The Broadway Melody (1929): Best Picture nominees tend to be a safe lot, although sometimes the Academy has sudden good taste. More often, such slips go in the other direction. The year 1929 wasn’t a strong movie year: The industry was still awkwardly switching to sound, and AMPAS felt the best of the quintet of Picture nominees, a definite mixed bag, was the first all-talking musical. Historical importance (and admittedly a couple decent numbers) can’t, alas, atone for the stagy filming, creaky stereotypes and sickly melodrama—aspects of the Hollywood musical that would be fixed immediately thereafter.
Dr. Dolittle (1967): How to atone for a legendary disaster, whose already titanic budget ballooned to three times its size, that was tied to an actor (Rex Harrison) more egomaniacal than a box-office draw, and which no one saw or liked? Lobby so aggressively that it’s officially considered one of the year’s five best, in the year of Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate no less. Harvey Weinstein is a pussy.
Airport (1970): In the 1930s, when there were usually 10 nominees, AMPAS liked to strike a nice balance between generic “prestige” product and (actually superior) “entertainments,” like The Thin Man, 42nd St. and The Awful Truth. The ’60s and ’70s saw a similar kowtow to populism. One slot was sometimes reserved for a big, if hardly more than adequate, blockbuster. The perfectly adequate Guns of Navarone wound up competing against The Hustler and West Side Story. More egregiously, Airport , a dismal disaster movie, wound up competing against an even worse picture: Love Story.
Mississippi Burning (1988): A loathsome piece of shit that milks the peaceful civil-rights movement for vigilante fodder. Seriously, fuck this movie.
Chocolat (2000): Harvey Weinstein has used his powers for good (Pulp Fiction), less good (Shakespeare in Love) and, occasionally, evil. With few “Oscar-worthy” products for the year, he put his considerable weight behind this total piffle from Lasse Hollström, a movie your mom didn’t even like.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011): Current Tomatometer: 45 percent. Metacritic: 46. But then, every Stephen Daldry film (Billy Elliott, The Hours, The Reader) has been nominated for either/both a Picture or Director Oscar. Breaking tradition would simply be rude.
Starting in 1949 Havana, the story plows through several decades in the lives of its titular heroes, respectively the country’s “hottest piano player” and a prostitute with not only a heart of gold but also a pair of pipes. Her sexy-breathy act leads her to fortunes in New York and Hollywood, while Chico contends with more modest work, including touring Europe with Dizzy Gillespie. Our central pair try to stay together, but the vagaries of history and film plotting more often keep them apart.