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Oscars

Nothing to say about the nomination, really. I do find it noteworthy how many of the recent-ish Best Picture winners have been movies I think are straight-up bad. The 94-97 Gump/Braveheart/English Patient/Titanic period is especially bleak. Having been vastly overrated in its day, I think there's now a tendency to overstate American Beauty's flaws, but it's still more "annoying" than "good." I recall liking Shakespeare in Love but it was sufficiently forgettable that I've pretty literally forgotten it.

By contrast, every single winner from the 70s and 80s is a good movie, though not always the best of the year.

February 1, 2006 | Permalink

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"I do find it noteworthy how many of the recent-ish Best Picture winners have been movies I think are straight-up bad."

Yup.

"Having been vastly overrated in its day, I think there's now a tendency to overstate American Beauty's flaws"

Overrated? I've never met anyone with decent taste who's liked that movie.

"The 94-97 Gump/Braveheart/English Patient/Titanic period is especially bleak."

Meh. Titanic is an out and out good movie. Gump and English Patient are borderline good.

-----

"By contrast, every single winner from the 70s and 80s is a good movie, though not always the best of the year."

Now you're on to something.

There are a couple of clunkers in the 80's, much like there are a couple of winners in the 90's. But it's quite true overall that the quality of the average oscar™ winner has dropped drastically post 1990.

The question, of course, is why. While Kurt Cobain's suicide seems at first to be an adequate explanation, on second thought, it may not suffice.

I'd say it has to do with the rise of the studio "speciality" divisions.

The types of quality projects that were being made by the studios with full budgets and distribution in the 70's and 80's, today get made by the studio "specialty" divisions, with smaller budgets and more restricted distribution.

Since the oscars™ like to showcase widely distributed movies for economic reasons, the quality projects that were winning in the 70's and 80's aren't even considered today.

Think, for example, of a movie like The Squid and the Whale. Twenty years ago, it would've been a big budget / wide distribution movie instead of the quasi-indie movie it gets made as today. The ghetto-ization of the indie market is what results in movies like Lord of the Rings winning oscars™.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 1, 2006 1:09:22 AM

That's crazy. Braveheart was a good movie. Titanic, English Patient, and Gump, not so much.

The strange thing among recent years is how good 2003 was, when there was FOUR Best Picture-worthy films.

Posted by: Al | Feb 1, 2006 1:25:17 AM

Never watched Braveheart, Titanic, English Patient, or Gump more than once. In fact most of both the winners and the nominees have been disappointments for a long time. Wasn't impressed by Lost in Translation. LoTR has worn out its welcome.

Course, it is a matter of taste. The movies I liked on that page include Sideways, Pianist, In the Bedroom, Crouching Tiger, Sixth Sense, Elizabeth, going back a ways. I watch these over and over. The rest I can live without. I would rather give two hours to Deadwood.

Just saw Million Dollar Baby and liked first half a bunch(hint:anyone with that style of boxing is guaranteed to win fights and guaranteed to get hurt, and the veterans knew it. Nasty movie.). Also Bad Education and Sin City. I am so bored with Hollywood bullshit.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 1, 2006 1:44:34 AM

Titanic is an out and out good movie.

This is beyond wrong. It's a horrible movie. Worse, I suspect its success had really, really bad effects on the sorts of films that were made afterwards.

I think the 70s are widely considered something of a second golden age of Hollywood film. IIRC, you have the first generation of school-trained directors coming on line. Lots of influence from foreign filmmakers. Acceptance of film as an art form. I just looked at a list of the Oscar nominees in the 70s and 80s. I knew the films were better, but OMG. '74-'75 is astonishing.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Feb 1, 2006 2:30:55 AM

Actually, the Oscars have never had very much to do with "best." Some good, and a few great* movies have won Oscars, but that's just been occassional dumb luck. The Oscars tend to be popularity contests that, at best, could be said to reward professionalism. Hence the triumph in 1941 of How Green Was My Valley, a movie by John Ford,a respected industry professional, over Citizen Kane, a movie directed by the widely resented enfant terrible Orson Welles.

As far as I'm concerned the nadir of the Oscars was reached in the early 80s. I think Ordinary People, Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, Terms of Endearment, Amdadeus, and especially Out of Africa are precisely the kind of self-important, middlebrow, and slow as molasses movies that have given the Oscars a bad name. On the other hand, as much as I dislike Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Titanic, American Beauty, Gladiator, Chicago, and Return of the King, at least those movies were reliable money makers whose aesthetics were primarily rooted in a genuine drive to entertain. Those movies deserved rewards for bringing home the bacon while being at least somewhat more artistically credible than Big Mamma's House 2.

