The question on lots of peoples’ lips every Oscar season is whether the biggest award in all of moviedom actually matters. Okay, of course it matters, but what we at No But Listen want to talk about today is whether the Best Picture Oscar is any kind of measure of the quality or legacy of the film that is lucky enough to win it. We’re picking up on our decade in review and taking a look at the Best Picture winners from the last ten years – and whether or not they’ve had the long-lasting impact that winning that title promises.
2010 Winner: The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker is perhaps the best way to start, as it showcases everything positive that we are looking for not only for a Best Picture Winner, but in a film that will last. It’s most famous as the film that garnered Kathryn Bigelow her Best Director Oscar – the first and only woman to win – but The Hurt Locker has more cultural significance than just the awards it won. It launched the careers of both Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, it beat Avatar to many awards, thank goodness and most importantly, The Hurt Locker is the primo post 9/11 war film.
2011 Winner: The King’s Speech
I’m just going to say it. For all those who love, like, or have even seen this beige wallpaper sample of a film, I blame you for Cats. If Tom Hooper never had his ego massaged by his Best Director and Best Picture wins for The King’s Speech, then he wouldn’t have got the clout to do Les Mis which led to the hubris of making Cats. You’re all to blame. Seriously though, does anyone even remember this film? Look at its fellow nominees and you’ll see that the Academy lost their minds this year. The legacy of films likeInception, Toy Story 3, Black Swan, and The Social Network speak for themselves.
2012 Winner: The Artist
You remember the silent film that no one has seen (except from you, Matt, I know you’re reading this)? Me neither. Looking for a film amongst these nominees with any kind of lasting affect is both very hard (because most of them aren’t particularly notable) and really easy. It’s The Tree of Life.
2013 Winner: Argo
Argo was the rare Best Picture Winner in which its director and star Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director. Usually the Director category is a cheat code: most of the time a Best Picture Winner’s director will be nominated for direction. That’s really the only notable thing about Argo in yet another year of weak nominations. Les Mis is there (but I’ve already had that rant) but the rest are films from directors who have done better before or since. No one would say the Lincoln is Spielberg’s best film, or Django Unchained as Tarantino’s.
2014 Winner: 12 Years a Slave
Finally, after three years of Best Picture mediocrity, 2014 gives us 12 Years a Slave. 2014 was a strong year as Gravity, Her, and The Wolf on Wall Street are also great films that have lasted outside of awards season. But 12 Years a Slave is the best of the lot with great performances, artistic direction, and an emotional rawness that is nothing short of devastating.
2015 Winner: Birdman
2015 was the year of the obsessive white man (barring Selma, obviously), with The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash on the ticket, but no film captured that better than Birdman. This is the kind of film that both Hollywood and pretentious critics like myself love, especially since I’ve waxed lyrical about my love for Michael Keaton at great length on this very blog before. The only film that comes close in terms of importance and longevity is Whiplash, a film that I don’t particularly care for but I can’t argue with its place in the conversation.
2016 Winner: Spotlight
I love Spotlight. It’s a great film, but it has next to no reputation outside of its Oscar campaign – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were asked what won Best Picture in 2016, you would have drawn a blank. Taking a look at the nominees though and its easy to see which film has stood the test of time: Mad Max: Fury Road. It was never going to win, but it was great to see George Miller nominated at all. There’s also a shout out for The Revenant, though that’s already just the Leo-did-anything-for-an-Oscar movie.
2017 Winner: Moonlight
The shittiest part of Moonlight winning Best Picture is that it will always be related to the gaff that had La La Land announced as the winner by mistake. It deserves much more than that, as Barry Jenkins made an all-time classic about the kind of identity issues the Academy may nominate but very rarely award. Moonlight is a classic, and follow-up If Beale Street Could Talk might be even better.
2018 Winner: The Shape of Water
2018 was a strong year. Get Out, Dunkirk, Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread and Three Billboards are all brilliant, important, and memorable films, all of which would make a satisfactory Best Picture Winner. But the Academy just can’t say no fish-man sex. The Shape of Water is a really good film, but I’ll always remember it more for how funny the premise of the movie is to say out loud than the film itself. Excluding Phantom Thread (which only I love), the other nominees I mentioned will probably last more in the cultural consciousness longer than the beautiful but ridiculous The Shape of Water.
2019 Winner: Green Book
I can just imagine the thought process of the Academy voters:
“Fuck me, did I really vote for that fairy tale about bestiality last year? Well, better save my dignity by voting for that Farrelly brother’s white savior movie, and we won’t even have a host to point out my hypocrisy.”
Green Book feels like an over-correction as well as a step back. It’s only been less than a year and no one is talking about it. If that wasn’t enough, with seconds of its win most were comparing it to Crash’s Best Picture win. Like Crash, Green Book’s legacy will be as nothing more than an entry in those lists of controversial Oscar wins, instead of standing as a commentary on the issues it purported to tackle.
What Best Picture winners do you still think of fondly? Which ones were you surprised to remember existed at all? And which nominees were snubbed the worst for movies that didn’t deserve the top spot? Let us know in the comments below!
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Brittanica)