“Hahaha wait, we won Best Picture? That can’t be right. Are you guys Moonlighting us here or?”
It’s been a long journey for all of us, but we’re nearly finished. Started on a whim, our decision to go through every single Oscar winner for Best Picture from 1970 to 2009, tell you about all the nominated films, and re-award the Academy Award has taken so much time and research we don’t know why we even started. Simple math should have told us that this would require us to discuss two hundred fucking movies, but we don’t do math, and we literally just figured that out now. But it’s too late to turn back. Just two more left to go, so let’s get going.
You can of course look here, here, here, here, here or even here for our previous entries, but for now, let’s go through each Academy Award ceremony for the first half of the 2000s and determine where the Academy got things right, and where they went wrong.
Re-Awarding the Academy Award for Best Picture (2000-2004)
American Beauty (8.4, 64th top rated movie all time)
As much as its detractors roll their eyes at yet another drama about the emptiness of suburban life, American Beauty took the same old premise and elevated it with superb performances and that kid obsessed with the floating bag who was unbearable but also pretty much how every 16-year-old suburban kid who thinks he’s profound actually sounds. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for his performance here. It was, by a wide margin, the best reviewed film of the year when it came out. But now, people have softened on it, with more recent publications listing it as one of the overrated movies of all time.
What Else Was Nominated:
The Cider House Rules (7.4)
God, we tried so hard to make Tobey Maguire a thing, didn’t we? The majority of people who saw this movie only really remember it for the fact that Michael Caine won an Oscar for it. Like, we think ether was involved at some point? Anyway, it’s a forgettable film with a great Caine performance.
The Green Mile (8.5, 31st top rated movie all time)
The two most critically acclaimed adaptations of Stephen King’s writing both take place in prison, which is kind of surprising. Unlike Shawshank, which admittedly is only based on a novella, The Green Mile actually incorporates a bit of the supernatural to its storyline. It’s a good movie, but it’s also a looooong movie, running over three hours with a plot that is way more concerned with Tom Hanks’ dick than you’d expect. Our biggest complaint about this movie is that we wish they had given Micahel Caine’s award for Best Supporting Actor to Michael Clarke Duncan, who would never get a chance for another nomination and put forth a fairly iconic performance as the gentle healing giant, John Coffey.
The Insider (7.9)
If we ever did a series like this where we re-awarded the Best Acting awards (and holy shit we are not going to do that, we had no idea how much work this kind of shit takes) we would definitely give Kevin Spacey’s American Beauty Oscar to Russell Crowe in The Insider, a box office “meh” but critical darling about a whistleblower in the tobacco industry. It’s the only film directed by Michael Mann to get any Oscar love, which is actually kind of surprising. This is the man who directed Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Ali, and Collateral but the only Academy Award nominations to his name are the three nominations he got for The Insider and one he got for producing the Scorsese-directed The Aviator. This has been “let’s go on a tangent about the career of Michael Mann, brought to you in part by his next upcoming film *checks IMDB* um, Untitled Tony Accardo/Sam Giancana Biopic.”
But yeah, this was a very good movie, but not a historically good movie. We can’t see it getting the Oscar here.
The Sixth Sense (8.1, 159th top rated movie all time)
Oh man. What to make of The Sixth Sense? That shit changed the game. When [spoiler alert] [actually fuck you this movie is 19 years old, how about you spoil these nuts] it was revealed that Bruce Willis was a ghost the whole time at the end of the movie? Now it’s a mockable cliche but the first time we all saw this movie we were fucking floored. M. Night Shyamalan set himself up to be the next biggest thing in Hollywood with this release, a sort of Spielberg-meets-Hitchcock, but as we found out later, that promise proved to be fleeting. The problem with this movie, however, lies in one simple question. Will future generations still watch this film as essential historic viewing? Actually, probably. But how much of this movie’s merit comes from the film itself, and how much stems from the “holy shit” ending? We’re pretty sure we love this movie, but no one on our staff has seen it more than two times. It’s a conundrum.
