The 92nd Academy Awards take place this Sunday. They will honor the films from the final year of the 2010s. Many consider 2019 to be the best movie year of the decade. Personally, I think 2017 is a real competitor, but I would still probably have to give the nod to 2019. It was an incredible year, which is why it will be interesting to see which film takes home Best Picture, even though 1917 seems like the clear front-runner at this point.
I plan on writing a few different Oscar-themed blogs this week and to start it off I figured I’d take a look back at the previous nine best picture winners from this past decade.
Winning Best Picture is a big deal. I understand those who argue that the Oscar’s don’t matter and it’s just a dumb award show. I agree with many of those sentiments to a degree. Obviously, you should not love the movies you love any less just because they did not win a certain number of awards or receive a lot of nominations. Ultimately, the Oscar’s are one group of people’s opinion on a subjective art form, film. However, winning Best Picture still does mean something. That film is going to be talked about more, more people are going to seek it out because they feel they have to see it because it won Best Picture. In the future, when someone looks up a certain year in film, the Best Picture winner is going to be the first name they see. It is going to represent that year in film, even if it did not actually do that in the moment. We, as film fans, can complain about the Academy’s choice and argue about how they get it wrong every year, but that doesn’t change the fact that most people believe the Best Picture winner is actually the best movie of the year because they simply take the Academy’s word for it.
When I was making my Top 100 Films of the Decade list I noticed that only four Best Picture winners made the list and only one made the top ten. I am firmly in the camp that the Academy usually gets this wrong. They tend to award a certain style of film and ignore things a little more experimental, or interesting. I feel they usually go with the safest, or most traditional choice.
I’m not sure if that will ever change. I hope it does because it would be nice to see the Academy start to award different types of films, different types of filmmakers, and not to mention the actual best films of the year.
With all that being said, here are my rankings for the previous nine Best Picture winners. I am not going to be giving a formal review of these films. Instead, I am going to be talking about them in the context of a Best Picture winner and explore whether or not I thought they deserved the award.
9. The Artist (2011)
I actually am not sure if this is the worst film on this list quality wise. However, I would say it is the prime example of a film that maybe feels special at the time, but the moment the Oscar’s telecast ends you never think about it again. This movie, written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin, is what it is, it’s fine. It’s a movie about old school Hollywood, and there is nothing Hollywood loves more than old school Hollywood. I can honestly say I have not rewatched it since it came out. That is most likely going to be a common theme on this list. The Academy is notorious for giving Best Picture awards to films most people never end up revisiting, which is why people get so mad at their choices. I’m not saying rewatchability is the only measure to judge the quality of a film on, but it certainly should play a part. One thing The Artist has going for it is that it was part of perhaps the worst group of nominees of the decade, so at least it didn’t win over a bunch of great films. The other eight films nominated were The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. Definitely not a great group. My pick would be Moneyball. I think that is the best film on that list and the film that’s had the most staying power out of that group.
8. The King’s Speech (2010)
Another film that falls into the just kind of forgettable category. Tom Hooper’s film about King George VI, starring Colin Firth, is not necessarily a bad film but it certainly was not deserving of Best Picture the year it was released. That is the main thing it has going against it. When you win Best Picture over a film that topped a lot of peoples best of the decade list, you are not going to be remembered too fondly. Of course the other film I’m referring to is The Social Network. A film that feels like it gets more and more relevant each year, while The King’s Speech just gets more and more forgettable. The King’s Speech is just a classic example of that safe Best Picture choice I was referring to though. It’s an inspiring period-piece story about a real person. That’s all you need to know for why it won Best Picture. Perhaps I’m being a little too harsh here, this isn’t a terrible film and I do remember enjoying it for what it was when it was released. The Social Network remains the far superior film though.
7. Green Book (2018)
The most recent Best Picture winner lands at number seven on my list. Last years controversial choice for Best Picture remains an unpopular one among many film fans, including myself. Remember what I said about The King’s Speech, an inspiring period-piece story about a real person? Peter Farrelly’s Green Book checks all those boxes as well. I’m not going to get into all the reasons this film didn’t really work for me because the positive and negative takes about this film were certainly shared more than enough during last years award season. Instead, let’s take a look at what else was nominated. Green Book was one eight nominees along with, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice. My top three choices would have been BlacKkKlansman, Vice, and A Star Is Born. My favorite film of the year was in fact A Star Is Born so that’s where my vote would go, but to be honest I would have been happier with almost any of the other nominees besides Green Book. The only reason it got as high as number seven on my list is because I do genuinely think the performances are amazing.
