Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

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An Oscar Retrospective – Getting it Right on the Second Try?

The Oscars are fairly notorious for some of their lousy picks. The most egregious recent example people might point out was in early 1999, when Shakespeare in Love, a fine romance/comedy/period film, won the Best Picture Oscar over the heavily favored and critically adored Steven Spielberg war film, Saving Private Ryan. In the years since, there has been plenty of controversy of what has and hasn’t been nominated, and what did and did not win. Today I’m going to take a look at the past ten years of Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor/Actress trophies in order to gauge whether or not I feel they hold up. My opinions are obviously not definitive, so feel free to offer up your thoughts in the comments!


2003 Academy Awards

Best Picture: Chicago

Best Director: Roman Polanski, The Pianist

Best Actor: Adrien Brody, The Pianist

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman, The Hours

2002 wasn’t an incredibly strong year for cinema. Of all the nominees for Best Picture, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has been the only one with any staying power. Chicago was popular at the time, but seems to have floated into obscurity. The other nominees, The Hours, Gangs of New York, and The Pianist, could most kindly be described as “Oscar bait” (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that). I would have been much happier with a Pedro Almodovar win for Best Director for Talk to Her because I think he’s brilliant. I’m fine with Nicole Kidman winning for The Hours, though she probably should have won a year earlier for Moulin Rouge. I also would have preferred a Nicolas Cage win for Adaptation, because he’s legitimately great in that movie and also plays multiple characters.

2004 Academy Awards

Best Picture: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Best Director: Peter Jackson, Same

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Mystic River

Best Actress: Charlize Theron, Monster

Unlike 2002, 2003 was an incredibly strong year for cinema. I’m not surprised that Peter Jackon’s ultimate Lord of the Rings film racked up an impressive number of Oscars, though it did feel like the film won so many because of the achievements of all three movies put together. I didn’t really have a problem with that at the time, and in retrospect I’m ok with it as well. Charlize Theron is magnificent in Monster and more than deserved her win. Sean Penn was good in Mystic River, but the real crime is that Bill Murray didn’t win for his role in Lost in Translation, a film I would have been ok with for winning Best Picture as well. Lost in Translation has stood the test of time, and Murray’s performance in it is excellent.

2005 Academy Awards

Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Same

Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray

Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2004 was weaker on the whole than ’03, but Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby is still a good film. It may have lost in other years, but I can’t imagine Sideways or The Aviator winning over it, despite the fact that I like both of those movies just fine. Eastwood’s director Oscar, like Jackson’s the previous year, seems more about the culmination of a body of work. But again, this was a weak class, and I can’t really argue against the win. Swank is excellent in Baby, and truly deserved the award, though history has shown that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a pretty darn good film and maybe, just maybe Kate Winslet deserved the win a bit more than Swank. Jamie Foxx winning best anything is kind of an atrocity, especially for a musical biopic. Don Cheadle’s performance in Hotel Rwanda is pretty great, though the film hasn’t held up all that well. Likewise, I would have preferred to see Leonardo DiCaprio take home the Oscar for The Aviator, a film which is over-stuffed, but DiCaprio is pretty great in it.

2006 Academy Awards

Best Picture: Crash

Best Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain

Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

2005 was about on par with 2004 in film, except for Brokeback Mountain, which is one of the finest films of the 00s. Ang Lee rightly deserved his Oscar statuette for Best Director, and the film probably should have won Best Actor for Heath Ledger as well (his posthumous The Dark Knight Supporting Actor win makes up for this). The biggest crime is that it lost out on Best Picture to Crash, a film that hasn’t held up and is a shining example of the worst kind of Oscar Bait. I don’t actually mind Crash – I think it’s a fine movie, but it winning over Brokeback Mountain is an atrocity. Philip Seymour Hoffman is good in Capote, but again I would have liked to have seen Ledger win for his subtle portray of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. Reese Witherspoon is also a fine choice for Best Actress, though the class for the award that year was particularly weak overall.

2007 Academy Awards

Best Picture: The Departed

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen

2006 was a decent year for cinema. My favorite film of that year, Children of Men, would have been a better choice for Best Picture and Best Director, however (it wasn’t even nominated for Picture). The Departed is a solid movie, but it did it really deserve the enormous amount of critical acclaim it garnered? I wonder, had it been directed by someone other than the enormously respected Scorsese (who also earned a Best Director award), would it have won as many awards as it did? Also nominated for Best Director was Paul Greengrass for United 93, a film I found to be excellent. United 93 is an underrated movie which probably didn’t perform well because of its sensitive subject matter. I’m mostly grateful that Babel, a clear awards-bait film, didn’t win any of the major awards. As for Forest Whitaker, I’m extremely pleased he won best actor, though Ryan Gosling was heavily favored going in. Whitaker deserved the statue however.

