Best Picture: A Look Back

A few weeks ago, I posted look backs at major categories at the Oscars from 1990 to the present. I’ve covered all four acting races and if you missed it, you can peruse them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/04/best-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

In each post, I review what I’d classify as the three least surprising winners, as well as the three biggest upsets. And I select what I believe are the strongest and weakest overall fields.

Today on the blog, we arrive at the Big Daddy – Best Picture. It’s important to remember that hindsight doesn’t come into play here. For instance, Forrest Gump won the top prize in 1994. Since then, many believe fellow nominees Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption should have won. Yet the Gump victory was not an upset at the time. Same goes for 1990 when Dances with Wolves bested GoodFellas.

Let’s begin with a reminder of each winner since 1990:

1990 – Dances with Wolves

1991 – The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Unforgiven

1993 – Schindler’s List

1994 – Forrest Gump

1995 – Braveheart

1996 – The English Patient

1997 – Titanic

1998 – Shakespeare in Love

1999 – American Beauty

2000 – Gladiator

2001 – A Beautiful Mind

2002 – Chicago

2003 – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

2004 – Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Crash

2006 – The Departed

2007 – No Country for Old Men

2008 – Slumdog Millionaire

2009 – The Hurt Locker

2010 – The King’s Speech

2011 – The Artist

2012 – Argo

2013 – 12 Years a Slave

2014 – Birdman

2015 – Spotlight

2016 – Moonlight

2017 – The Shape of Water

We start with my three least surprising winners:

3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson’s final entry in the acclaimed trilogy seemed due for a win after the first two installments were nominated, but lost to A Beautiful Mind and Chicago. This was as much a recognition for the entire franchise and by 2003, it was obvious the Academy would move in that direction.

2. Titanic (1997)

James Cameron’s epic was plagued with rumors of a troubled shoot and the possibility seemed real that it could be a costly flop. The opposite occurred as Titanic became the highest grossing motion picture of all time upon its release. It seemed clear that Oscar love would follow.

1. Schindler’s List (1993)

Capping an amazing year which saw Steven Spielberg direct Jurassic Park over the summer, his Holocaust feature Schindler’s List became the undeniable front-runner at its end of year release. Winning all significant precursors, this was a shoo-in selection.

Now to the upsets. In my view, there were four very real ones and I had to leave one out. That would be 1995 when Braveheart emerged victorious over the favored Apollo 13 and Sense and Sensibility. Yet there’s 3 others that I feel top it.

3. Moonlight (2016)

La La Land appeared ready to pick up the gold after its filmmaker Damien Chazelle and lead actress Emma Stone had already won. And it looked like the script was being followed when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway actually announced the musical as Best Picture. Perhaps Oscar’s largest controversy followed as the wrong envelope was given and the Barry Jenkins effort Moonlight had actually won. Correct envelopes or not, the Moonlight victory was still unexpected given the La La momentum.

2. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

All eyes were on Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan to win as Spielberg had already picked up his second statue for directing. Shakespeare rewrote that script and few saw it coming.

1. Crash (2005)

Here is perhaps the most surprising BP winner in history. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was the strong favorite when the Paul Haggis race relations drama took it. Even presenter Jack Nicholson looked shocked when he read the envelope.

And now the fields. That’s a bit tough because just under a decade ago, the Academy switched from five finite nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine being the most common). For weakest, I’m going with 2011 when there were 9. While there’s some quality picks like The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life – I feel even some of them might have missed the cut in stronger years. And I think that certainly applies to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, and War Horse.

For strongest, I will go with the aforementioned 1994. Pulp Fiction and Shawshank are indeed two of the most impressive cinematic contributions in recent times. Winner Gump and other nominees Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral filled out the slate.

And that does it, folks! Hope you enjoyed my look back at Best Picture in modern times.

The Best Picture Coulda Been Contenders: 1990-2008

In 2009, the Academy underwent a change in the number of Best Picture nominees honored each year. The rule change allowed a fluctuation of five to ten nominees per year, as opposed to a finite five (all other categories stayed at that number).

As has been discussed on this blog, many felt the change was triggered by 2008’s The Dark Knight, the critically acclaimed comic book pic that was also highest earner of the year. It failed to a garner a Best Picture nod and the thinking was that it was time for more popular options to make it into the mix.

Since the change, the magic number has been nine nominated pictures in most years. This got me thinking: what if that rule had been in effect during prior years? What movies that failed to get a nomination would have certainly made it?

