The race for Best Picture often brings out the worst in everyone. You may love two or three of nominees, but whichever aren’t your top choice, folks seem to immediately hate on. Remember how “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” went from beloved to a social medial punching bag, for example? Then, once the Academy Awards end, all is forgotten. Half the time, whatever wins the top Oscar is rarely spoken of again. So, for this top ten piece, we want to remind you of some of the best recent winners of the Best Picture category.
Today, we’re going to be looking at ten of the top Best Picture winners since the year 2000. Keep in mind, your list will almost certainly look different than this one. So, instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle. Don’t see your preferred selection or selections listed? It’s a perfect opportunity to share your own in the comments section. Here goes nothing…
The musical as a genre was on life support before “Chicago” stormed the Oscar stage. “Gangs of New York,” “The Hours,” and “The Pianist” had their eyes on the prize, but the adaptation of the Broadway classic was an unstoppable force. Not only was it a charming and impeccably made effort, it helped usher in a resurgence for an entire genre. That sort of Best Picture win is unimpeachable, whether it’s your preferred choice or not. Cinema on the whole needed this.
One of the most competitive races for Best Picture saw genuine suspense right up until the end. “Boyhood” seemed like it was in position to win, though ultimately Academy members went for something a little bit different in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” A triumph of directing, voters fell for its technical marvel and made an interesting choice. The win seems more in line with what Oscar goes for recently, but at the time, it was really an intriguing selection.
A late-breaking Academy Award contender, Clint Eastwood ruined the hopes of “The Aviator” and “Sideways,” slipping right in at the last moment and taking the top Oscar. “Million Dollar Baby” is a quiet and emotionally devastating mix of character study and sports tale, featuring a staggering turn by Hilary Swank. The plot twist that brings things to a far more clinical and moral dilemma wrecked voters, and while it’s a manipulative choice, it works. Eastwood hasn’t been able to match this power since.
The rare film to actually go from being a presumed year in advance contender to an actual Best Picture winner. Despite a close call with “American Hustle” and “Gravity,” this historical drama came out on top. “12 Years a Slave” is brutal to watch at times, but essential cinema. The sins of American past are essential to revisit so that they’re not repeated, even more so these days. You may want to cover your eyes during some of the more trying sequences, but it’s so compelling and important you won’t be able to look away.
The Coen Brothers blew everyone out of the water when they debut this Cormac McCarthy adaptation. The filmmakers normally make fare that’s not meant to connect with wide audiences, but “No Country for Old Men” sure did. “Atonement,” “Juno,” and “There Will Be Blood” never stood a chance. Dark and violent, though with a streak of black humor, it manages to absolutely enthrall. Oscar night was a coronation for the film, though it was one of the rare occasions where almost no one complained. Deserving directors and a deserving movie were given their due, and then some.
Did the snub of Ben Affleck in Best Director fuel “Argo” to its ultimate Best Picture win? Probably. Affleck’s miss helped to propel this true story to a victory over contenders like “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” A highly enjoyable look at how the CIA and Hollywood teamed up to save hostages in Iran, it’s got a bad rap lately. Is it a mainstream choice? Sure it is. Does that take away from its seemingly effortless perfection? Not at all. If anything, this has become an underrated Best Picture winner as the years have progressed.
One of the smallest Best Picture winners ever, this victory is made even more notable considering how it beat what was, at the time, the highest grossing film to date. “The Hurt Locker” beat back “Avatar,” compounding Kathryn Bigelow‘s historic Best Director victory. Perhaps no modern winner is as timely as this one, as the war in Iraq was at an all-time level of unpopularity. Just as President Barack Obama was settling into the Oval Office, Bigelow’s gritty war movie hammered home with brilliancy why the war was such folly. By making the intensity the focus instead of the politics, it becomes all the more powerful for it.
Forget about all of the “La La Land” vs “Moonlight” venom. The filmmakers behind them weren’t enemies, so fans of either shouldn’t be. The former may have held the crown for a moment, but the Best Picture winner was Barry Jenkins‘ lyrical coming of age tale. Even if you weren’t a huge lover of it, the fact that this Oscar winner is a hard right turn from what the Academy usually cites should warm your heart. It’s almost a bonus that this is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and poetic gift. It will stand the test of time as a moment where the Oscars switched up what they found to be worthy of acclaim, which is something the cinematic world is all the better for.
2“The Departed” (2006)
dir. Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese finally got the big win in Best Director here, with the movie itself pulling off the win as well. Some might argue that “The Departed” benefited from weak competition in the likes of “Babel,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” and “Little Miss Sunshine.” Even if that’s true, Scorsese’s Boston-set gangster epic is easily one of the most purely entertaining Best Picture winners ever. In terms of the modern era, when so many of the films with the Oscar on their mantle are uber serious, this example of a master at the top of his craft is a devilish joy. Hot take: it’s also his best gangster tale.
There’s something beguiling about how “Spotlight” ended up a Best Picture winner. More often than not, quietly powerful films like this one, all about how hard work can get the job done, end up falling short in favor of a more clearly cinematic option. Tom McCarthy‘s tribute to investigative journalism and nose to the grindstone dedication managed to scoot by “The Big Short” and “The Revenant” at the last minute. Either of those would have been unremarkable winners. This one? It’s one of the better ones ever. Since 2000, it’s the best, plain and simple.