It’s hard to make a movie. Wait, no, that’s an understatement. It’s almost impossible. Even if you have a perfect script, there are almost infinite unquantifiable forces working against you, screwing up your vision, from problems with cast and crew to permit issues, weather, financing, and endless post-production delays. It’s a wonder any film is ever completed, let alone good enough to win an award. Hell, even if you manage to make an awards-worthy film, you have to make creative choices to get to the finish line. Such choices may include cutting cumbersome exposition, or simply throwing the audience into a world of absolutes, devoid of exposition. Despite the accolades, there are plenty of unexplained things in Oscar winning movies, a lot of which boil down to lapses in logic. Characters disappear or know things they shouldn’t, and sometimes, well, stuff just happens.
Academy Award movies with unexplained plot points aren’t new; they’ve been around since the little golden statues were first handed out. While it stands to reason Academy Award winners that probably didn’t deserve it would have purposeless scenes or characters who could suddenly connect the A and B plots, a lot of Oscar winning films with unexplained moments are considered to be among the best ever made. So why are they so confusing?
The Problem: That’s not his kid right? Or is it? Most sane people with things to do saw Forrest Gump once and never watched it again, but the question still lingers – is Jenny’s kid Forrest’s son?
In most films, this enigmatic ending would be perfectly fine, but Forrest Gump doesn’t play with the rules of cinema, and its philosophy is straight forward. Jenny tells Forrest he is the father of her son, but she offers no proof. Still, Jenny wouldn’t lie to Forrest, would she? Forrest Gump wears its heart on its sleeve, so if the producers wanted the audience to know Jenny’s kid was indeed not Forrest’s, they would have come out and said it, right? But for some fans, the question of whether or not Forrest is really the father lingers.
The Wizard of Oz
Oscars: Best Original Music Score
The Problem: Everyone loves The Wizard of Oz, but it’s got major problems with glossing over serious things the audience wants to know. First of all, Glinda waits until the end of the film to tell Dorothy she could have gone back to Kansas with her ruby slippers. Was she just using Judy Garland to kill her rivals? Or is this a case of the movie not being possible if Dorothy goes home? Talk about narrative convenience.
Secondly, how does Scarecrow talk when he doesn’t have a brain? He sings a whole song about it, and when Dorothy asks him how he can talk he responds, “I don’t know. But some people do an awful lot of talking and haven’t got any brains at all.” That’s a spectacular non-answer for someone without a brain.
Later in the film, Scarecrow is awarded a diploma by The Wizard, which isn’t the same as a brain, but a representation of intellect that looks much less gross than a brain in a jar. This either means the Scarecrow had a brain the entire time or the whole thing is a poorly written metaphor.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Oscars: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup
The Problem: It’s a fool’s errand to parse science fiction logic, but as Shakespeare said, “James Cameron films sleep in a fool’s ear.” Everyone who has seen a Terminator film (let’s all agree the Terminator franchise ends with Judgment Day) knows only organic material can travel back in time, unless you take a robot and cover it in skin. Fine. But if that’s the case how do the machines send T-1000 back to kill John Connor? And why do they wait so long? Is time travel contingent on a certain amount of time passing between jumps? Judgment Day is fun, but its science nullifies its existence, relegating it to the realm of fan fiction. That’s right, nerds. T2 never happened.
The Silence of the Lambs
Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
The Problem: In the wake of PC policing and the infamous “I’d f*ck me” scene, you may have forgotten The Silence of the Lambs is a very good movie with outstanding performances. However, much of the film relies on the audience to ignore the fact that some of the major revelations happen because they have to happen. When Special Agent Jodie Foster consults Hannibal Lecter in order to gain insight into Buffalo Bill, it turns out Lecter knows who Bill is, and knows everything about him, because they worked together at one point. Talk about good luck.
Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing
The Problem: One of the most famous scenes in The Exorcist has Regan, a young girl possessed by a demon, spinning her head around, being spooky. It’s great. You’ll love it. But here’s the problem. The end of the film hass a troubled priest make Regan’s demon so mad it leaves her body and jumps into his. Then he jumps out a window, breaks his neck, and kills himself, sending the demon back to its one bedroom in Hell.
If the troubled priest had spooky demon powers when he jumped out the window, how did he break his neck? Shouldn’t he have just been able to spin his head around and continue on with his spooky work? Was Regan able to spin her head around because she was going through puberty? Do you need to have a demon inside of you for a set number of days before you can spin your head around right round like a record baby?
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Oscars: Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing,
The Problem: For a certain group of cinephiles, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest films of all time. It awakened a sense of wonder inside them that’s about to be crushed by a giant, rolling boulder of truth. Raiders is one of the most pointless films in history. Nothing in this movie needs to happen. Indy never needs to chase after the Ark because if the Nazis got the Biblical artifact back to Hitler, he would have opened it and melted his face off.
Keep in mind, this film takes place in 1936, close to five years before the Holocaust began in earnest. How many people would Dr. Jones have saved if he hadn’t tried to put the Ark in a museum? Indiana Jones is truly history’s greatest monster.
Oscars: Best Original Screenplay
The Problem: If you’ve taken a film class, or spoken to someone who has, you know Citizen Kaneis one of the most important films of the 20th century (aka ever). Orson Welles filmed a ceiling! No one had ever done that!
In Kane, Charles Foster Kane, newspaper magnate and millionaire who pushed everyone away, dies alone and his final word is “rosebud.” But here’s the thing: if he died alone, there’s no way anyone knows last word. Obviously this is a theatrical conceit Welles glosses over so well audiences don’t even think about it until they’re staring into the refrigerator a few hours later not thinking about much and it strikes like a bolt of savage death from the Terrordome.
Oscars: Best Original Score
The Problem: The entire plot of Aladdin hinges on Aladdin having a genie for a best friend, about which Jafar, the Grand Vizier of the Sultan, is jealous. He wants the genie to be his best friend! And he wants to use the genie’s magic powers to take over Agrabah, the world, et all. But why does Jafar need a genie when he has a staff that can hypnotize people? At one point in the film he hypnotizes the Sultan into making his daughter marry Jafar, so why not just hypnotize everyone in the city and call it a day?
Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Original Score
The Problem: The Sting presents an idealized and sanitized version of the 1930s, in which guys were free to pick up dames and cops shook their billy clubs at criminals rather than arresting them. It’s a really fun movie that hopes you’re enjoying yourself enough to not try to figure out how Robert Redford, playing a character no one seems to like, gets Paul Newman, also playing a character people don’t want to hang out with, to help him get the entire mob world of Chicago on his side so they can pretend to host horse races.
There’s too much exposition to go into, but basically Redford pulls some shenanigans with old horse races and a phone booth to trick a wealthy so and so into betting all of his money. Fine. But shouldn’t the wealthy so and so have done a cursory amount of research into the world of horse racing? This is really a movie that requires everyone to make idiotic decisions except for the main characters.
Midnight in Paris
Oscars: Best Original Screenplay
The Problem: You can have whatever problems you want with Woody Allen and his work, but everyone knows his greatest flaw is his inherent lack of understanding of time travel. Midnight in Paris revolves around a writer who has sold his soul to Los Angeles and a shrew of a woman who just wants to get married. YUCK! The author finds a way to travel back in time to the 1920s, where everyone is drunk and constantly talking about boxing and artistic intent. It’s exhausting.
While in the ’20s, he meets an ingenue who longs for the romance of the 1890s. Then they time travel to the 1890s via mysterious carriage. Hold the phone ringer box. How does time travel work in this movie? It’s a romantic comedy, so there doesn’t need to be a scene where Neil DeGrasse Tyson breaks down the Einstein-Rosen bridge that Owen Wilson uses to get notes from Gertrude Stein, but does the time machine take you to where you want to go? Or is it a thing that jumps back 30 years at a time? If that’s the case, Owen should have had to go back to the ’80s, then the ’50s, then the ’20s. Does anyone else have a headache?
