Weekend Roundtable: Most Undeserving Oscar Winners

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve called out movies that actually deserved their Oscars, as well as movies that Oscar wrongly snubbed. For this week’s Roundtable, we’re going to take a look at movies that just plain had no business winning the trophies they took home. You better believe that there have been a bunch of those over the years.

Before we start, I figure that you guys are probably tired of hearing me rant about my hatred of ‘Forrest Gump‘ and ‘Gladiator‘. So, I’ll be going a different route for my own pick on this topic. (However, I can’t promise the same for the rest of the staff.)

Josh Zyber

  1. Ghost‘ – I bet most of you have purged this one from memory. I’m sorry to remind you that ‘Ghost’ honest-to-god actually won two Oscars, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Yes, that really happened. (It was even nominated for Best Picture too!) Have you seen this thing lately? It’s embarrassingly bad! I don’t necessarily have a problem with Whoopi Goldberg in general (she was much more deserving of her nomination for ‘The Color Purple‘), but her character in this is a one-dimensional, one-note stereotype at best. It’s not the sort of thing anyone deserves any award for. And Best Original Screenplay? Are you kidding me? This is like some horrible practical joke. ‘Ghost’ is a very, very bad movie that is staggeringly undeserving of being immortalized among so many of the best films of all time.

Drew Taylor

  1. Crash‘ – The Academy Awards are littered with boneheaded decisions, particularly when it comes to the big daddy prize for Best Picture. Can anyone really argue that the everyone-is-a-little-bit-racist simplicity of ‘Crash’ is superior to the morally thorny issues that ‘Brokeback Mountain‘ or ‘Munich’ were concerned with? For some reason, the Oscar nominations will occasionally be gutsier when it comes to the smaller categories, but when it comes to Best Picture, they’re hopelessly conservative.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

  1. Scent of a Woman‘ – What kind of terrible, terrible world do we live in where ‘Scent of a Woman’ could score so many Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay? To pour a shaker full of Morton’s into that wound, how did Al Pacino manage to take home one of those little golden statuettes for Best Actor? There is, of course, no argument that Pacino was an extraordinary actor, once upon a time. Those years were pretty far behind him in the rear view mirror by the early ’90s, though. I can only guess that ‘Scent of a Woman’ was the Academy’s way of making up for his seven nominations and zero wins up to that point. Pacino at this stage in his career had given up. Certainly throughout every last frame of ‘Scent of a Woman’, he’d stopped acting and settled for a grotesque, deliriously over-the-top parody of himself. I don’t know what’s worse: Pacino throwing all of that immense talent away, or Hollywood celebrating him for it. Depressingly, Pacino hasn’t looked back, and he’s been “HOO-AHH!”-ing it up in pretty much every role he’s latched onto ever since.

Nate Boss

  1. Juno‘ – There is no bloody way in hell this movie could be considered one of the five best of its year. (It doesn’t even come within a mile of the other nominees, which are all stellar works.) But the real bitch slap comes from the fact that Diablo Cody won for Best Original Screenplay. It’s “original” only in the sense that every line of dialogue is a load of hipster, trendy, referential, nonsensical garbage. Of course, the fantastic ‘Lars and the Real Girl’ script got robbed. That movie made a sex toy a more convincing and powerful actress than Ellen Page. ‘Juno’ is a horrendous film that’s only memorable due to how gimmicky its characters speak. Its presence at the Academy Awards ceremony, let alone a win, is a giant “Fuck you!” to each and every actor, actress, director and writer in the film industry, past and present.

Mike Attebery

  1. The English Patient‘ – I’m with Elaine. I hate this movie. I just don’t get it. It’s just a slow, boring, pointless slog, with zero payoff at the end. This seems to be standard issue drudgery and pointless when it comes to author Michael Ondaatje’s work. In college, I was forced to read ‘In The Skin of the Lion‘, another ungodly boring tale. Afterward, Ondaatje came and spoke to us about his writing habits. His method? Write mountains of random scraps, toss them in a drawer, then pull them out and stitch them together into a larger work. No structure. No jumping off point. No overriding plan for the final product. That explains so much! I’ve seen the movie again and it never gets better. I still can’t believe this snagged Best Picture!

