The Worst Film & Actors That Won An Oscar
Special Contribution by Matt Sills
This year's Oscars were filled with drama not seen in recent ceremonies. What film would win Best Picture? Avatar or The Hurt Locker? It turns out the little seen war film won out over the juggernaut that is the James Cameron Effects-apalooza. And even though Best Picture still went to the wrong movie (Up and A Serious Man are far superior films than either of the front-runners), at least it didn't go to an overblown visual effects demo reel. If Avatar wins, the Academy loses whatever credibility it still has left. It gets to keep it for another year, but just barely. In honor of their near miss, we present to you the worst Oscar winners of the last 20 years in each of the major categories.
Worst Picture - Forrest Gump (1994)
Watch it again. Go ahead. See if it has the same effect on you as it did almost 16 years ago. It probably doesn't. Then compare it to two movies it was nominated against: The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction. Gump is one of those movies that, with a little time and perspective, has shown itself to be a product more of hype than of great film making Is it entertaining? At times, yes. It's also overlong, ridiculously sappy and has a central character that has no arc. Shawshank barely made its budget back, and even though it was nominated for seven Oscars, seemed to disappear until the advent of DVD. Then people started watching it, and realizing what an absolutely incredible piece of storytelling it was. It didn't have flashy effects, it didn't force you to feel things. It just presented friendship in the most heinous of conditions, and did so with an understated tone rarely seen these days. Today, it's rated as the #1 film of all time on IMDB. Pulp Fiction, simply put, changed film making as we know it. It redefined independent cinema, opened the floodgates for hundreds of Tarantino influenced filmmakers to bring their own sense of style to the screen, put "Royale with cheese" into the lexicon, and allowed John Travolta to buy a commercial jet. Shawshank and Pulp Fiction continue to inspire people to this day. Forrest Gump is nostalgia.
Worst Actor - Al Pacino - Scent of a Woman (1992)
It's bad enough that the other nominees for this award turned in performances that completely crush Pacino's. Denzel Washington turned in what may have been the best performance of his career as Malcolm X, and Robert Downey, Jr. portrayal of Charlie Chaplin is the only reason people kept giving him a chance during the drug years. Even Stephen Rea and Clint Eastwood, though not as good as the previous two, still turned in better performances than Pacino, in what may be the worst acting job to ever win an Oscar. Every once in awhile, the Academy gives out the "career" award, where they make up for years of overlooking worthy acting. This might be the quintessential "career" award (though John Wayne's win for True Grit comes close). Pacino should have won for Godfather Part II or Dog Day Afternoon. Instead, he was feted for this obnoxious performance in a truly forgettable film.
Worst Actress - Julia Roberts - Erin Brockovich (2000)
OK, it's not that Julia was bad. In fact, she was quite good. But quite good for Julia Roberts isn't saying much. She's always been more of a personality than a great actress, and this award reeks more of "Hey, we can finally give an award to Julia" than it does to honoring a great performance. It would have been the latter had it gone to the most deserving nominee: Ellen Burstyn. Reqium For A Dream is one of the most harrowing films ever created. It's depiction of drug addiction and its consequences might make you reconsider even taking a Tylenol. Burstyn plays a woman who lives between her fantasy world where she's a winner on a game show and her reality where she is addicted to weight loss medication and sedatives. It easily could have been an overblown mess, but Burstyn brings a disturbing reality rarely seen in film. Truly an amazing performance, and one that the conservative Academy never would have voted for.
Worst Screenplay - Dances With Wolves (1991)
This is more an indictment of all of Dances With Wolves' wins than just its Best Screenplay award, but we had to pick one, so why not single out Michael Berry's bloated, repetitive script. It probably laid the groundwork for Unforgiven's win two years later, and that film certainly deserved its accolades, but Dances With Wolves? Almost twenty years later, it's seen as the Kevin Costner vanity project that it always was. And then, there's Goodfellas, which like Pulp Fiction, changed the game. This was film making on whiskey, then cocaine, then both at the same time. Scorsese's sense of pacing has never been better. This is visceral film making at its finest. This is the real Godfather III. Goodfellas did what every great movie should: transported the audience into a world it hadn't seen before, showing us people we've never met, and allowing us insight into aspects of life we will probably never see again. The "Layla" montage is still one of the best four minutes of film ever. Try and remember any four minutes in Dances With Wolves.
Worst Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones - The Fugitive (1993)
1993 may have been one of the strongest years for Best Supporting Actor. John Malkovich turned in a truly terrifying performance as the would be presidential assassin in In The Line of Fire, while Leonardo DiCaprio turned in what was a career making turn as Arnie in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? But the best performance of the year came from an unknown Ralph Fiennes as the Nazi SS captain Amon Goth in Schindler's List. It's hard to make the Nazis accessible, but Finennes' performance didn't play into the stereotypes. He allowed us to see all sides of this man, and even feel compassionate towards him at times. It's an absolutely amazing performance in what could have been a thankless role. Instead, the Academy went for the safe choice in Jones, who had a solid but unassuming career up until then. He was good, but considering what he was up against, completely undeserving of the honor.
Worst Supporting Actress - Jennifer Connelly - A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Let's face it: there wasn't much to choose from that year. There were no standout performances in the supporting actress category, so it could have gone to any of those ladies. What stands out about this win is just how unremarkable not only Connelly's performance was, but how unremarkable the film that performance was in was. Everyone involved with this film has done incredible, Oscar worthy work, and some have actually won for that work. But just because you bring all of that talent together doesn't mean they deserve to win awards for it. A Beautiful Mind was the beneficiary of a fairly weak year for the Oscars, and Connelly's Oscar reflects that as well. It's like winning a prize because you're the only person that entered the contest.