It’s simple. Sometimes the award winner isn’t the best, it’s simply the most popular among the judges in that moment. We’ve seen it happen. In 1941, How Green Was My Valley was picked over Citizen Kane. Slightly more than a decade later, High Noon lost to The Greatest Show on Earth. Tom Jones won over Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra in 1963. Every Best Picture winner from 1994-1998.
Sometimes a movie wins due to dumb luck like Rocky somehow beating out Taxi Driver in 1976, or they just happened to come out against one of the greatest movies of all time like Chinatown losing The Godfather II in 1974. Then there’s just flat out stupid choices such as Gladiator in 2000 and Crash in 2005,.
The Academy Awards makes mistakes when giving Oscars.
The films below are all quality and worthy of praise, but, quite simply, the winner wasn’t the best movie that year. I’ve set my sample size small, the nominees from 2009 onward because that was the year the Academy expanded the Best Picture category from five to ten. What makes these films unique with perhaps one exception is that they are all Oscar worthy so making the choice wasn’t so easy. But hindsight is 20/20.
Winner: The Hurt Locker
Should’ve Won: A Serious Man
Compared with the other films nominated this year, few people saw A Serious Man from the Coen Brothers. Even fans of the Coens are torn on this one. But, honestly, it’s story was the best of the choices. The Hurt Locker played into our nation’s nascent guilt about the wars we’ve let rage for profit, but A Serious Man is more existentially relevant.
Winner: The King’s Speech
Should’ve Won: Winter’s Bone
Before she became insufferable, Jennifer Lawrence showed she could act when she wanted to. The King’s Speech was a grand film but Winter’s Bone was darkly moving. Yet we all know there’s no way a white trash flick beats royalty.
Winner: The Artist
Should’ve Won: Moneyball
Sometimes, the Best Picture ought to be the choice that not just quality but will be watched again and again for years to come. The Artist is not that film. In fact, I would argue The Artist is nearly worthy of placing alongside Crash as fodder.
Should’ve Won: Room
This was a good year for cinema. The nominees covered nearly every kind of movie lover while being of real quality. Spotlight was a superb film with a cast that spread out the work to succeed, but Room was the most emotionally crippling and significant film of this year. It showed just what Brie Larson was capable of and pulled the best child acting performance ever.
La La Land Moonlight
Like 2015, this year’s list of nominees is meant to cast a wide net. But here is an example of a year when the Academy when with what was shiny and popular in the moment rather than what was enduring and good.
As much as people would like to claim a musical is risky, it’s not and has never been. Although, I can see the appeal of La La Land, the pleasure in it, I can’t honestly say it’s a good movie just like I couldn’t say it of Chicago. Moonlight is the best film of 2016, although not my favorite. It’s subtle lyricism and powerful narrative wasn’t simply dumped out as a load of sadness like some worthless chum as Manchester by the Sea. Rather, Moonlight was able to not just tell a powerful story but in a film language that was beautiful. With the exception of Arrival, no other nominee gave any attention to the visual nature of their story.
In a profound course correction, the bland La La Land as Best Picture was announcer as the winner only for it to be revealed as a mistake seconds later giving the award to Moonlight. The chaos of both film’s groups on stage with a bumbling Jimmy Kimmel, Warren Beatty, and Oscars staffers was a monumental clustercuss.
What we saw was the Academy make a mistake and then fix it, something the American people and Electoral College were unable or unwilling to do.