Best Picture: If I Made the Choice

It seems there is always Oscar controversy.  Picking the Oscar selections used to be a lot of fun, mainly because I saw most if not all of the nominees.  In more recent years, I am either less familiar with some of the nominees, or I choose not to see some films.  I thought it would be fun to go back in time and look at the nominees for Best Picture, and indicate my own selection. The film bolded and following the year was the Academy’s selection.  Mine is at the end, also bolded.

Since 2000, I have liked three or four Best Pictures, films I’d actually watch again.  That’s a pretty low percent. Another half dozen Best Pictures were okay.  My standards are very high, maybe unrealistic.  Look at 1962 and 1966 for where my standards came from.

There were some incredibly strong years. 1966: A Man For All Seasons, Alfie, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, The Sand Pebbles, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1962: Lawrence of Arabia, The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Those were two awesome years.

Other years.  2008: Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader. Good, but far from great films.

Of course, picking a “best” is a matter of opinion.  There is no algorithm for film quality, and it certainly is not box office. Every film nominated is a competently made film, that’s a given.  The highest money makers rarely are selected, and for good reason.  Otherwise the best pictures would be a Marvel Comic, Harry Potter, Pirate of the Caribbean or Star Wars film. Nothing wrong with those films, but they hardly are the best of the best.

Note that in 2009, the list of nominees was expanded to ten.  It used to be five.  A larger category is more inviting to foreign, animated and independent films.

Here we go:

2019: Parasite, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  My choice would have been Ford v Ferrari or 1917.  I might be one of the few in the world who did not like Parasite.  It is a hugely influential film, but in my opinion, there are at least two better nominated films.  Within each of these films there are some masterful performances and incredible technical or artistic contributions.  Several of these films will hit you upside the head with an emotional experience, or violence or cause you to engage in some thought or reflection. Film should do more than just entertain, it is art, and you react to art on many levels.  Is Ford v Ferrari an artistic film? Maybe not on the surface.  It entertained me for sure, but is had some deeply engaging performances, was exciting without a lot of CGI, and the story was very compelling. It lacked deeper messages than several of the other nominees, but not every Best Picture has to pound you over the head with social relevance, but the Best Picture winner should move you.

2018: Green Book, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Roma, A Star Is Born, Vice.  My pick would have been Green Book or BlacKkKlansman.  These are two very different films about race.  Green Book was vilified by some for being the Driving Miss Daisy of 2018.  A film about the black experience told from the white point of view.  BlacKkKlansman had a richer story but wasn’t a better made film.  BlacKkKlansman was awarded a Best Screenplay Oscar, but it deserved.

2017: The Shape of Water, Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  My pick would have been Darkest Hour or Three Billboards. Overall, this was a weaker year.  Mostly very good films.  I found Darkest Hour to be riveting, but primarily because of the performances, mainly Gary Oldman. Three Billboards was the strongest, most powerful and deeply moving of all of these films.

2016: Moonlight, Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea.  My choice would have been Hidden Figures. Another weaker year, all competent films.  Hidden Figures bridged the entertaining with the relevant, it succeeded as a film that engaged you, entertained and showed depth of characters and fine performances.

2015: Spotlight, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant.  I would have picked Bridge of Spies or The Martian.  Most of these films turned me off, I found them to be moving, but not engaging.  Bridge of Spies reminded me of an old 1960s Cold War film.  It was very good, but lacked Spielberg’s greatness.  The Martian was by the process of elimination, my pick.  Ridley Scott is a master filmmaker, like Spielberg, who can easily will switch from high concept to popcorn film.  It may not be Best Picture, but it’s the Better Picture.

2014: Birdman, American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash.  My pick would have been The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything.  Another weaker year.  I felt that The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything were bigger message films.  Were they deserving of Best Picture? Birdman was weirdly engrossing.  As cinema it was showier, and more visually creative than the other films.

2013: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street. My choice was 12 Years a Slave, it was more visceral and a deeply engaging film.  Each of the other films to some degree pulled you into an emotional experience.  This was a year of some really fine performances.  Tom Hanks did not win, but he gave the most vulnerable performance of his career.  Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, Christian Bale, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Judi Dench were all amazing.

2012: Argo, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty. My choice was Lincoln.  Spielberg’s film was far and away, the best film of the year.

