Is The Academy Always Right? The ‘True’ Best Picture Winners Of The Last 23 Years

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony has come and gone, and another film (Moonlight, with a wild and well-deserved win) has walked away with the statuette named Oscar. This has happened 89 times now, beginning in 1927 when the film Wings took home the prize. The title of Best Picture is prestigious, an honor that is not to be taken lightly. However, it is often true that The Academy gets it all wrong, choosing a film that is soon forgotten. This happened most recently last year with Spotlight, a great ensemble drama that doesn’t really try anything new. It’s a conventional, albeit riveting, viewing experience that is unfortunately a bit forgettable. In a word, it’s safe. I have been on this Earth for 23 years now, and I’ve seen the safe choice win time and time again. Films that are easily forgotten are in no way the best picture of any given year. I’m here to set things straight. These are the movies that deserved to win, for each year I have been alive.


The Nominees: The Fugitive, In The Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day, Schindler’s List
What won?: Schindler’s List
What should have won?: Schindler’s List
I shouldn’t even really be talking about 1993, because it would still be a couple months until my birth, but this Best Picture is worth talking about, because The Academy got it absolutely right. Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust film is a true masterpiece. Sure, it’s definitely not one I would throw on for a relaxing Friday night, but for all of it’s brutality it’s surprisingly delicate. The legendary director has not made a drama as carefully crafted or beautiful since, and he probably never will.


The Nominees: Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption
What won?: Forrest Gump
What should have won?: Pulp Fiction
This is a classic example of The Academy playing it safe. Forrest Gump is a fine film, a crowd-pleaser with pioneering use of technology. However, its structure and storyline are nothing new. Why not give the award to the revolutionary Pulp Fiction? The film that made Quentin Tarantino a household name? A film so memorable that every scene has become iconic? The film that resurrected John Travolta and ushered in a new wave of independent filmmakers? Forrest Gump was about movements. Pulp Fiction started one.


The Nominees: Apollo 13, Babe, Braveheart, The Postman, Sense and Sensibility
What won?: Braveheart
What should have won?: Babe
Unpopular opinion here, I’m sure, but Babe is deserving of Best Picture by a landslide. The cast of animals are unbelievable, it’s funny, emotional, and James Cromwell has never been better. As silly as it may seem, this film never fails to reduce me to a giant puddle of tears. The pig that thinks he’s a dog – it’s brilliant. I try to think of a flaw and I can’t. There has never been another film quite like Babe… I’m just thankful it exists at all.


The Nominees: The English Patient, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine
What won?: The English Patient
What should have won?: Fargo
Has there ever been a film more distinctly in the Coen Brothers’ mold than Fargo? It is the perfect blend of their madcap comedies and pitch-black dramas. The Coens are masters of world and character-building, with those even with just seconds of screen time feeling like fully-realized characters. The script is so dense and well-written, earning the Brothers a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Although, who am I kidding… doesn’t everyone just love this movie because of the accents? As Marge would say, “Yah, you betcha!”


The Nominees: As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, Titanic
What won?: Titanic
What should have won?: Good Burger
Listen, I am not a fan of Titanic. I recognize it’s appeal and agree that the shipwreck sequence is a master class in disaster filmmaking. James Cameron knows his way around pure spectacle and the scale of Titanic is astounding. It definitely deserved to win Best Picture – it’s just not for me. The love story is way too cheesy and the dialogue… don’t even get me started. I know that it absolutely deserved the award, but… Good Burger is a GODDAMN CLASSIC.


The Nominees: Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, The Thin Red Line
What won?: Shakespeare in Love
What should have won?: Saving Private Ryan
Spielberg winning Best Director for this film is so wonderful purely based on the opening Normandy Invasion sequence. It is harrowing, beautifully shot and paced as it puts the viewer in the frontline of chaos. Losing Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love, however, is laughable. I’m not sure how a rom-com about the Bard was able to topple one of the greatest war films of all time, but it did so here we are.


The Nominees: American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense
What won?: American Beauty
What should have won?: The Sixth Sense
American Beauty is a well-deserving feature that tackles some very important topics like standards of beauty, materialism, sexuality, and love. The Sixth Sense on the other hand is about seeing dead people and is capped off with one of the greatest twists to ever grace the big screen. The Academy historically ignores genre filmmaking, while occasionally awarding action movies if they also happen to be historical. Horror movies, thrillers, and science-fiction deserve more love at The Oscars, even today in 2017.


The Nominees: Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Gladiator, Traffic
What won?: Gladiator
What should have won?: Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is universal. It’s about following your dreams, adapting to situations, and coming face-to-face with your idols. It’s an intimate journey about growing up, a story that sticks with me still to this day. Cameron Crowe has not made a film as pure as this since and I don’t think he will. Gladiator is bombastic and showy, which is fine, but sometimes we just need to slow down and reflect. Almost Famous allows us to do that.


The Nominees: A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!
What won?: A Beautiful Mind
What should have won?: Memento
How could Christopher Nolan’s big break not be recognized here? The film is an intricate puzzle, written with such respect for the audience that they trust we can put it together on our own. There is no handholding during this film and that sort of trust between filmmaker and audience is sorely lacking in so many of the films that are released week-to-week. Memento marks the arrival of a true craftsman and stands tall as one of Nolan’s best films.


The Nominees: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist
What won?: Chicago
What should have won?: …..?
2002 puzzles me. The only one of the nominees I have seen is The Two Towers and nothing else released during the year really stands out to me as deserving other than Minority Report. The Two Towers is great, but… let’s go with Minority Report. Sure, why not?


