It’s moviedom’s glitziest night of the year this evening, as the best and brightest of Hollywood and the wider movie world (well, some of it) gather in L.A. for the 89th Academy Awards — aka the Oscars! How many awards will La La Land win? How many anti-Trump speeches will there be? It’s all to play for!
To mark the auspicious occasion, today’s celebratory top ten looks back over the last decade of Best Picture winners and asks, “which is the best Best Picture?” And ranks all the others too, because it wouldn’t be much of a top ten otherwise, would it?
No Country for Old Men
I’ve long ago lost the source to cite it, but I once read a critic describe No Country as the only worthy Best Picture winner of that decade. Well, obviously I disagree. I have mixed feelings about the Coen brothers’ work most of the time, and this is no exception. I just find it a deeply unsatisfying film.
What should have won? The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is better than either of the so-called Westerns that were nominated. But of the actual nominees? Maybe Atonement.
At least I found Birdman less expressly irritating than No Country, but it does frequently feel like it’s more concerned with showing off than… well, anything else. It’s obviously tailor-made to appeal to Oscar voters, particularly the dominant acting branch, so from that point of view it’s no surprise it won. Kind of sad the Oscars can be reduced to such observations, isn’t it?
What should have won? A lot of people thought it should be Boyhood, which is a worthy pick, and Whiplash remains very popular, though my favourite of the nominees was The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The King’s Speech
There’s an element of heritage drama to The King’s Speech that mean some will always find it inherently objectionable — generally cinephile types, while wider audiences love that kind of thing. I mean, how else to you explain Downton Abbey’s phenomenal success? King’s Speech works in spite of that thanks to its trio of lead performances, not least Colin Firth as the can-very-much-wait-to-be-King struggling with a stammer.
What should have won? The Social Network. Fincher 4eva.
Maybe it’s rich of me to berate No Country for its reliance on fate and chance while elevating Slumdog up the list, but in the former it feels intrinsic while here it’s just a structural choice. I did object to its regular branding as “feel-good” though, because it’s a pretty grim film on the whole, but a strong cast of child actors and Danny Boyle’s lively direction keep it compelling.
What should have won? Okay, I retract that “Fincher 4eva” — not Benjamin Button. I actually still haven’t seen any of the other nominees from 2008, so I guess Slumdog deserves it.
It must be almost ten whole years since I watched The Departed, and for most of that time I’ve been meaning to revisit it (and to see the original Hong Kong film that inspired it). I confess that my overriding memory isn’t really to do with the film itself and more to do with the fact I thought United 93 was better and more deserving of honours. But it was not to be — the stars had finally aligned for Scorsese. Anyway, The Departed should be my kind of movie, so maybe one day I’ll get round to re-watching it and it can escape that shadow. That’s why it’s only in the middle of this list.
What should have won? United 93 wasn’t actually nominated for Picture, so… maybe Little Miss Sunshine?
The most recent winner rejects filmmaking flash in favour of unfussy storytelling to relate the powerful tale of a group of journalists uncovering a huge cover-up and the wide-reaching conspiracy that maintained it — and it’s all true! Criticisms that Spotlight didn’t focus enough on the victims are probably misplaced: this isn’t a film about what the journalists uncovered, it’s about the act of the journalists uncovering it. In the era of so-called ‘fake news’, it’s more relevant than ever.
What should have won? Either Mad Max: Fury Road or The Revenant would’ve been very worthy choices in my view.
Ben Affleck’s spy thriller is an oddity in modern Oscar winners, what with it being an entertaining genre-ish movie rather than a worthy dramatic picture. It is a true story, though, so it ticks that box. Argo lacks the heft of most Great Movies, but makes up for it with some amusing Hollywood satire and tense undercover thrills.
What should have won? From 2012’s nominees I’m torn between Django Unchained and Lincoln. The latter is more Oscar-y.
The Hurt Locker
If we’re talking about tension, The Hurt Locker knocks Argo into a cocked hat. Well, what better situation to elicit nail-biting nervousness than a bomb disposal unit in a fraught war zone? What makes it more than just a series of exciting vignettes is the character throughline, where it meditates on the idea that some people can find war to be as addictive as a drug.
What should have won? I was a big fan of Inglourious Basterds. This was the year District 9 was nominated, which I’ve still not seen, so maybe that?
A rare foreign winner at the Oscars… though it was backed by the Weinsteins and the brief bits of dialogue are in English, so it’s not that foreign (so that’s OK then!) The Artist is part tribute to the wonder of the silent era, part charming romantic comedy, and all an ode to the brilliance of Uggie the dog. I think it’s the most readily likeable winner of the last decade.
What should have won? Well, I liked War Horse, but otherwise The Artist looks a pretty fair pick.
12 Years a Slave
The powerful true story of an educated, respected, free black man who was abducted into slavery, 12 Years a Slave is obviously a tough movie in theme, but what makes it bearable is the quality of the filmmaking — particularly the great performances from the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender, and the classical but effective direction of Steve McQueen. I don’t think it’s the best movie made in the last decade, but I think it’s probably the best one that won Best Picture.
What should have won? 12 Years a Slave is great ‘n’ all, but, c’mon, Gravity.
How many of those have found a spot on one of my year-end top tens?
Tomorrow: great shorts.