2011: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse. My choice was The Help or Moneyball.  This was a weaker year.  The Help and Moneyball were the top films, each very different, but amazing performances and made so well that you didn’t notice the filmmakers at work.

2010: The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone.  Not a very strong collection of films, good, but none really breaking out.  Although criticized, I would support the Academy’s pick, The King’s Speech.  A decade later, I still believe it is the best of the bunch, but not a runaway winner.

2009: The Hurt Locker, Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education , Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air.  No one saw The Hurt Locker, but it was picked over more successful films.  I didn’t care for the film.  Not the greatest selection of nominees.  My choice would be Up or Up in the Air. Up is one of the best animated films.  It really appealed to me.  Up in the Air was a very sad film, but it was a great commentary and had some really important learning moments for several characters.  George Clooney specializes in films where his character gets kicked in the balls.

2008: Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader.  My choice would be The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but this was a weak year.

2007: No Country for Old Men, Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood. Another weak year.  I found No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood to be unappealing. Both were made by skillful filmmakers but neither had suspense or engaging.  By the process of elimination, my choice would be Michael Clayton. George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson turn in marvelous performances in a highly suspenseful film.

2006: The Departed, Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen. The Departed, in the annual gangster thriller category, is a very good film, but not as good as The Queen.  Yes, The Queen is showy and the central theme is the death of Princess Diana. Viewing it almost 15 years later, the film has not lost any of its appeal or impact.

2005: Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, Munich.  A very strong year, but I did not like Crash.  I might be the only person who did not embrace it.  It is a very good film, but I can not rank it best.  Good Night, and Good Luck was a character-driven piece of pop history, with really good performances.  Munich was also based on a difficult piece of history.  Spielberg takes us through the story, as difficult as it is to watch, but it is skillful and thrilling.

2004: Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways.  A difficult choice for me.  I saw all of the films and was impressed with each.  Million Dollar Baby was not the best picture in my opinion.  The Aviator had grandeur and big performances, but left me rather empty.  Sideways was odd and downbeat, not highly desirable selling points for a best picture, but I liked the weird feel and tortured performances.

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit.  I did not go in for the Lord of the Rings films.  I read the books and enjoyed them, but I was not drawn to the films.  I really liked the low energy, but quirky Lost in Translation.  Seabiscuit was very entertaining and the performances had a darkness that took some of the popular gloss off the film.

2002: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist.  I didn’t like any of these films.  Pass.

2001: A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!  My choice would be A Beautiful Mind.  Another year with films that did not really interest me, but A Beautiful Mind was mesmerizing.  Not Ron Howard’s best film, but certainly a skillful effort in making such a dark journey so interesting.

2000: Gladiator, Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic.  My choice would be Chocolat or Erin Brockovich.  I found both Chocolat and Erin Brockovich to be very slyly engaging, the off-beat characters guided you through the stories.

1999: American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense.  American Beauty? I don’t get it. An edgy film that made a ton of money.  It might be a matter of taste.  I thought The Green Mile to be a much better film.

1998: Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line. Of these films, Saving Private Ryan is a vastly superior film.  Overall, this slate is very average.  Saving Private Ryan has the feel of a 1970s epic, the opening D-Day landing is one of the most amazing sequences every put on film.

1997: Titanic, As Good As it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential. Titanic is the popular film, but L.A. Confidential is a better story and superior dramatic film.  This is a very diverse group of films, which is nice to see.  Each film has a particular strength making it a worthy selection, although The Full Monty is the weakest of the list.

1996: The English Patient, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine. These are good, but not great films, overall a weaker year.  Fargo or Jerry Maguire would have been stronger choices.

1995: Braveheart, Apollo 13, Babe, II Postino, Sense and Sensibility.  Braveheart was a powerful film, and very popular at the box office.  I found it preachy and sentimental. As the years have passed, its significance and power as a film are less. As a well-crafted film, Apollo 13 is just as good today as 25 years ago.

1994: Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, Shawshank Redemption.  Forrest Gump was this cultural earthquake when it came out.  Certainly, Tom Hanks have a wonderful performance, and the special effects were significant to the story.  As a story, and the dramatic impact, a better film is really Shawshank Redemption.

1993: Schindler’s List, The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day.  Schindler’s List is by far the best of the films.  The other four films are solid, but not spectacular films.  Schindler’s List is in a class by itself. One of the greatest achievements of all time.

