Hindsight is 20/20, and when it comes to the Academy Awards, often times the winners are just in the right place at the right time. Obviously the films, actors/actresses, and technical wizards who walk away with the Oscar are more than deserving of recognition. But were they the BEST? How long after February do the winning films remain in the global conversation? Let’s take a look at the Oscars from 2011 to 2016 and discuss what did win and what probably should have won.
83rd Academy Awards (2011)
What Did Win: The King’s Speech
Despite featuring excellent performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and solid direction from Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech reeked of the kind of “prestige picture” obviousness that has seemed to hamper films like The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything in recent years. The King’s Speech isn’t a bad film, but it was obviously leaning heavily toward older Academy voters.
What Should Have Won: The Social Network
The opening scene alone should have been enough to clench the Oscar for David Fincher’s searing and voyeuristic take on the creation of Facebook. The Social Network combined Fincher’s steady hand with a rapid-fire script from Aaron Sorkin that, yes, took liberties with accuracy in order to tell a greater truth about internet culture and its underlying nastiness.
84th Academy Awards (2012)
What Did Win: The Artist
I enjoyed The Artist, but its gimmick, a throwback to silent-era Hollywood and the dawn of sound recording, has lost its luster. Everybody knows that Hollywood loves to indulge in its own nostalgia, but if the Academy needed to remind itself of its own place in history, why not pick a film like Hugo?
What Should Have Won: The Tree of Life
Critics and audiences didn’t initially know what to make of Terrence Malick’s epic poem of a film, other than the fact that it was confusing and chaotic. But therein lies the beauty — The Tree of Life attempts, mostly successfully (with the exception of a couple of poorly-rendered CGI dinosaurs), to contrast the incredibly intimate moments of humanity with the awe-inspiring vastness of the cosmos and the creation of life itself. The Tree of Life has in recent years been reconsidered as a masterpiece, and rightfully so.
85th Academy Awards (2013)
What Did Win: Argo
Another example of Hollywood celebrating its own ingenuity — remember that time the magic of movies got hostages out of Iran?? I like Ben Affleck’s directorial efforts, they’re all solid and well crafted. But was Argo really worthy of Best Picture? I don’t think so, I’m sorry. If the only thing people remember from your film is the expression “Argo F*ck Yourself”, you haven’t made a movie worthy of Best Picture.
What Should Have Won: The Master
Two exceptional performances by Joaquin Phoenix and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman turned Paul Thomas Anderson’s exploration of the power of fanaticism into a tour de force. Beautifully shot, acted, directed, and scored by Radiohead’s resident powerhouse Jonny Greenwood, The Master is another film that, in retrospect, simply cannot be ignored. It’s too good.
86th Academy Awards (2014)
What Did Win: 12 Years A Slave
12 Years A Slave is a very difficult film to watch, as it is unrelenting in its portrayal of slavery. But these kinds of stories simply need to be told and given the recognition that they deserve, and if the last couple of years of racial unrest have taught our country anything, it’s that we cannot run from our own history. We have to acknowledge it and try to do better.
What Should Have Won: 12 Years A Slave
Sometimes the Academy gets it right.
But Special Recognition: Inside Llewyn Davis
I love this film. I love the Coen Brothers, I love Oscar Isaac, I love the music, and I love the smokey atmosphere. Inside Llewyn Davis effortlessly recreates a time and place where artistic expression, integrity, folklore, and the reality of the music industry all intersect. Llewyn Davis may not be the artist he thinks he is, but the Coen Brothers have definitely proven themselves to be two of the most prolific artists of the last 30 years.
87th Academy Awards (2015)
What Did Win: Birdman
Do you see a pattern starting to develop here? Hollywood loves stories about artists and celebrity. Birdman‘s undeniably well-crafted and ambitious, particularly in the way it disguises its cuts and gives the impression of one seamless take, but its technical wizardry is eclipsed many times over by the film that should have won.
What Should Have Won: Boyhood
Richard Linklater began production on this little diddy in 2002 and continued to work on it until its release in 2014, making film history. Boyhood isn’t a story with unexpected plot twists or action set pieces, but you get to watch this family grow up and evolve and change the way that most families actually do. Plus, you get to watch the main character literally bloom into a mature young man who still has his whole life ahead of him. It’s touching and unlike anything we’d seen before.
88th Academy Awards (2016)
What Did Win: Spotlight
Spotlight‘s fine. I like to think of it as the cinematic equivalent of very very dry turkey. It’s got everything that you technically need, from solid performances to a compelling investigation with twists and turns. So why does it all feel so… meh? It was good, but gimme a little gravy to go with my turkey, y’know?
What Should Have Won: Mad Max: Fury Road
I mean… I didn’t even have to say it, right? Witness it.
Truly, there is no one Best Picture in any given year. Hundreds of artists work tirelessly to bring visions to life, and film as a whole should be celebrated. What films do you think should be on this list? Let us know on Twitter @Smosh!