And the Revised Winner is…
It seems like most years either have too many good films, or barely enough to fill up a nominations list. This year is definitely more feast than famine. 1999 (again, 2000 is just the year of the ceremony) saw the release of Fight Club (10th all time, many of you are now mad at us for choosing this), The Matrix (8.7, 18th and now you’re mad at us again), Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, Three Kings, Toy Story 2, The Iron Giant, and The Talented Mr. Ripley (which we so so wanted to give this statue to, until resident girl shit consultant Sarahindie informed us that the movie was “just a Merchant/Ivory with a murder.”) Also, this was the year that The Phantom Menace came out, which, lol.
Sometimes the Best Picture makes sense when it goes to the best, most interesting, most influential film to come out that year. And sometimes, a Best Picture win feels right when it’s the perfect film for that particular time. And nothing was more 1999 ennui than American Beauty. So with apologies to Fight Club and The Matrix, this Oscar is staying put.
Gladiator (8.5, 46th top rated movie all time)
Did any of you see this movie in theaters? It was awesome. Russell Crowe was the most badass, Joaquin Phoenix was the most “oh my God, this creepy prick,” Djimon Hounsou was the most Djimon Hounsou. They fight a tiger, you guys! And as sloppy as it was in parts (lol blue jeans in the shot), it was an enjoyable epic film. It’s not the strongest Best Picture winner by a longshot, but it at least isn’t an embarrassing selection either.
What Else Was Nominated
Lol, remember Chocolat? Like, it probably was the last really big push to try to make Carrie-Anne Moss happen after she knocked out The Matrix and Memento in back-to-back years. We’ve also just now realized, looking at that poster, that this movie is probably responsible for Johnny Depp getting really into goatees. We can’t forgive Chocolat for that, no way it’s getting a statue.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (7.9)
Listen, we enjoyed the hell out of Crouching Tiger, but we would not say it ever got snubbed by the Oscars. Most people don’t look back on this film and go “what a riveting film” they go “DUDE REMEMBER WHEN EVERYONE FLEW WITH SWORDS.” Which, admittedly, was awesome. So awesome. And no other foreign film has earned more money in the US box office, which is something it can rest its hat on. It eventually did win four Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film (not surprisingly) as well as Cinematography and Original Score. But…like, do you guys remember what the movie was actually about? Honest question, because we don’t.
Erin Brockovich (7.3)
Hey guys, isn’t it wild that Julia Roberts once was a big enough star to trick us into thinking that Erin Brockavich deserved like, five Academy Award nominations? She definitely earned her Best Actress statue just for that. Though here’s something that might surprise you—not only was this Roberts first and only Oscar win, it was her first nomination in ten years. Well, maybe that’s not all that surprising.
The year 2000 really was all about Soderberg. He won Best Director for Traffic, which, nbd, was just one of two Best Picture nominations that he helmed this year (naturally, the guy who directed the gritty film about the war on drugs also was nominated for Best Director for…Erin Brockovich wait what?). Not only are those the only two Best Director nominations he’s ever had, he’s one of three directors to get two nominations in the same year, the first to pull that off since Michael Curtiz in 1938, and the only one to actually win the year of his double nomination. Of the five nominations that Traffic received, the only one it didn’t win was Best Picture—it nabbed Director, Screenplay, Editing and Best Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro. But while it’s a very good movie (92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and this movie actually came out after Rotten Tomatoes became a thing), it’s not one that’s really pushed itself into that “iconic” category we’d like to see from our Best Picture winners.
And the Revised Winner is…
This decision is a lot more difficult than it looks when you have to consider that this was the same year that Memento (49th top rated), Requiem for a Dream (80th), Snatch (100th), Cast Away, O Brother, Where Art Thou, Unbreakable, High Fidelity and American Psycho came out. Like, the year 2000 was a crazy year for movies. And as much as the Oscar nominations this year were super wrong (lol, Chocolat was nominated for more Academy Awards than Almost Famous), we think that they ended up getting the Best Picture right. As much as we are tempted to put Memento here, and we are very tempted, Gladiator ended up being a more re-watchable, classic “oh yeah, this feels like a Best Picture” kind of movie.
