Academy Award Best Picture Ranking: the 2000s

Working my way back through each Best Picture winner and ranking them was always going to be a difficult task but even I wasn’t expecting it to be this challenging. For this post, I will be looking at films from the 2000s. It was during this decade that I started to pay close attention to Oscar winners and followed awards season religiously. This decade also sees its fair share of record breakers, controversies, epics and upsets across the board, demonstrating a wide variety of genres and firsts.

You can read the previous installment here if you need to catch up.

Let’s begin with the reviews for the Best Picture winners of the 2000s:

2000 – American Beauty (1999)

Should have won: American Beauty, dir. by Sam Mendes

One of the films that defines the 1990s. Everyone knows American Beauty whether its from the iconic poster, the sublime soundtrack or the magnetic performances. Directed by Sam Mendes in his directorial debut with a flawless script from Alan Ball and featuring lead performances from Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, American Beauty is a film that does no wrong. Admittedly, the film is uncomfortable to watch now since Spacey’s actions have been brought to light which is a shame because it is an astonishing piece of cinema. The film follows the Burnhams, a family living in suburbia who on the surface appear to fit in but there’s a darker layer that lingers beneath. Spacey plays family patriarch Lester Burnham, a magazine executive who becomes enamoured with his daughter’s best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). On the other hand, you have Bening playing matriarch Carolyn Burnham, a real estate agent longing for her big break. She is extremely neurotic and pushes herself way past the edge. Lester and Carolyn are a toxic pair which has clearly fed off on their daughter Jane (Thora Birch) who loathes herself and is seeking a breast augmentation. I think toxic is the perfect word to describe this film as toxicity seeps its way like the roots of the cut down tree that had crept into the Burnham’s garden from next door. It’s a film that subverts everything you would expect from the American Dream from those who appeared to have achieved it.

2001 – Gladiator (2000)

Should have won: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, dir. by Ang Lee

It was a always a longshot that a foreign-language film would walk away with the big prize and Ridley Scott’s Roman epic Gladiator was the favourite from the get go. Gladiator is an extremely popular film and I get its appeal but it’s just not a film that I personally enjoy too much. Joaquin Phoenix is the real highlight though and brings a brilliantly menacing performance deserving of its Oscar win. Russell Crowe is in the lead as Maximus, a man with revenge on the brain as he sought vengeance for the murder of his family. The cynical part of me wants to say that my favourite part of Gladiator is Elizabeth Taylor drunkenly announcing it as the winner at the Golden Globes that year but it does have scenes that draw you in. I think my issue with the film as a whole is the oddly slow pacing and the lack of depth in character. Maximus isn’t as flawed or complex as I would want him to be in this. Don’t get me wrong, the final scenes are great and hold true to its hype but it doesn’t feel that the build up is made to the same standard to me. As I previously have said, this isn’t my cup of tea anyway but I do understand its popularity.

2002 – A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Should have won: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, dir. by Peter Jackson

Keeping his popularity going, Russell Crowe leads the pack as esteemed mathematician John Nash in Ron Howard’s biopic. The film itself shoes Crowe at his very best as well as a great performance from Jennifer Connelly who won an Oscar for Supporting Actress for her role as John’s wife, Alicia. It portrays the pressure that John faces from the academic community as well as himself and the eventual tragic news when he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. I think that despite the film’s amazing aspects in direction and performances which earned their prizes and nominations, I think the Best Picture award should have gone to the first part of Peter Jackson’s epic. What Jackson did was bring everything you would expect from a fantasy film and elevate it to become a real experience. A Beautiful Mind isn’t undeserving by any means and it brought awareness to so many important issues within mental health and assisting in breaking taboos. My only issue comes in the film’s unwillingness to stay faithful to John Nash’s life as there are a lot of differences.

2003 – Chicago (2002)

Should have won objectively: The Pianist, dir. by Roman Polanski

Should have won subjectively: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, dir. by Peter Jackson

This will undoubtedly be the most complex review out of them all for the simple reason that this year included The Pianist directed by Roman Polanski who was found guilty of raping a teenager in the 1970s and then fleeing the United States before serving a second sentence. Knowing that this film was released well after the fact and received so much acclaim and praise is quite eerie considering his past. The Pianist a biopic on Jewish piano player Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody) and his experience during the Holocaust. The film opened to tremendous acclaim, taking the Palme d’Or at Cannes and proving to be a huge breakout for Brody who would eventually win the Best Actor Oscar. The controversy comes in the form of an American award body giving Polanski so much praise, including a Best Director Oscar. True enough, if we were separating art from the artist then The Pianist gets my vote easily for its brutal and lingering portrayal of World War II Poland. However, I would have been happy to see The Two Towers win the Best Picture gong even for the Battle at Helm’s Deep alone which is probably my favourite battle scene in any film. However, the big winner would be Harvey Weinstein musical showboat Chicago which is a good film but definitely doesn’t have the legacy or impact that the two aforementioned films have. It definitely seems that the controversy and idea of giving The Pianist Best Picture proved to be too much so giving it to a jazzy musical which is the polar opposite in genre and tone would distract from Polanski’s individual win.

2004 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Should have won: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, dir. by Peter Jackson

I have already written on my love for this trilogy which you can read here so I won’t delve into it too much. Suffice to say that The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy that sums up a fulfilling and remarkable film experience. My favourite is the third and final installment The Return of the King which brings this incredible saga to its dramatic close. It’s a wonderful film to watch and I still get excited now when I watch them. It made history for being the first fantasy film to walk away with the big award and I know that this aspect alienates a large audience but they are missing out. The Lord of the Rings is more than swords and magic. The film explores themes of life and death, love and hate, loyalty and friendship. It’s truly a magnificent feat of cinema and everything about it has earned its place among the best of the best.