The Nominees: 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
What won?: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
What should have won?: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Rewarding Return of the King in 2003 felt like a consolation prize from The Academy. But damn is it a well-deserved one. The LOTR trilogy is an astonishing cinematic feat, perfectly capturing one of the most epic adventures ever written. The series is so good it’s almost unfair. In fact it is too good, because Peter Jackson himself couldn’t even come close to touching LOTR with his misguided The Hobbit trilogy. If only Guillermo del Toro had been in the director’s chair…


The Nominees: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Sideways
What won?: Million Dollar Baby
What should have won?: Spider-Man 2
When will superhero movies begin to be taken seriously by The Academy? The closest we got was with The Dark Knight when Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of The Joker, but I think it should have happened a lot sooner with Spider-Man 2. The second spider-flick is the best superhero movie ever made. It perfectly captures the tone of the comics and is able to expertly balance humor and drama throughout. This was the moment superhero movies demanded to be taken seriously… and maybe someday they will be.


The Nominees: Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, Munich
What won?: Crash
What should have won?: Brokeback Mountain
What a tear-jerker. Brokeback Mountain is a wonderful adaptation that features career best work from all parties involved. The performances from Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams are astonishing, while the direction and cinematography from Lee and Rodrigo Prieto is as thoughtful and intimate as it is epic. It’s a shame The Academy went with the over-the-top Crash instead. I was in middle school when Brokeback came out and remember it being reduced to a joke among my peers due to its subject matter. Hopefully we’ve all grown up and can view the film for what it is: a beautiful portrait of true love. Love is love, after all.


The Nominees: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen
What won?: The Departed
What should have won?: The Departed
It baffles me that this was the first time a Martin Scorsese film took home a Best Picture Oscar. It definitely deserves it, but I can’t believe that Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or Goodfellas don’t hold the title as well. I guess it’s better late than never?


The Nominees: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood
What won?: No Country for Old Men
What should have won?: No Country for Old Men
This was the clear Best Picture of 2007. There Will Be Blood gave it a run for its money, but No Country is so tight and free of fat and runs like a well-oiled machine. It also boasts one of the greatest villains in cinematic history as portrayed by Javier Bardem.


The Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire
What won?: Slumdog Millionaire
What should have won?: The Dark Knight
How was The Dark Knight not even nominated? This is a masterpiece of not only superhero filmmaking, but filmmaking in general. Heath Ledger’s Joker will never be topped, especially if Jared Leto is the competition, and Nolan’s Gotham felt like our own world, making the threats seem all too real. This was a grounded and respectful adaptation of the Batman comics made by an incredible filmmaker.


The Nominees: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
What won?: The Hurt Locker
What should have won?: Up
Up deserved to win based on the opening montage alone. Just like Babe, it never fails to reduce me to a puddle of tears. An animated film hadn’t made it to the overall Best Picture race since animation received its own category in 2001, when Shrek walked away with the win. In fact, only one other animated film had made it into the battle for top prize up until that point – Beauty and the Beast in 1991 – making Up something truly special.


The Nominees: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone
What won?: The King’s Speech
What should have won?: The Social Network
If The Social Network didn’t exist, I’d be giving the award to Pixar for the second year in a row, but David Fincher’s Facebook movie is one for the ages. Jesse Eisenberg is pitch-perfect as Mark Zuckerberg and Fincher smartly turns this story into a thriller, adding mystery and intrigue to what could have been a straight-forward biopic.


The Nominees: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse
What won?: The Artist
What should have won?: 50/50
50/50 is a movie I hold close to my heart for personal reasons, but I still think it deserves recognition regardless. Joseph Gordon Levitt is an electrifying on-screen presence and his charm oozes through every scene. Seth Rogen proves himself to be an extremely capable actor here as well, perfectly falling into the best friend role.


The Nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
What won?: Argo
What should have won?: Skyfall
Action movies always get overlooked, even when that movie is a modern classic. Skyfall is the best James Bond movie ever made. If that doesn’t deserve an Oscar, I don’t know what does.


The Nominees: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street
What won?: 12 Years a Slave
What should have won?: 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave is important – it’s brutal, mesmerizing and vital. This is the kind of film that will be studied and viewed in history class for years to come, but it should also be studied in film class because of how well made it is from a technical standpoint. I was floored by its precision in editing and sound design as the filmmakers made daring decisions that still stick with me to this day.


The Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
What won?: Birdman
What should have won?: Boyhood
Boyhood is the ultimate coming of age film, as we literally watch our protagonist grow up before our very eyes. The film took 11 years to make and it was definitely time well spent. Boyhood is the filmmaking experiment that paid off.


The Nominees: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight
What won?: Spotlight
What should have won?: Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is the most intense action movie I have ever seen. The entire film is one giant car chase that almost never slows down, and when it does I feel myself gasp for air. It’s absolutely breathtaking and stands among the best action movies of all time.


The Nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight
What won?: Moonlight
What should have won?: Moonlight
To be honest, I haven’t even seen Moonlight. In fact, I fell way behind on movie watching last year so I only saw Arrival, La La Land, and Hell or High Water out of the nominees. Based on what I saw, Arrival wins hands down. However, the trailer for Moonlight makes me want to cry and gives me chills all over my body. If a trailer can do that much, I can only imagine what the whole thing would do. I can’t wait to see it.

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