Dick Ward

  1. Disney’s Tarzan‘ – When I think Oscar winners that didn’t deserve their awards, my mind goes back to the year 2000, which still seems like the future in a weird way. It was a time when I was absolutely in love with ‘South Park’, as I think many of us were. The movie ‘Bigger, Longer & Uncut’ was up for an Oscar for the original song “Blame Canada,” which was performed by Robin Williams at the 72nd Academy Awards. It was a clever and well-written song on a clever and well-written soundtrack. Of course, “Blame Canada” didn’t get the win. The award went to Phil Collins for writing a song that sounds like every other Phil Collins song ever written. “You’ll Be in My Heart” is boring adult contemporary crap. It doesn’t have an edge, it doesn’t say anything that a million songs don’t already say, and it doesn’t do anything musical that hasn’t been done yet. It’s flavorless, predictable and all-around awful.

Junie Ray

  1. Forrest Gump‘ – I recently re-watched this movie thinking that maybe I had missed something the first go-round. But I had the same reaction as my initial viewing – annoyance at the clichéd characters and plotlines, and at all the neatly tied-up little bows. Compared to other Best Picture candidates ‘Pulp Fiction’ or ‘The Shawshank Redemption‘, ‘Gump’ has not stood the test of time. This dialogue from ‘Tropic Thunder‘ pretty much sums up how the Oscars work on this type movie/acting job:

    Kirk Lazarus: Everybody knows you never go full retard.
    Tugg Speedman: What do you mean?
    Kirk Lazarus: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, ‘Rain Man’, look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho’. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, ‘Forrest Gump’. Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain’t retarded. Peter Sellers, ‘Being There’. Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, ‘I Am Sam’. Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed…

Aaron Peck

  1. Chicago‘ – Some years, the Academy gets so caught up by glitz and glamour that it forgets about numerous other movies that deserve to win in the biggest category. Just thinking back on this Best Picture winner gives me the willies. Let’s see what other movies it went up against that year. Well, there were ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers‘, ‘Gangs of New York‘, and ‘The Pianist’, to name a few. Come on! Any of those movies is more deserving than ‘Chicago’ was. I think this is the same phenomenon as ‘Glee’. A big lavish musical comes around and people flock to it saying, “Wow, we haven’t seen something like this in a long time. It’s revolutionary!” No matter how mediocre it really is. Just wait until the popular Broadway play ‘Wicked’ gets adapted into a movie. I’m predicting an Oscar win for it too.
  2. Honorable Mention:Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen‘ – I’m going pretty obscure on this one, but it’ll make sense. Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ was nominated for Best Achievement in Sound. I’m sorry, but any movie that features gigantic robo-balls disguised as humor and John Turturro in a thong should effectively be disqualified from being nominated for any Academy Awards. That, and the sound design to ‘Transformers: ROTF’ gave me a freaking headache. An Academy Award world where Daft Punk can’t get nominated for Best Original Soundtrack, but the hulking, clanking husks of robots can get nominated for Best Sound is just beyond me. How does crap like that happen? Good thing ‘The Hurt Locker‘ actually ended up walking away with the award, or I would have been livid. Sitting through a torturous 147 minutes of crashing metal and groaning robots isn’t my idea of impeccable sound design.

We know that you must have your own thoughts on this topic. Tell us in the comments which Academy Award winners you feel were the most undeserving.


  1. Josh, I was ready to argue back, but considering that you left my Swayze alone, I fully approve of your choice.

    Also, I still don’t get all the Juno hate. That movie was good 🙂

    • I’m on the “I liked Juno” side of the argument. Sorry, Nate. I can’t share your hatred for the movie. Cody is a talented writer. One of my favorite TV shows right now is ‘United States of Tara’ which she helped create and writes for.

      • nate boss

        Well, we can’t all be perfect. I forgive you, Aaron. I forgive you.

        Thirty hail Maries and a 50 buck paypal donation to me, and you will be absolved of your sins.

