And the Oscar Goes to, Who? The Unworthy Winners of the Academy Awards

During award season, the Academy determines which of the year’s films deserves to be awarded the coveted golden statuette. Of course, year after year, the Academy Awards are also surrounded by controversies, with debates on everything from its host to lack of diversity in nominees. But mostly, the disputes stem from the actors, directors, and films that end up winning awards that may not seem like worthy winners.
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With this in mind, we’ve gone through the Oscars archives to uncover the Academy’s biggest mistakes in one not-so-surprising list. Here are the winners who unjustifiably walked away with a handful of gold, or what we like to call, the worst Oscar winners in history.

Gone with the Wind – Best Director, 1939

It may be one of the most popular classics, and yet, we question Victor Fleming’s win for Best Director. There’s a complicated story regarding the directors of “Gone with the Wind,” but we’ll try being as concise as possible. Initially, George Cukor was the director of the film, but producer David O. Selznick ended up firing him and replacing him with Fleming.

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That being said, multiple sources believe that actresses Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh were so upset with the loss of Cukor that they continued to go to him for direction in secret. Fleming should have shared the award with Cukor, who did plenty of work for the film and got none of the credit.

The Greatest Show on Earth – Best Picture, 1953

As a director and producer, Cecil B. DeMille reshaped Hollywood into a commercial enterprise; he is considered one of the key figures in American cinema. But despite his contributions, he hadn’t won an Academy Award.

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So as the theory goes, “The Greatest Show on Earth” was awarded Best Picture to make up for all the times DeMille didn’t win in the years before. The film is two and a half hours long, is all about circuses, and frankly, the award seems like a misguided attempt to reward Cecil B. DeMille.

Around the World in 80 Days – Best Picture, 1957

Not only did the Academy get the 1957 winners wrong, but they also flopped the whole ceremony. Films like “The Searchers,” “Forbidden Planet,” and “Written on the Wind” were moving audiences but didn’t receive nominations.

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There were films released that year that were screened worldwide, and yet, the Academy saw fit to reward Best Picture to the subpar family film. The nominees chosen that year were considerably terrible, which is a shame because 1957 could have been a year to remember.

Cleopatra – Best Cinematography, 1963

The fact that this tedious, wildly overbudgeted historical epic took home any awards in 1963 is a disgrace to film. But the award that really stands out (and not in a good way) is Best Cinematography.

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Not only was the film poorly shot, but it triumphed over one of the most visually beautiful films ever made, “The Leopard,” which didn’t even snag a nomination.

The Sound of Music – Best Picture, 1965

The mid-’60s was a harsh time for Hollywood both economically and artistically, as reflected by the less than average Best Picture nominees at the 1966 Academy Awards. Pauline Kael, one of the most influential film critics, called “The Sound of Music,” “the sugarcoated lie that people seem to want to eat” and “the single most repressive influence on artistic freedom in movies.”

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Though the film was released in what happened to be a not so glorious year in Hollywood, “Von Ryan’s Express,” should have taken home the award. Who doesn’t love themselves a little Frank Sinatra?

Une Homme et une Femme – Best Foreign Language Film, 1966

Though it may have looked smooth, interesting, and extremely modern at the time, these days Claude Lelouch’s paper-thin romantic film seems dull, dated, and self-conceited. To top it all off, the oh-so-French theme song is about annoying as a song could have been.

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In all honesty, 1966 produced some fine foreign films, including “Loves of a Blonde” and “The Battle of Algiers.” So the question must be asked, why didn’t either of them take home the Oscar?

The Woman in Red – Best Original Song, 1985

We love Stevie Wonder as much as the next person, but “I Just Called to Say I Love You” should not have won Best Original Song, and that’s a fact. We’re not the only ones who think so; in fact, this drippy romantic ballad is one of the artist’s low points.

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1985’s songs were phenomenal, with songs like “Against All Odds,” “Footloose,” and “Ghostbusters” in the running, it’s a mystery how the ballad took the statuette.

Out of Africa – Best Picture, 1986

If you missed “Out of Africa,” let us give you a summary: Robert Redford poured water on Meryl Streep’s hair in Kenya, Africa, for three hours. Yes, that’s the whole movie. It seems like in the mid-’80s, the Academy became obsessed with rewarding sweeping tales of life in foreign lands.

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“The Last Emperor,” “Platoon,” and “Gandhi” are perfect examples of this. While these films have their justifiable reasons for winning awards, the same cannot be said of the colonial romance, “Out of Africa.” In fact, the film has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of any best picture winner!