A Beautiful Mind (8.2, 143rd top rated movie all time)
Russell Crowe’s 1999-2001 stretch was epic, going from The Insider to Gladiator to Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind (another one of those “huh, Ron Howard directed that? I guess that makes sense” films). One could argue that the wrong Oscars were given to Crowe—when he lost The Insider’s statue, many (well, if our staff counts as many) feel that he was given Best Actor for Gladiator to make up for it. Because, if we’re being honest, Tom Hanks 100% should have won Best Actor for Cast Away in 2001, and it’s not even close. If you disagree, you’re wrong. We liked Gladiator enough to let it keep it’s Oscar, but how the hell can you say that this wasn’t the best performance of the year? If you have two eyes, two ears and a heart, you fucking can’t. Also, can we talk about how Tom Hanks hasn’t even been nominated for an Academy Award since his 2001 snub? How is that even possible?
Sorry, back to our point. So Crowe should have won in 2000, and Hanks should have won in 2001. But if Crowe hadn’t won for Gladiator, there’s a pretty good chance he wins it this year, right? Like, him not winning for Beautiful Mind feels like a combination of, admittedly, Denzel crushing it, but also a lot of voters going “Well, we don’t want to give the same guy the Oscar two years in a row, that’s just garish.” That’s just our theory, anyway.
Oh right, the movie. Um, Beautiful Mind was good, even if it took a lot of liberties with the source material (but then again, what good biopic doesn’t). Jennifer Connolly won an Oscar, and Ron Howard won for Best Director (he has only been nominated twice for Best Director, first for A Beautiful Mind and later for Frost/Nixon, which again, you just thought, “I didn’t realize that Howard directed that, but yeah, I can see it.”) Anyway, you know what this movie is about. Math guy, schizophrenic, only has a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s good, but we can see it being unseated here, especially since we’ve yet to cause any Oscar anarchy in this article yet.
What Else Was Nominated
Gosford Park (7.3)
We haven’t actually seen Gosford Park, but like, it’s pretty much Downton Abbey right? We also have not seen Downton Abbey.
In the Bedroom (7.5)
What? We literally have not heard of this movie before, but it apparently got five Oscar noms? Let’s see what the movie is about. “A New England couple’s college-aged son dates an older woman who has two small children and an unwelcome ex-husband.” This feels like literally half of the films Reese Witherspoon has done since the year 2013, only they downgraded to a 35-year-old Marissa Tomei for the “older woman” part (we cannot scare-quote that hard enough).
Moulin Rouge! (7.6)
This movie should be rated higher. Remember when we got obsessed with those Canadian ice dancers who obviously wanted to fuck to the soundtrack to this movie? This Baz Luhrmann film could arguably be called the most Baz Luhrmann film ever…and it was for a while until he decided like, “what if The Great Gatsby, but with Jay-Z?”
But really, this film oozes spectacle in a way that feels exhilarating until it becomes exhausting. But it definitely left a mark on culture. And somewhat surprisingly, it was the first musical film in ten years to receive a Best Picture nomination. That’s pretty surprising! Unfortunately, the Academy must have noticed that discrepancy the next year, where they did some over-correcting, but we’ll get to that later. It’s probably the best love story ever put to film involving a depressed writer and a prostitute who dies of tuberculosis (but let’s be real, you just had a thought of “oh it was TB? Not syphilis?”). This film falls into one of two categories for viewers—they either love it, or are emphatically “take it or leave it.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (8.8, 11th top movie all time)
We’re going to go out on a (relatively sturdy) limb by listing Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings as the best film of the entire trilogy. Think about all the iconic scenes you have. There’s “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” There’s, “And MY Axe.” There’s Boromir’s death, which, oh God, remember Boromir’s death? Fellowship was nominated for 13 Oscars, including the only Acting nomination (SIR Ian McKellen was fucking robbed this year, Jim Broadbent beat him out for Iris, which marks the first time you’ve thought about Iris since 2002). It only won four, which was bullshit, but which was very standard Academy bullshit. Our staff remembers when these movies came out, the thought process went, “If all three movies were filmed at the same time, they will all be this good, so we can just weather this storm of awesome and give them a cumulative Oscar for the third one.”
