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The Trophy Hunter: Ranking the 21st century Best Picture winners, part 1

| Thursday, February 25, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

We’re in the doldrums of 2021’s award season; this weekend’s Golden Globes will set the template for the rest of the long run leading up to April’s Academy Awards. In the coming weeks, the Trophy Hunter will have plenty to say about this year’s film awards. For now, though, I’m content to rank the good, the bad and the ugly of this century’s Best Picture winners.

20. ‘Crash’ (2005)

Perhaps THE standard-bearer for head-scratching Best Picture winners over the last 20 years, “Crash’s” mix of mealy-mouthed platitudes and phoned-in performances makes it an unworthy (Or is it worthy?) entrant in the ignoble lineage of racially-minded Oscar winners.

19. ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010)

I’ll try my best to avoid pointing to undeserving winners in this countdown, as virtually every Oscar ceremony has some categories that are baffling in hindsight. That being said, “The King’s Speech” over “The Social Network” is the closest thing the 21st century Oscars have to “How Green Was My Valley’s” victory over “Citizen Kane,” an indisputable masterpiece about an aloof, megalomaniacal kingpin being passed over in favor of a pastoral feel-good drama. The only difference? “How Green Was My Valley” is actually worth watching. 

18. ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (2001)

Giving Ron Howard a trophy here instead of the one he should have won for “Apollo 13” in 1995 is among the more palatable makeup Oscars in history. Nothing else about this movie is notable.

17. ‘Green Book’ (2018)

Peter Farrelly’s turn towards “prestige” bait is slightly (slightly!) better than its reputation, thanks to a typically powerful turn from Mahershala Ali and a script that occasionally earns its cliches.

16. ‘The Departed’ (2006)

Benefitting from a uniquely weak Best Picture slate and a long-overdue Martin Scorsese, this mouth-breathing Beantown gangster flick is Marty karaoke; by the time the first highball glass is thrown across a crowded bar, “The Departed” has worn out its welcome.

15. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2009)

Danny Boyle’s kinetic style and a star-making lead role from Dev Patel are the standouts from “Slumdog,” the last movie to win in the 2000s before the Academy expanded the Best Picture slate to 10 films.

14. ‘Spotlight’ (2015)

The kind of respectable, based-on-a-true-story fare that used to rule at the Oscars, “Spotlight” is easier to admire than it is to enjoy. Between this, “The Departed” and (I guess) an upcoming entry from Ben Affleck, Boston has had a great Best Picture run this century. (As always, I blame Tom Brady.)

13. & 12. ‘The Artist’ (2011), ‘Argo’ (2012)

When the Academy switched to a 10-nominee Best Picture field, the hope was that previously ignored blockbusters like “The Dark Knight” and “Wall-E” would be included in the running for Hollywood’s highest honor. With the exception of outliers like “Black Panther,” however, the expanded field has instead marked a return to middlebrow films catching the right narrative at the right time. Case in point — these back-to-back winners, both perfectly fine and perfectly forgettable.

11. ‘Birdman’ (2014)

More gimmick than genius, the first of Alejandro Innaritu’s consecutive Best Picture contenders rides on the back of a handful of winning performances. The film itself was awarded the Oscar that Michael Keaton should’ve won.

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