“Ranking the last 20 “Best Picture” Oscar Winners” (part 1)
Perhaps my favorite thing about the cinema (behind massive explosions, Morgan Freeman’s voice and Rachel McAdams, of course) is the varying opinions moviegoers have about certain films. Most of us can objectively pick out “good” movies and “bad” movies; everyone except Nick Swardson knows Bucky Larson is a cow chip of a film and everyone knows The Shawshank Redemption is a masterpiece (see what I did there?). But when you add in concepts like interpretation, entertainment, and enjoyment, objectivity goes out the window and the whole process becomes complicated. I love that differing of opinion and the good-natured debate that often follows. In no setting is the debate of what is “good” and what “isn’t” more prevalent than during award season.
The Academy Awards, in particular, bring out the critic in just about every moviegoer and more often than not, I think it’s safe to say, we cinephiles disagree with what the Academy thinks is best. This list is not about pointing out what films should have been honored over the last two decades (though that idea may sneak in a time or two); it is simply a ranking (taking into account quality of film and personal connection/appreciation) of the films that have taken home a Best Picture Oscar in the last twenty years. So, without further ado, here are MY rankings of the past 20 Best Picture winners. Let the debate begin.
20. Shakespeare in Love (1998) – Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush
There are several BP winners on this list that I personally do not care for but Shakespeare is the only one I hold as a straight-up bad film. I feel like I could probably just say, “Shakespeare features Ben Affleck trying to pull off an accent” and leave it at that. Under the impression that perhaps I had given this movie an unfair shake due to the fact that it beat out Saving Private Ryan (a personal favorite of mine) for BP that year, I tried to give Shakespeare another chance recently. I made it through about 15 minutes.
19. The English Patient (1996) – Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas
From a technical standpoint, English Patient is a fantastic film. Landscapes, cinematography, etc. – all of those elements are great. But from a storytelling standpoint, there are very few films that bore me faster than this one. I’ve seen the whole film in various pieces but I’ve never been able to manage a full viewing from beginning to end. I just can’t make myself care enough to sit through it.
18. Million Dollar Baby (2004) – Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman
All cards on the table, I’m not sure why I dislike this movie so much. I’ve watched MDB twice: once right after its release on DVD and once more recently. Both times I had the overwhelming desire to stop watching movies altogether. Maybe it’s just that I’ve never understood the merits of Hilary Swank or maybe Clint Eastwood’s “grizzled old man” bit has worn thin. I’m actually getting a little angry just thinking about this movie now so I’m going to move on to the next film.
17. American Beauty (1999) – Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari
I will not question the quality of the filmmaking that went into American Beauty and I understand why so many people champion it as a great piece of work. But if I were to take all the characters from every film on this list and line them up from my favorite to my least favorite, the bottom half would be dominated by those from American Beauty. There’s not a likeable character in this movie for me and that results in a wholly dissatisfying experience.
16. Chicago (2002) – Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere
Chicago suffers in my book for three major reasons:
1.) Zellweger has never done anything for me on any level;
2.) I don’t like musicals;
3.) Hearing “All That Jazz” played 100 billion times during that year’s broadcast left me with an indelible hatred for this film.
I also just don’t think it’s a Best Picture-caliber film. 2002 was a down year for award-worthy films (Two Towers excluded) but I have a hard time accepting this as the best film a given a year has to offer.
15. Forrest Gump (1994) – Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field
Much like Chicago, one of Forrest Gump’s problems is that I can’t accept it as a Best Picture-caliber film. A heart-warming story? Sure. A well-acted film? Sure. But a Best Picture winner? Really? The final act alone, in which Forrest changes the world through a serious of dumb coincidences, should have kept this film out of contention. Its bigger crime, however, is that it somehow beat out Shawshank and Pulp Fiction for BP. Those are two of the greatest films of all time and somehow neither was recognized in the year of their release. I hate Forrest Gump; truly and unequivocally hate it.
14. Titanic (1997) – Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane
I must be completely honest: Titanic could have been the greatest film in the history of the medium and I probably still would have hated it. I was borderline obsessed with the tale of the Titanic as a kid and my excitement was immeasurable when, as a young teenager, I heard they were making a movie about the ill-fated voyage. I was furious, then, to learn that my beloved fascination had been turned into a romance; it was a punch in the stomach that I’ve never been able to get past. It was years before I even saw this movie and it’s for the best that I never take it in again.
13. A Beautiful Mind (2001) – Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly
I am less sure about my opinion of this film than I am any other on the list. I saw ABM in theaters and loved it but upon my second viewing a few years later, I was less impressed. It didn’t leave much of an impression the second time around and maybe that’s indicative of its overall value.
12. Crash (2005) – Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon
I think Crash has developed an unfair reputation as a disgraceful BP winner. You could convince me that Brokeback Mountain should have taken home the hardware that year but I personally think Crash is a powerful, well-made film that deserves more respect than it gets these days.
11. The King’s Speech (2010) – Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
If I’d had a vote last year (crossing my fingers that it’ll come through in time for next year’s voting), I, like most of you, would have thrown my support behind Inception or The Social Network. But if those two were eliminated from contention, I’d have no trouble jumping on this movie’s bandwagon. The dynamic between Firth and Rush is superb and while it may have been a bit hokey, I dig the speech in the final scenes.
…As you can see from the title of this post, Numbers 20-11 comprise only Part 1. Be sure to return tomorrow as we continue the countdown and debate with Part 2 (Numbers 10-1).
Agree so far? Disagree? Agree to Disagree? Leave a comment, let me know! I look forward to sharing with you the rankings of the additional 10 tomorrow!