It’s awards season and every film is vying to win the so-called “big one”: The Academy Award for Best Picture. Winning this can increase a films’ popularity, and therefore legacy, almost overnight. While we can all agree sometimes the awards season can be a bit nonsense, it’s still very exciting to watch and guess all the winners for film buffs. Last year was the first year I stayed up and watched the whole thing and I loved it, not only because of the infamous Moonlight/La La Land mix-up, but because you remembered just how many great films had come out. It even brings up the discussion of how many more great films were nowhere to be seen. So, with the Oscars on the horizon, I wanted to look back at winners of Best Picture from the last 5 years and ask a question, did the right film win?
Other Nominations: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea
Ignoring every joke that has ever been made about the way it won, ‘Moonlight’ arguably deserved the gong more than ‘La La Land’. While Damien Chazelle’s musical masterpiece had beauty in almost every colourful scene, Moonlight found beauty in the most harrowing of situations. Set over three periods of time, it manages to keep one of the bleakest and least Hollywood-esque stories engaging and moving, without ever exploiting it. It’s truly is a work of art. It manages to bring a number of subject matters that mainstream films wouldn’t go near and tell each of them in a truthful and moving manner.
One could argue that while the right film was chosen out of the two front runners, ‘Arrival’ deserved the recognition too. Dennis Villeneuve turned the sci-fi genre on its head with this original masterpiece on a subject that we’d all seen countless times. It wasn’t just the visuals that stunned audiences, but a script that didn’t spoon feed us as well as an Oscar-worthy performance by Amy Adams (yet, you can’t be nominated if you’re superb in two films it seems) and another masterclass in direction from Dennis Villeneuve, one of the best directors working today. I would also throw ‘Manchester by the Sea’ into contention as a worthy winner as out of all the nominees, it was the one that really stuck with me for weeks after I saw it. Unlike ‘Moonlight’ which found the time to have uplifting moments, ‘Manchester by the Sea’ was a film covered in sadness, one that manages to break you down into little pieces and somehow by the end of it, you’re happy you’ve witnessed such tragedy. While it wasn’t crafted as well as ‘Moonlight’ or ‘Arrival’, it still hits you with a huge impact. 2017 was an incredibly strong year, but the right film won. Just a shame it was overshadowed by the catastrophe that ended the night.
Correct Decision?: Yes, however ‘Arrival’ would’ve been a worthy winner too.
Other Nominations: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room
A pretty big shock as ‘The Revenant’ seemed like a dead cert. While I really enjoyed ‘Spotlight’, there were a few that deserved the nod more. ‘The Big Short’ and ‘The Martian’ may not have been as visually stunning or left as big an impact on audiences, but they were two of the most enjoyable films all year. Considering they were about the famous housing market crash and Matt Damon being stranded on Mars, two not so fun premises, it really shows how strong each of these scripts were. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ was the most ambitious and well crafted film of the bunch and set a new benchmark of what we should expect from big budget action movies, as well as being one of the first actions films that treated women as equals instead of objects and rewards. It was never going to win due to being an action movie, but it deserved it more than ‘Spotlight’. The biggest offence however was that ‘Inside Out’ wasn’t even nominated for this award, despite it being a masterpiece. It was a perfect family film, one everyone, no matter their age, could enjoy. It allowed kids to learn more about their emotions through the physicality of the characters, as well as a story that spoke to them, not down to them. By treating it as a film for everyone, no one was alienated during it’s run time. “Inside Out’ is up there with ‘Toy Story’ as one of Disney Pixar’s finest pieces of animation and it was an absolute travesty it didn’t get nominated.
One film deserved the award more than any of them though; ‘Room’. A film that had an absolutely horrific plot, but didn’t become the film some expected it to be. Instead of exploiting the kidnapping element, we got to see the relationship of a Mother and her Son and how far she would go to protect him from the horrors of their situation. Thanks to the frankly perfect casting, the two central character allowed the film to concentrate solely on their relationship and flourish because of it. While ‘Spotlight’ was an absolutely breath-taking film, there was so much more on offer that deserved the nod ahead of it.
Correct Decision?: No.
Winner: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Other Nominations: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Games, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Any other year, and this would have been acceptable. Maybe ‘Whiplash’ could’ve sneaked in, but Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s seemingly single-take film is absolutely amazing and incredible in every single way. It revived Michael Keaton’s career and was one of the most talked about films, but not just for it’s cinematography. A script full of humour and heart along with an ensemble that all act off one another instead of against each other made this a truly memorable cinematic experience for everyone. 2015 however, was the year ‘Boyhood’ was absolutely robbed of the Best Picture gong. A film that literally took 12 years to make, Richard Linklater’s long-awaited film is one of the most perfect films ever crafted. It doesn’t rely on over-bearing drama or a clichéd plot and becomes one of the most honest and heart-warming stories about growing up. It may not feature any truly iconic scenes or a stand-out performance, yet it’s one that will never leave your memory due to it’s mesmerising direction, awesome soundtrack and uplifting message. The best film of the decade and one that not enough people have seen.
Correct Decision?: No.
Winner: 12 Years a Slave
Other Nominations: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Gravity, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street
This was a tricky year, probably the most diverse of the five. ’12 Years a Slave’ made headlines for the all the right reasons and was an unapologetic, realistic take on slavery. It was beautifully directed by Steve McQueen, who deservedly won the Best Director award, and featured some of the strongest performances all year. It is a remarkable film and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the atrocities committed. Looking at the list of nominees though, I can’t help but wonder if maybe it wasn’t the clear winner. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ was an adrenaline-fuelled ride with a power-house performance from Leonardo DiCaprio that jumps out at me as the one I enjoyed the most while, like ’12 Years…’, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ had a huge emotional effect on me. It was a very understated film which some claim was carried by the Oscar-winning performances but I feel everything from the cinematography to the unusual pacing worked in its’ favour. It was a year where it seems there wasn’t a clear winner based on all that was on offer, but one of the main contenders did managed to come out on top. Based on the impact ’12 Years…’ had for equality within the film industry, it was probably just about the right call.
Correct Decision?: Yes, just.
Other Nominations: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Lining Playbooks, Zero Dark Thirty
With the greatest respect to the other nominees, this was perfectly awarded without any drama. ‘Argo’ was easily the best film of the lot. Ben Affleck’s exaggerated true story on a daring plan to make a fake film in order to rescue six American hostages from Iran was already gaining attention long before it was even made and then earned critical acclaim from every direction possible. The tension created within the daring escape was some of the most high octane ever to grace a cinema screen, and did it all just through conversation. No guns, no yelling, just a security check and a phone call kept us all glued to the screen. Even if you knew the outcome beforehand, it’s impossible not to be gripping the armrest in suspense. ‘Argo’ is so much more than an epic final act however, we get a bucket load of brilliant performances and more impotently, a story that keeps us engaged throughout it entirety, something hard for general audiences when so much time is spent inside embassies. Ben Affleck’s recent body of work has seemingly made everyone forget that he is not only capable of good things, but genuine greatness. An absolute classic that will be remembered even more fondly than it already is in years to come, or when Ben Affleck has another hit.
Correct Decision?: Yes.