We are in the thick of awards season and the nominations for the 89th Academy Awards are just a week away. The Oscars are always a source of controversy and no category is more up for debate than Best Picture. Since 2000, sixteen films have earned the Academy’s top prize. So, I decided to rank them from number 16 all the way to best. This will be my personal ranking of these films based on my opinion of them. I have seen all of these films because let’s be honest, this list would be invalid if I hadn’t. So here’s my shot at ranking all 16 Best Picture winners of the 21st Century.
16. Crash (2005)
I think most who follow the Oscars are all mutually puzzled by Paul Haggis’s race drama Crash pulling off a massive upset. The film went up against the likes of Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck. Of those, Munich is probably the best film but I hold a special appreciation for Good Night, and Good Luck. Yet, Crash somehow stole the prize. It’s very melodramatic and manipulative. Thankfully, this film is largely forgotten about.
15. The Artist (2011)
This list is weird. I actually really enjoyed this film. It’s a fun and nostalgic love letter to silent film. French director Michel Hazanavicius crafted a brilliantly fun film, yet again, it’s largely forgettable. I have not revisited The Artist since its Oscar run. But, just like this years heavyweight La La Land, this is a film that played largely to voting base willing to give their top prize to nostalgic pieces that honor bygone eras of cinema. There is nothing wrong with this film, it just doesn’t hold up to the rest of the films on this list.
14. The King’s Speech (2010)
Despite the fact that The Social Network was the best film of 2010, I may sound like a broken record in calling this film forgettable. I think that is in part what the main reason is these films are lower on the list. Colin Firth without question, delivered the best performance of the year, a win for The King’s Speech solidified the Academy’s love of prestige, period dramas. I mean, this has every making of a Best Picture winner, just maybe not the most worthy one of 2010.
13. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
In what might have been one of the weakest years of the last 16, Slumdog Millionaire rose from the ashes and very dominantly walked its way to Oscar gold. In a year that should have featured a Best Picture nomination for The Dark Knight, this film very early on in awards season tightened its grip on the statue and didn’t let go. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button in this writers humble opinion was a better film. However, the Academy rewarded Danny Boyle’s solid effort with the win. Certainly a well deserved win for a fantastic movie, there are just better movies that have one the prize since 2000.
12. Chicago (2002)
Some film fans will say this should be higher on the list because of its importance to modern cinema. Chicago revitalized the movie musical. The profound achievement of bringing back the musical is nothing to sneeze at. We’re starting to get to films on this list that are terrific. Chicago‘s place as a landmark in the movie musical genre is unprecedented and without it, we don’t get films like Dreamgirls, Les Miserables or even La La Land. A worthy recipient of the trophy, Chicago is definitely a film you should see.
11. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
I know most fans of this franchise would be mad this isn’t in the top ten. However, even though The Return of The King is without question is the best film in the trilogy, and the Academy was right to reward it, there are just ten films better than it. This film is a modern marvel of technical achievement and practical effects. I don’t subscribe to the sentiment that this only won because the Academy wanted to award the franchise as a whole. It won because it was one of the best films of 2003, although I would like to submit Mystic River for consideration in that conversation as well.
10. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Russell Crowe was at the top of his game in the early 2000’s. As a result, Crowe gave one of the top five performances of the century. A Beautiful Mind is not only an outstanding biopic, it’s an outstanding portrait of a man whose story deserved to be told. Although Crowe wasn’t rewarded with a statue due to Denzel Washington giving a top five of the century performance of his own, the film was awarded the top prize, and deserved it more than any winner on this list based on what it was up against.
9. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
This is a film that has been forgotten about for the most part. Strangely enough, 12 Years A Slave will not be forgotten as time passes. This is a hard film to watch, but a necessary one. It features a magnetic performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor and stunning supporting performanes, including one that earned Lupita Nyong’o an award for Best Supporting Actress. 12 Years A Slave will long be remembered as one of the more poignant and iconic films of the century as time passes and we reflect on great films. I had absolutely no issues with this film taking home the prize, even though I was holding out hope for The Wolf Of Wall Street.
8. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
This was a year filled with excellent films all worthy of walking away with Oscar glory. In the end, Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, a marvelous and heartbreaking tale of a woman trying to defy the odds joined the ranks of Best Picture winners. Eastwood who directed and acted in the film is staggering on both sides of the camera. The Aviator and Ray were likely the biggest competition for the film but like its protagonist, Million Dollar Baby fought its way to the top. Eastwood has made several films since 200o including this years terrific Sully, but none match the nuance and grand achievement that is this film.
