This, then, is the first of several looks back on the five-to-ten films considered the five-to-ten best of their year, with the very bestest one honored with a pretty pretty tiara. We will tackle these by decade, working backwards. Without further ado:
Best Picture nominees: Parasite • Ford v Ferrari • The Irishman • Jojo Rabbit • Joker • Little Women • Marriage Story • 1917 • Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
I can’t honestly complain about Parasite taking the night. Would I watch it again? I remember it being a bit too stressful in that “uh-oh, these folks don’t belong there” The Riches way. Anyone remember The Riches? It was a short-lived drama with Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver as Travelers who assume a dead man’s identity and lavish home. In both cases you want the families to get away with it, but stories like this don’t work that way. The poor must be punished for presuming to pose above their class. I’m not saying Bong Joon-ho feels that way; quite the opposite. I am saying it’s no fun to watch financially desperate people feed themselves into the meat grinder.
Still haven’t seen Gerwig’s Little Women. What’s getting in the way is that I feel like I have to read the book and watch all 593 previous movie adaptations before I can approach this, and — it’s homework, that’s what it feels like. Laura Dern’s Oscar-winning self is almost enough to make me fire up Netflix for Marriage Story, but so very little of anything else in the movie remotely interests me. Jojo Rabbit polarized people: it was a brilliant satirical fantasy, no, it was tone-deaf garbage at a time when real Nazis were enjoying a resurgence. Waititi clearly has something, so I’ll give it a shot sooner or later.
Ford v Ferrari and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood are the same movie in some ways: buddy pictures about guys working in entertainment, when you get right down to it. They’re both a hell of a lot of fun and the two most likely to occasion a revisit. Joker, as I said at the time, won exactly the Oscars it deserved — that toxic weak-tea crap. But the score was good, and Joaquin did his Joaquin with bells on. The Irishman was great but Scorsese needs to put these things to bed way earlier — you have to go back to After Hours to find a Scorsese (non-short) picture that comes in under two hours. I know the epic length is there for a reason, but you have to be in the mood for that kind of time investment. 1917 was a stunt that I’m surprised got as far (ten nominations!) as it did.
Best Picture nominees: Green Book • Black Panther • BlacKkKlansman • Bohemian Rhapsody • The Favourite • Roma • A Star Is Born • Vice
Man, fuck Bohemian Rhapsody. And while you’re at it, fuck Roma, with all its pompous goddamn water.
The two Black movies were sides of the same coin — one shows Black people living inside a white racist construct, one shows what Black people might have achieved if white people had never come along to fuck things up for them. So of course the Academy fell back with a sigh of relief on the racial-harmony bedtime story Green Book, which actually isn’t a bad movie — it was indeed a Best Picture, but of 1968, not 2018. What should’ve been taken as an unchallenging, amiable acting two-hander instead attracted a lot of static, and I suspect what pushed it over the hump for many Academy voters was resentment at being told what not to like. Green Book is likable if nothing else. I’d still watch BlacKkKlansman again before the other two under discussion here.
Unseen by me: The Favourite is homework — gotta go back and watch all the Yorgos Wossname films first, right? I hadn’t seen any of the previous A Star Is Born films and I apparently saw no need to break the streak. Vice, fuck that, I lived through eight years of that shitheel.
Best Picture nominees: The Shape of Water • Call Me By Your Name • Darkest Hour • Dunkirk • Get Out • Lady Bird • Phantom Thread • The Post • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards is the kind of impressive, emotionally tangled drama built to be seen precisely once. I liked it, but, unlike Martin McDonagh’s previous two films, I don’t see myself going in again. Get Out is the easy winner if we’re talking about movies that demand further scrutiny. That and Phantom Thread, which would make for an odd, and oddly apropos, double feature.
I have seen most of these except Darkest Hour, because I had better ways to murder two hours than watching Gary Oldman under pounds of paraffin going “Hrm! Er…wuffle wazzle…robble harrumph. Bugger!” around a smelly cigar, and Call Me By Your Name, the appeal of which I never understood: a romance between a 24-year-old guy and a 17-year-old girl would rightly be considered creepy at best, why is it okay when they’re both male? (Plus there’s the new problem that you can’t watch Armie Hammer now without thinking about him wanting to stick women’s severed pinky toes up his urethra, or whatever the fuck his deal is.)
Lady Bird was fine; Metcalf should’ve won instead of the poorface lampoon that Janney perpetrated in I, Tonya. Dunkirk was surprisingly absorbing even without the huge screen. Nolan likes huge screens, as we found out last year. The Post was Spielberg engaged thematically but nothing I care to monitor again.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Gill-Man in Love might be the weirdest thing to win Best Picture since, I dunno, Silence of the Lambs swept everything, but it’s far from his best. It’s got too much lazy character work, too much rah-rah magic-of-movies spinach. Of course the Academy loved it.