Harry and the Hendersons – Best Makeup, 1988

Yes, you read that right, the 1988 Academy Award winner for best makeup was…”Harry and the Hendersons.” It is still one of the most curious honors given, and yet somehow, Rick Baker took an Oscar home with him.

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Perhaps the rationale behind the accolade was his past achievements; though, the family monster had no right to be within reach of awards glory. In our opinion, 1988’s award could have gone to any other film.

Driving Miss Daisy – Best Picture, 1990

Sometimes, the Academy seems to enjoy making things tough for themselves. Yes, “Driving Miss Daisy” had good intentions but was also worryingly old-fashioned. The fact that the film was up against Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” was insult enough, so to then give “Miss Daisy” four awards, including the biggest honor, was simply unforgivable.

 

To ensure you’re as upset as we are about this win, we’re going to remind you of the other movies that were nominated that year, “My Left Foot,” “Born on the 4th of July, ” and “Dead Poets Society.”

Scent of a Woman – Best Actor, 1993

No actor ever won an Oscar for their subtle performance, but Al Pacino really seems to stand out. The actor, the same actor who played the quiet yet malicious Michael Corleone, managed to portray his character with such mad and hectic energy.

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When it comes to “Scent of a Woman, ” both Pacino skeptics and admirers alike will pine back to his work and mourn the loss of the great Italian-American Godfather.

Various Disney Films – Best Song, 1993, 1995, 1996

In the mid-1990s, the Walt Disney Company found themselves dominating the Best Song category, resulting in wins for three snoozefest ballads. “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” from “The Lion King” and “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas,” each won an Oscar for Best Song.

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Each of these songs combines sappy love lyrics, annoyingly catchy melodies, and of course, string-based instrumentation. Excuse us while we yawn!

Forrest Gump – Best Picture, 1995

Look, we all loved “Forrest Gump,” but the fact of the matter is, it won in a year of greater movies. “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” are two of the films that stood side-by-side with “Forrest Gump” in the category for Best Picture so that you can understand our contempt when it comes to this Oscar win.

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“Forrest Gump” is solid entertainment and is well-thought-of as one of Tom Hank’s most beloved performances, but 1995 was an outstanding year for movies.

A Beautiful Mind – Best Picture, 2002

At one point, it seemed like the Academy did everything possible to avoid any chance of controversy by awarding the blandest, most harmless films in arms reach. Russell Crowe starred as the brilliant but mentally troubled mathematician, Josh Nash, in the film, “A Beautiful Mind.”

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Director Ron Howard’s film was rewarded the title “Best Picture,” when in our opinion, it should have gone to Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which was also released that year.

Cold Mountain – Best Supporting Actress, 2003

Renee Zellweger’s performance in “Cold Mountain” is proof that a single supporting performance can ruin an entire film. The actress’s stale performance ruined an otherwise decent film from Anthony Minghella, which is why it is beyond our understanding why the Academy saw fit to reward her for the part.

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Shohreh Agdashloo gave an outstanding performance in “House of Sand and Fog,” and it’s a shame she didn’t get proper praise for the role.

Crash – Best Picture, 2006

It’s been years since the 2006 Oscars, and people are still mad about “Crash” winning best picture. It seems like 2005 was the year politics made its way back into Hollywood, with “Munich,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Good Night and Good Luck,” all being box-office hits and moving in their own territory.

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“Crash” was a political film, too; somehow, the drama about racism was a little more than unconvincing. Even Paul Haggis, the film’s director, wasn’t convinced his film deserved the award, “Was it the best film of the year? I don’t think so,” he explained.

Avatar – Best Cinematography, 2010

Our question is, how was a film created almost entirely on a computer nominated for Best Cinematography? Photographing a film is an art form that demands in-depth knowledge of focal lengths and the way light moves. If all of these things are done by computers, how can this be considered cinematography?

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James Cameron pioneered new sorts of cameras and filming methods while making the movie, which was fairly awarded in the visual effects category. This doesn’t answer our question of how “Avatar” is deserving of a cinematography award if almost everything on-screen was digitally created?

The King’s Speech – Best Director, 2011

Much of “The King’s Speech” took place in this unbearably ugly room. “The King’s Speech” winning Best Director was further proof that the Academy is incapable of moving past its bias toward predictable biopics for something more original and groundbreaking.

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Tom Hooper’s work on the film is standard and unimpressive and looked weak next to David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” which was also nominated. The film’s win proved, yet again, that the Academy lives for mediocrity!