6. The Shape of Water (2017)
Ah, the fish sex movie, gotta love it. Guillermo del Toro’s unconventional romance/fantasy film lands at the number six spot on my list. The Shape of Water is certainly an interesting film, I would not say it’s a bad film. It is an example of a movie that just grabs a hold of momentum during awards season and rides that wave to the Oscar’s. In the opening, I said that 2017 was, in my opinion, the second best movie year of the decade. Because of that it is a tough pill to swallow that this is the film the Academy chose to represent the whole year. With films like Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, and Phantom Thread nominated it’s almost impossible to think that the Academy really thought this was deserving of Best Picture. I’ve revisited all those films I just mentioned far more than The Shape of Water, they all still feel relevant and have lived on past the 2017 awards season, which I can’t really say about The Shape of Water. My pick for this year would have been Lady Bird, but I would have been okay with any of the five films I named winning.
5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), is my choice for number five on this list. I really do think Iñárritu is an incredibly talented director, but this feels like another film that felt more special in the moment than it turned out actually being. I enjoyed this film when I first saw it and still consider it a good movie. The one-take filmmaking style is certainly always an impressive feat when any director is able to pull it off. The performances, headlined by Michael Keaton, are good across the board and I enjoy the energy and tone of this film. However, this would not have been my choice for Best Picture in 2014. Whiplash and Boyhood are superior films from this year. I have a personal love for Boyhood that I know is not shared by everyone, but Whiplash is probably overall the better made film. Either one of those films feel like they could have and perhaps should have won Best Picture this year.
4. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
2013’s Best Picture winner, 12 Years A Slave, ranks as my number four Best Picture winner of the decade. Steve McQueen’s film about a free black man named Solomon Northup who is abducted and sold into slavery is an intense and at times brutal film. This is a film that is also not fit for a lot of rewatches, but for a much different reason than some of the other films on this list. It has nothing to do with the quality of the film, but instead the subject matter and the ruthless portrayal of that subject matter. It is a great film though, there is no denying that. It was nominated alongside my number one film of the decade, The Wolf of Wall Street, so obviously I didn’t think it was the best picture of 2013. However, I can’t say that it’s completely outrageous that this film won, I certainly understand why the Academy chose it. And they’ve certainly made decisions far more egregious than this one.
3. Argo (2012)
This is definitely a personal choice for me as I still very much enjoy the third film directed by Ben Affleck. This film is notorious for being one of the rare time in Oscar’s history that a film won Best Picture, but its director was not even nominated, which is still ridiculous. This story definitely feels like classic Oscar’s-bait, but I’m okay with it. I love the performances in this film. I love the anxious and increasingly intense feel of it. I love the moments of comedy as well. Also, I was comfortable giving this film such a high spot on my list, not only because I really do enjoy it, but because there were not a ton of other memorable nominees from this year. Argo was nominated alongside Armour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty. My pick would have actually been Django Unchained over Argo, but similar to 12 Years A Slave I don’t think this was an absolutely absurd decision or anything like that.
2. Moonlight (2016)
The 2016 Oscar’s are perhaps best remembered for the on-stage mixup that occurred when Best Picture was being announced. But after they finally sorted that out, Moonlight was announced as Best Picture. This is a film that I really do love. I think Barry Jenkins did a phenomenal job making this movie. This truly is a beautiful film. Once again I love the performances. I love the screenplay as well, which also won an Oscar. I think 2016 is a pretty underrated year for films as well. Moonlight was nominated alongside films like Arrival, Hell or High Water, La La Land, and Manchester by the Sea, which all made my end of the decade list. I must admit I am a defender and supporter of La La Land, and that is a movie that I rank just a little bit ahead of Moonlight. However, I was not disappointed when Moonlight won this award because it hinted at a potential shift in the kinds of films that the Academy was going to celebrate. But, of course they went back to making disappointing choices the next two years.
1. Spotlight (2015)
My number one Best Picture winner of the decade goes to 2015’s Spotlight. This is a movie that I absolutely love. Yes, the story and plot may kind of seem like classic Oscar’s-bait, but I actually think Tom McCarthy avoids some of those tropes and instead makes one of the more entertaining films of the decade. I think the cast is all really great. I think the way the story unfolds as we follow these journalists uncovering more and more information is really well done. 2015 was an interesting Oscar’s year. The Best Picture nominations included films I love like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Big Short, and The Martian, but it never truly felt like the Academy would award any of those films with a Best Picture win. The other films nominated were Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Revenant, and Room. I think Brooklyn is a great film as well, and I love Saoirse Ronan’s performance in that film. I really do think the Academy got it right with Spotlight though. It’s rare, but they do make the right choice every once in a while.