Oscars: Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay
The Problem: When was the last time you watched Fargo? If you’re like most of the world, it’s been about 10 years, so you probably don’t remember the agonizing, film- stopping scene where pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson goes on a date in Minneapolis with an old high school friend. Why? Nothing comes of this scene. It would be like if, in the middle of Wings of Desire, Bruno Ganz took a break to learn how to make the perfect pizza crust, although Wim Wenders could probably figure out how to fold that into the story.
Did the Cohen brothers feel they needed to slow down an already slow motion plot? Or was this an early exercise in laid back existentialism they wouldn’t perfect until Inside Llewyn Davis? The film community needs answers, and even Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese have gotten in on the fan theories, suggesting the scene reveals to Marge the inherent duplicity of people, which encourages her to revisit Jerry Lundegaard, a suspect in her investigation, to see whether he’s telling the whole truth (he isn’t).
Mad Max: Fury Road
Oscars: Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup
The Problem: Mad Max: Fury Road is great. One of the most fun blockbusters released in ages. Who doesn’t like seeing Tom Hardy tortured for about two straight hours? But when does this movie take place within the series chronology? It may not seem important to the storyline, but the character of Max is nothing but the sum of his experiences. The original trilogy sees Max start as a law abiding family man who, over the course of three films, is mentally and physically beaten down until he doesn’t care about anyone but himself, because that’s the only way to survive.
It’s not until the end of The Road Warrior he tacitly agrees to help out a village full of desert people, and that’s mostly because he doesn’t want to deal with the sand BDSM gang. By the end of Beyond Thunderdome, Max has completed his hero’s journey and become a man who can lead children into battle while speaking in full sentences in a rad desert car. This trilogy doesn’t offer an in for a fourth movie. Does Fury Road take place in an alternate timeline? Do these things happen right before The Road Warrior? Directly afterwards? Is it even the same character, or are they just cashing in on brand recognition? A film has never needed a Star Wars style opening crawl as much as Fury Road does.
Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing
The Problem: Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is the peak of cinematic sweaty dudes. It’s a riveting film that unfortunately wouldn’t be possible without one of the characters being psychic (or maybe a very important scene was cut out?).
To put it as succinctly as possible, Russell Crowe is a popular gladiator who forms a secret plot with the Roman Senate to overthrow a wiener of an emperor. The emperor’s sister is in on the deal. Emperor Wiener (played by a very pointy-looking Joaquin Phoenix) finds about the plan from his sister’s six-year-old son. Ridley Scott never explains why a child would know about a secret plot to overthrow the government, but the entire plot hinges on this fact. Sorry, Mr. Scott, but we are not entertained.
Oscars: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing
The Problem: Remember Aliens? The groundbreaking sci-fi/action movie that created a rubric for every action film that followed? The sequel to a nerve-wracking film that managed the rare feat of a tonal change while maintaining the original film’s sense that anything can happen when you’re alone in the dark. You know the movie. It’s the one where, like, 30 space marines with giant guns are immediately killed by a hive of aliens even though a pre-teen girl with no weaponry managed to live among the creatures for an unknown amount of time without resources like food or clean drinking water. You know, that one.
The Ten Commandments
Oscars: Best Visual Effects
The Problem: Back in the ’50s, films didn’t have to make sense to win awards, they just had to be longer than three hours and star Charlton Heston. At some point in the nearly 4-hour motion picture event The Ten Commandments, Moses uses his direct line with God to ask her to turn the water of Egypt to blood. It’s a dick move, for sure.
Prior to all the water turning into blood, Moses’s sister, Miriam, tells everyone to fill their jars with water so they’ll have something to drink that isn’t blood. Later, the Pharaoh has a jar of blood (which used to be water), while Moses and his crew have jars of water. How? Was there a cut off date for getting non-blood water from the well? Or is God playing favorites? That’s fine if She is, but someone should let the audience in on that.