The Artist – Best Picture, 2012

To go from winning film’s greatest honor to being completely forgotten in such a short time is impressive, and that’s exactly where “The Artist” manages to stand out. The French comedy-drama is a moderately entertaining silent film about backstage Hollywood, and yet we can’t seem to remember anything else about it.

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When’s the last time you hear someone talking about the Best Picture film because we haven’t thought about it since its release.

Birdman – Best Picture, 2015

In an alternate universe, we may have agreed with the Academy that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman” was 2015’s best film. But, it had the misfortune of being released the same year as the film that brought a new and refreshing spin to cinema: Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.”

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“Boyhood,” filmed over 13 years, was a heartfelt coming-of-age drama that stunned audiences around the world, and yet somehow, “Birdman” won Best Picture. That being said, “Birdman” was a career rehabilitator for Michael Keaton.

Darkest Hour – Best Actor, 2018

Yes, they managed to turn Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill, but it was a predictable performance. Oldman did extensive research for the role, spent hours in makeup, and gave it his all, but the movie’s writing, combined with his loud performance, gave us an awkward version of Churchill.

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Timothée Chalamet, who gave a genuine performance in “Call Me by Your Name,” better deserved the award, as did Daniel Kaluuya for his outstanding performance in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

Going My Way – Best Picture, 1945

In 1945, the Oscar for Best Picture went to “Going My Way.” A film about a pastor played by Bing Crosby inspires a group of kids, which happened to be the most popular movie of the year.

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That being said, no one really watches “Going My Way,” these days, which reminds us that there were several other contenders that year that managed to stand the test of time much better, including “Double Indemnity,” “Laura,” and “Gaslight.”

My Fair Lady – Best Actor, 1965

Rex Harrison played phonetics expert Professor Henry Higgins in the classic, “My Fair Lady.” Harrison is a decent actor, but his performance in the film did not warrant him the right to deserve the Best Actor title in the 1965 ceremony.

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In our opinion (as well as many others), the best performance that year was from Peter Sellers, who played three different characters in “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” If you ask us, Sellers should have won three different awards for each performance!

Rocky – Best Picture, 1977

Three masterpieces were nominated for Best Picture back in 1977; “Rocky” wasn’t one of them. “Taxi Driver,” “Network,” and “All the President’s Men,” were all phenomenal movies released that year, and yet the winner of best picture was Sylvester Stallone’s silly boxing movie, “Rocky.”

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Yes, the movie is inspiring, but that year’s statuette should have gone to one of the three films mentioned above; any of them would have been a more deserving choice than “Rocky.”

Good Will Hunting – Best Screenplay, 1997

Bet you never knew that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon actually wrote the screenplay to “Good Will Hunting,” did you? Both actors have moved on to better things, and 1997 will mostly be remembered as the year the Academy awarded almost everything to “Titanic.”

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Almost all nine nominations for the mediocre film, “Good Will Hunting,” were lost to “Titanic,” but Affleck and Damon were awarded for their original screenplay. Giving them the award meant that Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece “Boogie Nights” lost.

Shakespeare in Love – Best Picture, 1999

Ironically enough, “Shakespeare in Love” was not a good movie, but it checked the boxes off for an “Oscar-worthy movie.” Starring Gwenyth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes was a historical drama about famous people. The film was bound to lose to “Saving Private Ryan,” but the now-disgraced Harvey Weinstein wasn’t going to let that happen.

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Before the movie was released, it is rumored that he used lobbyists to convince Academy members to vote for “Shakespeare in Love” instead of “Saving Private Ryan.”

Life is Beautiful – Best Actor, 1999

1999 wasn’t a necessarily good year at the Oscars. In addition to “Shakespeare in Love,” winning Best Picture, “Life is Beautiful” was nominated for a plethora of Academy Awards. The mediocre film was directed, written by and starred, Robert Benigni, and told the story of a dad trying to shield his son from the Holocaust.

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Surprisingly, Benigni won the best actor and best foreign film, and the film also won the best score award.

Argo – Best Picture, 2012

In hindsight, the Oscar campaign for “Argo” was baffling. It seems like this was another case of “a better late than never Oscar,” and since he was snubbed for a best director nomination, the Academy somehow awarded him Best Picture to Ben Affleck’s “Argo.”

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It was disappointing, to say the least, considering what a great year 2012 was in the film industry. “Lincoln,” Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and “Armour” were all emotionally moving, well-crafted films.