    • Shawn

      I agree, I loved Juno. Underneath that hipster vibe is a warm and intelligent story. I also enjoyed the dialog – language can be art and I enjoy it when screenwriters add a certain lyricism to the dialog (ala, the stylized language and manner of speaking)

  2. Crash, Juno, Chicago… my nominations have already been taken.

    I don’t know what the amount of money is that someone would have to pay me to watch Juno, but chances are it would be more than they could afford. I would rather be waterboarded than even sit through the trailer one more time.

  3. EM

    I don’t hate Juno, but it left me indifferent—I just don’t see the appeal of the film.

    How do the screenplay categories’ nominees and winners get picked, anyway? Are voters required to have read the screenplays? or are they supposed to just guess what the screenplays might have been like, on the basis of the finished films (which might be quite different)?

    • Ian Whitcombe

      Depends on eacn and every voter. Final draft scripts are often available online and are also mailed out to members who ask.

      Same with the Adapted Screenplay category. Some members make an effort to read the source material, while others do not.

      Generally speaking, the philosophy is to treat what’s on-screen as the “screenplay”. If you ever download the script for Return of the King, it was obviously assembled and edited after the movie itself was edited.

      • Nate Boss

        I wonder if they read the version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that reveals that the Kate Winslet character has had her mind wiped about 20 or 30 times.

        THAT would possibly killed the mood of the ending, but it would be so much more fitting.

        For that very reason, I wish I could see the screenplay version of Groundhog Day, where it’s revealed he’s gone through the same day for about a thousand years, IIRC.

  4. mh

    Sorry. I’m a BIG fan of CHICAGO and felt it got what it deserved.

    Not so with CRASH whose selection as the year’s best was just ludicrous and even more than that, sad.

    Still wince that L.A. CONFIDENTIAL lost to TITANIC. I understand the grandeur and technical mastery of TITANIC, but it’s just not in the same league with that brilliant work of art that is L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.

  5. besch64

    Sean Penn as Best Actor in Milk. Although, I guess I wouldn’t say that he didn’t really deserve the award. It’s just that Mickey Rourke deserved that specific award so much more than any other nominee in any category in the history of the Academy Awards has ever deserved any award that seeing Sean Penn win it instead caused me to sit there with my jaw hanging open for half an hour before I came out of my shock coma and rewound my DVR to make sure I didn’t imagine it.

    • nate boss

      Agreed, Besch, but that one was already covered two weeks ago. Would be silly to say Mickey Rourke got snubbed, and then Sean Penn was undeserving. they’re one in the same.

  6. Mike

    I still can’t believe that “Shakespeare in Love” got the best picture nod over Saving Private Ryan. Yes, Spielberg did get best director, but there shouldn’t have been any way that Saving Private Ryan did not get the Best Picture award.

  7. Mike Christy

    My most undeserving award would go to “No Country for Old Men”. That movie let me down so badly. “There Will Be Blood” should have owned that night. My big gripe with “No Country for Old Men” is the complete shift in tone at the end. It builds up some great tension and suspense as a conventional action thriller, then suddenly shifts into a philosophical muddle that leaves you hanging.

    • I think that was the point of the movie to have that shift, but I agree with the sentiment that that is exactly the reason why it failed. There Will Be Blood easily should have won. Javier got his award and that should have been it.

  8. J.M.A.

    Juno is a rediculous pick it’s one the god damned best original films of the last decade, also did some friggin moron actually say No Country For Old Men if so keep your stupid mouth shut.

    • nate boss

      you’re quite the civil one, quick with the personal insults, aren’t ya? going for the throats just because people disagree?

      there’s nothing original about Juno. it just is loaded with ridiculous, unbelievable dialogue from end to end.

      No Country for Old Men is a fantastic film, but it’s arguable as to whether it deserved the win. It wasn’t far and away the best film of the year, no matter how good it was.

  9. Charles Johnstone

    I have to agree…Gump over Shawshank Redemption is a travesty if I’ve ever seen one. Chicago’s win was almost as bad, but come on….it’s Shawshank…one of the best movies of all time (IMHO)!

  10. Mike Christy

    How delicious that someone who cannot even spell ridiculous should label me a “friggin” moron. I gave a coherent argument for why I didn’t like “No country For Old Men” and I’d like to hear any explanation for the holes in my logic that your superior intellect is capable of offering without having to resort to name calling.

