The Oscars are behind us and everyone is looking forward to not having to repeatedly spell out the title Everything Everywhere All At Once.
The eight-and-a-half-pound gold trophy for Best Picture does remain the grandest prize of awards season and cements a film’s place in history. And while it’s easy to second-guess the Academy on its Best Picture laureates, but putting these prizes into context remains an interesting exercise.
With this in mind, RockedBuzz via Euronews Culture looks at the Best Picture winners since 2010 and ranks them from least deserving to most, and including the most recent 2023 winner – in order to ascertain which films deserved their place in movie history and where the Academy went badly wrong.
13) Green Book (2019)
Total Oscars won: 3 – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Original Screenplay.
Green Book is without a doubt the most unworthy Best Picture winner since 2010. The movie is a shallow and benign look at race in America. Worse, it won two years after Moonlight, which managed to deal with many similar themes without leaning on outdated “magical negro” tropes or childishly reducing its core message to “racism is bad”.
Green Book belittled America’s ongoing history of racism and, on a basic filmmaking level, is absolutely unremarkable. Its feel-good credentials aren’t the problem, and neither is Mahershala Ali’s performance – but Peter Farrelly’s sickly interracial buddy movie / Driving Miss Daisy update was about as subtle as a chainsaw to the face. Still, what did you expect from the director of There’s Something About Mary and Shallow Hal?
It showed Oscar voters merely keen to award a film that would make them feel good about themselves, à la “racism is sorted and we helped” – much like awarding Crash Best Picture in 2006.
While the Academy has taken steps to diversify its voters, the 91st Oscars went down as a ceremony that did honour diversity (Best Supporting Actress to Regina King, Best Supporting Actor to Mahershala Ali, Best Director to Alfonso Cuarón…) but chose the wrong film for the top gong.
What Should Have Won: Among the other nominees, almost all that year were worthier, especially A Star Is Born, The Favourite and Roma. Hell, even Black Panther or Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman could have won it for portraying issues of race in more layered ways. Take your pick. Except for Vice and Bohemian Rhapsody.
12) The King’s Speech (2011)
Total Oscars won: 4 – Best Picture, Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Original Screenplay.
Let’s face facts: Tom Hooper, the director of The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl and Cats, has only made one good film. And it’s none of these. You’d have to look back to 2009’s real-life football drama The Damned United for his strongest effort.
And yet, he won for The King’s Speech, which isn’t a bad film – it’s just a very bland and inspirational-by-numbers effort that was tailored Oscar bait.
Biopic? Check. Royalty? Check. Looming war? Check. The reductive conflation of a personal issue with the WWII effort and nation also finding their voice? Check. The list goes on with this tame story of how King George VI overcame a crippling stammer to deliver a speech which would send countless men to die. Hooray.
And think about it. When was the last time you rewatched The King’s Speech? And what about its fellow nominees Inception, Toy Story 3 and The Social Network? Case closed.
What Should Have Won: The Social Network
11) The Artist (2012)
Total Oscars won: 5 – Best Picture, Best Director (Michel ), Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Original Score, Best Costume Design.
Give Hollywood a film about the power of filmmaking and you can be sure the Oscar nominations are all but guaranteed.
French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius got confirmation of this with The Artist, a valentine to the silent era shot in gorgeous monochrome that tipped its hat to all the clichés and brought home five Oscars for its troubles. It’s a sweet but very slight confection of a film that has some charm to spare and did introduce us to Uggie the dog. So that’s something.
Beyond that, it’s win only makes sense when you see the rest of the Best Picture candidates that year: The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and War Horse. Put simply, it was the best of an aggressively mediocre bunch. Except when you remember Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was also nominated, and then you curse the Academy voters for being catastrophic flans with little to no taste.
What Should Have Won: The Tree of Life
10) CODA (2022)
Total Oscars won: 3 – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur), Best Adapted Screenplay.
CODA is a very tender, Sundance-by-numbers coming-of-age movie that defied the odds to make history as the first Best Picture winner ever released by a streamer (Apple TV+).