Which is 100% what they did. But, as good as Two Towers and Return of the King were, Fellowship reigns supreme. Again, just look at Boromir’s death. That set up stakes. None of the Fellowship die in the other two movies, but you feel like they could (if you hadn’t read the books and known how things were going to end, we guess) because of the legwork put forth in Fellowship.
Fellowship of the Ring got hella robbed, is what we’re saying. So it should come as no surprise that we decided…
And the Revised Winner is…
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2001 had a few other movies that have become prestigious with time, but come on, as much as we have no problem taking the statue away from A Beautiful Mind, it’s not going to Donnie Darko (224th top rated), Monsters, Inc (221st top rated), or Amelie (83rd). And sure, The Royal Tenenbaums, Mullholland Drive, and Training Day all are modern classics. But this has got to go to LOTR. For Boromir!
God, Chicago winning Best Picture seemed like an out of touch idea roughly thirty seconds after it won the damn thing. We were really that thirsty for a decent musical in the early aughties? A musical hadn’t won Best Picture since 1968’s Oliver!, so on one hand we were due, but on the other, like, fuckin’ were we? Many credit the success of Chicago with the resurgence of the musical film genre in the early 21st century, but…is that really a good thing? Like, did we really need Rock of Ages? Because we’re thinking that without Chicago, there’d be no Rock of Ages, and that’s a trade we’d be willing to make.
What Else Was Nominated
Gangs of New York (7.5)
During the period between his Goodfellas snub and The Departed finally winning Best Picture, every time Scorsese released a film it seemed like the world held their breath to see if this was finally the time he’d be rewarded for his storied career, and every time the answer was, “haha, fuck you Martin.” When he released Gangs of New York and The Aviator to whispers of “will this finally be the time we let him win” each film would lose to movies that history remembers as “like, fine.” 2006’s release of The Departed finally ended that, but Gangs of New York’s lack of any wins (it went 0 for 10 in nominations) definitely helped cement the narrative that Scorsese was either cursed or had pissed off a lot of people in Hollywood.
But was Gangs of New York really that great? It was long, it was bloody and brutal, and it featured an absolutely incredible, but extremely irresponsible, performance by Daniel Day-Lewis (we say irresponsible because he shouldn’t have been cast as Bill The Butcher in the first place. Like, this is a guy who is so into method acting that he refused to leave his wheelchair while filming My Left Foot. And you’re going to cast that guy as a straight up murderer? We’re lucky no one died on set, honestly). It also featured just, Cameron Diaz…well bless her heart, she tried, you know? Accents are hard. No film in 2002 had higher highs, but Gangs of New York also had some pretty iffy lows. It’s a tough call.
The Hours (7.6)
Our film screener saw The Hours the year it came out, and hasn’t seen it since, so his recollection of the film some 16 years later is simply, “Oh right, Nicole Kidman won an Oscar for having a funny nose, and Ed Harris jumps out a window.” Like all movies based on Pulitzer-prize winning plays, it’s well acted, moving, and something that probably can be just effective when you see it performed on a stage as opposed to a movie with a $25 million dollar budget. We call that the Fences effect.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (8.7, 15th top rated movie all time)
Lol, calm down IMDB voters, this movie was good, but like, 15th best of all time? Calm down IMDB voters. Like many a middle sibling, people tend to forget or overlook The Two Towers, which no doubt suffered among Academy voters (it won two technical Oscars and was only nominated for six, versus the thirteen nominations for Fellowship) who saw the movie and thought, “Okay, here is proof that all the movies in this series will be Oscar quality. So we are going to give the whole trilogy a cumulative award next year.” But The Two Towers did finally give us Gollum, which was such a groundbreaking feat of motion capture acting and CGI that we were having legitimate conversations about whether Andy Serkis should be able to win an Oscar despite never appearing on camera in the flesh. And Helms Deep is arguably the best battle ever put to film (and, apologies to the last like fucking hour of Return of the King, but it was also by far the best battle in the trilogy).
