan" would certainly be on the overrated list had it won that year. This is a perfect example of how people devalue comedy. What is so wrong with an ingenious comedy that hits every not and features superb performances? Because it's not wrought with slaughter it's unworthy? Please. This is as worthy a Best Picture winner as any, regardless of popular opinion.

OVERRATED

Ben-Hur5. "Ben-Hur" (1959)

This film is tied with "Lord of the Rings the Return of the King" (slightly overrated, but nearly enough for this list) and "Titanic" (not on the list because we've all reached the point where we realize this movie isn't very good) for the most Oscars ever won. Sure it's visually and technically impressive, but it's also nearly four hours of the worst kind of faux-David Lean wide shots and inaction that are often incredibly dull. This is best exemplified by its two most famous scenes: the "ramming speed" ship scene and the chariot race. Both are exhilarating to a point but become overlong to the point that they wear themselves out. Kind of like the rest of the movie. Yet this is still hailed as the gold standard of Oscar epics due to its number of Oscar wins.

The French Connection4. "The French Connection" (1971)

"In the Heat of the Night" is one of those films that's been ripped-off countlessly but still holds up because nobody ever outdid it. "The French Connection" is the complete opposite. Its idea of casting slick and charming villains against loathsome and gruff heroes has almost become the standard nowadays, and the fact that it is really the only thing that made "Connection" stand out at the time will leave those who watch it for the first time nowadays wondering why it was even nominated for Best Picture. This is a simple fact but one that everybody sees fit to ignore in retrospect. People still hold it in high esteem even though if it had been released ten years later it would be dismissed as a formulaic cop flick. It may have invented the formula, but it certainly didn't perfect it - that was done in "Die Hard". Also, that car chase, totally overrated.

Gladiator3. "Gladiator" (2000)

Anybody who holds this movie in high esteem should think back to this scene at near the beginning of the movie. Maximus is lying on the ground after escaping execution and suddenly the ground starts moving underneath him with special effects that would make the old "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" green screen game blush. This is supposed to show us Maximus' racing back to his family, but it really is so laughably cheesy that Ed Wood would have left it on the cutting room floor. Yet this movie still won a Best Picture despite containing such an awful scene. Sure, that shouldn't totally disqualify it, but the fact that the rest of the film is really just a better acted version of "Troy" kind of does. Despite this, there are still probably millions of testosterone-fueled men who consider this their favorite movie. How did that happen? Oh, because it won Best Picture it's "okay" for them to say that.

Platoon2. "Platoon" (1986)

This is as run-of-the-mill as run-of-the mill war movies get. It brought nothing new to the table and really ran the exact same thematic grounds as "Apocalypse Now," right down to casting Martin Sheen's son in the lead role. It unearths no new territory and doesn't say anything about Vietnam that hadn't been said for the two decades prior to its release in countless films, songs, novels and everything else. It just basically cobbles together everything from every piece of art or literature about Vietnam to create an incredibly mediocre collage of the experience. Amazingly, this is also widely considered the best Vietnam War Movie ever despite the fact that "Full Metal Jacket", "Apocalypse Now" and "The Deer Hunter" exist. Overrated all around.

Crash1. "Crash" (2004)

Here is a short play called - "Reactions of People Walking Out of 'Crash' Who Saw it Opening Weekend (April 2005)"

FIRST GUY: What'd you think?

SECOND GUY: Eh, it was all right - what'd you think Gina?

GIRL: It was okay. I liked some of the stories - some not so much.

FIRST GUY: Yeah.

SECOND GUY: Yeah.

GIRL: Wanna go get some coffee?

BOTH GUYS: Sure.

THE END

Now a short play entitled "Two People Having Just Seen 'Crash' After it had Been Deified by Oprah and 9,000 Other Media Outlets"

HUSBAND: What'd you think?

WIFE: Just an amazing, otherwordly, inexplicable experience.

HUSBAND: I'm just gonna say this - powerful.

WIFE: Yes. Yes. So powerful. So very powerful.

HUSBAND: I just don't think my life will ever be the same.

WIFE: Mine either. Mine either.

(They both die after being crushed by the power of the movie.)

THE END

This movie is without a doubt the most startling example of how quickly media hype can overrate a movie. There isn't a person on the planet who saw this movie when it came out that thought it was any better than okay. Why is that? Because it is just okay. It's extremely preachy, it tells and doesn't show, and has so much dead weight with a few of its intersecting stories. Face it, no matter how much you like this movie you'll always flip away whenever Sandra Bullock hits the screen when it comes on Starz. How can a movie be great when 30% of the stories are terrible. How can a movie be an earth-shatteringly powerful statement when it does nothing but preach at us for two hours? The answer? It can't. Because it's Not. Very. Good.

What do you think are the most overrated and underrated Best Picture winners? Let us know in the comments!

Andrew Payne
Story by Andrew Payne

Starpulse contributing writer


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