Beyond that piece of trivia though, the chances are that if you haven’t already seen Sian Heder’s film, based on the superior 2014 French-Belgian film La Famille Bélier, you probably won’t. You probably didn’t remember that it won Best Picture last year. That’s because it has already faded into obscurity. Shame, as it’s schmaltzy – but sincere schmaltz.
What Should Have Won: Drive My Car or Power of the Dog.
9) Spotlight (2016)
Total Oscars won: 2 – Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay.
Tom McCarthy’s film is hat tip to investigative journalism and journalistic determination, which tries to make up for All the President’s Men not winning the Oscar in 1977.
It’s informational yet gripping cinema firing on all cylinders, laudably tackling the systemic child sex abuse by the Catholic Church, as well as delving into themes of mass capability and the fracturing of communities.
It does falter considering the amount of Sorkinesque walk-and-talk exposition dumps, and its penchant for Oscar clip segments (see: Mark Ruffalo’s scenes). Above all though, it was the safe choice. How great would it have been to see the Academy deviate from the formula and pick fellow Best Picture nominee Mad Max: Fury Road?
What Should Have Won: Mad Max: Fury Road
8) Argo (2013)
Total Oscars won: 3 – Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing.
Argo gets a hard time of it.
Yes, it exaggerates the facts and smudges many real-life details, but all in favour of creating a suspenseful, stranger-than-fiction thriller that’s well-acted and never not gripping. Once you’ve accepted that it’s not overly concerned with veracity so much as it just wants to glue you to your seat with an American foreign-policy fantasy doubling up as yet another “this is the power of cinema” movie, then you can accept it as such.
The tone isn’t always there and some moments are questionable – the 20th century history of Iran reduced to storyboards at the beginning raises some eyebrows – but at the end of the day, where you not entertained? Argo is a disposable but self-aware reminder of a time when Ben Affleck was having a Hollywood renaissance… But it remains a fun watch.
Still, for all the defence of Argo, there’s no escaping the fact that Spielberg’s Lincoln, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, Michael Haneke’s Amour or Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty would have been more worthy winners.
What Should Have Won: Zero Dark Thirty
7) Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2015)
Total Oscars won: 4 – Best Picture, Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography.
This is another one which has its many detractors, but there’s still plenty to admire with Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s ambitious but completely self-righteous single-shot movie chronicling a Hollywood actor trying to put on a Broadway play as a comeback vehicle.
Birdman wasn’t exactly as emotionally expansive as fellow nominee Boyhood and it didn’t deliver _Whiplash_’s thrills. Nor was it as all-round brilliant as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. That said, it remains a worthy winner and its long continuous takes boasted moments of brio and fluidity. Plus, Edward Norton hadn’t been this fun in years.
What Should Have Won: The Grand Budapest Hotel
6) The Shape of Water (2018)
Total Oscars won: 4 – Best Picture, Best Director (Guillermo del Toro), Best Original Score, Best Production Design.
Looking back, it’s still a bit galling that Guillermo del Toro won Best Picture for The Shape of Water, when he really should have taken it home for Pan’s Labyrinth in 2007.
Still, this Cold War Amélie was a mostly satisfying win, a stylish valentine to old-school moviemaking that blended horror, fantasy and unabashedly romantic storytelling in ways other filmmakers can only dream of.
It was a strong year with the nine nominees for Best Picture, including Get Out, Call Me By Your Name and Phantom Thread. The latter should have taken the statuette, as it remains one of the last decade’s best films, an unconventionally romantic film that explores the knotty complexities of any inexplicable and passionate attraction. But still, it’s hard to get mad at anything del Toro does. Except Crimson Peak. That was rubbish.
What Should Have Won: Phantom Thread
5) Nomadland (2021)
Total Oscars won: 3 – Best Picture, Best Director (Chloé Zhao), Best Actress (Frances McDormand).
Prior to her third feature, writer-director Chloé Zhao had made quite a name for herself, crafting empathetic, beautifully lyrical small-scale portraits of life on the fringes of American society. After Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider, Nomadland also tackled the failed promises of the American Dream and was the one that propelled her to Oscar glory.
