Academy Award Best Picture Ranking: the 2010s

Two months ago, I set myself a challenge to rank every Best Picture Oscar winner in the Academy’s history. Two months on and I haven’t posted a single post on this challenge and I thought it would be a fun idea to actually start with the most recent decade and work my way back. If you want to see the full list of winners, I have posted them here. With this decade coming to an end, I thought it would be nice to begin the ranking by looking at the Best Picture winners that have emerged over the last ten years and then working my way back with every post rather than starting from the beginning. As I also stated in the previous post, I will be uploading a separate post with the list with updates on the ranking so as not to create further confusion.

I have always been a big fan of the Oscars because behind the glam and hype, there is a true passion from both cast and crew and you appreciate all the hard work that they put into entertaining people. When people say that awards season doesn’t matter aren’t actually correct. It has been proven time and time again that winning an Oscar can boost box office earnings by millions, even hundreds of millions (Slumdog Millionaire being a prime example). There is no denying that awards season still maintains its power and influence over the industry and commercial audiences despite its many critics.

Just so you know, the year after the film is the year they were released. The posts are divided by the years that they were awarded rather than released which tends to be the year after release (ie. The King’s Speech was released in 2010 but given the Oscar in 2011).

Without further ado, here are the Best Picture Oscar winners of the 2010s:

2010 – The Hurt Locker (2008)

Should have won: The Hurt Locker, dir. by Kathryn Bigelow

This was a brilliant awards season to follow because it culminated in the first (and to date only) female (Kathryn Bigelow) to walk away with the Best Director gong. To top off the celebrations, Bigelow’s fantastic The Hurt Locker then followed on to win the big one over James Cameron’s technically and artistically revolutionary environmental epic Avatar. I was so happy to see The Hurt Locker get the big award as it is nice to see lower-budget films receiving big praise and acclaim. This is one of those films whose profits where boosted by the strength of its awards and the opportunities that it has given Bigelow is immense as well as inspiring female filmmakers around the globe. The Hurt Locker follows Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) as he guides his troop through Iraq, witnessing the physical and psychological affects the war has on them and the community. Bigelow is an astonishing director as she really goes deep into the minds of those who are in war-torn countries which she more than excels in. There is a deep misogyny in Hollywood that attempts to resist the rise of female filmmakers and I think it is very telling that a woman was able to make an impeccable film showing the insight of a masculine fuelled situation. I even think that Bigelow improved on this in her following film Zero Dark Thirty (2012) which explores the search for Osama Bin Laden.

2011 – The King’s Speech (2010)

Should have won: The Social Network, dir. by David Fincher

Another year that proved to be a hot competition between two blockbusters from both sides of the Atlantic, America’s The Social Network and Britain’s The King’s Speech. This was the year that should have seen David Fincher receiving top honours for his brilliant Facebook origin film, The Social Network. However, it’s no secret that Hollywood loves royalty and particularly the British monarchy. Directed by Tom Hooper and starring Colin Firth as King George VI, we follow the King as he undergoes elocution lessons under Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help rid him of his stammer. Also starring Helena Bonham Carter as George’s wife, Queen Elizabeth The Queen’s Mother, the film is classic British cinema. There is no doubt that it is a great film and the cast deserved their nominations and awards (Firth won Best Leading Actor) but looking at the picture as a whole, it doesn’t bring much to the table in the way that The Social Network did. It’s one of those films that thrived from word-of-mouth and hype in the same way Slumdog Millionaire did and, in the end, this was enough to secure its win. As I say, there isn’t anything wrong with The King’s Speech and I’m not upset about its win but I do think in hindsight that The Social Network was the true winner that year.

2012 – The Artist (2011)

Should have won: The Artist, dir. by Michel Hazanavicius

The Artist is a wonderfully nostalgic film that takes place during the late 1920s when silent films are falling out of fashion and “talkies” are coming in. Jean Dujardin does a spectacular job as George Valentin, a superstar of silent films who falls in love with young rising star Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). The film is predominantly silent itself and filmed in black and white and is the first fully black and white feature since The Apartment (1960) to win Best Picture. Dujardin rightfully won his Oscar for Best Actor as the former star who falls out of public favour and enters bankruptcy as he sees his love interest’s star rise as she becomes the next big thing. The film as a whole is brilliant because it has the gift of hindsight and knowing that “talkies” were going to last all the while bringing the joy of silent films and the appreciation for them. It’s a film that is equal amounts traditional and progressive while being completely original. I doubt that there would be a film like The Artist again. The critical and commercial success suggests that audiences long for nostalgia and it’s interesting that there haven’t been a lot of films like it since.