That brings us here. I have gone back to 1990 through 2008 and I’m listing two films from each year that I am confident would have made the shortlist. In selecting each title, here were some of the key indicators. If a Director was nominated for his work and the film failed to get nominated, that probably means it would have been included. Additionally, the screenplay races are a decent predictor of some titles that might have made the magic nine (or eight or ten). For reference sake, I am including the five movies that did get nominated.

So here goes! Two features from 1990-2008 that coulda and likely woulda been contenders…

1990

The Actual Nominees: Dances with Wolves (Winner), Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, GoodFellas

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Grifters, Reversal of Fortune

1991

The Actual Nominees: The Silence of the Lambs (W), Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boyz N The Hood, Thelma & Louise

1992

The Actual Nominees: Unforgiven (W), The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Malcolm X, The Player

1993

The Actual Nominees: Schindler’s List (W), The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Philadelphia, Short Cuts

1994

The Actual Nominees: Forrest Gump (W), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Bullets Over Broadway, Three Colors: Red

1995

The Actual Nominees: Braveheart (W), Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas

1996

The Actual Nominees: The English Patient (W), Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade

1997

The Actual Nominees: Titanic (W), As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Huinting, L.A. Confidential

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter

1998

The Actual Nominees: Shakespeare in Love (W), Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Gods and Monsters, The Truman Show

1999

The Actual Nominees: American Beauty (W), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy

2000

The Actual Nominees: Gladiator (W), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot

2001

The Actual Nominees: A Beautiful Mind (W), Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Black Hawk Down, Mulholland Drive

2002

The Actual Nominees: Chicago (W), Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Far from Heaven, Talk to Her

2003

The Actual Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (W), Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit 

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: City of God, In America

2004

The Actual Nominees: Million Dollar Baby (W), The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Hotel Rwanda, Vera Drake

2005

The Actual Nominees: Crash (W), Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Syriana, Walk the Line

2006

The Actual Nominees: The Departed (W), Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93

2007

The Actual Nominees: No Country for Old Men (W), Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2008

The Actual Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (W), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Dark Knight, Doubt

And there you have it! There will be a part II to this post. What if the rule change had never occurred? From 2009 until the present, what would have been the five nominated Pictures if only that number was allowed. Stay tuned…

 

Film Festival Season Approaches: The 2018 Hopefuls

We may be smack dab in the middle of the summer movie season, but Oscar season will be taking shape before we know it. This week, the organizers of the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals have unveiled lineups for the pictures that will be premiering at their events in a few weeks. Many of them are awards hopefuls.

To give you an idea of the importance of festivals when it comes to Oscar nominees, six of last year’s nine nominees premiered at some combination of Toronto, Venice, Telluride, New York, Sundance, or Cannes. Every Best Picture winner from this decade and beyond played at one of them. The last one that didn’t was The Departed back in 2006.

The months of September-December are the fertile ground for most nominated features. Last year, seven of the nine Picture nominees came out in that time frame. In 2016 – it was 8 out of 9.

Beginning in late August/early September, I will begin my weekly Oscar prediction columns. It works like this:

Late August/Early September – first posting of predictions in the categories of Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress

Months of September and October – weekly Oscar predictions column post covering those 6 categories, as well as Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay. For Best Picture, I will be ranking possibilities numbered 1-25. For other categories, it will be numbered 1-15.

Months of November through announcement of nominations – weekly Oscar predictions column covering every category involving feature films. For Best Picture, I will be ranking possibilities numbered 1-15. For other categories, it will be numbered 1-10.

While these posts are a month away, today I bring you 25 fall awards hopefuls that I suspect I’ll be mentioning frequently. Most of these are premiering at the high-profile quartet of upcoming fests (Venice, Toronto, New York, Telluride). Some aren’t, but could certainly be added to Telluride or New York especially (as they’re more known for surprise screenings).

Let’s get to it!

A Star is Born

The third remake of the musical drama marks the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and features a potential showcase role for his costar Lady Gaga. Early word of mouth is already strong.

At Eternity’s Gate

He received a nomination for his supporting work last year for The Florida Project and Willem Dafoe plays Vincent Van Gogh in what could be another awards bait role.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Backseat

Expect Adam McKay’s follow-up to The Big Short to receive plenty of attention. Christian Bale is Cheney with Amy Adams as wife Lynne and last year’s Supporting Actor winner Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Beautiful Boy

Steve Carell plays the father of a meth addict played by Timothee Chalamet, who was nominated last year for Call Me by Your Name.

Ben is Back

Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts headline this family drama that premieres at Toronto.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Bohemian Rhapsody

Despite some behind the scenes drama in its filming, all eyes will be on Rami Malek’s work as Queen front man Freddie Mercury.