The Pianist (8.5, 39th top rated movie all time)
The Pianist was a haunting, deeply personal, raw and unyielding holocaust film with a performance of a lifetime from Adrian Brody, who won an Oscar for Best Actor that nobody can take away from him no matter what film roles he’s taken since. It’s a survivor story that clearly was influenced by Director Roman Polanski’s own life experience, as he lived through the holocaust as a child, where his mother was killed in the camps of Auschwitz. This is a very difficult film to re-visit. On one hand, it’s an incredible film, a movie that should win Oscars. On the other hand, this is a film by Roman Polanski who, you know, isn’t even allowed in the United States because he pleaded guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor” which is very polite way to describe drugging and assaulting a 13-year-old girl, and had to flee the fucking country. So do you separate the man behind the film from the film itself? Or do you say that Brody’s statue is enough, and that it was kind of fucked up that Roman Polanski actually won for Best Director this year as well?
And the Revised Winner is…
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
We went back and forth on this one so many times that we actually wrote a section where we award the Oscar to The Pianist. But we’ve talked ourselves out of it. And for good measure, we’re taking Polanski’s Oscar and giving it to Scorsese for Gangs of New York. You’re welcome, Marty. But where does that leave us? Yes, that leaves us with Lord of the Rings going back-to-back in the Best Picture category. It had a lot of tough competition to go up against (no, we’re not including Chicago in that category, shut up) but honestly, if we’re going to take deny The Pianist, this is the most logical pick.
Additional Oscar-worthy films from this year include City of God (8.6, 21st all time) and Catch Me If You Can (8.0, 216th), and we honestly would love to have seen Adaptation or Road to Perdition win. The strongest case outside of The Pianist could be made for Gangs of New York (side note—Chris Cooper can thank the producers of that movie for his Best Supporting Actor win that year. For some reason they decided that Daniel Day-Lewis was the Leading Actor of that movie, where he lost to Adrian Brody. You put Lewis in at Supporting Actor there, and there’s no way he’s not taking home a statue). But no, it might sound like we’re trying to talk ourselves out of this (we totally are) our decision is final (it is wavering). Two Towers it is.
Okay, what’s next?
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (8.9, 7th top rated movie all time)
The narrative surrounding Return of the King centers on how “satisfying” it was, how it was a “crowning achievement” for one of the best and most ambitious trilogies of cinematic history. While we tend to talk about it today mainly to make fun of it for the whole “seriously you guys gave us like three fake out endings, make up your damn mind” business at the end, this movie definitely matched the high bar set by Fellowship and Towers. Like, come on, the “I can carry you” scene? Where the fuck is Sean Astin’s Oscar for that?
Anyway, Return won all 11 of the Academy Awards it was nominated for, tying it with Titanic and Ben-Hur for most Academy Awards for a single film, though it is the only one of those films that didn’t lose a single category it was nominated in. It’s the 18th highest-grossing film of all time, holds a 93% Rotten Tomatoes score, a 94 out of 100 on Metacritic, and an A+ audience score on CinemaScore (one of only 20 or so films that can claim that). So while the narrative tends to focus on the whole “the Academy was just waiting for this movie to come out to give a single Oscar for the whole trilogy” the movie kicks ass in its own right.