  11. First ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, and now ‘The English Patient.’

    Man! I just don’t think I know who you are anymore, Mike. Are you telling me you don’t like ‘The English Patient.’ Well, okay. You’re fired!

    Anyways, along with ‘Chicago,’ ‘Forrest Gump,’ and oh, dear gawd, it burns my eyes to watch ‘Crash,’ I’ll also throw in my vote for ‘Shakespeare in Love’ as one of the top worst decision ever made, which also includes the fact that it was greenlit at all! The Lit. geek in me forbids that I ever enjoin such nauseating garbage.

  12. Patrick A Crone

    Titanic still angers me. I saw it with my girlfriend at the time. It was considered a film garunteed to get a guy laid. Instead I left the theater with a sense of being robbed of both my time and money because my girlfriend and I hated it. I was floored when it one 11 Oscars that year.

    Last year I was so happy that The Hurt Locker beat out Avatar for best director and film. I wish I could’ve been inside of James Cameron’s head as his over inflated ego was deflated by his Ex-wife’s win.

  13. I can assure you that yes, I would give Marissa a little statue> For what ever category she saw fit.

    The Academy on the other hand, should not have given her one.

    • EM

      I nominate Ryan for an award in the category Best Euphemism. 🙂

      (I wouldn’t give him a “little statue” for it, though!)

  14. I hate to say it, but I’m going to defend Transformers II… 😉 I think the logic is flawed in that final argument. It was nominated for Best Achievement in Sound. Not script, not acting, not direction, not even music. Sound. It’s wrong to assume that a film can’t be nominated for a technical award, just because the rest of it stinks.

    It’s like saying that a big special effects film, even if it’s daft, should not be nominated for an award for special effects, because it’s not as good as some ‘dramatic’ film that gets nominated because it had a composited background in one shot. (I know you were just being sarcastic, but still… 😉 To use that as )

    As for TRON: Legacy and Daft Punk… Don’t get me started… Mediocre/bland/repetitive for the most part, good once or twice, dragged down by a couple of cheesy euro-trash synth in a couple of places.

    Transformers II had a disposable and unoriginal fun action movie soundtrack that STILL wiped the floor with something like the TRON:Legacy soundtrack. I bet if it hadn’t had any mention of Daft Punk, that soundtrack would’ve been forgotten before yesterday’s lunch. 😉

    • I’m assuming you didn’t read the rest of my argument. The movie stinks yes, but its sound design also stinks and I noted that. Over 2 hours of ear-crushing pieces of metal crashing together does not make for good or inventive sound design. So, yes a crappy movie could get nominated for an Award like sound design if the sound design was actually good. ‘Transformers’ is not.

  15. Little Miss Sunshine. Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE this movie, but I cannot believe that Alan Arkin beat out Eddie Murphey for best supporting actor! All Alan did for the first half of the movie is drop a few dirty lines, and have one or two awkward moments with Abigail Breslin, then his character died. Then it won, get this, BEST writing / original screenplay? For real? Then again, look who else was nominated. Was 2006 just a bad year for movies? Babel up for best screenplay? Granted, unique formula, but Babel was no where close to being a good movie.

    In 2002, I am a little miffed that Moulin Rouge did not pick up more rewards (best picture and best actress – lost to A Beautiful Mind and hallie Berry, respectively), and, while I like Denzel Washington, seriously, he won over Sean Penn for I Am Sam?

    In 2001, seriously, Gladiator beat out Chocolat and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for best picture? Not that Gladiator was bad, I quite enjoyed it. I also cannot believe Billy Elliot not only did not pick up a single award, but was not nominated for more awards (best actor, perhaps). I feel that child actors tend to be overlooked during the awards season, and Billy Elliot is a perfect example (actually, so is I Am Sam, how did Dakota Fanning not get a nomination for her role in that?)

    • Ian Whitcombe

      Frankly, I find Chocolat, Moulin Rouge, I Am Sam and Billy Elliot to all be much more egregious examples of undue awards spotlight than LMS.

      Michael Arnt’s win for Best Original Screenplay can be factored in as a combination of three things: Sole writer of the film, him not being a hyphenate (writer-producer or writer-director), and for being his debut work.