The Worst of the Oscars: 1953-1977

Let’s just dive right back in, shall we?

This exercise turned out to be very revealing about the biases built into IMDB ratings. IMDB tends to over-rate science fiction, westerns and movies by certain directors (Tarantino, Leone, Kubrick). It tends to underrate musicals and movies with women leads. This is not entirely surprising if you know about the internet. But it is fascinating to see it in such fine grain.

Year: 1953
Academy Pick: From Here to Eternity
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.8 (9 of 47 with 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: The Wages of Fear
Consensus Best Picture: Shane

Year: 1954
Academy Pick: On the Waterfront
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.3 (3 of 36 with 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Seven Samurai
Consensus Best Picture: Rear Window
Comments: The 1950′s are when we first begin to see foreign films regularly appear atop IMDB ratings. The Academy established an award in the 40′s, formalized by 1956, to recognize them. But they clearly had no shot at the major prize. And they still don’t because the Best Foreign Film award mainly serves to hove off foreign films from treading on some American producer’s night. I can’t really blame the Academy when a foreign film doesn’t win it. But you will see this lacuna becoming stronger in the comparison of Academy to IMDB and critics. Rear Window was not nominated for Best Picture although Hitch was nominated for Best Director. On the Waterfront is a defensible choice; it’s a classic as well.

Year: 1955
Academy Pick: Marty
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.7 (14 of 48, minimum 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Diabolique
Consensus Best Picture: Pather Panchali or Night of the Hunter
Comments: Night of the Hunter is a fantastic film, incidentally. You should absolutely see it. Mister Roberts, my dad’s favorite comedy, was also nominated.

Year: 1956
Academy Pick: Around the World in 80 Days
IMDB Rating and Rank: 6.8 (32 out of 40, minimum 200 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: The Killing
Consensus Best Picture: The Searchers
Comments This is regarded as one of the worst choices of all time and deserves the reputation. Around is the second of four post-1936 films to be rated below 7.0 on IMDB while The Searchers is regarded as one of the best westerns of all time. It didn’t receive a single nomination. This year also featured Aparajito, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Ten Commandments, Forbidden Planet, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Wrong Man. If you ever decide to relive 1956, Around would be one of the last films to watch. A horrible pick. The Killing may be inflated by Kubrick fans. But this would not be his last snub.

Year: 1957
Academy Pick: Bridge on the River Kwai
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.3 (4 of 43, minimum 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: 12 Angry Men
Consensus Best Picture: The Bridge on the River Kwai or 12 Angry Men
Comments: Not going to argue with either choice. They are both excellent films.

Year: 1958
Academy Pick: Gigi
IMDB Rating and Rank: 6.8 (35 of 45, minimum 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Vertigo
Consensus Best Picture: Vertigo
Comments: For some reason, Gigi does not make a lot of lists for worst Best Picture winners. In fact, Hollywood.com rated it as the 16th best Academy Award winner. And maybe it’s low rating is an IMDB peculiarity. It’s not a movie to appeal to teenage boys. It made a clean sweep of nine awards. So is this, at long last, one where IMDB gets it wrong and the Academy got it right?

No. Gigi is the reason I did this exercise. Gigi is a good movie. But it was a horrible choice for Best Picture. The problem is not Gigi. The problem is Vertigo. Vertigo is now regarded as one of the best films ever made. In 1958 it was nominated for Best Sound Editing and Best Art Direction. Seriously. That was it.

And it’s more than Vertigo. That year you also had A Touch of Evil, Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, A Night to Remember, Auntie Mame, The Hidden Fortress, Run Silent Run Deep, The Seventh Voyage of Simbad, The Fly … all of which are rated better by IMDB and all of which deserve to be. Seriously, is anyone other my mother going to argue that they wouldn’t watch any of those over Gigi? 1958 had one of the worst choices in Oscar history. And no one talks about it because Gigi swept the awards.