1992: Unforgiven, The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howard’s End, Scent of a Woman. While Unforgiven is a quality film, I’ve always felt it is overrated. Yes, there are good performances and it is skillfully made, with a number of dark themes woven into the story.  Personally, I believe A Few Good Men is better overall film.

1991: The Silence of the Lambs, Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides. If you compare this group to other years, I believe it is one of the weakest collection of films.  Good, but not great films.  JFK is very flawed but it would be as sound a selection for Best Picture as The Silence of the Lambs.

1990: Dances With Wolves, Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather, Part III, Goodfellas.  This is a toss-up between Dances With Wolves and Goodfellas.  In the years since, Dances With Wolves is seen as less substantive, good but not great.  Goodfellas has gained in reputation.  The Godfather, Part III is almost seen as an embarrassment next to Goodfellas.

1989: Driving Miss Daisy, Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot. Any of these films is worthy, but Field of Dreams is iconic.  A strong year for films, although My Left Foot is the least interesting on my list.  All are story-driven with memorable characters.  A very personal group of films.

1988: Rain Man, The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, Working Girl. Rain Man was showy, with big performances.  I always preferred Mississippi Burning.  The performances are strong, the historical context is richly textured and it is engaging on several levels.

1987: The Last Emperor, Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Hope and Glory, Moonstruck. This was a weak year, but Moonstruck was by far the best.  Broadcast News had a topical glitz to it, very attractive and fine performances.  None of these films is in the same class as Moonstruck.

1986: Platoon, Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, Room With a View. If not Platoon, Children of a Lesser God would have been more deserving.

1985: Out of Africa, The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi’s Honor, Witness. Out of Africa is worthy was showy, very dramatic, and the duo of Redford and Streep in a doomed romantic epic.  The Color Purple was a darker, even more downbeat film, and just a better.

1984: Amadeus, The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in the Heart, A Soldier’s Story. All fine films.  The only one that rises to a Best Picture nomination is The Killing Fields.  Amadeus was pretentious and overwrought. Places in the Heart is the next best.

1983: Terms of Endearment, The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Right Stuff, Tender Mercies. A strong group of film, but I believe The Big Chill or The Right Stuff are more deserving.  Terms of Endearment was a weepy, over-the-top relationship-centered film.  The Big Chill scored a direct hit on the boomer generation’s sense of nostalgia. The Right Stuff went back even further, riding our sense of adventure and vision.

1982: Gandhi, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict.  This is a toss-up, any of these films are deserving.  One of the most diverse sets of nominees.  Gandhi has taken some hits as being overblown and primarily performance-driven.  All but E.T. are performance-driven films, so there is nothing wrong with strong acting film.

1981: Chariots of Fire, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds.  I have come to appreciate Chariots of Fire more than I ever did, but Raiders of the Lost Ark offers more than just a very entertaining film.  For me, it is a toss-up between the two films.

1980: Ordinary People, Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Tess.  Raging Bull is the best, it is brutal and pulls you into that world.  This was a very strong year and these are good films.  I would rank Ordinary People as the fourth or fifth best film.

1979: Kramer v. Kramer, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, Norma Rae.  A very good year for films, and I consider Kramer v. Kramer to be the lesser of these five films. It is topical and highly dramatized, but that does not make it a great film. The other four films are very, very good, with Apocalypse Now the best of the group.

1978: The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Heaven Can Wait, Midnight Express, An Unmarried Woman. The Deer Hunter made the biggest splash, it was long and jarring with the suddenness of the Vietnam action sequences.  Looking at it today, it is ponderous and manipulative. The other films have their strengths.  Coming Home was the best of these five.

1977: Annie Hall, The Goodbye Girl, Julia, Star Wars, The Turning Point.  A weak year for excellent films.  The year will forever be known as the Star Wars year.  It is highly unusual for a comedy to be selected as Best Picture.  Woody Allen went deeper, not as deep as The Apartment, but his film peeled the layers on a changing and dramatic relationship.  Allen actually directed better films, but Annie Hall is an iconic 1970s film.

1976: Rocky, All the President’s Men, Bound For Glory, Network, Taxi Driver.  A very strong year but Rocky of the worst of these five films.  All the President’s Men is the best.  A very strong year for nominees.  Network or Taxi Driver could easily have been the Best Picture, each are that good.  I’ve never understood the allure of Rocky.  Yes, the character is iconic, but the film was not very good when compared to others. Sorry.

