With the Oscars right around the corner, there’s a lot of talk about cinema, and the best films of the year. To give you context,
Variety has a great write-up of the coveted Best Picture winners going back all the way to the beginning of the Oscars, in 1929.
For this article, we’ll be revisiting their list going back 25 years, to Titanic in 1997. We were surprised to have our memory jogged on a number of these, and to add some must-sees to our list.
2021 – CODA
The win for “CODA” broke multiple Oscar rules. It is the first best pic winner from a streaming service (Apple); it was considered an extreme longshot, with only three nominations (and no nom for the director, Sian Heder); and it didn’t land an editing bid, which many pundits consider a surefire clue to the eventual winner. “CODA” won all three of its nominations: picture, adapted screenplay (by Heder) and supporting actor (Troy Kotsur, who gave the evening’s most moving speech). The film’s Cinderella story began at Sundance in January 2021, where Apple paid $25 million for it. The win makes “CODA” the first streaming-service film to take Oscars’ top prize. When Apple debuted “CODA” in fall 2021, Variety said it was the year’s most radical film, since it centered on a deaf family, which Hollywood had never depicted. It became the second consecutive BP winner directed by a woman, after Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland.” As more voters saw the film after its SAG ensemble win, they embraced its intelligence and open heart. After two years of COVID uncertainty, and worries about climate change, D.C. and Ukraine, it was cathartic to see a movie that made people laugh and cry.
2020 – Nomadland
2020 Best Picture Winner
In a year of COVID and minimal moviegoing, Oscar races seemed more unpredictable than ever. But Searchlight’s “Nomadland” was able to maintain its frontrunner status for six months, no easy feat. Voters responded to its warmth, the scenic beauty of the U.S. Southwest and its sympathetic look at displaced individuals who live in their vehicles. The film took two other prizes: Chloé Zhao became the second woman and the first Asian American woman to win for directing, while Frances McDormand (also a producer) won her third best actress trophy.
Read the Original 2020 Film Review
2019 – Parasite
2019 Best Picture Winner
The win for “Parasite,” from writer-director Bong Joon Ho, was historic: For 91 years, the top prize has gone to a film primarily in English. This South Korean comedy-drama was the big winner of 2019, also taking prizes for original screenplay, director and international film (the new name for the category formerly known as foreign-language film). When it won as international film, everyone presumed it would not be named best picture, but the reaction at the Dolby Theatre indicated that this was a surprising but popular choice.
Read the Original 2019 Film Review
2018 – Green Book
2018 Best Picture Winner
The online haters were relentless; nobody seemed to like “Green Book” except audiences — and awards voters. At the Oscar ceremony, it won three, including the top prize. Almost as important: It got the endorsement of longtime civil-rights activist Rep. John Lewis, who introduced a clip. The old-fashioned feel-good movie, set in 1962 and based on fact, is only the fifth movie to win best pic without its director being nominated.
Read the Original 2018 Film Review
2017 – The Shape of Water
2017 Best Picture Winner
Fox Searchlight’s “The Shape of Water” centers on the 1962 romance between a mute janitor and an Amazonian fish-man. It’s an eccentric premise, but voters were swept away by the dreamlike visuals, the heart-on-your-sleeve emotions, and the subtle social commentary of the film. It was a tight Oscar race, but voters seemed happy to salute Guillermo del Toro, one of the best-liked and most respected artists working in film.
Read the Original 2017 Film Review
2016 – Moonlight
2016 Best Picture Winner
The “Moonlight” win was a record-breaker in Academy history: It was the first film with an all-black cast, with many black artists behind the camera, and was the first gay-themed film to take the top prize. It was also at the center of Oscar’s biggest snafu: Due to a mix-up in envelopes, Faye Dunaway announced “La La Land” as the winner, and it took a few minutes before the real “Moonlight” victory was announced.
Read the Original 2016 Film Review
2015 – Spotlight
2015 Best Picture Winner
The fact-based story, about a Boston newspaper team, won two Oscars, for film and screenplay (by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy). It marked the second consecutive win for a film starring Michael Keaton.
Read the Original 2015 Film Review
2014 – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
2014 Best Picture Winner
The film, about a faded star attempting a stage comeback, was technically dazzling, appearing to have been shot in one continuous take. Not everyone loved the Alejandro Inarritu-directed comedy-drama and some were mystified by the ending. But the people who liked it REALLY liked it.
Read the Original 2014 Film Review
2013 – 12 Years a Slave
2013 Best Picture Winner
The film about U.S. slavery was directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley, based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film earned an impressive $188 million worldwide, with 70% of that from outside the U.S. It earned three Oscars out of nine nominations and Brad Pitt was among the producers.