The Academy only truly embarrasses itself when it seems compelled to reward a movie just for being "good for you" or socially important, as in the early 80s slate of Oscar winners, or more recently with The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love (sorry, but when compared to Anthony Burgess' Nothing But the Sun, Stoppard's vision of young Shakespeare is unbearably trite).

*To be more precise, exactly four great movies have happened to win Oscars - It Happened One Night, Casablanca, and The Godfather Parts I & II.

Posted by: Paul Johnson | Feb 1, 2006 2:46:02 AM

I could stand Dances with Wolves beating out Goodfellas -- it was total bullshit, but I could stand it. But that stupid Gump movie beating out Pulp Fiction drives me nuts to this day. I haven't been able to care much about the winners ever since. (If I had, I would have spent the last few years complaining non-stop about Gladiator's win.)

I'd take Annie Hall or The Apartment over It Happened One Night, though.

Posted by: Royko | Feb 1, 2006 3:12:03 AM

Good call on the 94-97 bunch, although Braveheart is at least vaguely watchable in a switch-off-your-brain kind of way. I think it's noteworthy that not only are these films bad, they're quite offensive to taste as well: they're all overblown self-important pieces of pap that think they're saying something profound in an artistic way but are in fact disappearing up their own arses in a very tedious and nauseatingly sentimental way. And Shakespeare in Love definitely belongs in this category, even though I practically worship Stoppard as a playwright.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Feb 1, 2006 6:21:50 AM

Just shoot me in the head before forcing me to watch Annie Hall, Kramer vs Kramer, Ordinary People, Out of Africa, or The Last Emperor. While I'm not such a fan of Terms of Endearment, I can at least acknowledge the fine performances by Shirley MacLain and Debra Winger. Even movies like the Deer Hunter and the French Connection are for the most part boring except for certain memorable scenes.

While 94-97 may have been bleak, 91-93 with Silence of the Lambs, Unforgiven, and Schindler's List was excellent. In recent years, I've enjoyed A Beautiful Mind, Million Dollar Baby, and thought Gladiator was a good movie that won in a down year with no competition.

I think there's always been a fair amount of over-hyped crap celebrated by Hollywood. I question whether it smells any worse today than it did 20-30 years ago.

Posted by: Just Karl | Feb 1, 2006 9:21:30 AM

Gladiator was a terrible movie. From bad acting, to bad plots, to bad dialougue, to cheap special effects it was terrible on a variety of fronts. And then Derek Jacobi shows up to remind everyone that you can have a great story in Rome if you tried.

Posted by: Rob | Feb 1, 2006 10:19:13 AM

Doesn't One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest have to go on the list of Great Movies to win best picture?

For my money, I think Dances with Wolves may be the beginning of decline, though at the time I know people took the Costner epic seriously.

Now if we can just reverse the tragedy that was LoTR beating out Mystic River.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Feb 1, 2006 11:03:49 AM

Out of Africa? Chariots of Fire?

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Feb 1, 2006 11:19:31 AM

The problem seems to be quite simply that the wrong movie won. Even among the nominees I can see movies that we still remember today. Perhaps it has something to do with the Best Picture Oscar becoming more of a popularity contest than ever before. How else to explain Titanic?

Posted by: bhagavathy | Feb 1, 2006 11:20:40 AM

1974 was a stellar year. But while Godfather Part II was a great movie, it should have lost to its better, Chinatown.

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Feb 1, 2006 11:55:19 AM

I fully disagree with Just Karl's opinion of the French Connection--I think it's incredibly entertaining. But, even if one thinks it is boring, it has been profoundly influential on a whole generation of filmmakers, and not just because of the chase sequence.

Posted by: Goldberg | Feb 1, 2006 11:56:27 AM

What Rob said. Gladiator has to rank up there with Titanic as most overrated movie of all time. The difference is that large numbers of people admit that Titanic is absolute dreck.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Feb 1, 2006 12:04:36 PM

Oh, the irony of Petey:

"Overrated? I've never met anyone with decent taste who's liked (American Beauty)."

Shortly followed by...

"Meh. Titanic is an out and out good movie."

