With the Oscars next week, it had me thinking about the awards and how they often fail to recognize what film is truly worth of the title "Best Picture."
I've been thinking about a post like this for a while. But this week one of my favorite online writers began his list going through every single decade of the Academy Awards. His knowledge of film and its history exceeds mine, so I do not think I will be that extensive.
I've decided only to comment on what should have won Best Picture in a given year if:
1. I have seen the Best Picture winner.
2. I have seen at least one other nominee in the category
As I began to review the winners, I realized that while the number of movies I have seen is extensive (a number approaching 3,000), most of those films have been from the 1980's and forward. My experience of "classic Hollywood" is very limited. Feel free to use this as a critique of my film tastes and judgment.
The list reflects only films that have been nominated. I've listed what films I think should be considered "Best" every year on this blog. Most of them did not receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture. So while I think that The Passion of the Christ is the best film of 2004 (and also tied for choice for best movie ever made), I cannot put it against the actual Best Picture winner, because it wasn't nominated.
If you want to know which movies I think were best in general per year, I have written about them multiple times, though it should probably be updated.
And now, here is my list. Feel free to let me know your thoughts and where you agree or where you think I am going wrong.
WINNER: Gone with the Wind
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Wizard of Oz
I am not one of the people who think that Gone with the Wind is as great as everyone says. To be sure, it is a technical achievement, with incredibly complex characters, and great performances. The main problem is that it is centered around an incredibly unlikeable main character who never really grows on you. On the other hand The Wizard of Oz is not only a technical masterpiece for its day that still captures the imaginations of children in every generation, it is a story that still resonates. How many of us can still conjure up the precise images from the film because they have burned into our brains. And it has some of the most memorable songs in movie history.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Song of Bernadette
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Casablanca
The Academy got this one correct. I could go on and on about how amazing Casablanca is and how Incredibly watchable it still is today. The Song of Bernadette is also an excellent film with a powerful message of faith, but it cannot beat Casablanca
WINNER: The Best Years of Our Lives
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: It's a Wonderful Life
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: It's a Wonderful Life
The Best Years of Our Lives is a great movie that I have seen multiple times since I first saw it just a few years ago. It is a complex story about the lives of returning soldiers after WWII. But It's a Wonderful Life is in my top ten movies of all time. It is a film experience that can change who you are as a person and the way you look at life. It is the kind of movie that makes you thank God that the art of cinema was invented.
WINNER: Gentlemen's Agreement
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Bishop's Wife
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Gentlemen's Agreement
Neither one of these films is bad, nor are they spectacular. But the Gregory Peck film about lurking anti-semitism in society, despite its preachiness, has more depth.
WINNER: An American in Paris
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Quo Vadis, A Streetcar Named Desire
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Quo Vadis
An American in Paris showcase some fantastic song and dance numbers, but Quo Vadis is an epic that should be held up along with The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. If Charlton Heston had starred, I have no doubt that it would. Quo Vadis is a love story between a Roman soldier and a Christian hostage that takes place against the backdrop of the 1st Roman persecution. This is a movie I have seen dozens of times and it is a technical marvel with an amazing performance by Peter Ustinov as the evil Emperor Nero.
WINNER: The Bridge on the River Kwai
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: 12 Angry Men
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: 12 Angry Men
I expect that this will be one of my most controversial pics. The Bridge on the River Kwai has much about it that is admirable, but it is a film that ultimately leaves you empty and borders on nihilism. 12 Angry Men has a wonderfully engaging script and the film manages to pull you in even though it is almost all set in one single room.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Anatomy of a Murder
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Ben-Hur
Even though Anatomy of a Murder is one of the best courtroom dramas I have seen, it cannot compete with the epic nature of Ben-Hur.
WINNER: West Side Story
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Guns of Navarone
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: West Side Story
West Side Story is one of the few movies that improves upon an already fantastic stage musical. It's bright and bold colors work at first to show its romantic and idealized youth but then draw you deeper into violence and madness. Guns of Navarone is a fine war movie, but it is not a better movie.
WINNER: Lawrence of Arabia
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: To Kill a Mockingbird
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Lawrence of Arabia
Like Bridge on the River Kwai, much of Lawrence left me cold. But the sheer audacity of the directing and its amazing scope make the movie an experience that I am glad I had. To Kill a Mockingbird is almost a better film, but it was close.