7. Argo (2012)
Ben Affleck cemented his status as an A-list director with 2010’s The Town. In 2012, Affleck, while somehow inexplicably not getting a nomination for directing, pulled off a Best Picture win. Argo is a thrilling film and an amazing story. The jury is out on Affleck’s acting ability still, he’s serviceable in this film, but there is no question regarding his talents as a director. However you lean on his latest effort, Live By Night, I enjoyed it more than most, Affleck has yet to direct a really bad movie. Silver Linings Playbook remains my favorite of that year, yet it is a valid win for Argo.
6. The Hurt Locker (2009)
In my years of watching Oscar telecasts, 2009 may have been the only year I actually stood up cheered in my living room for a Best Picture winner. The Hurt Locker seemingly pulled off the greatest upset of the century, beating the painfully overrated Avatar. It’s not that Avatar is a bad film, but The Hurt Locker is such a thrillingly and supremely well directed one, and the superior one to boot. I would contend this is a near perfect film with a career best performance from Jeremy Renner. Kathryn Bigelow very deservedly also earned an Oscar for directing. The Academy surprised me in 2009, and that doesn’t happen often.
5. The Departed (2006)
Similar to The Return Of The King, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was seen by some as a lifetime achievement award of sorts. While it isn’t one of Scorsese’s best, it certainly was a worthy one in yet another weak year. Goodfellas, Raging Bull or The Aviator seem to be films that come to mind when we think of his best work, but it took that weak year for Scorsese to finally win. It was the juggernaut in 2006 and from the very beginning looked like it was unbeatable. Babel and Little Miss Sunshine were also nominated. The Departed is an amazing film with an unbelievable cast who were all at the top of their game. Even though it isn’t the crowning achievement of his illustrious career, it will be remebered as one of Scorsese’s best.
4. Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virture of Ignorance) (2014)
Birdman cued up an impressive run for two of its major players. It would be one of two consecutive Best Director prizes for Alejandro Innaritu, and two consecutive Best Picture winners starring Michael Keaton. Birdman is a truly unique cinematic experience and one of the best films of the 2000’s. Keaton put his career back on the map and the film earned three acting Oscars for its outstanding cast with Emma Stone and Edward Norton being recognized. Birdman is a film that I hope is not forgotten, it was a bold choice for the Academy to go with a film as unique as Birdman, but a warranted one. Many pundits thought Boyhood would outlast it but it remained the favorite all the way to the end. If you have not seen this film do yourself a favor and check it out.
3. Gladiator (2000)
Simply put, this is Ridley Scott’s best film. Gladiator has obviously not been forgotten, and might just be the most iconic winner of the century. Everybody knows the now infamous line “are you not entertained!”. This was another film that proved Russell Crowe could do no wrong in the early 2000’s. Gladiator has, and will likely continue to stand the test of time. Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix are perfectly cast, and bring a subtle but commanding presence to the screen in this film that is not only one of the best films of the century, but certainly one of the best ever made.
2. Spotlight (2015)
If you have read my site or any other pieces of my writing, or just heard me talk about films in general, you already know how much I adore Spotlight. It is a rare, perfect film that encompasses tricky subject matter while never succumbing to exploitation. Spotlight is a film that is more relevant now than it was even a year ago. Granted, no one seems to be talking about this film anymore, but its portrayal of real journalism is something all Americans should see. Spectacularly directed and acted, Spotlight is probably the most culturally important film you’ll find on this list, and damn near the best of the Best Picture winners of this century.
1. No Country For Old Men (2007)
It is uncommon for filmmakers to be rewarded for their masterpieces. Orson Welles never took home the prize for Citizen Kane. Martin Scorsese was denied for Goodfellas. I do understand that masterpiece is a highly subjective term. Yet, Joel and Ethan Coen have the distinction of being recognized for a masterpiece. No Country For Old Men is the not only the best of Best Picture winners since 2000, it’s the absolute best film of the century so far. A chilling performance by Javier Bardem, a flawlessly directed film and stunningly shot, No Country For Old Men is a wondrous and breathtaking piece of cinema. It is captivating from start to finish. As with most of the movies on this list, you won’t regret watching this movie, it is simply a perfect film.