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26th February 2024

Opinion: Every Best Picture winner of the 21st century, ranked from worst to best

With the 96th Academy Awards looming, let’s look back at this century’s winners of the big grand prize of Best Picture
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Opinion: Every Best Picture winner of the 21st century, ranked from worst to best
Credit: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion

All of these opinions are correct. If you take issue with any of them, meet me in the car park behind the Sam Alex and we’ll have a civil discussion.

**Side note from the Managing Editor: Please do not meet behind the Sam Alex. This is a joke. Also, there are a lot of lorries there so it would be a safety hazard concern to even have a chat there. We do not endorse any conversations behind any buildings.

23) Gladiator (2000)

This is definitely your Dad’s favourite film, which speaks for itself.

Ugly, bloated and way too timid with gore for a movie about Gladiators. Painfully overrated, shallow Oscar-bait with editing that pre-teen Maisy could have out-performed on VideoStar. Joaquin Phoenix, get down from that throne, you little rascal. The fact that you existed pre-like 2010 is also really unnerving. Also, I can’t take anything with Russel Crowe in it seriously.

22) The King’s Speech (2010)

I have never cared less about the plot of a movie. Laziest piece of pro-monarchy propaganda in recent memory; why are we trying to make King George a likeable soft boy? Stale plot and overly safe directing. Feels like a history textbook had sex with drying paint. If this film was made today, it would be one of those Sky Originals set in Guernsey that no one watches. Colin Firth isn’t even fit in this one, so what’s the point?

21) Crash (2005)

Made in the dark ages of early 2000s LA dramas where every white man with a camera and a Mark Wahlberg poster thought that they could solve racism. Everything about this film is pointless, from the ridiculous plot twists to the jaw-dropping exploitation of racist stereotypes. Editing gave me a migraine. I don’t think that anyone has watched this film in the past decade. Watch the David Cronenberg one instead.

20) Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Ah, the days when the mere presence of Clint Eastwood’s shrivelled little skull basically netted an automatic Oscar, no questions asked. Hillary Swank is pretty good here. The douchebag director of Crash managed to get a consecutive Best Picture win with this incredibly forgettable, walking cliché of a film. He hasn’t done much since, apart from writing some ‘mid’ James Bond films and losing a rape lawsuit. Classic.

19) The Hurt Locker (2008)

We’re moving out of ‘terrible’ territory and into…fine. Western-perspective war films set in the Middle East are a genuine blight on the film industry, but this is the best of a bad bunch. For every decently tense action sequence, there are two more of Jeremy Renner playing a somehow more American version of himself. Katherine Bigelow was clearly desperate to be deployed to Iraq, and I think we should have let her go.

18) Green Book (2018)

If you told me that this film was made in 1991, I would believe you. Peak ‘not all white people are racist’ gobbledegook, buoyed only by some cracking performances and annoyingly charming visuals. The only reason this isn’t lower is that it wasn’t mind-numbingly boring. The best thing about this film is that Mahershala Ali looks really cool in various vintage suits. Extra points that all the food looks amazing.

17) CODA (2021)

“What if your entire family couldn’t hear…but you could?” Is a question that no one really asked, but CODA’s answer is still pretty endearing. This film is certified middle-of-the-road; kind of unoriginal in its narrative and characters, but humble enough that we can bear it. This jerked a few tears at Sundance, but I thought we’d moved past equating films that make us cry with films that deserve Oscars. I expect a lot more from the Best Picture.

16) A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Pretty predictable, but gosh the nostalgia seeping from this thing has got me, hook, line and sinker. The script isn’t the most delicate of texts, but I actually feel things for the characters. Watched this high and related way too closely to the paranoia of a literal schizophrenic. My tongue unrolls out of my mouth and hits the floor like a cartoon dog’s when I see Paul Bettany. Russel Crowe is back though, I’m getting a restraining order.

15) Nomadland (2020)

Great film to watch if you’re miserable and lonely and, luckily for Frances McDormand, this came out in 2020. Satisfying contrast between the gritty, hardened narrative themes and the luxurious, sweeping visuals. Some serious artistic appreciation of vaguely American landscapes. Is it Ohio? Virginia? Does any single person care? Got a bit boring, I’d watch this again in 35 TikTok parts if a slime tutorial was playing alongside it.

14) The Artist (2011)

I really wanted to love this one, but ended up only half-liking it. A very effective stylistic experiment in nostalgia. Everything that we see is beautifully tailored to fit the contours of the screen, but this film is so unavoidably worse than the ones that it pays homage to. Just watch an actual classic silent film if you want to blow a kiss to the past. Also, I forgot that this film existed until I sat down to make this list, and I watched it last month.