WINNER: The Sound of Music
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Doctor Zhivago
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Sound of Music
Another good choice by the Academy. The Sound of Music is another timeless film that you can enjoy as a child and as an adult without losing any of its magic and wonder. Doctor Zhivago is interesting, but ultimately empty.
WINNER: In the Heat of the Night
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Sydney Poitier was in the film that won and the one that should have won. In the Heat of the Night is intentionally ugly and raw, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but once the central mystery is solved, it does not have any appeal for a rewatch. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, though it handles issues of race in an often awkward manner, is an interesting portrait of clashing generations, which makes the movie unstuck from its particular time period. I've watched The Graduate several times and while it is very evocative, I cannot get over my constant annoyance at every single character.
WINNER: The French Connection
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Fiddler on the Roof
Speaking of getting stuck in time, The French Connection is very much a movie of its decade and that is not a compliment. It is full of grime and grit that is typical of films of the decade and has not aged nearly as well as most critics think. Fiddler on the Roof, however, is as timeless as ever with its universal themes and its classic songs.
WINNER: The Sting
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: American Graffiti
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: American Graffiti
This is also a controversial choice, but George Lucas' coming of age story, with its interweaving narratives, is a much more enjoyable watch. Redford and Newman have star power and chemistry that make The Sting work so well, but American Graffiti moves on the strength of its script and the director's ability to help you connect to the characters.
WINNER: The Godfather Part II
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Conversation
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Godfather Part II
How Coppola filmed both these movies in the same year is beyond me. But The Conversation is actually not a good film.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: All the President's Men
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Rocky
Again, the Academy chose correctly. Seeing this movie as a stand alone film and not a part of the long franchise that it became, it feels very much a movie of its time, except that Stallone was able to connect Rocky's journey with the struggle for dignity that we all face and so made it timeless.
WINNER: Karmer vs. Kramer
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Apocalypse Now
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Apocalypse Now
Both of these movies are dark in their own ways and both are pessimistic. And Apocalypse Now is arguably completely nihilistic in its world-view. But that movie is hypnotizing in its direction as it feels like you sink further and further into perdition.
WINNER: Oridnary People
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Elephant Man
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Ordinary People
The Elephant Man is better looking film, but Redford's very confident and restrained direction makes the emotional beats of this movie so incredibly poignant.
WINNER: Chariots of Fire
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Raiders of the Lost Ark
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Chariots of Fire is movie a pure boring pretension. Raiders is a timeless crowd-pleaser that people will still be watching in 100 years.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Children of a Lesser God, The Mission
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Mission
Granted I have not seen Platoon since I was a child, but it cannot compete with the sheer power, beauty, and tragedy of The Mission. Watching The Mission is like having your soul raised up and your heart broken. Children of a Lesser God is fine, but cannot compete.
WINNER: Rain Man
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Working Girl
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Rain Man
The right movie won. Working Girl is a good picture, but Hoffman and Cruise made a classic.
WINNER: Driving Miss Daisy
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Field of Dreams
This was a tough one, since all the movies are good, but Field of Dreams is the most original and only works because it is able to make the audience believe in the magic of baseball. That is no small feat.
WINNER: Dances with Wolves
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Awakenings, Ghost, the Godfather Part III, Goodfellas
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Awakenings
This is another controversial choice and I know I have to give Dances with Wolves another watch, but Awakenings is such a moving story with one of Robin Williams' best performances. The movie is engaging and heartbreaking while still being incredibly hopeful.
WINNER: The Silence of the Lambs
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Beauty and the Beast, JFK
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: JFK
This is not an endorsement of its historical accuracy, but as a film JFK draws you and keeps you on the edge throughout. Not a lot of movies could end their third act with such a long monologue, but Oliver Stone causes you to become so invested in the story that you hang on every word. The Silence of the Lambs is also a classic, but JFK just narrowly beats it out.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: A Few Good Men, Scent of a Woman
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: A Few Good Men
Another controversial choice. I rewatched Unforgiven a few months ago and it is better than I orginally remember. But Clint Eastwood, as a director, tends to let his movies plod along a little too long. A Few Good Men is on of the best courtroom dramas with a killer script and a great cast.
WINNER: Schindler's List
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Fugitive, The Piano, The Remains of the Day
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Schindler's List
This is a no-contest winner in any year that it would have been nominated.