Year: 1959
Academy Pick: Ben-Hur
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.1 (5 of 49, minimum 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: North by Northwest
Consensus Best Picture: North by Northwest
Comments: Both are classics. You also had Some Like it Hot that year.

Year: 1960
Academy Pick: The Apartment
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.4 (2 of 46, minimum 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Psycho
Consensus Best Picture: Psycho or The Apartment
Comments: Two more classics. That’s three Hitchcock snubs in a row by the way. Two of those could be justified. But this is the reason Gigi is such a giant slimy wart on Academy history. At the precise time that Hitch was doing his best work he earned a grand total of one nomination for Best Director, none for Best Picture and no awards. Whose dog did he run over?

Year: 1961
Academy Pick: West Side Story
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.6 (17 of 40, minimum 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Yojimbo
Consensus Best Picture: West Side Story
Comments: This is a rare event — the Academy loved this and the critics still do. The IMDB voters don’t. You can attribute to either IMDB voting bias or critical bias. I have not seen the movie since I was about ten, so I’m in no position to judge. But my inclination is that IMDB is probably wrong on this one and the Academy was right.

Year: 1962
Academy Pick: Lawrence of Arabia
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.4 (1 out of 50, minimum 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Lawrence of Arabia
Consensus Best Picture: To Kill a Mockingbird or Lawrence of Arabia
Comments: The amazing thing about the 1950′s and 60′s is that you frequently had years like this — with two major classics butting against each other. In such years there wasn’t a wrong choice. But in the years where you didn’t have that problem — oh, 1958 for example — the Academy inevitably picked the wrong one.

Year: 1963
Academy Pick: Tom Jones
IMDB Rating and Rank: 6.8 (36 of 50, minimum 2000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: The Great Escape
Consensus Best Picture: Unclear. There were a few foreign films like 8 1/2 and The Leopard.
Comments: Tom Jones was the last Best Picture to be rated below 7 but that may be an IMDB bias. It was a weak year.

Year: 1964
Academy Pick: My Fair Lady
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.8 (10 of 43, minimum 3000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Dr. Strangelove
Consensus Best Picture: Dr. Strangelove
Comments: Strangelove was nominated but the 1960′s were a weird time for the Academy. At precisely the time films were becoming bolder and more innovative thanks to the collapse of the Hays code, the Academy got very conservative in their movie choices. They picked four musicals in eight years and the emerging Kubrick would become his generation’s Hitchcock, pumping out masterpiece after masterpiece without a single statue. It would culminate in the only award ever given to a G-rated picture in 1968. My Fair Lady is a fine picture. It’s not Dr. Strangelove. And I suspect the Academy knew it.

Year: 1965
Academy Pick: The Sound of Music
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.9 (7 out of 40, minimum 3000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: For a Few Dollars More
Consensus Best Picture: The Sound of Music
Comments: Again, the IMDB bias. Musical vs. Clint Eastwood; Eastwood wins. You can add Sergio Leone to Hitch and Kubrick as snubbed directors. IMDB rates his films as the best of the year four times.

Year: 1966
Academy Pick: A Man For All Seasons
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.9 (7 of 44, minimum 3000 votes
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Consensus Best Picture: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Comments: I have not seen Man but I’ve never heard anyone claim it was a classic. Roger Ebert is among those who think Leone’s epic is a classic. So am I.

Year: 1967
Academy Pick: In the Heat of the Night
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.0 (5 of 42, minimum 3000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Cool Hand Luke
Consensus Best Picture: The Graduate
Comments: In the Heat… is a great film and makes many best ever lists. It was a fine (and for the Academy, bold) choice. I would say that this is where the Academy finally broke down and began to recognize great films again. There is one more horrible choice ahead but they were about to enter arguably their best era.

Year: 1968
Academy Pick: Oliver!
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.4 (19 of 42, minimum 3000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Once Upon a Time in The West
Consensus Best Picture: 2001
Comments: Kubrick got a director nomination and an award fo best special effects. It’s hard to blame the Academy for not rewarding 2001 which was not as well-regarded then as it is now. Oliver! is not a bad film but … seriously? Over The Lion in Winter?