How Green Was My Valley – Best Picture, 1942

These days, the only thing anyone remembers about “How Green Was My Valley” is how average it was compared to “Citizen Kane.” Out of all the movies on this list, “How Green Was My Valley” may forever have a reputation as the most inaccurate movie to win Best Picture.

 

The film was released in 1941, the same year as “Citizen Kane,” but for a reason unknown, the Academy decided to give John Ford almost all of that year’s awards. “Citizen Kane” is broadly considered the best movie of all time, and its Oscar loss will eternally be the Academy’s greatest missed opportunity.

Dances With Wolves – Best Picture, 1991

“Dances With Wolves” is a three-hour movie that felt like forever. For some reason beyond understanding, the Academy wanted to reward Kevin Costner so badly that the Best Picture went to the snoozefest, “Dancing With Wolves.” The movie also won six other awards, including best director and adapted screenplay.

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Instead, the statuettes should have gone to Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” In contrast with “Dancing With Wolves,” “Goodfellas” is a two-and-a-half hour-long movie that is so good it snaps by quickly.

Chariots of Fire – Best Picture, 1982

“Chariots of Fire” is an alright movie, but doesn’t hold a candle to other nominees. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with 1982’s Best Picture winner, a sports movie about two Olympic racers. But that was also the year where movies starting getting really good.

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Steven Spielberg was in his prime with “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Jaws,” and the “Star War” series was on top of its game. Giving the award to “Chariots,” the Academy missed the opportunity to reward well-crafted films instead of popular blockbusters.

The Life of Emile Zola – Best Picture, 1938

There is no doubt that fame and glory count at the Oscars. That’s probably why the boring literary biopic “The Life of Emile Zola,” managed to snag the Best Picture award at the 1937 Oscars.

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Yes, it was a solid piece of art, with an outstanding performance from Paul Muni as the campaigning French novelist. It’s been publically suggested that the film was one of the “few truly great pictures of all time,” and that isn’t true.

Marty – Best Picture, 1956

“Marty,” the 1955 winner for Best Picture, isn’t even the finest version of its own subject matter. The story, about an emotionally repressed Italian-American butcher from the Bronx, ready to find love, was already made as a TV drama the year before.

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Somehow, the small-screen version, starring Rod Steiger, was much better than the major motion picture. Steiger did such an outstanding job in the role that Ernest Borgnine couldn’t help but seem less than average compared to him.

Braveheart – Best Picture, 1996

The medieval epic is infamous for its scenes of William Wallace’s army in blue faces, lifting their kilts and mooning everyone. Even though the film may not be as accurate in history as we may think, it depicted the ongoing debates about Scottish independence.

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At the end of the day, it did wonders for the Scottish tourism business. Director Mel Gibson sure knows how to stage a battle scene. And whether that qualifies him for a Best Picture, is another matter…

Country Girl – Best Actress, 1955

The 1954 drama, “Country Girl,” was a play turned into a movie. It told the story of an alcoholic has-been actor who has one last chance to resurrect his career and was an outstanding film back then. The film won two Oscars, one went to George Seaton for Best Screenplay, and the other to Grace Kelly for Best Actress.

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Considering Kelly didn’t deliver and was up against one of Hollywood’s greatest, we feel that the latter should have gone to Judy Garland for her outstanding performance in “A Star Is Born.”

Judy – Best Actress, 2020

Sure, “Judy” was a fine film, but considering the career-defining performances both Scarlett Johansson and Saoirse Ronan gave, Renée Zellweger shouldn’t have won Best Actress. Johannson manages to take our breaths away in the powerful and subtle role of the woman mourning the end of her marriage in “Marriage Story.”

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And Ronan was the highlight of “Little Woman,” making a name for herself among Hollywood greats like Meryl Streep and Emma Watson. The reasoning behind Zellweger’s triumph is beyond us!

The Shape of Water – Best Picture, 2018

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” was an instant hit amongst critics and Academy members. It made its way onto becoming the most nominated film at the 2018 awards and won four out of its 13 nominations. As you may have already guessed, it won Best Picture, and while the strange film received mixed reviews, it also didn’t deserve to beat Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

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One critic noted that the decision seemed like “a safe choice for an industry that wants to signal its values.”

Green Book – Best Picture, 2019

The fact that “Green Book” won Best Picture confirmed exactly what the Academy was trying to avoid. Head over heels for the film, the journeys of a renowned Black pianist, portrayed by Mahershala Ali, and his white driver (Viggo Mortensen) through a tour of the South in the early 1960s, a “reverse ‘Driving Miss Daisy’,” of sorts just proved that they were a group of privileged people.