Read the Original 2013 Film Review
2012 – Argo
2012 Best Picture Winner
The film about the true-life rescue of hostages in Tehran, was directed by Ben Affleck; it became the first movie in 23 years to take top prize without a director nomination. It was also the fourth film in a decade with key scenes shot in Los Angeles. And it has one other major distinction: Variety plays an important role in a plot twist.
Read the Original 2012 Film Review
2011 – The Artist
2011 Best Picture Winner
This was yet another unlikely winner: a black-and-white film without dialogue, set in 1920s Hollywood, and made by French filmmakers. It was the first best picture Oscar winner to be set in the movie industry and only the second silent film, after original winner “Wings.”
Read the Original 2011 Film Review
2010 – The King’s Speech
2010 Best Picture Winner
The 2010 film was another unlikely subject matter: The king of England needs to eliminate his stutter. But it became a touching film about a man overcoming personal obstacles, family love, and friendship. Colin Firth’s acting, Tom Hooper’s direction, and David Seidler’s script all won Oscars and got huge ovations from the Oscar audience.
Read the Original 2010 Film Review
2009 – The Hurt Locker
2009 Best Picture Winner
The film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, beat out some tough competition, including the record-breaking “Avatar” — “Hurt Locker” earned $49 million at the global box office, the lowest-grossing film in Oscar history. But it has gained many fans and admirers over the years, and Bigelow became the first woman to win a directing Oscar.
Read the Original 2009 Film Review
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2008 Best Picture Winner
No foreign-language film has won best picture, but “Slumdog Millionaire” comes closest, since one-third of the dialogue is in Hindi. It’s also a rarity, since it centers around a TV show: India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
Read the Original 2008 Film Review
2007 – No Country for Old Men
2007 Best Picture Winner
The film, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, became the second consecutive bloody actioner to take the big prize. And it was the second winner in Oscar history directed by a duo: Joel and Ethan Coen (after the team from “West Side Story”).
Read the Original 2007 Film Review
2006 – The Departed
2006 Best Picture Winner
After five nominations as director, Martin Scorsese hit the jackpot with No. 6, winning one of the film’s four awards. It’s an Oscar rarity since it’s a remake, based on the 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller “Infernal Affairs.”
Read the Original 2006 Film Review
2005 – Crash
2005 Best Picture Winner
In the build-up to the Oscars, the gay western “Brokeback Mountain” had dominated the awards scene. But the Paul Haggis-directed “Crash” came out the big winner.
Read the Original 2005 Film Review
2004 – Million Dollar Baby
2004 Best Picture Winner
This was Clint Eastwood’s second big night at the Academy Awards, following “Unforgiven.” The tale of a woman boxer holds another distinction: In Oscar’s 77th ceremony, this became the first best picture winner set in Southern California.
Read the Original 2004 Film Review
2003 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2003 Best Picture Winner
Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, adapted from the J.R.R. Tolkien novels, earned billions at the B.O., the intense loyalty of fans, and industry admiration for the new technology introduced in the fantasy epic. It also became the third film to win 11 Oscars, after “Ben-Hur” and “Titanic” — and “LOTR” became the only one to sweep all its categories.
Read the Original 2003 Film Review
2002 – Chicago
2002 Best Picture Winner
Hollywood had circled around a movie adaptation of the stage musical since the 1970s, but director Rob Marshall and writer Bill Condon figured out how to make it work. They delivered a razzle-dazzle musical with wry observations about contemporary obsessions with scandal and celebrity.
Read the Original 2002 Film Review
2001 – A Beautiful Mind
2001 Best Picture Winner
It doesn’t sound like a surefire project: A biopic about a delusional math genius. But Russell Crowe turned in another great performance, and Oscars went to director Ron Howard, supporting actress Jennifer Connelly, and writer Akiva Goldsman, adapting Sylvia Nasar’s book about John Nash.
Read the Original 2001 Film Review
2000 – Gladiator
2000 Best Picture Winner
When the Ridley Scott-directed epic opened in May, audiences loved it, but few predicted it would be a best picture winner. But as the months wore on, Academy members clearly maintained their admiration for the film, the kind of intelligent spectacle that Hollywood does best.
Read the Original 2000 Film Review
1999 – American Beauty
1999 Best Picture Winner
The dramedy looked at all the dark longings beneath the sunny facade of U.S. suburbia.
Read the Original 1999 Film Review
1998 – Shakespeare in Love
1998 Best Picture Winner
It was a battle between Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and “Shakespeare in Love,” and many were stunned when the comedy won. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise: The film is a love letter to theater and acting, and the largest branch of the Academy is actors.
Read the Original 1998 Film Review
1997 – Titanic
1997 Best Picture Winner
When James Cameron was making his film, many in the industry predicted a gigantic disaster, since it was behind schedule, over budget, and everybody knew the ending. But when it opened, audiences turned it into the highest-grossing film of all time, and the Academy rewarded it with 11 Oscars, tying with “Ben-Hur” as the most winning films of all time.
Read the Original 1997 Film Review