In yesterday's entry, I lamented the fact that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was up for Best Picture this year. It's not that I am upset with the movie being up for consideration, it's nervousness that it might actually win. This fear stems from it leading the Oscar field with 13 nominations, its trappings of Oscar-bait, and the mere fact that it is far longer than it needs to be, a quality the Academy seems to adore in their Best Picture winners. Would it be a travesty if it won? Perhaps not, when you consider some of the last twenty years' examples of the finest Hollywood has to offer. In fact, an examination of this shows that Benjamin Button would be in very good company, indeed.
1990-Dances With Wolves
Dances came out before Hollywood and America decided that Kevin Costner was incapable of creating anything worth seeing. The Oscar win here also apparently encouraged Costner to have a clause written into both his directing and acting contracts that no movie he appeared in could have a running time of less than 2 solid hours. With this contract in mind, he has delivered such dreck as The Postman, Waterworld, Dragonfly, and 3000 Miles to Graceland. Every now and then he surfaces with an unbelievable shot of good taste, as he did in A Perfect World and The Upside of Anger. Dances isn't a bad movie, but it has two things going against it. First, it marked the pinnacle and subsequent downturn of Costner's career. This, however, can only be held against it in retrospect. The other is that its primary competition in 1990 was one of the greatest films ever made: Martin Scorsese's gangster opus, Goodfellas. And it is for this latter reason that Dances with Wolves makes the list.
1998--Shakespeare in Love
The first comedy to win Best Picture in 30 years. Except. . .it's not funny. Oh, and it's not engaging on a dramatic level. Oh, and it's insufferably boring. This movie is what is meant by the term "Oscar Bait". Females playing male roles (if only within the framework of the movie)? Check. Period piece? Check. Put out by Miramax, the kings of Oscar promotion? Double check. The competition for 1998's Best Picture award was thin, but Saving Private Ryan probably should have taken the award this year.
Of all the movies on this list, Gladiator is the most baffling. It is the only movie that cannot be objectively judged as even being "good", much less worthy of Best Picture status. It starts off with some intriguing medieval war, and goes steadily downhill from there. Not even Joaquin Phoenix's excellent acting can save this movie from going straight down the commodus. The competition in this category was indeed pretty weak, with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Traffic, and Erin Brockovich all vying for the title. All decent flicks (okay, not Erin Brockovich, which would have been better suited to a TV movie of the week), but doubly angering when you look at some of the films from that year that were ignored. Requiem for a Dream, The Cell, and Almost Famous all came out in 2000 and would have made far superior choices.
For a brief moment in the wake of 9/11, the Academy lost its mind and decided to give the Best Picture award to a hammy, glammy, feel-good spectacle, derived from the Broadway show of the same name. One could excuse this lapse of good judgment, if it were not for Gangs of New York sitting right there in the nominations. Scorcese gets screwed again.
Speaking of TV movies of the week. I actually enjoyed Crash, but I was still baffled when it was nominated, and subsequently won Best Picture. In this respect, it is actually the film most like this year's Benjamin Button. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, it just isn't quite up to that level. Also, this should have been Brokeback Mountain's award in a landslide, but the Academy apparently decided it could conquer its racism, but not its homophobia.
So that leaves us with 2008 and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. As I said in the last post, I'm a long way from having seen every good movie this year, but that just makes it all the worse that I can easily come up with several films worthier of Button's spot on the nominations list, including Wall-E, The Wrestler, The Dark Knight, Doubt, and The Fall. In fact, if those were the five nominated for Best Picture, I think I would be a lot happier with the Academy. Where's P.T. Anderson and the Coens when you need them?