A few days ago, I finally popped in that Letters from Iwo Jima DVD that had been waiting in my desk drawer for over two and a half years, which means that I've now seen all the Best Picture Oscar nominees from 2000 onwards. And what better time to rank the lineups from those years than one day before the new nominees are announced? So, from worst to best:
12) 2008: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Frost/Nixon - Milk - The Reader - Slumdog Millionaire
The only one of these that's anywhere close to the best films of 2008 is Milk. The Reader took a lot of flak for (presumably) denying The Dark Knight or WALL·E a nomination, but it's actually my second choice, just ahead of Benjamin Button, which, I have to admit, kind of moved me in the last 30 minutes or so. There's still the problem of the first two hours, though.
11) 2011: The Artist - The Descendants - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - The Help - Hugo - Midnight in Paris - Moneyball - The Tree of Life - War Horse
One of those rare years when my favorite nominee won, and yet The Artist might not even be in my top 20 of 2011. It's a shame that the voters couldn't resist year-end bait like War Horse and Extremely Loud in favor of much better films which were probably just outside the top nine: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridesmaids and maybe, just maybe, even Drive (it did well at the BAFTAs). I prefer each of those four to any of the nominees.
10) 2009: Avatar - The Blind Side - District 9 - An Education - The Hurt Locker - Inglourious Basterds - Precious - A Serious Man - Up - Up in the Air
The second time in the last 12 years when the Academy chose the best nominee, and the second time when it's a film that I appreciate, but don't love. A very diverse lineup, for sure, but most of these movies are problematic/very problematic. Too bad that Pixar's first nomination in the Best Picture category came for Up, which becomes quite a mess after a promising start. 2009 was a dismal year for English-language films in general, though, and at least the Academy gave the cold shoulder to the year-end prestige pics Invictus, The Lovely Bones and Nine, which all turned out terrible.
9) 2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Lost in Translation - Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - Mystic River - Seabiscuit
I don't much care for four of these five films, but my love for Lost in Translation is so strong that it saves 2003 from being in the bottom three. I have seen Master and Commander only once several years ago, though, so I might be underappreciating it.
8) 2006: Babel - The Departed - Letters from Iwo Jima - Little Miss Sunshine - The Queen
Nothing terrible, or even close to terrible, but also nothing terribly exciting. I do have a soft spot for Little Miss Sunshine, though, even if it's a bit too self-consciously "quirky", and also for Babel - sure, all the storylines together feel contrived, but each works for me on its own. Also, to be fair, the only 2006 film that I actually love is Inland Empire, so, similarly to 2009, the voters couldn't have ignored a lot of great films even if they wanted to.
7) 2001: A Beautiful Mind - Gosford Park - In the Bedroom - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Moulin Rouge!
Most film aficionados would probably rank this year much higher, but as interesting as they are as nominees, I find Moulin Rouge! very uneven and LOTR... is just not my thing. I'm probably one of about five people in the world who might actually vote for In the Bedroom, though it's neck and neck with Gosford Park .
6) 2004: The Aviator - Finding Neverland - Million Dollar Baby - Ray - Sideways
There's no excuse for choosing Finding Neverland or Ray over Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, of course, but The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby are fine and Sideways is one of the best dramedies of the decade.
5) 2000: Chocolat - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Erin Brockovich - Gladiator - Traffic
It's quite depressing that Crouching Tiger is the last non-English-language film not directed by Eastwood that was nominated for Best Picture. I used to think that Traffic was also quite great, but it's gradually fallen in my estimation and now I'd say Erin Brockovich is the best Soderbergh, and the second best film overall, in this lineup.
4) 2002: Chicago - Gangs of New York - The Hours - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - The Pianist
As already stated, I don't care for LOTR, and Gangs of New York is among my least favorite nominees as well, but 60% of this lineup is clearly above average. In addition, Chicago might be the only musical I've seen so far that I've truly enjoyed (high hopes for Cabaret and All That Jazz, though). I'd really want to know how close Adaptation. was to getting nominated, since I love it so much.
3) 2010: 127 Hours - Black Swan - The Fighter - Inception - The Kids Are All Right - The King's Speech - Toy Story 3 - True Grit - The Social Network - Winter's Bone
I would only call three films in this bunch mediocre: 127 Hours, Inception and The King's Speech. Sure, two of them ended up being the most Oscared films of the year, but what can you do. Back in the day, Black Swan would've been my choice, but now it's Toy Story 3 - Pixar's best, with only the first, humanless half of WALL·E providing strong competition.
P.S. I wonder if Debra Granik's next film, which will obviously be the remake of Rust and Bone, will also get a Best Picture nomination.
2) 2005: Brokeback Mountain - Capote - Crash - Good Night, and Good Luck. - Munich
Yes, clearly the worst nominee won, but at least it has Sandra Bullock yelling "I'm angry all the time and I don't know why!", which is - and I truly mean it - a pretty great quote. The rest of the group consists of three very good films and one great film - Capote.
1) 2007: Atonement - Juno - Michael Clayton - No Country for Old Men - There Will Be Blood
No contest, really. This is the only year when even the weakest nominee - Juno - is quite a good movie, despite the occasionally overcooked dialogue. And even though my vote wouldn't go to No Country, it's still my favorite winner in this category since The Silence of the Lambs, and one of the all-time bests.
My five favorite nominees of the 21st century: Lost in Translation, Capote, The Hours, There Will Be Blood, Sideways.
My five least favorite (i.e. they all suck big time): War Horse, Slumdog Millionaire, Finding Neverland, The Blind Side and... let's say The Descendants, because it was just so half-assed in almost every possible way.