2013 – Argo (2012)

Should have won but wasn’t nominated: The Master, dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson

Should have won from nominees: Beasts of the Southern Wild, dir. by Behn Zeitlin

I don’t dislike Argo by any means but this a brilliant year in film and I feel that there were so many overlooked pictures that deserved more recognition than Ben Affleck’s third feature such as The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour to name a few. Argo is based on the true story of American embassy staff members who are trapped in the Canadian embassy in Iran after extremists raid the American embassy. The film explores how an American CIA agent, Tony Mendez (Affleck) plans to use disguises to get the Americans out of Iran and safely home. Mendez uses the guise that he and the Americans are Canadian filmmakers scouting to film in Iran which works a charm. The film itself is fine and brings great performances from John Goodman and Alan Arkin. My problems with the film lie in the many inaccuracies by giving America all the credit while leaving the Canadian embassy in the dark as well as showing the Americans being turned away from the British and New Zealand embassies which is simply not true. Of course a film adaptation is bound to have some changes but these changes seem to alter the tone of film and make it into a propaganda piece which doesn’t sit well with me. I think in a year that saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece The Master not even nominated for Best Picture or Director, it truly feels like a waste of a Best Picture award.

2014 – 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Should have won: 12 Years a Slave, dir. by Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen may not have many films in his portfolio as of yet (12 Years a Slave was unbelievably his third feature) but each picture has been provocative, revolutionary and unafraid. McQueen was an artist by trade before venturing into film, even winning the Turner Prize in 1999 and it shows. He isn’t afraid of exploring subjects that are extremely taboo such as sex addiction (Shame, 2011). McQueen likes to spotlight to be on the unexpected person such as his biopic on IRA terrorist, Bobby Sands in his directorial debut, Hunger. 12 Years a Slave follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a New York born and raised black man who is kidnapped and sold to slavers in the Deep South where he is eventually forced to work under cruel plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Featuring an Oscar-winning breakout performance from Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, a fellow slave who is constantly raped and beaten by Epps for his own sadistic pleasure. 12 Years a Slave is unrelenting in its portrayal in the cruelty of slavery and the struggle that African Americans were forced to endure. It’s not a comfortable film to watch nor should it be. McQueen presents us with this history as fact onscreen and it is this very honesty with the text and the history that gives it the impact that it has. Unlike its competition that year Gravity, which is a space-based adventure, 12 Years a Slave remains grounded in reality and I think it deservedly has earned its place as a Best Picture winner.

2015 – Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

Should have won: Boyhood, dir. by Richard Linklater

This was truly a tight race as Boyhood and Birdman seemed to be neck and neck on the night of the Oscars. Birdman would reign supreme though as it would take both Best Picture and Director gongs, leaving Boyhood in the dark. Birdman is a fantastic film and in any other year would probably have ran away with the Oscars with ease but this wasn’t any other year. Following Riggan Thomson, an actor known for playing superhero Birdman who seeks to redeem his reputation for “serious” acting by directing and starring in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. It’s a film that critiques Hollywood all the while featuring a fantastic A-list ensemble cast that includes Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts to name a few. Not to mention a great performance by Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s longtime friend and lawyer. This was a year where Richard Linklater would gift us with his ultimate project showcasing the life of an ordinary boy over the span of 12 years. If that sounds a bit bland then how about throwing in that the film literally was filmed over 12 years. Both films brought something unique to the table but Boyhood was a beautiful example of showing how the most amazing films can be brought from the simplest of subjects. This isn’t to say Birdman didn’t deserve its win but if I had a chance to vote, I definitely would have voted for Boyhood.

2016 – Spotlight (2015)
Should have won but wasn’t nominated: Carol, dir. by Todd Haynes

Should have won from nominees: Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. by George Miller

I think it’s a huge shame that Carol didn’t receive the Best Picture nomination it so thoroughly deserved. I think from all the films that were released that year, Carol is the one that people will remember for its beauty and warmth. It’s so rare to see film with a homosexual plot that has a happy ending due to Hollywood’s reluctance to embrace all sexualities. This isn’t to say that the other films were terrible, in fact, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best films from the last decade and was one of the big favourites going into awards season as it swooped up all the crew awards. Spotlight was the eventual winner, however, and follows a group of journalists who investigate child abuse within the Catholic church. The importance of this film is huge and faced a lot of backlash from the Catholic community, however, having been raised Catholic, I have seen firsthand how the community is willing to just move on and not discuss the issue itself. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to expose the guilt complex instilled in the victims as they feel shame for their childhood. The film itself is brilliant and deserving of its screenplay win and the acting nominations it received, particularly for Rachel McAdams.

