“Ranking the last 20 “Best Picture” Oscar Winners” (part 2)
Continuing where we left off yesterday (click here to see part 1), here are the final Top 10 of the last 20 Best Picture Oscar winners, as I see them. Enjoy!
10. The Hurt Locker (2009) – Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Guy Pearce
The Hurt Locker is not nearly as iconic of a film as Renner’s lead performance is. But wow, what a magnificent piece of acting Renner turns in here. He more than carries the load; in fact, I think he’s the reason this film took home six Oscars. That’s not to say it isn’t a great film, because it is. Kathryn Bigelow manages to dive into the fragile psyche of soldiers at war in a way that dozens of other films have failed to accomplish. It is Renner, however, who makes this film work.
9. Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor
I don’t have a whole lot to say about Slumdog other than I love it. I love how fresh and lively it is. I love how Danny Boyle’s unique style comes to life. I love how the blended story comes together. And I love that, generally speaking, it has a happy ending. Very few well-respected, BP-quality films conclude on a high note and while I’m not someone who needs that to enjoy a film (obviously), it’s refreshing when a filmmaker is able to pull it off.
8. Gladiator (2000) – Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Djimon Hounsou
There’s a lot to like about Gladiator, including some outstanding action sequences and a strong narrative that works on a number of levels. But there are two reasons why Gladiator ranks high on this list:
1.) It marks the comeback, as it were, of Ridley Scott, one of the industry’s best directors who, in 2000, hadn’t had a hit in nearly a decade (Thelma and Louise);
2.) I think the hero-villain dynamic between Crowe and Phoenix is one of the most underrated of its type in recent history. Phoenix is a perfect match for Crowe. They are exact opposites and yet strangely similar except in the way they react to life’s hurdles.
7. Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Ted Levine
If you weren’t legitimately freaked out by Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, then you’re either exceptionally desensitized to sheer horror or you weren’t 8 years old when Silence debuted (like me). Holy crap. In the pantheon of great movie villains, I’m not sure I could keep Lecter out of the top ten. Truly terrifying. Beyond Hopkins, though, Silence is a chilling, well-written film that still holds up quite well 20 years later.
6. Braveheart (1995) – Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Angus Macfayden
I’ve heard plenty of criticism of Braveheart over the years but I refuse to truly listen to any of it. Historical inaccuracies, bad accents, and whatever else, the issues don’t matter to me when compared to this film’s wholly engrossing narrative, beautiful sets, and terrific acting. This is a powerful epic that sticks with me no matter how long I go between viewings (which usually isn’t very long).
Alright, down to the Final FIVE!!!
5. Unforgiven (1992) – Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman
I literally just watched this film for the first time in years and it strikes me as one that gets better not only the more times I see it but also the older I get. I don’t think I could appreciate it when I was 18 the way I do now. Unforgiven contains what is in my mind Eastwood’s greatest performance and the blurred line between good and evil that his character exhibits is exquisite. Likewise, Hackman provides the perfect antagonist. The dialogue, too, is MAGNIFICENT. If there’s a problem with Unforgiven, it is Jamiz Woolvett’s somewhat painful acting. I get that he’s trying to pay homage to the Westerns of old but yikes…
4. Return of the King (2003) – Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood
When I think about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I consider them one giant film (and if we’re talking about the director’s cut, then it’s like one Godzilla-sized film) rather than three separate entities. That one giant film is one of my five favorite films of all-time. I probably watch my copies of this film more than any other. But if I’m forced to cut the film into thirds and consider their merits individually, I think Return of the King is the “worst” of the three. The conclusion is especially long and somewhat anti-climactic (warranted when considering the three films as one whole). Obviously, however, the slight step down Return is from the first two LOTR installments doesn’t prevent it from being a wonderful film. Just know that if I put the three together for this list like I do in my mind, it would definitely hold the top spot.
3. The Departed (2006) – Leonard DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson
You either LOVE The Departed like I do or you DESPISE it. I’m not sure I know anyone who falls into the middle ground of those two categories; it’s simply a polarizing film. Personally, I don’t think you can get much better from an acting, writing, or straight filmmaking standpoint. An impeccable cast, a brilliant script, and a genuine sense of passion on Scorsese’s part that exudes through every scene. I would have been fine with The Departed taking home every major award in 2006.
2. Schindler’s List (1993) – Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
This is, without question, the greatest movie that I will never watch again. One viewing is plenty enough to sufficiently haunt me for the rest of my life. Spielberg’s passion for the project is evident but without two perfect portrayals, Neeson as the hero and Fiennes as one of the most disgusting bad guys ever, Schindler’s List probably doesn’t have quite the same impact. Then again, the closing scene in which the real life survivors that Schindler saved walk by his grave is one of the most harrowing and powerful film-related experiences I’ve ever had with a film. The only “knock” on this film is just what I said at the outset: I won’t/can’t watch it again and, perhaps unfairly, that brings it down a notch.
1. No Country for Old Men (2007) – Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones
When I wrote my review for NCFOM a few years back, it was the first time I ever used the word “masterpiece” to describe a film. And that’s exactly what it is in my mind. It is the picture of perfection. From the phenomenal, understated performances of all the actors involved to the meticulous way in which the film moves right on down to the use of natural noise for a soundtrack, there are no misses within NCFOM. Perhaps the master stroke is the way in which this film concludes, an ending many people disliked but that, for me, served as a perfect representation of the film as a whole. This is, for me, the Coen Brothers’ crowning achievement and that is, of course, saying something.
Well, that’s it! The rankings of the Best Picture Oscar winners over the past 20 years! Curious to know your thoughts? Does Forrest Gump top your list? Is The Hurt Locker in the bottom 10 for you? Did you despise The Departed? Etc…We’ll see which film will be newly inducted into the ranks of Academy Award-Winning Best Picture when the 84th Academy Awards air on February 26, 2012! Any bold predictions?
Leave a comment and share your thoughts!