2008 Academy Awards

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men

Best Director: Joel and Ethan Coen, Same

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose

Many people cite 2007 as the best year of the 00s for film, and the two big prestigious films of the year, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, are good evidence in favor of that assessment. I personally know many people who cite There Will Be Blood as their favorite movie of all time. While I enjoyed the film, I was definitely a bigger fan of the Coen brother’s entry. No Country went on to take the top two prizes, which was a bit of a surprise as many felt that Paul Thomas Anderson’s intense character study would take home these trophies. Day-Lewis did win for Blood, however, and rightly so – his performance in that movie ranks as one of the best film performances ever. Cotillard, a virtual unknown in America at the time, won the Best Actress award in another weak year (her only real competition was from Ellen Page for Juno, and let’s all just be glad that Cotillard won) for the Best Actress category.

2009 Academy Awards

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: Danny Boyle, Same

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk

Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader

I really paid attention to the 2009 Academy Awards, as I had seen most of the films up for nomination. I ultimately came away disappointed, however. The Best Picture and Director statues should probably have gone to The Wrestler, which wasn’t even nominated in either category. Continuing in this vein, Mickey Rourke should really have been awarded the Best Actor statuette, as his performance as broken down wrestler Randy Robinson was breathtaking. Penn is a great actor, but he had won a just a handful of years earlier for Mystic River. I’m fine with Kate Winslet picking up a statue for The Reader, a film which wasn’t all that critically acclaimed. Once again, this category was quite weak I thought. The Supporting Actress nominations are almost always more interesting to me. I must also point out that I absolutely hate Slumdog Millionaire, and I feel it is one of the worst kinds of movies – a mediocre awards magnet. I’m glad that Danny Boyle won a Best Director award; I just wish it had been for one of his good films instead.

2010 Academy Awards

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Same

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

2009 turned out to be weaker than 2008, but at least the right film, The Hurt Locker, won Best Picture. Avatar, the highest grossing movie of all time, was nominated for a staggering number of Academy Awards, which caused somewhat of an uproar among the general populace. I like Avatar, and I like what James Cameron brought to the film, but it probably wasn’t worthy of all the awards hype it received. Kathryn Bigelow became the first female director to win an Academy Award for Best Director, which was definitely cool to see. Jeff Bridges was a great choice for Best Actor as well, and I can’t believe it is his only Oscar. The guy has just had an amazing career. On the negative end, Sandra Bullock won a statue for what is kind of a lousy movie, The Blind Side. I might have gone with Carey Mulligan over Bullock, and Mulligan’s winning would have been a pleasant surprise for most watching I imagine.

2011 Academy Awards

Best Picture: The King’s Speech

Best Director: Tom Hooper, Same

Best Actor: Colin Firth, Same

Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2010 was, to me, the strongest year for cinema since ’07. The Academy royally screwed up, however, as The King’s Speech, a film that in retrospect is just about the worst kind of Oscar bait, beat out David Fincher’s ground-breaking The Social Network in the two big categories. To think that David Fincher didn’t win the Oscar for The Social Network is downright maddening. Fincher’s film is one of the defining cinematic visions of our generation, and yet it lost out to yet another in a long line of generic British period pieces. I’m ok with Firth winning Best Actor for The King’s Speech, but I can’t help but wonder if people in the Academy severely regret their decision to award it Best Picture and Best Director in hindsight. Portman’s performance in Black Swan is pretty great, and I cannot argue with that pick. Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Williams also gave tour-de-force performances in 2010 as well. 2010 was probably the strongest year for lead actress nominations in a very long time.

2012 Academy Awards

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Director: Michael Hazanavicius, Same

Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, Same

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

2012’s awards ceremony was the first in a long time that I actively ignored. I didn’t care which movie won Best Picture, Director, etc. I had then and have now no interest in seeing The Artist, the film that wound up winning big, including Picture, Director, and Actor. Of the candidates nominated for Best Picture, I have only seen War Horse and Moneyball, and while I liked each of those films in their own ways, I can’t say I’d prefer for either of them to have won the big award either. I feel similarly about Meryl Streep’s win for Best Actress. I’m pleased that Streep won another Oscar (her first win in quite some time actually), but I have zero interest in actually seeing The Iron Lady. I like Rooney Mara, and was rooting for her to win the award, but I never even bothered to see the American version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I didn’t feel that 2011 was a particularly strong year for cinema, and that the fact that schlock like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Shitty was nominated speaks volumes to that.

2013 Academy Awards

We’ll see next week…



4 responses to “An Oscar Retrospective – Getting it Right on the Second Try?

  1. Nick! February 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I haven’t cared about or watched the Academy Awards in years. I guess it is fun to think about, I guess, but in the end, it is just an needlessly long show that only rubs the overpaid egos of Hollywood. And since film is incredibly subjective art, how can there be a one “best”?

  2. Nick! February 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I was just thinking that it is interesting that “The Artist”, which had all the big buzz this time last year is completely forgotten about now.

  3. Pingback: ‘Argo’ Wins Best Picture | The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

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