After 91 years of Oscar best pictures, the Academy’s bound to get one wrong now and then.
Sometimes fate steps in: Remember Envelopegate? At the 2017 Academy Awards, the musical “La La Land” was named best picture – and then it wasn’t, when the correct envelope revealed indie drama “Moonlight” as the winner. As if the gods of cinema inserted themselves to make sure the right movie was honored rather than the one with the guy trying to save jazz.
“The ref made a bad call,” Spike Lee said that night. Well, it wasn’t the first time.
Before another movie joins the hallowed ranks at the 92nd annual Oscars (ABC, Feb. 9, 8 ET/5 PT), we’re rethinking past best picture winners and the films that should have conquered them.
Did win: “How Green Was My Valley”
Should have won: “Citizen Kane”
Perhaps the most egregious mistake came relatively early in Oscars history, with John Ford’s coal-country drama – which took five Academy Awards to alone “Kane” screenplay win – getting the nod over Orson Welles’ epic about an eccentric media mogul that is widely regarded as the best movie ever made.
Did win: “A Man for All Seasons”
Should have won: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
That year’s best picture win went to a rousingly successful Sir Thomas More biopic with a bunch of awards-season gold. But come on, “Man,” they should have gone for Mike Nichols’ debut black comedy about marital strife. It’s absolutely nuts, risky for its time, and features astounding turns from Richard Burton and especially Elizabeth Taylor.
Did win: “The Sting”
Should have won: “The Exorcist”
Both were huge hits that came in with 10 nominations, and Robert Redford and Paul Newman’s ragtime-tinged con-man caper was the safe choice. “The Exorcist”was the true standout, a fright-fest masterpiece about faith and innocence that’s scared the socks off folks for four decades.
Did win: “Kramer vs. Kramer”
Should have won: “Apocalypse Now”
Not to take anything away from the wrenching look at divorce with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, but “Apocalypse Now” was unlike any war film that came before it, an operatic and grandiose episode that delved into the horrors, physical and otherwise, inherent on the battlefield.
Did win: “Chariots of Fire”
Should have won: “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
One was a true-life story of Olympic athletes that we remember now mostly because of its catchy theme song. The other was a rip-roaring, two-fisted and hugely influential ode to the serial adventures of yesteryear – with an adventurous archaeologist on the hunt for the Ark of the Covenant – that took pop culture by storm. And a “Raiders” win would have been a game-changer for blockbusters.
Did win: “Forrest Gump”
Should have won: “Pulp Fiction”
Tom Hanks literally running through history in the overly earnest “Gump” is what the Oscars, at least back in the day, lived for. Not so much Quentin Tarantino’s genre mash-up “Pulp Fiction,” an ultraviolent, narratively complex cultural phenomenon that wasn’t just the best picture that year but arguably of the entire decade.
Did win: “The English Patient”
Should have won: “Fargo”
Anthony Minghella’s romantic World War II drama is a fine film, though it tests viewers’ patience over the course of three hours. On the other hand, “Fargo” spawned a TV series and a fandom for the Coen brothers’ winningly quirky black comedy about murderous deeds and dimwits in snow-covered Minnesota.
Did win: “Shakespeare in Love”
Should have won: “Saving Private Ryan”
“Dunkirk” and “1917” have also gone the route of putting the audience right in the middle of the horrors of war, but “Private Ryan” did it best – and with “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks, no less. “Shakespeare” had an intriguing concept as a referential, experimental biopic but it has no business upending another Spielberg classic.
Did win: “Crash”
Should have won: “Brokeback Mountain”
Paul Haggis’ interwoven all-star drama about racial tensions in L.A., plagued by mixed reviews and complaints of stereotyping, has caught flak for more than 10 years as an Oscar fail. And it is, especially considering Ang Lee’s timeless and resonant “Brokeback” was sitting right there, with Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger as cowboys in a forbidden love affair.
Did win: “The King’s Speech”
Should have won: “Black Swan”
The consensus at the time was that period drama “King’s Speech,”with Colin Firth’s George VI working through a troublesome stutter, pulled an upset on David Fincher’s vaunted Facebook bio “The Social Network.” Yet flying above both was the polarizing “Swan,” Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman’s weird and wonderful character study of an embattled ballerina.