Despite the Academy’s current penchant for trite biopics, often at the expense of far more interesting work, the Oscar for Best Picture has occasionally highlighted some truly fantastic films. Picking the best film of the year is subjective, of course, but probably not to the extent that Forrest Gump can be considered better than Pulp Fiction, or that Braveheart wasn’t in fact the worst film of 1995. To separate the magnificent from the mawkish, here are the best and worst offerings of the category.
Among the best winners of the past few decades is No Country For Old Men, Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2007 neo-western. The film is a beautifully shot triumph of minimalism with one of the most memorable villains in film history, and pipped the equally enrapturing There Will Be Blood to the Oscar. This is a rare modern example of the Academy hitting the nail on the head, with Javier Bardem also rightfully winning the award for Best Supporting Actor.
1995’s winner was William Wallace-inspired epic Braveheart. While the astounding historical inaccuracy isn’t actually what makes Braveheart a bad film, with ‘artistic licence’ being what it is (hopefully the irony of that term is lost on nobody), it is laughably egotistical and corny. Comparing Braveheart with The Last of the Mohicans, another period epic from 1992, demonstrates just how dated and ludicrous the film is. Director Mel Gibson makes no attempt to hide his clear hatred for the English, which remains just another curious aspect of his character.
The Godfather may always be a predictable choice when discussing great films, but it is a true masterpiece and certainly one of the best films to have won Best Picture. The film’s characterisation is more or less unequalled, and the stellar cast of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert Duvall lends incredibly nuanced drama. The mobster genre has produced some seriously excellent films, including the likes of Mean Streets, but The Godfather possibly stands out above all others. Marlon Brando famously refused to accept the award for Best Actor due to Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, but that is another story.
That The King’s Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2011 is an abomination. The film itself isn’t atrocious by any means, but it is the kind that induces self-congratulatory laughter among middle aged audiences. Lovey acting, mediocre humour and a saccharine sense of Britishness are what characterise this film. Will the film be remembered in decades to come? One hopes that it will be cast aside as part of a bizarre fad for soppy British period dramas. Inception, The Social Network and Black Swan were far better.
Comedy films have never garnered much attention from the Academy, but 1977’s Annie Hall is a conspicuous winner for the genre. Woody Allen is at his neurotic best, and, unlike The King’s Speech, it contains material that actually warrants laughter. The 1960s was the decade for musicals, West Side Story being a fair winner, while The Sound of Music probably shouldn’t have beaten Dr Zhivago. As for 2006’s winner, The Departed was very good, but it felt as though the Academy were apologising for not having given Martin Scorsese the award for Raging Bull, Taxi Driver or Goodfellas. Let us just hope that the award in 2015 doesn’t continue the alarming trend of recognising sentimental mediocrity.