WINNER: Forrest Gump
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Four Weddings and A Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Shawshank Redemption
This is one of the years where nearly every single film nominated is deserving of the honor (except Four Weddings and.a Funeral, which is terrible). Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption all have stood the test of time (sadly the excellent Quiz Show has not). But Shawshank stands above the other nominees. I believe it is still the highest ranked movie of all time on IMDB and it is also in my top 10. Possibly a perfect film.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Apollo 13
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Braveheart
Again, either film deserves all of the accolades they receive. But Braveheart, being another one of my top ten films, stands above. To steal a phrase from The Simpsons, watching this movie embiggins the soul.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, LA Confidential.
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Titanic
If the Academy voted the way it does now, I'm guessing that The Full Monty would have won Best Picture. This is one of the rare occasions where I have seen all the other nominees and all of them are actually good (The Full Monty is a movie that should absolutely repel me and yet there is something endearing about it despite its sleazy topic). But Titanic is a masterpiece of movie-making. Look past the hype and you will see masterful direction of a love story that hits all the romantic chords you could want.
WINNER: Shakespeare in Love
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Elizabeth, Life is Beatiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Saving Private Ryan
I have been thinking about making this list ever since the night that Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal, but I was so upset at the time beacuse of he artistic injustice of it all. Saving Private Ryan is one of Spielberg's best movies and that is no small compliment. It is a movie that is still dearly loved by audiences and is constantly found by younger viewers who are affected deeply. Life is Beautiful is also a fantastic film that could also have won, but either would have been better than Shakespeare in Love
WINNER: American Beauty
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Green Mile
At the time, I thought American Beauty was great. As I have gotten older, I have soured on the movie in general. But The Green Mile is still has touching and sad as ever
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Gladiator
One of the last great movies by Ridley Scott, this movie made Russell Crowe a star and is one of the best sword and sandal epics.
WINNER: A Beautiful Mind
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
This was a tough one because A Beautiful Mind may be Ron Howard's best movie and it is fantastic. But put up against Fellowship, the Peter Jackson epic first chapter wins.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
This one is easier. Chicago does not hold up nearly as well as Two Towers after nearly two decades.
WINNER: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Lost in Translation
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
While Lost in Translation has some wonderful performances and character moments, it cannot compete.
WINNER: The Departed
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Little Miss Sunshine
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Departed
I know people rag on this movie as a lesser Scorsese film, but I think it is excellent and definitely better than Little Miss Sunshine
WINNER: No Country for Old Men
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Juno, There Will Be Blood
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Juno
No Country for Old Men would retain is place if it did not completely and utterly fall apart in the third act to become a different film. Juno is offbeat and delightful from start to finish.
WINNER: The Hurt Locker
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Avatar, The Blind Side, Inglorius Basterds, Up, Up in the Air
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Up
The Hurt Locker is raw, but it actually fairly boring. Up is one of the best films to come out for the last twenty years. It is a perfect film from start to finish.
WINNER: The King's Speech
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Inception
Even after all the hype died down, Inception is still an incredibly smart, slick, and visually stunning film. The King's Speech is a fairly good movie (though it has some odd moral problems with it). Toy Story 3 could be another worthy winner, but I'll have to go with Inception.
WINNER: The Artist
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Moneyball, War Horse
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The Help
None of these nominees are truly great, great films. But of the ones nominated, The Help is probably the best of them, with the best writing and performances.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Django Unchained, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark 30
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Lincoln
This was a tough one. Back in 2012, I chose Les Miserables as my best picture. But as time has gone on, it's emotional impact has come more from its music than the directing and performances. Argo is also an incredible film, that still holds up and is worthy of the prize, but Lincoln is just too good and too much of a timeless film to not have won.
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: American Sniper
Birdman has its moments, but it is a film that is too self-indulgent and up its own rear-end about the artistry of performance. American Sniper might be the best movie that Clint Eastwood has directed, which makes it even more compelling that he did so this late in his career. The movie is tense and dramatic while knowing how to use emotional restraint properly.
WINNER: The Shape of Water
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Dunkirk, Lady Bird
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Dunkirk
The Shape of Water might be one of the worst movies ever to win Best Picture. And while Dunkirk is not Christopher Nolan's best, it is head and shoulders above the other nominees.
WINNER: Green Book
OTHER NOMINEES I HAVE SEEN: Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star is Born.
WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Bohemian Rhapsody
I greatly enjoyed Green Book, so I was pleased when it won. And even though I am deeply conflicted about Bohemian Rhapsody's themes, the artistry with which it was made told a very human story where my heart broke constantly for Freddie Mercury. The effective incorporation of Queen's greatest hits didn't hurt either.