Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ranking the Decades Best Picture Oscar Winners

With the decade behind us, and my own Top 100 list also done, I decided to rank the Oscar winners for the last decade – for Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and then throwing in the Palme D’or from Cannes as well. So over the next week or so, I’ll post one per day – starting with Best Picture.
Best Picture
I think probably the nicest thing you can say about the Academy is that they end up with fairly mainstream tastes. There are factions within the Academy who like more daring fare, artier fare, foreign fare, etc. – but when it comes down to what actually wins Best Picture, it’s pretty popular, old school movies. And yet, there were times this decade when I thought that maybe – just maybe – they were going in a more daring direction with its Best Picture winners – but that seems to have changed in the last couple of years. Still – I will say that while there hasn’t been a single year this decade where my favorite film of the year won Best Picture – and only two where the Best Picture winner were even on my top 10 list - they have made some good choices, in that the movies that have won are fine, entertaining movies. It’s just become increasingly clear that what the Academy think of as great movies, and what I do, is very different. So now, onto the ranking, from worst to first for the past decade.
10. Green Book (2018) – I don’t hate Green Book like many seem to – it’s an entertaining film, with funny and heartfelt moments, and broad but emotionally satisfying beats. It’s also a film that feels like a best picture winner from the 1980s, with its view of race relations more akin to the time the movie is set in – the 1960s. Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali are very good – and it must be said that Peter Farrelly knows how to make a satisfying, entertaining comedy. I suspect that had Green Book had just kind of came and went, with no Oscar love, it wouldn’t have generated the hate that it has. Still, it’s the worst Best Picture winner of the decade – and it isn’t particularly close.
What Should Have Won (of the Nominees): People last year were certainly cheering for Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma – as it really did seem to be a two-horse race heading into Oscar night, and that would have been a great choice. My personal favorite though was Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman – and the irony isn’t lost on me that Green Book won in the year with a great Spike Lee film about race, just like the year Driving Miss Daisy won, and Lee’s Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated.
9. Argo (2012) – Ben Affleck knows how to make an entertaining thriller – and Argo is certainly that. It’s the Iran hostage crisis, focusing on the CIA agent who helped sneak them out of the country, with the help of Hollywood, Argo is a crackerjack thriller, that moves swiftly through its two hour run time and does so in entertaining fashion. It’s a throwback to the days when studios would make this type of film – which seem even further in the rearview mirror now than it did in 2012.
What Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): I remember this being a particularly nasty Oscar year in terms of campaigning – and questions of historical accuracy took out two superior films to Argo – Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln (you can be bothered by the historical accuracy of those films, and still be baffled that apparently the only year the Academy seemed to care about that, they went with Argo). My favorite would have been Michael Haneke’s Amour however – an absolute masterpiece, and would have put to rest this whole idea if a foreign film could win Best Picture.
8. Birdman (2014) – I liked Birdman a lot when I first saw it – but something about it bugged me – and when I watched it again, it bugged me even more. I do think the performances – especially by Michael Keaton – are fantastic, and I admire the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, and the energy Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu gets throughout. I also think the whole thing is a little too shallow, and doesn’t really add up too much. It’s an ambitious film in some ways – but not in others. Still, it’s an odd film for the Academy to embrace, so we can celebrate that – even if they embraced it because it celebrates how great actors are.
What Should Have Won (of the Nominees): I will certainly admit that perhaps I’d be a little less down on Birdman had the Academy not had a chance to give the top prize to two other great films. My favorite was Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel – which won a bunch of awards, but couldn’t break through in the top categories, and the film that may have won had it not been for Birdman was Richard Linklater’s Boyhood – a truly innovative film. Either choice would have aged better than Birdman.
7. The King’s Speech (2010) – The King’s Speech is perhaps the least ambitious Best Picture winner of the decade (aside from Green Book) – and yet as an example of the type of film it is, it’s hard to beat. Perhaps it’s because as someone who suffered from a childhood stutterer, I related to the film, and admired the hell out of Colin Firth’s performance. Yes, The King’s Speech is a stereotypical “Oscar bait” film – but it’s done just about as good as it could be done.
What Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): We all know that David Fincher’s The Social Network really should have won this one – that film seems even timelier now than it did a decade ago.
6. The Shape of Water (2017) – When I get down about how the Academy doesn’t seem to be moving forward in its taste, I have to remind myself that it wasn’t that long ago when the Academy gave the Best Picture Oscar to a movie about a woman who falls in love with – and has sex with – a fish monster. Yes, the film is very classically structured – a nostalgic look back, with the feel of classic Hollywood. Still, the woman has sex with a fish man – and it’s classic Guillermo Del Toro – one of the good guys of cinema.
What Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): I do believe that at some point, we’re going to look back and marvel at the fact that the Academy never saw fit to give a film by Paul Thomas Anderson the best picture Oscar – and Phantom Thread is both the year’s best film and about as close as Anderson is going to make to Oscar bait.
5. The Artist (2011) – I’ve always felt that had The Artist did what most likely expected it to – come and go from theaters quickly and quietly, and then be forgotten, than movie lovers would likely bemoan how a film this much fun was ignored. It is, after all, a black and white, silent film, made to look and feel like a film from 1929 – and with a cast of mostly French actors (no, that doesn’t make it a foreign film). The film is a wonderful technical achievement. I don’t think it adds up too much more than that – but it’s fun and a movie lovers dream.
What Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): The best film nominated – and the best film of the year – was clearly Terrence Malik’s The Tree of Life – which we all know was never going to win, but would have been amazing if it had. If they really wanted to celebrate silent film and technical achievement, I preferred Martin Scorsese’s Hugo to The Artist.
4. Spotlight (2015) – Spotlight is the kind of low key film that usually doesn’t win the Best Picture Oscar – it’s a writer’s showcase, and an actor’s showcase, and it tells an important movie with sensitivity and subtlety, and only a couple of moments that go a little big. It’s the type of film that works just about perfectly for what it is.
What Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): How cool would it have been if the exact opposite type of film to Spotlight had pulled off the victory – I’m talking of course of Mad Max: Fury Road – a balls to the wall action film that is the best film of the its kind of the decade.
3. Moonlight (2016) – Moonlight is the type of film that film lovers love – it feels like an American version of a Wong Kar Wai film, but still very much its own thing – a three-part story of a young black man, as a kid, as a teenager, as a young adult, going through the motions of acting masculine, to cover for his own homosexuality. It is a brilliantly acted and written film – but it’s really a showcase for Barry Jenkins behind the camera, who has crafted a masterpiece.
What Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): I don’t think any single film this decade left me more emotionally devastated or drained than Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea – which would have been my choice.
2. 12 Years a Slave (2013) – 12 Years a Slave is a brilliantly constructed, and emotionally powerful film about a freeman kidnapped, and sold into slavery, where he suffers for more than a decade. Steve McQueen’s film is more than just another portrait of black pain, to make white people feel better – it is a gut wrenching film, that confronts you, and dares you not look away. It is a masterwork – and fully deserving of the prize.
What Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): I love it then, and love it more now – Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street really is one of the best film of his career – and the decade, and for me, a little better than the winner.
1.Parasite (2019) – The Academy saved the best for last – and as good as both 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight are; it still isn’t really all that close. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a Hitchcock-ian masterpiece about class warfare. It is meticulously crafted, and for a long time, it is immensely entertaining – smart, clever, suspenseful, even funny – which is what makes the ending of the film hit so hard – he lets you think a happy ending is possible, and then almost cruelly takes it away. It was a giant leap for the Academy to go with Parasite for the win – and it was the right choice.
Who Should Have Won (of the Nominees): Yes, I liked both The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood even more than Parasite – it was a great year – but somehow, I still think they made the right choice.

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