Best Picture nominees: Moonlight • Arrival • Fences • Hacksaw Ridge • Hell or High Water • Hidden Figures • La La Land • Lion • Manchester by the Sea
Boy, this was certainly pre-2017: Casey Affleck getting an Oscar for showing the darker side of his Dunkin’ Doofus, Mel Gibson getting nominated for directing Hacksaw Ridge. But then in other ways it was a sign of changes to come: Brie Larson obviously not here for Affleck’s big moment; La La Land whitesplaining jazz to Black people all the way to apparent victory, then being told to sit the fuck down after all by Moonlight.
Fucking La La Land — a big-deal musical where you can hardly hear the songs. Sit the fuck down. Aside from Hacksaw Ridge, the nominees I missed were Fences and Lion. I don’t feel any great pull towards them, either. Moonlight is strong, poetic stuff but maybe not made for on-a-whim revisits. I’d be more apt to drop in on Arrival again, or see some of Villeneuve’s other stuff. Hidden Figures is well-acted and well-intentioned, Hell or High Water similar in its way, and I don’t feel there was anything in those films I missed the first time.
Pfft. Fuckin’ La La Land and shit.
Best Picture nominees: Spotlight • The Big Short • Bridge of Spies • Brooklyn • Mad Max: Fury Road • The Martian • The Revenant • Room
At least The Revenant didn’t win the big one — that obnoxious, flatulently self-regarding stunt flick. Spotlight goes like a Timex on fire, but again, what else are you going to get out of it the second time? I missed Bridge of Spies (this was back in my “Spielberg is off my radar now, I guess” days, which lasted about a decade), Brooklyn and The Martian. I might see The Martian sometime.
The Big Short is fun enough, trying to goose some laughs as well as insights out of its finance-wonk subject. The effort is appreciated. Room was one of those triumph-of-the-human-spirit things. “Not as bad as The Lovely Bones” isn’t a ringing endorsement. That year I was rooting hard for Mad Max: Fury Road, and anyone who gives a shit about pure cinema was, too. But then Raiders of the Lost Ark lost to Chariots of Fire, so.
Best Picture nominees: Birdman • American Sniper • Boyhood • The Grand Budapest Hotel • The Imitation Game • Selma • The Theory of Everything • Whiplash
It’s entirely likely that Michael Keaton had far more to do with why we enjoyed Birdman than its director did. It’s otherwise yet another Iñárritu stunt movie, designed to put off the casual viewer innocently seeking a good time. Other than that, I only saw The Grand Budapest Hotel (weird that it took that long for Anderson to steer a Best Picture nominee to dock) and The Theory of Everything. Dry year. Of the ones I didn’t see, Boyhood and Selma call to me, and Whiplash could be tasty for a J.K. Simmons fan such as myself, and even American Sniper might hold up to a retrospective viewing as an unobvious-at-the-time harbinger of Trump.
Like I said. Dry year.
Best Picture nominees: 12 Years a Slave • American Hustle • Captain Phillips • Dallas Buyers Club • Gravity • Her • Nebraska • Philomena • The Wolf of Wall Street
Even if you’d never dream of enduring it again — feeling oppressed and trapped for north of two hours, however necessary, doesn’t invite a Friday-night whim rewatch, does it? — 12 Years a Slave absolutely announces one of the great actors of the 21st century, Lupita Nyong’o, ruthlessly killing it in her first movie. No sweat. You just do it like this.
This year I kept up a little better. Philomena and Captain Phillips were the only ones I no-showed. It was a good year for high-toned science fiction: Gravity, Her. Admirable but why watch it again?: Dallas Buyers Club. Irritating the first time: American Hustle, Nebraska — two smarty-pants brats looking down their noses at dumb Americans. (While the much more compassionate-to-individual-Americans Dallas Buyers Club was directed by a Canadian.) Wolf of Wall Street, of course, is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, an epic of sin and hilarity. Finally it came: Martin Scorsese’s Animal House. Jonah Hill has a special seat in Heaven reserved for him on the basis of his performance here. Could this be the longest comedy since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? But there are three movies here I would gladly pull up and watch right here and now if I weren’t talking to you bright and bashful folk, and that is not bad.
Best Picture nominees: Argo • Amour • Beasts of the Southern Wild • Django Unchained • The Miserables • Life of Pi • Lincoln • Silver Linings Playbook • Zero Dark Thirty
Beasts of the Southern Wild — now that’s a movie title I’ve not heard in a long time. Poor director, took eight years to get his second effort into the can, and then COVID ate it. The Misery People exists to give Anne Hathaway that song and win Anne Hathaway that Oscar. I still like her, and she sure acted the shit out of that song. At long last, Judy Garland as Maria Falconetti. Or vice versa.