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The story itself didn’t have the depth to be considered a Best Picture winner, and yet, the 2019 awards begged to differ.

Chicago – Best Picture, 2003

Musicals became a hit again after “Chicago” won six Oscars, including Best Picture. Yes, the film’s songs were catchy, and the costume design was beautiful, but when a film like steals Roman Polanski’s well-deserved Oscar for “The Pianist,” one has to wonder.

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Despite his personal troubles, Polanski himself received an Oscar for Best Director for “The Pianist,” as did lead actor Adrien Brody, but the biggest prize of Oscar night went to a film that was a little more upbeat.

Ordinary People – Best Picture, 1981

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, we began seeing more and more melodrama hitting the movie theaters, which is exactly why “Ordinary People” came around at the perfect time. Timothy Hutton won the award for Best Actor, and Best Director went to Robert Redford.

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While we admit that the film had some dynamite performances, there needs to be more than outstanding acting to qualify to win the biggest film honor out there.

The Broadway Melody – Best Picture, 1930

The Oscars have come a long way since the beginning of the award shows, and the second Best Picture winner was the first sound movie ever to win an Oscar. For your common knowledge, the first movie was the silent production, “Wings.”

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In our opinion, “The Broadway Melody” could have won the worst picture that year as well. The musical is about two sisters who move to Broadway to find show tunes, but there’s not much else to it.

Cavalcade – Best Picture, 1934

“Cavalcade” tells a story from the point of view of well-to-do London residents Jane and Robert Marryot, whose family, friends, and servants endure the ups and downs of life from New Year’s Eve 1899 to New Year’s Day 1933.

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The film had potential, considering the events that took place – the sinking of the Titanic and World War I – but other than that, it was a pretty empty film and did not deserve to win Best Picture.

The English Patient – Best Picture, 1997

It is absolutely mindboggling that this film took home nine out of the 12 Oscars it was nominated for – especially Best Picture. In short, this film took the excessive length of “Out of Africa” and cranked up its melodrama.

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It’s a story we’ve heard one too many times about a horribly burned pilot (Ralph Fiennes), tells the military nurse treating him (Juliette Binoche) his tale of love when he fell in love with a married British woman. An unsurprising, sub-par World War II film, if you ask us.

Slumdog Millionaire – Best Picture, 2009

The story of an orphaned young man, portrayed by Dev Patel, who rises from the slums and wins the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” only to be questioned about his past, was a shoo-in to win Best Picture.

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It was an interesting concept, but the script wasn’t strong, and the production was questionable. There have been plenty of films about India by Indian directors that have yet to be acknowledged.

Kramer vs. Kramer – Best Picture, 1980

“Kramer vs. Kramer” was an influential film for its era.  The story followed Ted Kramer, who gets the chance to bond with his son when his wife leaves him, but a bitter custody battle makes the family split harder than they could have imagined.

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Yes, it was a great film, but it shouldn’t have beaten “Apocalypse Now.”

The Departed – Best Picture, 2007

An American remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs,” “The Departed,” was second-rate compared to the original in every way. The act that the undercover officer had to maintain was much better portrayed by “Internal Affairs” actor, Tony Leung. That being said, Leonardo DiCaprio did try his best.

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If the film stood alone, without the original, it could have been considered a Best Picture production, but when you compare it to the original, the remake isn’t nearly as good.

Harry and Tonto – Best Actor, 1975

Oscars have the amazing effect of paving the way for everyone involved. Their name is remembered for the rest of their careers, not to mention lives. That wasn’t the case for actor Art Carney. After winning the Oscar for his role in “Harry and Tonto,” his name was forgotten.

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Years later, people are still questioning how Carney beat Al Pacino in “The Godfather Part II,” and Dustin Hoffman in “Lenny.”

Gravity – Best Cinematography, 2014

The fact that Gravity received seven Oscars is mindblowing to us. We’re gonna be honest. The film was overrated, and frankly, the plot was pretty dull.

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The only part of the film that had us on edge was the ending. The award for best visual effects may have been justified, but the rest, not so much…

Les Miserables – Best Supporting Actress, 2013

It’s always disappointing when a fantastic novel and play is turned into a somewhat tolerable movie. For some, calling the movie tolerable may be an overstatement, considering some of the actors couldn’t sing. Even with the all-star cast, Les Miserables seemed to disappoint.

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Even the film’s biggest fans will agree that Anne Hathaway’s performance was nowhere close to what it takes to win Best Supporting Actress.