Ghosts of Oscars Past: How Do the Last 10 Best Picture Winners Hold Up?

     December 25, 2013


We’re in the thick of awards season now, when the top contenders in each race are vying for frontrunner status as we move closer to the Oscar nominations announcement.  However, while everyone is focused on the race at hand, we thought we’d take a look at the last decade of Best Picture winners to see if they’ve stood the test of time.  Is the “best” film of 2005 still considered one of the best films of the past ten years?  Hit the jump as we take a trip down memory lane for this special edition of Oscar Beat, Ghosts of Oscars Past.


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – 2003

Major Competition: Mystic River, Lost in Translation

Does It Hold Up?: Yes.  The capper in Peter Jackson’s excellent Lord of the Rings trilogy enjoyed a clean sweep at the Oscars, winning all 11 categories in which it was nominated.  While many view the Best Picture win as a win for the whole trilogy (it is one complete story, after all), it was still a warranted trophy, and the film and its companions are sure to go down as one of the great adaptations in cinematic history.


Million Dollar Baby – 2004

Major Competition: Sideways

Does It Hold Up?: Kind of.  Director Clint Eastwood was coming off some of his best reviews in years for 2003’s Mystic River so he had a lot of momentum coming into Million Dollar Baby.  The film’s emotional story struck a chord with Academy voters to the tune of awards for Best Picture, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor, but it’s not necessarily heralded as a classic just yet.  Controversy erupted over the pic’s mid-film twist, and some accused Eastwood of verging on saccharine, but it’s not as lambasted as some of the filmmaker’s subsequent works (ahem, J. Edgar).


Crash – 2005

Major Competition: Brokeback Mountain

Does It Hold Up?: No. 2005 has gone down as one of the most controversial years in Academy history as they had a chance to award the heavy favorite Brokeback Mountain, a homosexual love story, and instead surprised many by handing the Best Picture trophy to the interconnected, thematically empty Crash.  Writer/director Paul Haggis’ heat from Million Dollar Baby could have been a factor as well as the Academy’s lack of comfort with the homosexuality in Brokeback Mountain, but whatever the case you’d be hard pressed to find someone who names Crash as one of the best films of the past decade.  In fact, Film Comment named it the worst film ever to win Best Picture.


The Departed – 2006

Major Competition: Little Miss Sunshine

Does It Hold Up?: Yes.  After years of being neglected an Oscar for work ranging from Taxi Driver to Goodfellas to seemingly Academy-friendly fare like Gangs of New York and The Aviator, Martin Scorsese finally got his statue for what he intended to be a purely commercial picture.  Though it’s still a bit too early to tell whether The Departed will sit in the upper echelon of Scorsese’s filmography, the film remains as brutal, funny (the Alec Baldwin/Mark Wahlberg banter is gold), and entertaining today as it was seven years ago.


No Country for Old Men – 2007

Major Competition: There Will Be Blood

Does It Hold Up?: Hell yes.  Arguably the first big “future classic” on this list, Joel and Ethan Coen tried something completely different for their 2007 outing, and the result was a rich, darkly complex drama.  No Country stands as one of the Coen Brothers’ best in a filmography filled with gems, and it has aged remarkably well in the ensuing years.  The film faced stiff competition in the Best Picture category by way of Paul Thomas Anderson’s excellent There Will Be Blood, but the win for No Country was a statement from the Academy itself: it was awarding its highest honor to a difficult and very, very dark film. Unfortunately that realm of thinking didn’t take root, as they turned towards more fluffy, sentimental films in subsequent years.

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