A Subjective Ranking Of The Past Decade's Best Picture Rosters

Sometimes the Oscars have "No Country for Old Men," other times they have "Avatar."
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen pose with Martin Scorsese after winning Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for 2007's "No Cou
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen pose with Martin Scorsese after winning Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for 2007's "No Country for Old Men."

If you pull yourself away from the illusion of Oscar prestige, you'll probably agree there's a bad seed in almost any Best Picture crop. Sometimes multiple! In fact, upon scrolling through Best Picture rosters of yore, you'll probably land on some that are just one big case of "Yikes." So let's talk about it. 

We're days away from crowning the 88th Best Picture winner, so I decided to rank the past decade's collective nominees. In looking at each year's list, it's pretty easy to deem any given set a victory or a bust. In some ways, it's not even the Academy's fault -- certain years' slates are just superior. And because movies often feel dated even one year after they've opened, it's worth considering how the past 10 years' Hollywood superlatives have fared.

I could pretend this list has a semblance of objectivity. (To be fair, I did put a lot of value in these movies' overarching cultural stature when debating their retrospective quality.) But, really, I am one mere movie fan, and these are my opinions. You can argue with them. You should argue with them! But they're pretty accurate, so good luck. In ascending order of quality, here is a ranking of the past 10 years' Best Picture inventories. 

  • 10 2012
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"The Artist," "The Descendants," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Hugo," "
    Fox/DreamWorks/Weinstein/Sony/Columbia/Warner Bros/Paramount
    Nominees: "The Artist," "The Descendants," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball," "The Tree of Life" and "War Horse"

    This roll call is like a battle royale of forgettable and/or subpar movies. The FBI should scrutinize how the treacly "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" or the bland "War Horse" made the list -- they are two of the Academy's worst choices in history. In fact, there's not one movie here that would have been a remarkable Best Picture victor, even though "Midnight in Paris" plays better with repeat viewings and even though you still slap yourself for blubbering every time "The Help" is on TNT. We should have known "The Artist," a charming silent film whose win now feels cute, wouldn't endure. When's the last time you thought about Jean Dujardin or Bérénice Bejo? And for that matter, when's the last time you said, "Tonight, we're watching 'Moneyball'" or "You know what? I have 130 minutes and a rippling desire to see the birth of the universe as told by Terrence Malick"?
  • 9 2009
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader" and "Slumdog Milli
    Focus Features/Weinstein/Fox/Paramount/Universal
    Nominees: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader" and "Slumdog Millionaire"

    If you adore "Slumdog Millionaire," I am sorry to jai-ho all over your parade. It is the Best Picture underdog story of the decade, but its bombast is also just an antidote to the stifling Oscar bait seen in "The Reader" and the interminable gimmicks in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I will wager that "Frost/Nixon" never got enough respect outside of the Oscar conversation, but there's no doubt that "Milk" is the only one of these titles that holds much weight today.
  • 8 2010
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"Avatar," "The Blind Side," "District 9," "An Education," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious,"
    Summit/Disney/Fox/Weinstein/Paramount/Lionsgate/Warner Bros/Sony/Focus Features/Tristar
    Nominees: "Avatar," "The Blind Side," "District 9," "An Education," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious," "A Serious Man," "Up" and "Up in the Air"

    My apologies to "Up," "A Serious Man" and "Inglourious Basterds" -- you are casualties of an unsatisfactory Oscar contest. (It's worth noting this was the first year the Academy expanded the Best Picture ballot beyond five nominees.) Yes, "Avatar" made enough cash to fill several habitable moons. But does anyone actually like -- not admire its expensive visuals, but really, truly like -- "Avatar"? It was bested by the overblown war-is-a-drug metaphors of "The Hurt Locker" while somehow sharing a category with the syrupy "Blind Side," the overhyped "Precious" (no offense, Mo'Nique) and the mildly entertaining "District 9," whose inclusion was basically the Academy's way of desperately hollering, "See, we like sci-fi blockbusters too!"
  • 7 2015
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"American Sniper," "Birdman," "Boyhood," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Imitation Game," "S
    IFC/Paramount/Fox/Weinstein/Universal/Sony/Warner Bros
    Nominees: "American Sniper," "Birdman," "Boyhood," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Imitation Game," "Selma," "The Theory of Everything" and "Whiplash"

    Here's where things start to get better. Let's ignore the lukewarm twin biopics about British wunderkinds, except as an introduction to Eddie Redmayne's relentless charm. Instead, we'll remember a movie that took 12 years to make ("Boyhood"), one that appears to unfold in a continuous loop ("Birdman"), Clint Eastwood's politically charged box-office behemoth ("American Sniper," for better or worse) and an accomplished historical drama that launched a much-needed conversation about diversity in Hollywood ("Selma"). Each movie on this list will find its niche of detractors, but much like J.K. Simmons' "Whiplash" pupils, you'd have to swerve to miss the impact of their collective power. I still hope to encounter a "Grand Budapest"-style lobby boy anytime I enter a hotel.
  • 6 2016
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Rev
    Open Road/Fox/Paramount/A24/Warner Bros/DreamWorks
    Nominees: "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Room" and "Spotlight"

