The 89th Academy Awards: Which movie should win Best Picture?

The 89th Academy Awards: Which movie should win Best Picture?

As we've done for the past several years, John and I marathon-ed the Best Picture nominees at AMC in advance of the Oscars ceremony. This is a great way to see how the films truly stack up against one another. The films this year, I think, compare favorably to each other, but I don't know how well some of them would do against better films in previous years. Some are great (Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, yes, La La Land), some are big nopes for me, at least as Best Picture nominees (Lion, Hacksaw Ridge), and the rest are sure, fine.

Hindsight is 20/20, and the Academy usually gets the winner wrong on the day. Whether films win because of aggressive campaigning or because they're the least offensive/most milquetoast choice, these are not the movies that stand the test of time. For fun, I'm going to look back at all the races in this century and figure out the Academy's batting percentage, then figure out if the Oscars will get it right this year.

2001: Chocolat; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Erin Brockovich, Gladiator, Traffic
Winner: Gladiator
Should've Won: Gladiator

The Oscars got it right this year, in a very strong field. Maybe Traffic and Crouching Tiger are better movies, but Gladiator wins for scope and cultural staying power.

2002: A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!
Winner: A Beautiful Mind
Should've Won: Moulin Rouge!

This was a toss-up between LOTR and Moulin Rouge! I think Fellowship is the strongest entry in the LOTR trilogy, but it's only part of the story, while Moulin Rouge! is a self-contained masterpiece that truly holds up.

2003: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist
Winner: Chicago
Should've Won: Gangs of New York

This is a weak year, nominees-wise. Who's still talking about Chicago? The Two Towers is the worst of the LOTR movies. Gangs of New York wins in my book for its iconic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. Also hot, grungy Leo.

2004: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit
Winner: LOTR
Should've Won: LOTR

This is the third year in a row that the first movie alphabetically won the award. Coincidence or conspiracy? LOTR ran the table, and rightly so. The rest of these movies are big nothing burgers and haven't had much staying power, other than, arguably, Lost in Translation, which I haven't seen it for a while, but I'm going to assume its precious, hipster vibe doesn't quite hold up. I never realized until just now that I had such strong feelings against this movie. I've got some things to think about.

2005: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Sideways
Winner: Million Dollar Baby
Should've Won: None of them. These are terrible choices. (If I have to choose...? Uh...Sure. Million Dollar Baby.)

Voters should've written in either Hotel Rwanda or The Incredibles.

2006: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich
Winner: Crash
Should've Won: Brokeback Mountain

I don't feel the same hatred toward Crash as other people do, but Brokeback Mountain is the better film here and Heath Ledger's performance is one of the GOATs. Quality-wise, I also love Munich, which is an under-appreciated gem from Señor Spielbergo.

2007: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen
Winner: The Departed
Should've Won: The Departed

There were a lot of capital G Great movies this year that weren't nominated--United 93, Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men. I would've given the award to any those over The Departed, but Scorsese's movie does hold up, thanks in part to some stellar acting performances and the fact that it's a Scorsese movie.

2008: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood
Winner: No Country for Old Men
Should've Won: No Country for Old Men...or There Will Be Blood

I have a very hard time picking between these two movies, which succeed on the shoulders of two incredible tour de force acting performances--by Oscar winners Javier Bardem and Daniel Day-Lewis, respectively. Both movies (and both performances) hold up. They will kill you with a cattle prod and THEN drink your milkshake.

2009: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Should've Won: Slumdog Millionaire

Not to take anything away from Slumdog, which is a very good movie, but it was up against nothing. Milk and Frost/Nixon were fine, but not super memorable. The Reader is objectively terrible.

2010: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
Winner: The Hurt Locker
Should've Won: Inglourious Basterds

This is the year (in the wake of the Dark Knight snub the year before) that the Academy expanded the field to make way for blockbusters like...A Serious Man. There are some good movies in this list, but for staying power and sheer scope, I have to give it to Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. (Special shout to Up, which is also amazing.)

2011: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids are All Right, The King's Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone
Winner: The King's Speech
Should've Won: Inception

Let's all agree that The King's Speech, which is FINE, should never have won this award. Who in the world is still talking about The King's Speech, other than when watching The Crown on Netflix and they turn to their spouse, like, "That's the same king from The King's Speech." Otherwise, no one has mentioned this movie since 2011. I'm guessing The Social Network and Inception split the cool kids' votes. Either would've been better than the speech movie. (I see you, Toy Story 3. Yes, I would've cheered if you'd won.)

2012: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, Warhorse
Winner: The Artist
Should've Won: Hugo

Moneyball is very good, but I'm giving it to Hugo on the basis of innovation and magic. Either would've been a better choice than the overrated Artist.

2013: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pie, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Winner: Argo
Should've Won: Django Unchained

I would've also accepted "Lincoln." Argo's not a bad pick, though, all told. There were some good choices in this group.

2014: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street
Winner: 12 Years a Slave
Should've Won: Gravity

I can't argue too hard against 12 Years a Slave, but watching Gravity was an EXPERIENCE. The acting in 12 Years was amazing (and Chiwetel Ejiofor should've won hands down over All right All right All right), but the entire experience of Gravity added up to a better Oscar movie.

2015: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Winner: Birdman
Should've Won: Whiplash

It's harder to look at these more recent years and try to guess which films will stand the test of time. There are a lot of good movies here, but Whiplash has something so many other films seem to lack--INSANE TENSION. And it's a drumming movie. An incredibly tense drumming movie.

2016: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight
Winner: Spotlight
Should've Won: Mad Max: Fury Road

When we talk about staying power, Spotlight doesn't have it. Ask anyone who wasn't in some way involved in the production of Spotlight which movie won last year, and NO ONE remembers. Spotlight is aggressively fine. Fine doesn't cut it when you're going up against Mad Max and The Martian (I also liked The Big Short, Brooklyn, and Room better than Spotlight). Mad Max wins here because holy mother of pearl have you seen Mad Max?

2017: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight
Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: La La Land

Yes, I think La La Land should win. I'm that person. I can envision history remembering Manchester by the Sea very fondly, much like it has You Can Count on Me. It's an incredible movie. Moonlight is flawless. Hell or High Water is timely, funny, and tragic. Fences boasts stellar acting performances. Hidden Figures is the feel-good movie. Lion and Hacksaw Ridge exist, too. (I skipped Arrival, so no spoilers. Maybe once I see it, it will render this whole post moot.)

But La La Land is the Oscars. It's not perfect. I really hate the poor singing, especially from the smaller roles. But it's visceral and emotional and bittersweet and I do think, when I stop to look at all the films it's up against this year, La La Land--over all of them--will have staying power.

What do you think?

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