Boy Erased

Perhaps an even larger showcase role for Lucas Hedges is this drama where he plays a homosexual sent to conversion camp. Joel Edgerton directs and costars along with Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy received an Academy Award nomination with her breakthrough role in Bridesmaids. This drama about writer Lee Israel could muster attention for her yet again.

First Man

Director Damien Chazelle has seen both of his efforts (Whiplash, La La Land) nominated for Best Picture and he’s the youngest filmmaker to ever win Best Director. His third pic is a Neil Armstrong biopic starring Ryan Gosling. It opens the Venice Film Festival.

If Beale Street Could Talk

The follow-up to his Oscar winning Moonlight, Barry Jenkins directs this drama set in 1970s Harlem.

July 22

United 93 and Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass brings his latest to Netflix and it focuses on the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Life Itself

Premiering at Toronto, this ensemble drama includes Oscar Isaac, Olivia Munn, Annette Bening, and Antonio Banderas.

Mary Poppins Returns

She’s already a contender for A Quiet Place and Emily Blunt could face competition from herself with Disney’s expected monster hit.

Mary Queen of Scots

They were both nominated for Best Actress last year and now Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star in this historical drama about the title character and Queen Elizabeth I.

Old Man & The Gun

David Lowery directs Robert Redford in the true life tale of a prison escape artist. Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck costar.

On the Basis of Sex

The documentary RBG could get noticed by the Documentary branch, as could this biopic which casts Felicity Jones as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Peterloo

Acclaimed British director Mike Leigh returns with this historical 19th century drama.

Roma

This Mexican family drama is Alfonso Cuaron’s first directorial effort since his acclaimed Gravity.

Suspiria

Call Me by Your Name maker Luca Guadagnino shifts gears for this remake of the 1970s horror classic. Don’t be surprised if this receives attention in some technical categories.

The Favourite

The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos is behind this historical drama featuring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz.

The Front Runner

Jason Reitman directs this biopic of failed Presidential candidate Gary Hart with Hugh Jackman cast in the role.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

The Sisters Brothers

John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jake Gyllenhaal are among the cast in this Western from acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard.

Welcome to Marwen

Steve Carell stars in this unique looking drama from Forrest Gump maker Robert Zemeckis.

Widows

It’s been five years between projects for Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen. This heist thriller stars recent winner Viola Davis.

And there’s your very early preview of some titles to keep an eye on over the coming months. Those Oscar posts will start rolling out weekly in about a month! Stay tuned…

Oscar Watch: Silence

Official reviews are at last out today for Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Focused on Jesuit priests being persecuted in Japan in the 17th century, the film has long been a passion project for the heralded director. It’s also long been thought of as a potential major Oscar contender and the buzz certainly confirms that notion. Early reviews are strong enough that Silence looks highly likely to be nominated for both Picture and Director.

In the 21st century, five of the six pictures that Scorsese directed scored Picture nods. The only one that didn’t was 2010’s Shutter Island and that wasn’t really made for awards attention. Only The Departed won the big race along with Scorsese getting his only win ever in Director. Marty’s big competition is in the form of La La Land and its director Damien Chazelle, which still appears to be hold front runner status. In the Directing category, the work of Barry Jenkins in Moonlight is also garnering talk.

Screenwriter Jay Cocks looks assured for an Adapted Screenplay nomination. Silence could also score a number of down the line nods in Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, and Production Design.

The acting possibilities for recognition is a bit more complicated. Andrew Garfield is competing against himself in Actor and there’s a very good chance he’d be nominated instead for Hacksaw Ridge (or not at all). Then there’s Supporting Actor with Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, and Issey Ogata in the mix. For months, it was presumed that Neeson would stand the best chance, but the Los Angeles Film Critics named Ogata their runner-up for his supporting work. Driver has gotten some ink for reportedly losing 50 pounds for his role here and the Academy loves stuff like that. Add that up and it’s more uncertainty in an already quite uncertain Supporting Actor derby.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Short Gets A Big Boost

Last night, the Producers Guild of America bestowed their Best Picture honor and it created yet more confusion as to which movie will emerge victorious come Oscar evening. The PGA’s award went to Adam McKay’s The Big Short and it undoubtedly increases its chance at Academy Award glory exponentially.

Want proof? How’s this? Since the group started naming Best Picture in 1989, it has lined up with the Academy’s winner 19 out of 25 times (or 76% for you math fans). The Oscar and PGA recipients have correctly matched during the last eight years. The last time it didn’t was in 2006 when Little Miss Sunshine won over Academy honoree The Departed.