2005 – Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Should have won: The Aviator, dir. by Martin Scorsese

Clint Eastwood scooped up a few more Oscars for this story about an amateur boxer (Hilary Swank) taken under the wing of a boxing trainer (Clint Eastwood) and his elderly assistant (Morgan Freeman). This film dominated the Oscar bringing Swank a second Best Actress Oscar, Freeman one for Supporting Actor and Eastwood a second Best Director gong. It’s a brutal film and Swank is nothing less than phenomenal and deserving entirely of her praise. I do think that this year should have belonged to Scorsese and his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator which is rounded off with stellar direction and a cast to die for (particularly Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn). Again, this is another instance where I am not disappointed in the won but my personal vote would have gone elsewhere.

2006 – Crash (2005)

Should have won: Brokeback Mountain, dir. by Ang Lee

One of the biggest upsets in the Academy’s history, Brokeback Mountain was the sure winner. Ang Lee’s film follows two cowboys (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) who fall in love and was critically and commercially renowned for helping to break the taboo regarding homosexually in mainstream films. Not only is it an important film but it is one of the best films of the century so far garnering a huge amount of buzz going into the Oscars. However, sadly, the Academy showed its dated ways and presented Crash with the Best Picture gong much to the upset of everyone watching. Crash is a blockbuster cop film that explores racism and society at large in LA. On the whole, the film boasts a brilliant cast but the plot is run-off-the-mill and not something we haven’t seen before. Haggis had good intentions and Thandie Newton is excellent and well deserving of the nomination she received, but there is no doubt that the film’s win for Best Picture was a huge error on the Academy’s part. So much so that Haggis has admitted that Brokeback Mountain was the deserving film that year which is a big thing to accept, considering this was his “passion project”.

2007 – The Departed (2006)

Should have won: The Departed, dir. by Martin Scorsese

The one that finally brought Scorsese his big wins after decades of missing out, The Departed is a three-hour gangster lesson in filmmaking. Featuring his 21st century muse Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead as Billy Costigan, a young police officer who is tasked with spying and exposing mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Meanwhile Costello has a mole within the police department in the form of Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) who becomes aware that the police have a mole in Costello’s group and attempts to find out who it is. In the middle you also have Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg as Captain Oliver Queenan and Sergeant Sean Dignam, respectively who keep Billy’s identity as the mole a secret, much to the annoyance of Sullivan. It’s the classic cat and mouse tale with a big twist. What should be a simple story of good vs evil turns into a layered epic where the audience doesn’t know who to trust or what to expect. Nicholson is definitely the star of the show, giving Costello more than just a basic villainous trope in true Nicholson fashion. Costello is charismatic, smart and knows this, using it to his advantage. Scorsese draws out what we love about Nicholson, bringing back the madness but in a more restrained and real way.

2008 – No Country for Old Men (2007)

Should have won: There Will Be Blood, dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson

I know what you’re going to say. I know! No Country for Old Men is an incredible film and fully deserves its win. And I completely agree, I just personally prefer Anderson’s offering that year. No Country for Old Men is an astonishing achievement and proves to be an endearing highlight for the Coen Brothers who have experienced their fair shares of ups and downs in their careers. Starring Josh Brolin as Llewelen Moss, a man who chances upon a briefcase and takes it home only to be pursued by crazed hitman, Anton Chigurh (played flawlessly by Javier Bardem). It’s extremely violent and exceptionally shot, the script is brilliant and the direction impeccable. Winning four Oscars for Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor (for Bardem), the film also stars brilliant turns from Kelly Macdonald and Woody Harrelson as Carla Jean Moss and Carson Wells, respectively. It was by far the favourite to walk away with the big awards that year and sure enough, it did. There were many comparisons with Anderson’s film due to the similar aesthetic, long titles and Western take on the American Dream. I think that There Will Be Blood would have received the awards were it not up against another hugely dynamic film.

2009 – Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Should have won: Slumdog Millionaire, dir. by Danny Boyle

I remember vividly how much this film took the world by storm. Not to mention North West born and bred director Danny Boyle being a great ambassador for working class filmmakers during this year. Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal (Dev Patel), a man who was born and raised in a slum outside of Mumbai and his staggering success on India’s “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”. The shows producers don’t believe that a boy from the slums would have the knowledge to reach the high amounts and the film takes us through Jamal’s journey with his brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal) and his childhood friend and eventual love interest Latika (Freida Pinto). It’s a vibrant film that showcases the gaps in equality of classes as well as treatment of women in India. It did cause upset in its home country as it was claimed that it misrepresented the community. I think that the film raised awareness and issues in ways that they hadn’t known or thought about before. The soundtrack is astonishing and A. R. Rahmen delivers one of the best scores of the film in this decade by far. It’s a memorable piece of cinema and one that deserves its place as a masterclass of British cinema and shows what British filmmakers have to offer.

This is the second post and I’m already starting to feel the stress of ranking these films against one another and I am well aware that it’s only going to get harder as we reach classics that come to define certain periods of film.

Here is my 2000s ranking:

1) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

2) No Country for Old Men (2007)

3) American Beauty (1999)

4) The Departed (2006)

5) Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

6) Million Dollar Baby (2004)

7) A Beautiful Mind (2001)

8) Chicago (2002)

9) Gladiator (2000)

10) Crash (2005)

As I have said, I am going to use another post to update the full list on so check that out to see where it slots in with the previous ranking.

What do you think of the list so far? What would you out as number 1? Let me know what you think in the comments below!