What Else Was Nominated
Lost in Translation (7.8)
Lost in Translation has a lot going for it. It will almost assuredly go down as the best film ever directed by Sofia Coppola. Bill Murray gave the performance of a lifetime in it, for which he was robbed of his fucking Oscar (go to hell, Sean Penn, we don’t care if you’re good at crying). And it introduced the world to a 18-year-old actress by the name of Scarlett Johansson by literally just showing us her butt. It remains one of the most poignant and unique romantic dramedies to have been produced in the past twenty years, with a BBC international critics’ poll in 2016 calling it the 22nd best film since the year 2000, and Quentin Tarantino including it in his list of the top 20 films since 1992.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (7.4)
Any serious movie (read as: not Pirates of the Caribbean) set any time before 1820 that takes place on the sea is going to have a hard time making back its money. Remember that Ron Howard film that was essentially Moby Dick with Chris Hemsworth? Do you know anyone who saw that? Anyway, Master and Commander actually did make $212 million (off of a $150 budget), though they were largely banking on the fact that they were catching Russell Crowe at the (admittedly tail end) peak of his box office allure. It won two Oscars, and was nominated for ten, but no one really took it seriously when it came out. Like, going against Lord of the Rings, everyone was like, “Oh that’s cute, Peter Weir’s little boat-y movie got some nominations, good for them.”
Mystic River (8.0)
This Clint Eastwood directed movie basically is the Sad Drama to end all Sad Drams. Tim Robbins and Sean Penn won Oscars for being super good at scream-weeping. It’s got childhood abuse and a dead kid in it. Like, we’ve done so many of these movies we can’t devote any more energy to this film, which was admittedly probably the most impressive directing job we’ve seen by Clint Eastwood (back before his Directing reached the current “fuck it, if we can’t fine a live baby let’s just use a doll” level of apathy) but we’re moving on to the next movie.
God, people were obsessed with that book. And Tobey Maguire! We’ve talked so much about how Hollywood kept trying to make Tobey Maguire a thing that…like, maybe Tobey Maguire was a thing? From 1998 to 2004 he did The Cider House Rules, Wonder boys, Spider-Man, Seabiscuit and Spider-Man 2. Like…maybe Tobey Maguire was a thing. Admittedly, he no longer is—since Spider-Man 3 emo-danced its way into hate-watch territory in 2007, he’s done six movies. And only two movies since 2014. And one of those was voice acting. As the narrator. Of The Boss Baby. You know now that we think of it you’re right, Tobey Maguire wasn’t a thing.
Anyway the early 2000s were weird, everyone got super excited about Seabiscuit and were like, “This horse got America out of the Depression” which fuck your hyperbole it so didn’t. The movie adaptation of the best selling book was, you know, fine. Enjoyable. It will go down as one of the most enjoyable films about horse racing ever released, but if you put a gun to our head we couldn’t think of another horse racing film to compare it to. While its Oscar nomination was not out of left field, its 77% Rotten Tomatoes score is a bit on the soft side.
And the Revised Winner is…
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
We honestly didn’t expect to keep this statue, but there’s not really any movie that got robbed this year. If we had to give it to someone else out of some stupid “all three movies in a trilogy can’t win Best Picture, this is a stupid rule we made because we are dummies” rule, we’d probably go with Lost in Translation, which continues to be pretty underrated, while wildly overrated by a specific subgroup of men aged 29-33 who spent two weeks in Japan one time but continually insist they “just, feel more comfortable in that setting, you know?” But what else could we put here? Kill Bill: Volume 1? Oldboy? There’s not really any movie looking to just, grab that trophy, so fuck it, every film in the trilogy gets a statue. For every three of you that are pissed off at us about that, there are two of you who are fucking thrilled.
By the way, completely unrelated, but this year was the year that The Room came out, which is hilarious to think about.
But would you believe it, after all these weeks, we’re nearing the end of our feature. After back-to-back-to-back Academy Awards for everyone’s favorite Tolkien adaptation (sigh, you tried, The Hobbit), we’ll be moving on to the last five awards we have to redistribute. Oh God, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s so bright. Come back in a few days for 2005 to 2009, also known as the last entry in this exhausting series!