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. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1995 winner Braveheart. Is it better than Crash?
There are two kinds of “bad” Oscar winners: there are the Around the World in 80 Days kinds that are genuinely bad and win inexplicably and there are the Driving Miss Daisy and Gladiator kinds that seem fine at the time and almost immediately crumble upon future examination. Braveheart is that second kind. You see it on a list of Best Picture winners and just say, “Really? Okay.”
Braveheart is a common type of movie for Oscar winners, the “kinda, sorta, I guess, true story” movie. The liberties are apparently many (I don’t know a lot about Scottish history, I’ll cop to that), but you get the sense that Mel Gibson could not care less. It’s the story of how cool Mel Gibson thinks William Wallace (and by extension, Mel Gibson) is, and everything else can get edited out.
The English invade Scotland and set up shop. William Wallace (Mel Gibson, of course) doesn’t appreciate that, and he leads a small rebellion that becomes a revolution. It’s stirring and it definitely won the Oscar for being a somewhat uplifting story about what man is capable of doing when backed into a corner. Good men fight, they don’t negotiate! Cover yourself in blood and blue paint and go fight against the American government I mean the English how dare you suggest this is about something else! Mel Gibson’s personal politics color the movie “a bit” the same way water covers the Earth “a bit.”
Mel Gibson is justly hated in 2014 because he’s basically done everything wrong a celebrity can do. He’s a racist and he’s a generally awful person aside from that. I think it’s possible to enjoy a work of art aside from the politics of the person who made it, and I think that’s why Eastwood’s movies deserve attention despite the fact that I think Eastwood himself does not. It’s complicated, and I respect everyone’s opinion on the matter. Just as On the Waterfront is a tough sell to some people because its director named names during the blacklist, Braveheart is difficult to separate from Mel Gibson’s insane, consistent antisemitism.
In this case we will judge it for what it is, not what he is. It’s an epic, sure, and it’s an exciting popcorn flick that has some sweeping battles and some dramatic smaller fights. That is also 100% of what it is. The message — FREEEEEEEDOM — is delivered via shotgun. The “love story” is ridiculous, especially the physical scenes, which clearly exist so Mel Gibson can be a big grosso on camera. The plot is mostly fine, though it starts to falter towards the end. The saving grace is in what you mostly remember from it, and that’s that the fight scenes work well.
While it’s debatable if we need to discuss Mel Gibson’s politics or not, his choice to write the secondary antagonist as a terrible gay stereotype is one we’ve got to talk about. King Edward is a real bastard and probably needs to be played that way for Wallace to seem just in his actions, but his open contempt for his closeted, effeminate son is disgusting. Every time the characters interact the King snarls everything he says at his son, and you can almost taste the homophobia through the scenes. Mel Gibson is The Worst, but even if you leave out his views the scenes are uncomfortable and poorly done.
Braveheart isn’t what you remember it, or, if you were a smarter kid than I was, maybe it is. Either way, whoa.
The Best Part: The first time Wallace rises up he goes apeshit on a group of English soldiers who are terrorizing his beloved. It’s a great scene, and it’s about the only thing Braveheart can do well. The obvious assholes get taken to task by the obvious good guys. Anything more complicated than that? Nope.
The Worst Part: I’ve already discussed Edward II’s character, but his lover is the real dark mark against this movie. The King picks him up and throws him out of a window to kill him in anger. It’s an INSANE scene, and if you need confirmation that it’s meant to suggest that the King is disgusted by his gay son, go check out the YouTube comments on any version of it. Actually, don’t do that, because they are repugnant.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? I don’t hate Braveheart, though it may seem that way here. I just think it’s unjustly rewarded for being a mediocre movie in a down year. Like Gladiator, it’s mostly fine for what it is (aside from the two gay characters, of course, that is not at all fine), but it’s not a Best Picture winner. It seems silly on this list, and that’s generous considering how wretched Mel Gibson is. Braveheart doesn’t hold up, but the fight scenes kinda do, and that makes it better than Crash.
Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a Slave | The Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather | Casablanca | Grand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire | The Deer Hunter | Around the World in 80 Days | Chariots of Fire | Mutiny on the Bounty | Argo | From Here to Eternity | Ordinary People | The Lost Weekend | All the King’s Men | Rebecca | A Beautiful Mind | Titanic | The Broadway Melody | The Sound of Music | On the Waterfront | Unforgiven | Million Dollar Baby | My Fair Lady | Hamlet | Braveheart
Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @alexbad.