It’s probably fair to say that The Big Short is now the soft front runner in the race. That designation once belonged to Spotlight, which took home several critics awards precursors. The front runner status then shifted to The Revenant, which is killing it at the box office and was the Golden Globe winner for Best Drama. And now it’s The Big Short. Truth be told, this is a genuine three picture race for Oscar gold and up until yesterday, I had The Big Short running third. The PGA has shifted the paradigm.

Top 25 Best Movies (1990-2015): Nos. 20-16

Today we arrive at part two of my personal top 25 movies of the last generation – 1990 to now and that covers numbers 20-16. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

20. There Will Be Blood (2007)

From master director Paul Thomas Anderson comes this riveting tale of oil and greed at the turn of the 20th century. It features a towering and Oscar winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

19. The Player (1992)

Robert Altman made some incredible pictures in the 1970s and had a career resurgence in the 90s and his pitch black comedy about Hollywood and its superficiality is the best example of it.

18. Kill Bill – Vol I and II (2003/2004)

OK, maybe I cheated a bit here with this actually being two movies, but Quentin Tarantino’s genre hopping master work stands (almost) at the top of his filmography.

17. Being John Malkovich (1999)

Spike Jonze has been making singularly unique films for nearly two decades now and Malkovich is his most rewarding. There’s simply nothing like it and I mean that in a very great way.

16. The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese finally earned his Oscar (though he’d been snubbed plenty of times before) for this twisty and deliciously fun and violent crime thriller with a killer cast that included DiCaprio, Damon, Wahlberg, and Nicholson.

And we’ll get to numbers 15-11 tomorrow, readers!

Oscar History: 2006

Rocky over Taxi Driver. Ordinary People over Raging Bull. Dances with Wolves over GoodFellas. These are all examples where, in hindsight, pictures directed by Martin Scorsese and the auteur himself probably should have received Oscars wins and not just nominations. In 2002, Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was seen as a Best Picture frontrunner until Chicago stole its thunder. The same held true two years later with The Aviator until Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby had a late surge and took the prize. By 2006, Scorsese was undoubtedly the most acclaimed director whose films had never won the gold statue. And neither had he.

This would finally come to an end with The Departed, his crime thriller that won Best Picture and this kicks off my 2006 Oscar History.

The other four nominees were Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s Babel, Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris’s Little Miss Sunshine, and Stephen Frears’s The Queen. The voters got it right. The Departed was the Best Picture of the year.

As for other pictures I would’ve considered: Alfonso Cuaron’s terrific Children of Men, Guillermo del Toro’s visual feast Pan’s Labyrinth, the Ryan Gosling drama Half Nelson, and Todd Field’s Little Children. And for an outside the box pic – why not Casino Royale, which brought the Bond franchise back in grand fashion and ranks as my 2nd all-time 007 pic after From Russia with Love?

Scorsese, as mentioned before, would win Director over Inarritu, Eastwood, Frears, and Paul Greengrass for United 93. Once again – my list would’ve found room for Cuaron and del Toro.

In the Best Actor race, Forest Whitaker expectedly won for his performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Other nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond (many thought he’d get nominated instead for Departed), Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson, Peter O’Toole for Venus (his final nomination), and Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness.

Once again, my ballot might’ve listed Daniel Craig for his electric take on James Bond. Others to consider: Clive Owen (Children of Men), Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking), or Matt Damon’s work in The Departed.

No surprise in the Best Actress race as Helen Mirren’s work as Queen Elizabeth II was honored in The Queen over Penelope Cruz (Volver), Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), and Kate Winslet (Little Children).

That’s a strong Actress category, but I would’ve also had Natalie Portman’s fine performance in V for Vendetta included.

The only true surprise at the 2006 Oscars occurred in the Supporting Actor category where Eddie Murphy’s acclaimed work in Dreamgirls was expected to win. Instead the Academy honored Alan Arkin’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine. Other nominees: Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond), and Mark Wahlberg (The Departed).

Instead of Wahlberg, many believed it would be Jack Nicholson for Departed that received the nomination. I was cool with it – considering Nicholson had already won three times before and this marked Wahlberg’s first nod. Other names I would have possibly included: Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine), Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada), Michael Sheen (The Queen), and for his brilliant comedic work – John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Jennifer Hudson had the distinction of being the first “American Idol” contestant turned Oscar winner with her lauded role in Dreamgirls – winning out over Babel actresses Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi, young Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine, and Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal.

My list would have absolutely included Shareeka Epps with her fabulous work in Half Nelson and probably Vera Farmiga in The Departed.

And that’s your 2006 Oscar history! I’ll be back soon with 2007 where another beloved director (s) would take home their first Oscar gold.