In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 1994 winner Forrest Gump. Is it better than Crash?
If you put ten people in a room and told them they couldn’t come out until they’d named the ten most iconic American films of the last thirty years then you would probably go to prison for kidnapping. Before serving your time, though, you’d also have a list that almost assuredly included Forrest Gump.
Only The Lion King outdid it in the domestic box office in 1994. The Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, and Pulp Fiction failed to stop the feel good movie of the year (where someone loses their legs) from winning Best Picture. Forrest Gump made hundreds of millions of dollars, enjoyed almost universal acclaim, and launched an entire damn theme restaurant. People loved this movie.
It is strange to see it now, twenty years later. I’ve heard stories of sad nerd parents showing their kids the original Star Wars movies only to be frustrated that they cannot love them as they do. They know who Luke’s dad is. They aren’t impressed. That comparison isn’t perfect here, but even if you haven’t seen Forrest Gump you still kinda have.
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks, as though I need to even say that) lives a full life. He meets world leaders, plays college football for a legendary program, gets honored in war, and invents the smiley face. The movie unfolds through Gump telling his weird story like a clip show. The clip show comparison does work here, because these scenes are so iconic in recent American film that it’s just about impossible to not know them. Shrimp. Lt. Dan. Jenny. You know because you can’t not know.
Saying there are “problems” with Forrest Gump is putting it mildly, but they are all intentional problems. The camp factor of Gump is off every chart, even the chart they invented to show things that are off of charts. Tom Hanks pulls his pants down to show LBJ a bullet wound on national television. It’s all in the service of making Forrest the character into a lovable oaf, but it’s thick. It was probably more endearing before lines of dialogue became relics of the early 90s, but there are moments when you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by it all now.
For as broad and as hamfisted as it is, it’s all intentional. They set this movie up to feel goofy in an earnest way. Crash stumbles around more serious subject matter in the same awkward fashion, but Crash does so with no self awareness. That’s why Gump just elicits eyerolling when it goes too broad and Crash feels like something a sixteen year old didn’t think through when it does.
There will always be a discussion of Forrest Gump versus Pulp Fiction among the kind of people that have that discussion, but Gump brings something to the table more than the aphorisms and goofball charm. It comes through as a bright movie with dark edges even years later. There are problems — Jenny’s character doesn’t get enough to do and she’s just another piece of Forrest’s puzzle — but the movie is still cohesive. The third act is decidedly strange and has gotten even stranger with time. There’s a case to be made that his “running for no reason” is a statement about Forrest’s place in the world or is his response to an uncaring world but it doesn’t advance the movie’s message and comes off as just blessedly strange.
I’m not going to sit here and say Forrest Gump is bad. On the contrary, it’s amazing how little it feels like the “Movie of the Week” ideal that it occupies in American pop culture.
The Best Part: Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise), who is the only person with real motivations in the movie outside of Forrest. Most of the cast just doesn’t get enough to do in this movie. There’s no way to interact with a character like Forrest Gump unless you play a foil to him, and the only person they let really do that is Gary Sinise.
The Worst Part: This, probably.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? It’s better, absolutely. Forrest Gump is one of your family’s favorite movies for a reason. The flaws don’t ruin the experience, of course, and there’s no greater thrill to the movie than watching Tom Hanks just Tom Hanks around. Crash is starting to sour even worse than it originally came off to me, and I’m hoping one of the next few gives it a real challenge at the bottom of the barrel.
Image credit: IMDB