As much as the people who handle the marketing for the Academy Awards would like to present the honor as an artistic one, its not entirely true. Arguably, that’s what their Governors Awards are for, but the true rewards of receiving an Oscar come in the form of funding. It’s essentially a great PR boost and that shouldn’t be looked down on or considered any less important than any honors in artistic accomplishment and technical skill. Martin Scorsese secured money for towering, radical masterworks like The Wolf of Wall Street and Silence because of the Oscar love for one of his least ambitious works, The Departed. The late Jonathan Demme’s wins for his own masterpieces, Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs, allowed him to continue a career defined by audacity in form and subject matter. The same could be said of Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater, and a number of other filmmakers that have defined the best of American filmmaking over the last few decades.
And yet, for those who have been and likely always will be drunk on the movies, it’s an impossible task to not feel that the Oscars should be a reflection of the state of cinema in America, reserved for movies that are fearless, unique, and overflowing with political and philosophical ideas. In rare cases, such as with The Best Years of Our Lives or The Hurt Locker, the distance between the artistic merits of the year’s Best Picture winner and its polished reflection of what Academy members want to be seen as caring most about is not that far. To bolster a movie about the startling psychological damage and fatalistic pull of war at a time when the public is exhausted with the Iraq War makes the governing body look smart and serious while also celebrating an artist as thoughtful and excessively talented as Kathryn Bigelow. Most of the time, however, the divide is much greater.
To separate the great from the good and the good from the bad, I have ranked every single Oscar winner for Best Picture and plan to update it on an annual basis. If you just can’t stand the numbers here, sound off in the comments.