My sister reported watching and hating Reds, maybe my all-time favorite movie. It got me thinking about the best movies I have seen, and the movies I have seen that were highly touted, yet I didn’t like. Here are some the Academy Awards for Best Picture, ones that I have seen, and ones I thought should have been the Best Picture for that year instead.
There are years in which I saw very few movies, so they aren’t all listed here.
1953: From Here to Eternity. Amazing film.
1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai. The plot of this film is riveting. Runner-up: 12 Angry Men.
1959: Ben-Hur. I know this is supposed to be a classic, especially the chariot race, but this is the most closeted home-erotic film of all time. Should have won: North by Northwest.
1962: Lawrence of Arabia. This is a top ten film for me.
1966: A Man for All Seasons. I love this film for a lot of reasons, especially the intelligent, elegant dialog, and the idea of a man standing up for his beliefs no matter what befalls him. A dent is this script is its revisionist absence of Thomas More’s cruel persecution of heretics.
1970: Patton. Love the story, the cinematography, the acting. Great film.
1976: Rocky. Should have won: All the President’s Men. Marry this with The Post, and you have an evening of truly engaging stories about journalism. But then there’s Taxi Driver. It was a good year for films.
1977: Annie Hall. My wife hated Woody Allen for his personal life, but I never turn down the chance to spend the evening with Annie. Also of note: this was the lowest-grossing Best Picture of all time.
1978: The Deer Hunter. Coming Home was a close second. But I don’t feel engaged by either of these films. Their biggest flaws was my inability to relate to any of the characters. Should have won: Interiors, possibly my number two favorite movie. It’s not an easy movie to love, but I relate to every character.
1979: Kramer vs Kramer. Should have won: Apocalypse Now.
1980: Ordinary People. Maybe in my top five list.
1981: Chariots of Fire. This one might go in my bottom ten list. Should have won: Reds.
1982: Gandhi. Also in my top five list.
1983: Terms of Endearment. Almost unwatchable. Should have won: The Big Chill or The Right Stuff.
1984: Amadeus. Watched and was engaged, but wasn’t the best that year, especially the way it let Tom Hulce be just a little bit 1980s. Should have won: The Killing Fields.
1985: Out of Africa was a long, boring masterpiece. Should have won: The Color Purple, which is also kind of a long, boring masterpiece.
1986: Platoon. I considered Platoon as one of my favorite war movies for years, but it hasn’t age well, especially tainted by the presence of Charlie Sheen and his wooden narration and 80s haircut. Should have won: Hannah and Her Sisters.
1987: The Last Emperor. Meh. Should have won: Broadcast News.
1988: Rain Man. This movie made a huge splash, but I might have watched it one more time. Should have won: it wasn’t a great year in film, so maybe Colors or Wings of Desire. Die Hard was fun, but isn’t really “great.”
1989: Driving Miss Daisy. I am one of the few who are really bored by this film. Should have won: Dead Poets Society.
1990: Dances with Wolves. I reluctantly accept this win, with the caveat that I despise Kevin Costner’s bland, monotonal narration.
1991: The Silence of the Lambs. It has its moments, but given a choice, Slacker is the 1991 film for me.
1992: Unforgiven. Abby and I both loved it.
1993: Schindler’s List. This isn’t, as a film critic friend of mine recently pointed out, a fun film to watch, but it merits its Best Picture standing. Unfortunately, it competes with The Age of Innocence, another movie in my top ten.
1994: Forrest Gump. I never liked this movie. Should have won: Pulp Fiction. Duh.
1995: Braveheart. I am really bugged by this movie’s revisionist history, and it’s too long. Should have won but surprisingly is not even nominated: Heat.
1996: The English Patient. Long and boring. Should have won: Fargo.
1997: Titanic. This movie might be at the top of the “Worst Best Pictures Ever” list. My girlfriend in 2000 wouldn’t shut up about it. Should have won: maybe Good Will Hunting, but it wasn’t a very good year in film.
1998: Shakespeare in Love. Should have won: The Thin Red Line.
1999: American Beauty. This movie takes us down a dark path, but it’s masterful.
2000: Gladiator. I love this movie, but often turn it down in favor of something easier to watch.
2001: A Beautiful Mind. This might be Russell Crowe’s best work.
2002: Chicago. Should have won: The Pianist.
2003: The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. Abby and I gave the Lord trilogy its day in court, and found it guilty of boring us. Should have won: hmm. It wasn’t a good year.
2004: Million Dollar Baby. This movie was great, but so difficult to watch at the end. Should have won: The Aviator.
2005: Crash. Should have won: Brokeback Mountain, maybe another near the top of my list. An interesting aside is that people who don’t understand relationships or society very well called this “a gay cowboy movie,” but is really about how the difficult pursuit of happiness is, and the consequences of adultery.
2006: The Departed is a pretty solid choice, but I also liked Letters from Iwo Jima, the companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, also a great film. It’s a toss-up.
2007: No Country for Old Men. Abby never turned down this movie, so we saw it a dozen or more times; it’s a great piece of cinema.
2009: The Hurt Locker impressed me on the first pass, but re-viewing revealed it’s flaws. Should have won: Inglourious Basterds.
2017: The Shape of Water. This might have been more of a political win. Should have won: Dunkirk.
2021: CODA. Should have won: Don’t Look Up!, just because it is SO funny.
In constructing this list, I looked at a lot of lists of movies, and I felt very discouraged at the state of entertainment. There are too many sequels made just to sell tickets, and too many showy special-effects movies that don’t have good plot or characters. Many nights, it’s smarter to read a good book.