Recalling at times the work of Kelly Reichardt, Zhao’s direction showed how to make the audience care for all the protagonists in the frame, and the political and social implications she delved into never felt didactic. Add Joshua James Richards’s sweeping cinematography and Ludovico Einaudi’s emotive score, and you had one of the best films of 2020.
Nomadland was also one of the most left-field Oscar winners (until this year), as it was the furthest thing from a traditional crowd-pleaser as you get. But it was undoubtedly one of those rare occasions when the Academy got it right.
What Should Have Won: Nomadland
4) Everything Everywhere All at Once (2023)
Total Oscars won: 7 – Best Picture, Best Director (the Daniels), Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh), Best Supporting Actress (Jamie Lee Curtis), Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan), Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is an anomaly.
It’s a madcap and Dadaist mix of sci-fi, action, comedy and family drama and the furthest thing from a classic Oscar-winning film you can get. Its win signalled a sizeable shift – not only for Asian representation, but because it is also the popular choice, ie: it not only had critical backing but also that of the cinemagoing public. It is the little indie that could and not your average Oscar-bait contender; a delirious and absurdist take on intergenerational trauma, one which utilizes hotdog fingers, rocks, evil bagels, buttplugs and Ratatouille references to comment on existential angst. Above all, it an inventive is an ode to kindness.
Its overcaffeinated weirdness and inventiveness felt fresh for the Oscars and the directing duo known as the Daniels made sure that despite the current ubiquity of the multiverse storytelling trend, they never lost sight of an emotional pull that made all the characters devastatingly relatable.
While it’s a shame that the best film of the year – Todd Field’s Tár – left the Oscars empty-handed, there’s something truly worth celebrating about a film that defiantly breaks the rules and delivers something truly different.
What Should Have Won: Everything Everywhere All at Once
3) 12 Years A Slave (2014)
Total Oscars won: 3 – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Adapted Screenplay.
There was no other movie worthy of the prize that year.
As good as Her, Gravity and Dallas Buyers Club were, Steve McQueen’s brutal look at American slavery was the favourite going into the 86th Academy Awards and proved that his previous films – Hunger and Shame – were only the beginning of a great filmmaking career.
It’s not the easiest of watches – to say the least – but it’s a vital film that, if anything, deserved to take home more statuettes.
What Should Have Won: 12 Years A Slave
2) Moonlight (2017)
Total Oscars won: 3 – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Original Screenplay.
Ah, the winner we almost never got… Everyone remembers that infamous card mix-up and La La Land mistakenly announced as Best Picture. But sanity prevailed and Barry Jenkins’ second film took home the Golden Baldie.
While Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival could have made for an interesting winner, the story of a young gay man during three crucial periods in his life was raw, honest and deeply resonant. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue?’, Moonlight remains one of the go-to examples of the Academy getting it 100% right, and this profoundly moving intersectional film continues to yield rewards to this day.
What Should Have Won: Moonlight
1) Parasite (2020)
Total Oscars won: 4 – Best Picture, Best Director (Bong Joon Ho), Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film.
Of course it’s Parasite for the top spot. Bong Joon Ho’s dark social satire remains the worthiest winner of Best Picture not just in the last 13 years but in the 95 years of the Academy Awards.
The South Korean auteur expertly constructed a caustic indictment of the dehumanising effect of entrenched social strata. By seamlessly crafting some unexpected twists and turns, which blended Hitchcockian tension with farcical elements, Bong added sombrely poetic layers to his biting social commentary. It remains an uncompromising and borderline unclassifiable masterwork that became the first Korean film to win Cannes’ Palme d’Or and the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
It seemed like a shoo-in for Best International Feature in 2020, but most people were expecting either 1917 or The Irishman to win Best Picture. However, when Bong Joon-ho won Best Director, beating Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes and Quentin Tarantino to the punch, everyone dared to dream that a film not in the English language could make history. And it did.
“Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” said Bong Joon Ho as he claimed the prize for foreign-language film at the Golden Globes that year. Not only does his statement continue to resonate to this day, but by calling out Hollywood myopia, director Bong and his modern-day masterpiece showed that the best Oscar winners are always the ones where the Academy breaks free of protocol and dares to think outside the box and award powerfully different films.
What Should Have Won: Parasite