100 Films @ 10: Best Picture Winners of the Past Decade

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?

10
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.

9
Birdman

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.

8
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.

7
Slumdog Millionaire

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.

6
The Departed

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?

5
Spotlight

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.

4
Argo

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.

3
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?

2
The Artist

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.

1
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?

None.

Tomorrow: great shorts.

The Mystery Blogger Award

Mystery Blogger Award

Let’s break this down…

1. Put the award logo/image on your blog.
Boom, done! Next!

2. List the rules.
Doing that.

3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
I was very kindly nominated by sgliput of Rhyme and Reason ~ Poetry Meets Film Reviews.

4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
The Mystery Blogger Award was created by Okoto Enigma.

5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
1) The last five Blu-rays I bought were: the new remastered release of Heat, The Last of the Mohicans, The King of Comedy, The Mask of Zorro, and… Red Sonja. Yep.
2) I spend most of my spare time… writing this blog. I really should get some other hobbies.
3) I have to sign a non-disclosure agreement for my job, which means I can’t tell you what I recently learned about a certain rodent abode and their plunderous pentalogy. (It’s not that exciting really, just more interesting than the stuff I usually know about.)

6. Nominate 10 – 20 people.
That’s… quite a lot of people. As these awards sometimes have a tendency to go round and round, and I know not everyone’s interested in doing them, feel free to consider yourself invited if you’re reading this. Reply in the comments or on your own blog, the choice is yours!

7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.
See above.

8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify).
1) Which film haven’t you seen that you most feel you should’ve seen?
2) R2-D2 or BB-8?
3) With the Oscars imminent, which previous Best Picture winner do you think was the least deserving?
4) Tea or coffee?
5) What’s in the box? What’s in the box?! (This is the weird and/or funny question.)

9. Share a link to your best post(s).
I mean, they’re all pretty great, amiright? Thanks to that bracketed S, I’m going to mention a regular feature rather than one specific post: the Arbie awards that I hand out each month.

As you can see, the rules don’t actually mention answering the nominator’s five questions, which I can’t help but feel is an itty-bitty oversight on the part of the creator. Nonetheless, here are my answers to sgliput’s queries…

What film(s) do you love that others seem to ignore or not even know about?
I’m sure there are loads, but I’m going to go with Josie and the Pussycats.

If you had to eat one food (or kind of food) for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pizza is the food of the gods. Also, flexible.

If technology allowed us to live in an ideal virtual Matrix-world, would you choose that over reality?
I mean, if I could do all that cool kung fu stuff, maybe. But as it’s other people who contribute an awful lot to making the world a shitty place at times, how ideal would a virtual world with those people in it really be?

What one film do you think is vastly overrated?
I’m sure there are loads of these as well, but the one that always springs to mind is No Country for Old Men.

For a fun question, you have three paradox-free wishes that won’t come back to bite you (says a genie). What would they be?
Paradox free? Well, I’d have to wish my old dog, Rory, back to life; I’d wish for, like, a billion pounds, because then I’d be pretty well set; and I’d wish for a thousand more wishes, too.

TTFN.

Burn After Reading (2008)

2010 #42
Joel & Ethan Coen | 96 mins | Blu-ray | 15 / R

Ah, the Coen Brothers! Those indie-mainstream praise-magnets that I’ve never particularly got on with. But then, perhaps I was just too young and under-read (or, rather, under-viewed) to get The Man Who Wasn’t There when I watched it; and I did like Fargo, even if I awarded it ‘only’ four stars; and I had a similar perspective on No Country for Old Men, though leaving if off my end-of-year top ten list when some have claimed it’s the only worthy Best Picture winner of the last decade may be seen as filmic blasphemy. (On the other hand, those claimants are wrong. Not very wrong, maybe, but still wrong.) Nonetheless, the rest of the pair’s ’80s and ’90s output (bar, for no particular reason, Raising Arizona) sits in my DVD collection waiting to be got round to… but first, this: their star-studded follow-up to No Country that seemed to disappoint so many. Probably because it was a comedy.

Turns out Burn After Reading is another film I don’t have much to say about. I liked it. It’s nothing like No Country for Old Men, other than being occasionally obtuse, but that’s the Coen’s style. Still, I’m sure No Country is the better — or Better — film, but in the same way I prefer eating a bacon cheeseburger to a pile of vegetables, I think I enjoyed watching Burn After Reading more. Or maybe eating a Chinese would be a better analogy — in the same way you’re hungry again not long after, Burn After Reading is kind of unsatisfying.

You see, as two minor characters observe at the end, we’ve learnt nothing. There’s been a sporadically complex set of coincidences and accidents, some good laughs and some surprises too, but the end result is… what? But maybe that’s the point. For the characters in the film, it’s a confusing mess of a situation they find themselves embroiled in — no one has the full picture, and most don’t properly comprehend the bit they do see. For the viewer, it’s a fun bit of nothing. Things have changed by the end, certainly — most notably, several people are dead — but the events that got us there are pretty quickly forgotten.

Perhaps this is the Coens’ response to No Country for Old Men — not intellectually or artistically, but as people and filmmakers: a break from the existential seriousness of their Best Picture winner with a romp-ish bit-of-nothing, which entertains well enough for the 90-something minutes it occupies our vision but is all but forgotten before the credits have finished rolling.

3 out of 5

And the Oscar for Best Picture… of 2007…

You may’ve noticed that it’s the 2010 Oscars this Sunday (technically Monday over here), finally bringing an end to the tale of movies from 2009 (Empire have their awards a while later, which is pushing into the pointless — OK, they’re never going to become an Oscar-predictor by moving up in the schedule, like the BAFTAs aimed for with their pre-Oscar move; but how many people still care about last year by the time we’re a quarter through the next?)

It seems appropriate timing, then, to finally publish this group of reviews for (most of) 2007’s Best Picture nominees (a ‘feature’ I’ve had in the planning for well over a year — oops). Yes, it’s two ceremonies ago, but it’s the best I’ve got.

So, in alphabetical order… with the exception of the winner… which, by coincidence, puts them in reverse viewing order for me… Anyway, here are the reviews:

2010 #25
Juno

“There’s underage sex, swearing, numerous displays of teen independence, divorce, love of rock music and horror films… All that’s missing from a Middle American Mom’s worst nightmare is drugs (there’s no violence either, but we know them there yankees love a bit of that).” Read more…

2009 #87
Michael Clayton

“The obvious point of comparison is Damages, the excellent TV series that also concerns such high-profile big-business lawsuits, but… Damages sustains it for over 9 hours, replete with cliffhangers and plot twists so far beyond what Clayton’s straightforward story has to offer that Gilroy isn’t even dreaming of being that good.” Read more…

2009 #7
There Will Be Blood

“not to say it’s a bad film, but it is at times a baffling one… I can’t help but wonder if I missed something crucial along the way because, even after two and a half hours, I had no real idea what the film was about.” Read more…

And the winner, of course, was…

2009 #5
No Country for Old Men

“it’s really about Fate, randomness, chance. Some clearly think this brilliant; I remain unconvinced. It lacks satisfaction. Maybe that’s real life — no, that is real life: random and lacking closure and satisfaction. But this isn’t real life, it’s a movie” Read more…



Of the five Best Picture nominees from 2007, the only one I gave five stars was Atonement. As the only one I watched around the time, such a score may’ve been boosted by BAFTA hype and its Britishness, while perhaps the likes of No Country have, conversely, been ruined by their extended hype.

On balance, the film I most enjoyed from the line up was Juno; but does that make it best? Depends what you’re looking for, I suppose.