Very amusing. Not that I'm defending AB, which I also think is overrated, but try finding someone with decent taste who thinks Titanic's script is anything but complete junk. Even the Academy recognized that fact: it's the only Best Picture winner of the last 40 years that wasn't even NOMINATED for its screenplay.

Posted by: Haggai | Feb 1, 2006 12:05:33 PM

"*To be more precise, exactly four great movies have happened to win Oscars - It Happened One Night, Casablanca, and The Godfather Parts I & II."

I certainly agree on the greatness of those four, but there's also Mutiny on the Bounty ('35 version), The Best Years of Our Lives, Lawrence of Arabia...plus several more.

Posted by: Haggai | Feb 1, 2006 12:10:59 PM

"Not that I'm defending AB, which I also think is overrated, but try finding someone with decent taste who thinks Titanic's script is anything but complete junk. Even the Academy recognized that fact: it's the only Best Picture winner of the last 40 years that wasn't even NOMINATED for its screenplay."

I'd have no problem going along with you if you want to say that AB's script is better than Titanic's script. But so what?

Features are a director's medium. Lousy script and good direction always ends up better than good script and lousy direction. Go to the theater or watch sitcoms and soaps if you like the priorities the other way 'round.

(Note how Alan Ball succeeded in soaps where he'd failed with features.)

Posted by: Petey | Feb 1, 2006 12:42:11 PM

Yeah, I do think Titanic had some good things going for it, certainly the effects and a lot of the spectacle. Cameron did some good work there.

But that script...it's SOOOO BAAAAD. Plenty of good or even great movies have scripts that aren't much more than mediocre, but one that's so genuinely awful is too much to overcome. And some of Cameron's directorial choices along those lines in Titanic were bad as well. Like the scene where Kate and Leo are dancing with all the poor people below deck, and they spin each other around while the camera cuts between them while the background spins behind them...WTF is THAT brainless cliche doing in ANY movie, save for maybe a Naked Gun-style parody?

Posted by: Haggai | Feb 1, 2006 12:54:10 PM

Excuse you, sir! Braveheart is an excellent movie.

Posted by: Kleinheider | Feb 1, 2006 1:34:30 PM

For me the years when the oscar movie winner is both a first rate movie and the best movie nominated were: 1992, 1991, 1977, 1976, 1974, 1972, 1961, 1960, 1957, 1954, 1951, 1943

This leads to:

00s-0
90s-2
80s-0
70s-4
60s-2
50s-3
40s-1
30s-0

The seventies is the winner but I had to prefer Rocky to Taxi Driver to avoid a tie with the fifties.

Posted by: joe o | Feb 1, 2006 1:39:07 PM

I'm not claiming that Gladiator was one of the greatest movies of all time, but which movie from 2000 was? Chocolat? Erin Brockovich? Traffic? Crouching tiger? Of these movies, I think Gladiator will best stand the test of time.

Which are the most overrated movies of all time? I've already listed the French Connection (very cheesy 70's slum NY)and I don't like any of DeNiro's early work like Ragging Bull or Taxi Driver. I would also include Field of Dreams, Sideways, and Castaway. I can't figure how these films even got nominated for anything.

My underrated movies include Hoosiers, Broadcast News, and Shawshank.

Posted by: Just Karl | Feb 1, 2006 1:45:02 PM

The French Connection, while entertaining, has a stupid ending. They loved them some downer endings in the seventies. The director of chinatown convinced the writer to change the ending to make it depressing. That doesn't happen too often nowadays, but at least the ending to chinatown makes sense. How the hell did the villian escape in French Connection? They had him surrounded.

Posted by: joe o | Feb 1, 2006 1:46:27 PM

BTW - anybody else see what Ross Douthat wrote about Crash? He absolutely loathed the movie ("the result is a self-serious propaganda film that browbeats the audience to advance the most banal ideas imaginable, or no ideas at all - like Triumph of the Will for Unitarians"). That is exactly spot on.

I didn't like Crash either. But I am a Unitarian, so I really can't agree with his conclusion.

Posted by: Al | Feb 1, 2006 2:01:26 PM

Better films than Gladiator in 2000 (undeniably better - in my opinion 95% of films in 2000 were better than Gladiator):

Requiem For A Dream
Crouching Tiger
Traffic
You Can Count On Me
X-Men
Chicken Run
Almost Famous
Amores Perros
Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Feb 1, 2006 2:07:31 PM

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