6. Gladiator (2000)
1999-2000 was a fantastic year for cinema. The Wachowski brothers came out with The Matrix, and Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Fight Club’ was made into the globally beloved film starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter. Neither of these films were even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, but somehow Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ ended up winning.
Gladiator is a good film, and serves an audience well when they are looking for an action movie that can potentially teach them a little about history (the film is very loosely based on true events within the Roman Empire). The movie falls victim, though, to something that often curses Hollywood action films, and that is that it becomes indistinct.
While it may not necessarily be boring, it lacks a ‘take away’ for the audience and fails to create characters that are interesting or particularly moving. While it can be difficult to get an audience to genuinely care about a character who exists so far back in history, it should be a pre-requisite for a ‘Best Picture’ winner. After all, isn’t film about evoking some sort of emotion or reaction?
So what should have won? Erin Brockovich. Not only did the film give us Julia Roberts in one of her best performances to date, but it also gave us a story that is still frighteningly relevant and heartbreaking fifteen years later.
Erin Brockovich was not only a heartfelt and brave piece, but it also played out with subtlety and charm. It was funny and tragic and everything you could want from an Oscar contender. Moreover, you could release it for the first time tomorrow and it would likely still be a strong nominee in 2016.
7. Chicago (2002)
There is nothing wrong with a good musical. A film like Chicago or Moulin Rouge is perfect for a Saturday afternoon while you have a glass of wine and dance around your living room.
Musicals are fun: they are predictable and riddled with cliches, but they are enjoyable nonetheless. Chicago is exactly this. It is a movie that follows every rule in the book when it comes to musicals. The style and pizzazz takes away entirely from any notion of plot or character development, and even overshadows what could be perfectly good performances from Renee Zelwegger and Catherine Zeta Jones.
None of this makes it a bad film, but it does make it a terrible contender for ‘Best Picture’ and even a worse winner. When you realize that Chicago took home the Oscar for Best Picture in 2002, you have to wonder if there were any other films even released that year. But there were. Plenty of them.
So what should have won? The Pianist. With a moving performance from Adrien Brody as a bonus, The Pianist sheds some light on a rarely explored part of World War II, adding a heartbreaking individual’s story to really get you feeling something. Also worth mentioning but weren’t nominated are ‘City of God’ and ‘Catch Me If You Can’.
8. Crash (2005)
Many would call ‘Crash’ one of the most provocative, culturally significant films of this century. Others refer to it as a manipulative, cliché riddled waste of time. There is no denying that Paul Haggis’ 2005 film Crash splits an audience. Haggis himself has spoken himself of his struggle to sit through the film and can be quoted as saying that he wrote it purely to “bust liberals” and catch people out on their pride of living above the line, oblivious to their subconscious prejudices.
Crash was one of the first big Hollywood movies to really use interconnectedness and subplots on parallels; this allowed Haggis to tell multiple stories at once, driving home the same point. All of this makes Crash a great film. Having said this, ‘Crash’ is a great melodrama that struggles with the subtlety of storytelling that will really make an impact. The impact of this film for most was momentary, resulting in it being a largely forgotten piece of cinema.
So what should have won? Crash was a great film, but Brokeback Mountain was better. Ang Lee’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’ also dealt with gay rights issues that many people weren’t ready for in a way that was both subtle and confrontational. With this film, Lee made a huge statement about love and equality without shoving it down anyone’s throat.
9. The Hurt Locker (2009)
We all know that especially in recent years the Academy has had a soft spot for war movies. Within the last few years we have seen Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor, and American Sniper all being recognized as significant pieces of cinema (whether this is true or not is certainly up for debate).
We also know that the Academy likes to hold soft spots (Meryl Streep) and bestow praise upon them at any chance they get. This is possibly the only real explanation for why The Hurt Locker took home Best Picture in 2009 over several more deserving contenders.
The Hurt Locker was widely praised by critics as being upfront, unapologetic, but magnificently handled in its exploration of war. Others disagreed and called it a blatant propaganda piece. The Huffington Post called it one of their “Movies From The Last 15 Years That Are Super Overrated”.
The Hurt Locker is a decent action movie, but really falls on its face when it tries to deal with character development and the psychology of war. While enjoyable for many, it lacks the sensitivity and depth to cross over from ‘fun, silly action movie’ to ‘serious study of modern wartime and fair contender for Best Picture’.
So what should have won? Avatar. If there is one word that people can associate with James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’, it is “impressive”. Cameron did not just construct a piece of film, but constructed an entire world with species, languages, and customs that are completely removed from anything we have ever seen.
Not only this, but the film was technically impressive and completely immersive for all who watched it. There are very few films that you can call a true feat of cinema, but Avatar is absolutely one of them.
10. The King’s Speech (2010)
Perhaps the most difficult movie to put on such a list, The King’s Speech is actually a great film. Yes, it is slightly slower paced, and it tells an all too familiar story of overcoming adversity, but fantastic performances, an epic score and both stylish and rousing dialogue make The King’s Speech a more than worthy winner of a Best Picture accolade.
It is actually difficult to pinpoint a reason why The King’s Speech shouldn’t have won when it did in 2010, but one only has to look at its neighbouring nominees to see the unfortunate truth: The King’s Speech was a great film and worthy winner that was nominated alongside even greater films and more worthy winners. And, unfortunately, if it had been any other year then King’s Speech would have more than deserved to win.
So what should have won? Either Black Swan or Inception. Both are thrilling and provocative, and offered unique commentary on modern life. Black Swan dealt hauntingly with mental illness and did so in a way that was both artistic and enthralling. Inception, while more scientific, spoke volumes about love and loss and how grief can overtake reality.
Both films were clearly made for the sheer love of cinema and for the purpose of making people think. Putting these up against The King’s Speech which is a slightly more shallow offering should have made the category a no-brainer.
Often seen as an authority on quality movies, the Academy can get it wrong just as easily as anyone else. In fact, this isn’t even a definitive list of the number of times they have picked the wrong winner. If you think of any more, list them below!
Author Bio: Rachel Helena is an aspiring screenwriter, and loves talking about anything to do with film. She runs a review blog at thereeljunkie.com and vlogs as The Reel Junkie on YouTube. Outside of film, Rachel enjoys craft beer, travelling, and food.