Year: 1969
Academy Pick: Midnight Cowboy
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.9 (5 of 31, minimum 3000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Consensus Best Picture: Butch Cassidy or Midnight Cowboy
Comments: Talk about a whipsaw. From a G-rated musical to an X-rated classic? The crumbling of the Academy’s prudery was almost instantaneous. Watch out, folks. From 1969 to 1978, every Academy pick will be either the consensus Best Picture or a close second. Every choice will be defensible.

Year: 1970
Academy Pick: Patton
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.0 (2 of 38, minimum 3000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: La Cercle Rouge (?!)
Consensus Best Picture: MASH

Year: 1971
Academy Pick: The French Connection
IMDB Rating and Rank: 7.9 (5 of 53, minimum 3000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: A Clockwork Orange
Consensus Best Picture: A Clockwork Orange or The French Connection or Last Picture Show

Year: 1972
Academy Pick: The Godfather
IMDB Rating and Rank: 9.2 (1 of 30, minimum 5000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: The Godfather
Consensus Best Picture: The Godfather

Year: 1973
Academy Pick: The Sting
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.4 (1 of 42, minimum 5000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: The Sting
Consensus Best Picture: The Sting

Year: 1974
Academy Pick: The Godfather, Part II
IMDB Rating and Rank: 9.0 (1 of 34, minimum 5000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: The Godfather, Part II
Consensus Best Picture: The Godfather, Part II

Year: 1975
Academy Pick: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.8 (1 of 29, minimum 5000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Consensus Best Picture: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Comments: That’s four straight where all three methods agree.

Year: 1976
Academy Pick: Rocky
IMDB Rating and Rank: 8.1 (5 of 35, minimum 5000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Taxi Driver
Consensus Best Picture: Taxi Driver, Network or Rocky
Comments: And just like that, Scorsese becomes the new “Whose dog did he run over?” poster boy. Rocky is regarded by some wags as a bad Oscar pick. It wasn’t. Both IMDB and the critics have a high opinion of it, even if that opinion falls a bit short of Taxi Driver.

Year: 1977
Academy Pick: Annie Hall
IMDB Rating and Rank: (2 of 39, minimum 5000 votes)
IMDB Pick as Best Picture: Star Wars
Consensus Best Picture: Star Wars or Annie Hall
Comments: I personally find Annie Hall to be a fine film but a tad over-rated. Hollywood.com rates is as the best Best Picture of all time, which is ridiculous. There is some hostility toward it in fanboy world because it beat Star Wars, which is regarded, at least by IMDB, as one of the ten best films of all time. But, by the Academy’s standards, Annie Hall was a fine choice, still regarded as a classic. That and Star Wars stand way out from the pack of films that year.

The Academy’s streak of great choices would run into the next year, incidentally before crashing hard in the early 80′s. And this is a good point to break because star Wars marks the beginning of action films taking over the IMDB ratings.

So, let’s review. The Academy’s second quarter century was far better than their first. In four straight years, 1972-1975, they picked the consensus Best Picture. In 12 other years — 1954, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1969-1971 and 1976-1977, they picked a very defensible choice, a movie that is either at or near the top of the IMDB ratings or is still regarded as a great film. That’s 16 of 25, almost twice as good as their first quarter century. And in only three years — 1956, 1958 and 1963 did they make a really terrible choice.

The worst pick of the second era? Well, if you read the entire the post this far, you know it’s got to be Gigi. Around the World in 80 Days may have, objectively, been the worst movie picked. But Gigi is still regarded as a great movie by many and bumped what many regard as one of the best movies of all time. It’s not Gigi itself, so much. It’s that Gigi was the apotheosis of an era where the Academy repeatedly snubbed masterpieces in favor of safe fare. It’s selection was everything that was wrong with the 1950′s and 1960′s.

One more rundown of years and then a concluding post.

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