Ranking the Past 20 “Best Picture” Oscar Winners, pt.2

“Ranking the last 20 “Best Picture” Oscar Winners” (part 2)

Brian G.– Author and editor of IEatFilms.com and TheSoapBoxOffice

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!

Brian G.


  1. Interesting list. I don’t really disagree with #1 and #2 but I think The Departed is a bit too high, especially given the fact that it’s a remake. I would have Gladiator and American Beauty higher and The King’s Speech would probably either 19 or 20 for me. While it’s a good movie, it’s really quite forgettable. Maybe more so than the likes of the much-criticized Crash. Nice work Brian!


  2. Hurm, interesting ranking, mine (of the 14 I’ve seen) would be something like:

    14. The King’s Speech
    13. A Beautiful Mind
    12. Schindler’s List
    11. The Hurt Locker
    10. Titanic
    9. Forrest Gump
    8. Gladiator
    7. Million Dollar Baby
    6. No Country For Old Men
    5. Return of the King
    4. The Departed
    3. American Beauty
    2. Unforgiven
    1. The Silence of the Lambs

    (Yeah, I’m not a fan of Schindler’s List. It’s a good movie, but I don’t think it’s a great one).


    • That’s a solid list there. At one point, Silence definitely would have topped the list for me. Was borderline obsessed with it for a while. I didn’t sleep a lot during that period, though. Not sure if the two are connected… Thanks for the comment!


  3. I’m with you about the “historical inaccuracies” of Braveheart; they’re there, sure, but they aren’t a big detraction on the quality of the film. And I find it funny that people complain about that with Braveheart but not Gladiator — while it’s not the only film to speculate that Commodus assassinated his father to gain the throne, it must be noted that in real life Commodus shared the throne with his father as an equal. He already was emperor, in effect. But the inaccuracy doesn’t hurt Gladiator as a film, either.

    Unforgiven is great; it’s one of the best western films out there, although it works best if you’re already familiar with a lot of western films. I love The Lord of the Rings, and I do think it deserved at least one best picture award, but I suspect ROTK got the award for the whole trilogy and not just on its own merits. I liked 90% of No Country For Old Men; the ending was terrible story-telling, and ruined the film. You can’t get any more anti-climactic than failing to have a climax. As a result, I cannot classify it as a good picture, let alone worthy of being in the running for Best Picture.

    I really liked The Departed, and I get tired of people saying “It’s a remake” as if that were a detraction. First, it’s a remake of the entire trilogy of Internal Affairs, which makes it more of an adaptation than a straight-up remake — and the fact that it’s such a tight movie is indicative that it’s either fairly different or Internal Affairs is unnecessarily dragged out. Secondly, I doubt more than 2% of the detractors would have heard about Internal Affairs if it hadn’t been for The Departed. This isn’t like remaking The Italian Job or Psycho or even Karate Kid or any other film that was culturally significant in the west; it’s remaking a film from Hong Kong that was, until the remake was made, obscure. (Just look at the IMDb ratings; when the first one has 46,000 votes compared to 7000 and 5000, you know that people are only looking up the first one because they heard about the remake connection and aren’t aware of the others.) So I think it’s more than a little silly for people to knock it for being a remake when, in most cases, they’re only aware of the original because of the remake. While I’m against unnecessary remakes, I don’t think that applies when it’s from a different culture; different cultural mores apply. It doesn’t make it a worse film. To use a couple of classics as an example, The Seven Samurai is a great film, but that doesn’t mean that The Magnificent Seven isn’t also a great film.


    • I’m with you on Departed. I don’t like the idea of discounting a movie just because it’s a remake. Pointless or embarrassing remakes, sure, but as a general rule, I have no issue with the remake, especially one that is to the quality of this one. But like I said, I know TONS of people who really dislike that film!

      Spot on about Return of the King, too. I’m glad it won; it deserved to win because of the awesomeness of the whole series. But I don’t think it’s as good as the trilogy is as a whole, 12 hour movie.

      And as far as No Country goes, it’s one of those films that I think is magnificent (obviously) but that I completely and totally understand when people don’t like it. When I saw it in theaters, half of the group I saw it with was in love with it and half hated it. That ending pretty much insures that you have a definite opinion one way or the other.

      Thanks for the comment!


  4. I like how you called the LOTR-trilogy; one Godzilla-sized film. It’s one of my absolute favorites too, in fact it’s on the third place of my Top 100 films.
    Also, I’ve watched Schindler’s List about three times already, I think as a German you get hardened by all the films and books you watch/ read with the time. But it’s still one of my favorites. Last but not least, you really made me want to watch No Country for Old Men!


    • I make time to watch the LOTR trilogy at least 4 or 5 times a year and I enjoy it (almost) everytime as much as the first time through. So great. And you should definitely check out NCFOM. One way or another, you’ll have an opinion on it I’m sure! Thanks for the comment.


  5. LOVE Gladiator so yeah I was thrilled that it won Best Picture! Crowe and Phoenix were incredible in their roles, yes I agree they’re a perfect match in a strange way.


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