2017 – Moonlight (2016)

Should have won: Moonlight, dir. by Barry Jenkins

This moment was probably the most iconic in awards history but for the wrong reason. Infamously the declared the real winner after La La Land was wrongly given the Best Picture gong, Moonlight will probably be best remembered for this blunder. However, it should be known for being the first Best Picture winner that not only features a homosexual relationship but also includes a predominantly black cast. That is an achievement that is almost unheard of in the Academy’s history and I think it is to director Barry Jenkins’ credit that he was able to create a film so beautiful and artistic but one that also explores a very real truth for gay black Americans. The film follows Chiron through three significant periods of his life and his struggle with identity and accepting and embracing his identity as a gay black man. The film is divided into three segments titled “Little”, “Chiron” and “Black” marking the names that Chiron goes by during childhood, teen and adulthood. Played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes as Little, Chiron and Black, respectively. The film also features Janelle Monae and Mahershala Ali as Teresa and Juan, a young couple who help raise Little. Ali, in particular, shines as sensitive drug dealer Juan, who encounters Chiron in a drug den and takes him in when he realises his home situation with his abusive mother (Naomie Harris). Ali won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor which was again an historical win as he was the first Muslim to win an acting award at the Oscars. It’s always amazing to watch when a film has been crafted with such care and love but also packs an important message that resonates with a dated concept in modern society. The impact from this film cannot be forgotten and its place in film history is thoroughly deserved.

2018 –The Shape of Water (2017)

Should have won: The Shape of Water, dir. by Guillermo del Toro

This was a spectacular year in film. With a roster that included Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Bird and Get Out, the crowning glory among these came in the form of del Toro’s modern fairy-tale masterpiece. Taking inspiration from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Shape of Water follows mute cleaner, Eliza (Sally Hawkins) who works at an FBI base in 1920s Baltimore. When a creature (Doug Jones) is capture and kept there, Eliza forms a strong connection it which eventually turns romantic. I cannot emphasise how amazing this film is. Hawkins and Jones are spectacular in the leads and with amazing supporting performances from Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg, this film knocks it out of the park and rightfully brought home some major awards. The competition was intense between this and Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri which is a brilliant film also but I felt more of a connection with The Shape of Water and felt as though I was witnessing a classic in the making. Del Toro’s vision is executed fantastically and it was amazing to see a fantasy film receiving such high praise. I wouldn’t have been disappointed with any of the films if they had won but I am so glad that The Shape of Water took it home.

2019 – Green Book (2018)
Should have won: Roma, dir. by Alfonso Cuarón

One of the big shockers from this year’s ceremony comes in the form of its Best Picture winner. Green Book was already a popular film going in but it was up against Netflix masterpiece Roma which had received better reviews from critics and audience alike. The film is based on the true story about Tony Lip, a white man who is tasked with driving and protecting black pianist Dr. Don Shirley at his concerts in the Deep South in 1962. The film stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as Lip and Shirley respectively which meant that the film should have been among my favourite films ever made as they are two of my favourite actors. The result sadly couldn’t be further from the truth. Mortensen and Ali are spectacular in their roles as expected with Ali taking home a second Best Supporting Oscar going but the script (which somehow won Best Adapted Screenplay) and the direction show nothing innovative and it becomes a modern day Driving Miss Daisy with the wisdom still being bestowed by the white character. I can’t help but feel that the actors’ efforts are wasted in this film and I hope that we see another film in the future with Mortensen and Ali that provides a brilliant script that they deserve.

That’s all the reviews for the 2010 Best Picture winners and it’s made me realise just how many great films there are. Knowing that there is another 80 films to go is equal parts exciting and daunting. Regardless, I must plough through to determine which Best Picture winner will be the top of my list.

Here is my 2010s ranking:

1) Moonlight (2016)

2) 12 Years a Slave (2013)

3) Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

4) The Shape of Water (2017)

5) The Hurt Locker (2009)

6) The Artist (2011)

7) Argo (2012)

8) The King’s Speech (2010)

9) Spotlight (2015)

10) Green Book (2018)

What do you think of my ranking so far? Let me know in the comments below!

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