Argo: perfectly shiny entertainment that benefited from its message that The Magic of Movies saved the lives of hostages. Nobody bought the pulse-pounding suspense of the climax even before they found out it didn’t happen that way. Didn’t matter. It’s a movie.
Another slim year for me. Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty are clearcut deep-burgundy works of art and craft, with the signature of real directors. Life of Pi might be the same, but I missed it in 3D and, like Hugo, any other way of watching it is less-than. Lincoln — again, my “Spielberg is bound and determined to make movies about shit that doesn’t interest me, isn’t he?” phase. Silver Linings Playbook — look, I’m sure Bradley Cooper is aces in all the movies I haven’t seen him in, but something about him gives me the creeps. I can’t explain it, I have nothing against him intellectually or consciously … just a gut-level recoil.
Oh, there was a thing by Michael Haneke about slow death and grief among an elderly couple. Awww yis let’s grab some popcorn and hit up some Amour. It ain’t a party unless it’s a Michael Haneke party!
Best Picture nominees: The Artist • The Descendants • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close • The Help • Hugo • Midnight in Paris • Moneyball • The Tree of Life • War Horse
Aaah, to hell with The Artist — yet more mAgIc oF mOvIeS guff. After a brief career bump in English-speaking films (Wolf of Wall Street, The Monuments Men), Jean Dujardin went back to France, where they don’t care if you work for Polanski.
I did see The Descendants (Clooney acting concerned, Shailene Woodley announcing herself), Moneyball (finely wrought diversion for grownups), and The Tree of Life, which is probably what I would’ve given the big prize to despite misgivings about Malick; shit, anything but the fucking Artist.
Do I need to catch up on any of the others? The Help gets a hard pass. Ditto Extremely Loud — did anyone actually see that, or enjoy it if they did? I hope Woody Allen enjoyed the last Best Picture nomination he’s ever going to get, for Midnight in Paris. Wish I’d caught Hugo in its 3D glory, and War Horse was yet another “oh, Spielberg? We’re not watching him now.” Seriously, it was never planned, the man just kept making stuff, either historical dramas or kid stuff, that landed outside my zone.
Best Picture nominees: The King’s Speech • 127 Hours • Black Swan • The Fighter • Inception • The Kids Are All Right • The Social Network • Toy Story 3 • True Grit • Winter’s Bone
Tom Hooper is the worst film director who ever drew breath, and the Academy to its perpetual shame encouraged him to make more shitty, pompously-framed crap by handing him an Oscar for this mediocre retread of The Madness of King George. (And then Cats oozed its way into theaters and I said “See? You didn’t believe me! But it’s true! This man has no talent!”)
Of the other nominees — well, any of them would have been preferable, even goddamn Social Network and its pretentious treatment of a millennial even millennials hate. I missed Toy Story 3 (tapped out after the first one), Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right, and I would probably watch the last one. Black Swan had interesting things in it but also too much undigested Cronenberg and Argento in its stool. The Fighter — damn, all that Bahston overacting, Christian Bale nakedly thirsting for glory. True Grit was perfectly fine but kind of minor Coens. I respected 127 Hours but never ever need to see it again. Inception was a ride, just like Tenet ten years later, though I wonder if Nolan got punished this year for (A) insisting on that theatrical release and (B) not delivering the Savior of Moviegoing. Both films are perfectly groomed and pleasurable, but they’re too high on their own puzzle-box perfume to come within social-distance of greatness.
And now my (mostly non-nominated) picks for Best Picture.
2010: Enter the Void — Technically a 2009 film, but opened in the US in 2010, and was easily the big-dog film I saw that year.
2011: Melancholia —Well, either that or We Need to Talk About Kevin.
2012: Cloud Atlas — I guess you’re starting to see a pattern here.
2013: The Wolf of Wall Street and DiCaprio for Best Actor. Some brave folks might stump for Spring Breakers or Pain and Gain, and I can dig it.
2014: Noah — Way weirder, more sincere and idiosyncratic than it had to be. Aronofsky begins with an oft-told tale and works art with it.
2015: Mad Max: Fury Road — Decidedly not mediocre. A fiery wheel in unending spin.
2016: The Witch — Yeah yeah, it premiered at Sundance in ’15, but its actual release so that us poor slobs could see it was February 19, 2016, so I’m counting it as 2016.
2017: Brawl in Cell Block 99 — I. Don’t. Care. Craig Zahler is one of the better new lights we have in American cinema, so whatever you’re going to say about him or who he works with, I. Don’t. Care.
2018: First Reformed or Mandy. As I’ve said elsewhere, in some ways they’re the same movie.
2019: The last year before everything stopped and moviegoing itself became a nostalgic notion. And yeah, I’m putting another Eggers on here: The Lighthouse, an oddity made only for me and, like, 6 other people.