    Hey, this year's list isn't bad! If, like me, you're dreading the possibility of a "Revenant" win, you can find refuge in the fact that the other seven movies have a lot of merit. Just to see a noisy May release like "Mad Max: Fury Road" -- a cerebral thunderstorm disguised as a populist blockbuster -- drive all the way to the Oscar race is refreshing. In fact, that seems to be a theme of 2016's nominees: populism meets scholarship. See also: the Catholic Church being burned at the stake in the unfussy "Spotlight," the 2008 financial crisis getting the freshman intro-course treatment in "The Big Short," a modest immigrant story becoming a testament to identity in "Brooklyn," and lofty Mars survival rendered fun and approachable in "The Martian." We will rewatch these movies in the years to come. Will we rewatch Leo snuggle up with a horse carcass? Well, at least he'll have his Oscar.
  • 5 2007
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"Babel," "The Departed," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine" and 'The Queen"<br><
    Miramax/Fox/Warner Bros/DreamWorks/Paramount
    Nominees: "Babel," "The Departed," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine" and 'The Queen"

    Let's not pretend any of us have spent much time revisiting "Letters from Iwo Jima." Let's also not pretend that matters. Between Martin Scorsese's illustrious Best Director win for "The Departed," Helen Mirren's star-confirming turn in "The Queen" and the runaway success of "Little Miss Sunshine" (plus the pretentious languor of "Babel," if that's your thing), 2007's Oscar race gave us at least three movies that are rightfully etched into the zeitgeist. Three out of five is a lot! I'm misty-eyed just thinking of Dame Helen staring at that stag.
  • 4 2014
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "
    Warner Bros/Weinstein/Columbia/Paramount/Fox/Focus Features
    Nominees: "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "Her," "Nebraska," "Philomena" and "The Wolf of Wall Street"

    So, look. "12 Years a Slave" is a masterpiece. It's one of the most deserving Best Picture champions in the Oscar annals. The rest of 2014's category comprises great movies that don't measure up, and that's just fine. "American Hustle" is an unholy mess, but it has Amy Adams in '70s goddess mode. The visuals of "Gravity" will never not be impressive, no matter its story's flaws. "I am the captain now" may be the decade's most quotable movie line. And just because "Her" seems more prescient with each passing day doesn't reduce its sense of imagination. This is the year where senior citizens like Judi Dench ("Philomena") and Bruce Dern ("Nebraska") nearly outshined the McConaissance ("Dallas Buyers Club") and what was probably the last time Leo ever had to feign a graceful-loser face ("The Wolf of Wall Street"). And amid all the splendor, we still have "12 Years a Slave." Cheers to that.
  • 3 2013
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"Amour," "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Les Mis&eacute;rables,"
    Weinstein/Warner Bros/Fox/Sony/DreamWorks/Universal/Columbia
    Nominees: "Amour," "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Les Misérables," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty"

    2013 has everything. Wartime sing-alongs! Global politics! American history! Old love! Young love! Blood-soaked Western love! Existential bonds with computer-generated tigers! I mean, this is the year that gave us Quvenzhané Wallis' puppy purses in celebration of one of the most original movies about the human spirit ever made. I'd argue "Les Misérables" is the group's obvious weak spot (you guys, it's a disaster), but look at what redeems it: Steven Spielberg's finest movie in years ("Lincoln"), the searingly detailed "Zero Dark Thirty" (Jessica Chastain was robbed) and the heartbreak of "Amour." You can claim no one really talks about "Argo" anymore, but it's a taut thriller unto itself, one that reignited our respect for pre-Batman Ben Affleck. Every single one of these movies has maintained at least a shard of cultural significance. There was a time when love was blind.
  • 2 2011
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"127 Hours," "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's
    Weinstein/Fox/Focus Features/Warner Bros/Disney/Paramount/Roadside/Columbia
    Nominees: "127 Hours," "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit" and "Winter's Bone"

    Forget, for just a second, that "The King's Speech" won. Forget because "The King's Speech" is not a bad movie and you wouldn't be agitated about it had "The Social Network" prevailed. Also forget because this list is crazy good. "True Grit" might not be your favorite Coen brothers flick, and "127 Hours" may feel like a relic from an era when James Franco was a real person, but most of these movies still have legs. It's like a tour of career highlights: Jennifer Lawrence's best performance ("Winter's Bone"), David O. Russell's best movie ("The Fighter"), Pixar's best sequel ("Toy Story 3"), Julianne Moore's most egregious snub (*The Kids Are All Right"), the most iconic score in recent film history ("Inception"), and the film that introduced us to otherworldly creatures named Rooney Mara and Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network"). You still love all of these movies! You probably still remember how hot Vincent Cassel's leering presence in "Black Swan" makes you, because you just rewatched it for the 13th time last week.
  • 1 2008
    <strong>Nominees:&nbsp;</strong>"Atonement," Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men" and 'There Will Be Blood"<br>
    Paramount/Fox/Focus Features/Warner Bros
    Nominees: "Atonement," Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men" and 'There Will Be Blood"

    More movies, more problems? It turns out the decade's best slate hails from a bygone era, before Best Picture suffered an identity crisis and decided bigger is better. If 2008's ceremony were our case study, we'd realize it's not necessarily better. Go ahead, marathon these five movies and tell me there's a misfire in the bunch. You can't! "Juno" doesn't hold the same significance now that every millennial in pop culture is obligated to be lost and precocious, and "Atonement" didn't catch the same cultural cachet as the Ian McEwan book it's based on. But no matter -- all five of these are infinitely rewatchable, and the holy trinity of "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood" and "Michael Clayton" alone is like a master class in contemporary filmmaking. We should be so lucky to see another collection of Best Picture nominees as timeless.

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