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

If you’re enraged at how low this is ranked, go outside and talk to a woman, then get back to me. In all seriousness, I actually really like the LOTR films. Crème de la crème of blockbusters that simultaneously blesses sights and tugs on heartstrings. But, was this the best film of 2003? No. Still pretty good though. Take a shot every time Frodo gets stabbed and you might even be able to sit through Gladiator.

12) Argo (2012)

I have spiritual beef with Ben Affleck that often prohibits me from enjoying his ‘acting’, but Argo is a firecracker of an exception.

I know I just said that American war films are the devil, but punchy montages and tight direction make such great, star-spangled entertainment that I honestly don’t care that this is CIA propaganda. Also, I’m conditioned to give good reviews to films with cool-ass 70s costuming like a Pavlov dog.

11) Spotlight (2015)

Catholic Church Get Dunked On: The Movie. An unnerving and ultimately tragic newsroom drama with a lot more bite than bark. White people love Stanislavsky and the acting here proves it. This would be higher if the direction wasn’t so blandly static. I understand that it would be insensitive to throw a bunch of Tinseltown razzle-dazzle at a film about child sexual abuse, but every single wall in this film did not need to be beige.

10) 12 Years a Slave (2013)

I thought that this movie was a masterpiece when I was ten, and I wasn’t too far off. Sucker-punch intensity cut with haunting visuals of plantation ‘tranquillity’. Doesn’t flinch once. Emotional and brutal, but never for shock value. 

9) The Departed (2006)

Marty, baby, I didn’t mean what I said about your Marvel comments, I love that you remade Infernal Affairs but with Jason Bourne. This film is deliciously stressful, all clacking flip phones and outrageous Boston accents that genuinely soothe my soul. Scorsese’s best film; talk to the hand ‘cos the face is trying to tell Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg apart. 150 minute long Jack Nicholson jump scare.

8) Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Some will say that this is too high; they would be right, but Dev Patel is currently looking at me with those puppy dog eyes and my keyboard has become possessed. People who diss this film don’t want you to leave the cinema feeling whimsical and hopeful. It’s guilty of glossing over some complex issues with silly musical numbers, but it’s too frenetically creative and humbly sincere to put any lower. Sorry that I love life.

7) No Country for Old Men (2007)

This one’s for all my film bros; I see your comments ladies and they make me smile. One of the most bone-chilling games of cat-and-mouse ever put to screen. Half Texas Noir, half existentialist Beckett play, with not a single performance less than legendary and a script that everyone quotes, yet is still criminally underrated. Although, I can’t be the only one who didn’t care about that old guy at the gas station. I know he voted for Bush.

6) Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

Yep, the slightly superficial lament of the white, male artist made it to the sixth spot because drums and also moving camera. Essentially a baby sensory video for people with no media literacy (me), this film made undeniable leaps in the structure of mainstream storytelling. Knockout visuals and impossible colours that buzz with frenzied emotion. Quietly hilarious and ridiculously watchable visual heroin. So, so good. Every time.

5) Moonlight (2016)

Do you know how good a film has to be that Damien Chazelle getting positively goofed in front of the entire industry is only the second-best thing about a singular award win? Moonlight may be one of the most important films of our lifetime. Electrifying, gut-wrenching poetry painted in shades of furious cobalt. A sensory rush of every feeling fundamental to being human. All other coming-of-age films need to stop trying.

4) Chicago (2002) 

The greatest movie musical since the Golden Age. Absolutely no room for discussion, the space is taken up entirely by the number of thighs in this film. Sultry, brassy, blaring madness set loose in a world dripping with sumptuous design. A Broadway adaptation that cranks up the theatrics, rather than trying to suppress them. The soundtrack doesn’t have a single skip. Catherine Zeta-Jones, the woman that you are.

3) The Shape of Water (2017)

This film has its issues. But there is not a single story that so effectively captures the magic and ugliness and embarrassment of deep, unconditional love like this one. Makes me bawl every time. Guillermo Del Toro bottled the breathless wonder of my childhood and has been drip-feeding it to me via gothic romances ever since. Amazing practical effects, obviously. If this was made today it would feature that ‘yo-ho’ North Sea song.

2) Parasite (2019)

I don’t think that this even warrants an explanation but I love to monologue, so here you are. Masterful artistry snaps into place alongside torturous detail and gutsy originality to formulate a ruthless, sharpened blade of a film. Sings with the perfect cohesion of geometry and bites with the friction of grating social disparities. Deemed ‘must-see’ by everyone yet somehow not overrated. The first film ever to use Morse code in a bearable way.

1) Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

One of the greatest stories ever told. Absurdist, nihilist, surrealist rubber-band ball of an existential crisis. Makes these big, scary ideas humble, human and accessible, which every Best Picture should. Maximalist and naked. So much damn fun, and then you get shot in the back of the head. Ke Huy Quan is so special to me. This was directed by the same guys that did the music video for ‘Turn Down for What’; I think they might be God.

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