1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville.  Any of these films except Barry Lyndon was worthy.  Barry Lyndon is one of Kubrick’s weaker films, competently done, but not very engaging.  All of the other films are iconic 1970s films, rebellious and stories of individual battles.

1974: The Godfather, Part II, Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, The Towering Inferno. The Godfather, Part II is an awesome film, but Chinatown is a notch better.  I don’t see The Towering Inferno as a “best picture” although highly entertaining.  The other four are deserving.  The Godfather, Part II is usually held as the sequel better than the original.  In any other year, Chinatown would have walked away with the award.

1973: The Sting, American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, The Exorcist, A Touch of Class.  A very strong year, any of these are good, but The Sting is the best. It is nice to see some comedy represented, in addition to the darkness.  The Sting, American Graffiti and The Exorcist all in the same year!  Any one of these could be the Best Picture, and each had a lasting influence on film.

1972: The Godfather, Cabaret, Deliverance, Sounder, The Emigrants.  A strong year but The Godfather is unbeatable. Each of these peels a layer of the human experience.  Another great year for directors, each film such a different style, mining wonderful performances.

1971: The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof, The Last Picture Show, Nicholas and Alexandra. Even better than The French Connection was Fiddler on the Roof.  Any of these films could have been selected, and I would have been okay with that.  This was a very solid year, all skillfully made films with dark, dramatic performances.

1970: Patton, Airport, Love Story, Five Easy Pieces, MASH.  Patton is a really good film, but Five Easy Pieces is better.  Airport and Love Story was popcorn movies, either of them very good, but very popular.  Patton and MASH were big and brassy.  Five Easy Pieces was dark and disjointed, a character-driven film that showed the rise of Jack Nicholson in one of his most definitive roles.

1969: Midnight Cowboy, Anne of the Thousand Days, Z, Hello Dolly!, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Midnight Cowboy was a groundbreaking film, but Butch Cassidy is my pick.  Every year you get a Love Story, Funny Girl, Doctor Dolittle or Hello Dolly!  Midnight Cowboy was out of leftfield, and surprisingly it was selected as Best Picture.  Along with Z, I’m glad the Academy voters went for some edgy films next to some bloated studio productions.  Butch Cassidy was funny, creative and powerful.

1968: Oliver!, Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel, Romeo and Juliet. My pick is Rachel, Rachel, produced and directed by Paul Newman.  This is a hard year to compare films.  The two best films were The Lion in Winter, a heavy-weight dramatic film, and the small, personal film, Rachel, Rachel.   Honestly, there were better films than these five. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Odd Couple and Rosemary’s Baby to name a few.

1967: In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?  In the Heat of the Night is deserving, but I would pick The Graduate. What a collection of films.  Doctor Dolittle should not be a nominated film, it’s terrible.  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was well-meaning but preachy and not very good.  Each of the other three made a mark on cultural history. The Graduate had a different social relevance than In the Heat of the Night, and influenced generations of filmmakers.

1966: A Man For All Seasons, Alfie, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, The Sand Pebbles, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.  Again, any of these films are deserving. A very strong year, each film a triumph on some level.  You might think The Russians Are Coming to be a frothy, light comedy, undeserving to be in this group.  It is a very biting film with zany performances that are tremendously fun.

1965: The Sound of Music, Darling, Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns. Five really good film, any of them are deserving.  Another incredibly strong year, from epics to intense acting performances.

1964: My Fair Lady, Beckett, Dr. Strangelove, Mary Poppins, Zorba the Greek. Any of these would be deserving.  Maybe the best five films ever nominated, this group has something for everyone.

1963: Tom Jones, America America, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, Lilies of the Field.  The best film was Lilies of the Field.  Three big spectacle films and two indie films.  Lilies of the Field was made for no money but it has the best performances of the year.

1962: Lawrence of Arabia, The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lawrence of Arabia was deserving, but I would have picked To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the best grouping of films ever on one list.  Some weekend, I am going to binge watch all five films.

1961: West Side Story, Fanny, The Guns of Navarone, The Hustler, Judgement at Nuremberg.  Any film except Fanny would have been deserving.  A very, very strong year.  This year had such diversity of films, everything except a comedy.

1960: The Apartment, The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers, The Sundowners. The Apartment was the best film, followed by Elmer Gantry.  I watched The Apartment the other night, what a cutting piece of social commentary.  I could say the same thing about Elmer Gantry for different reasons.  Both are extraordinary films.


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