All Best Picture Winners, Ranked: 2016 – 2022

2016: Moonlight [Haven’t Seen]

I need to get around to seeing this film; it features a number of actors I like, and it’s almost certainly better than the movie mistakenly announced as the year’s Best Picture, the dreary La La Land, a misguided attempt to breathe new life into the musical genre that makes the same mistake that put the genre on life support in the first place, e.g. casting non-singing, non-dancing actors. A dash of musical-talent charisma might have made the movie’s bland, narcissistic main characters halfway interesting, but alas, ’tis not so. (That this film got so much attention while the vastly superior In the Heights and West Side Story were ignored still has me a little salty.)

2017: The Shape of Water [Personal Favorite]

Dismissed by many as “that fish sex movie,” Guillermo del Toro’s historical fantasy about a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) who learns to communicate with an aquatic humanoid (Doug Jones) imprisoned in the lab where she works is one of the few romantic dramas to win Best Picture, and it’s my favorite of those few. I admit I’m a sucker for stories of two underdogs taking on the world, particularly with del Toro’s deft creative hand behind them.

2018: Green Book [Haven’t Seen]

As much as I admire Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, this one doesn’t feel like it’s for me. It gives me some distinct been-there-done-that vibes (Driving Miss Daisy, anyone?).

2019: Parasite [Good, but Not for Me]

This pitch-black comedy-drama about an impoverished Korean family tricking their way into a household of wealthy narcissists is brilliantly crafted and deeply disturbing. It accomplishes its goal and then some, shedding light on socioeconomic inequities and posing an uncomfortable question of its audience: to what lengths would you go in order to be safe? But it’s one of those movies I can admire yet not love. I have no issue with its win, since my favorite films of that year, The Farewell and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, were snubbed. But now that I’ve seen it, I never need to see it again.

2020: Nomadland [Good]

This slow-burning docudrama features Frances McDormand, one of the finest actresses working today, as a woman with no fixed abode, who moves from one place and low-level job to another, interacting with others who have chosen a similarly nomadic lifestyle. McDormand’s character is no victim driven to this way of life by harsh necessity. In fact, the best part of the movie is its refusal to judge her or her lifestyle; instead, we’re invited to make up our own minds. The movie’s biggest problem, the most likely reason this winner doesn’t have more vocal fans, is its episodic structure and lack of central conflict. But those looking for a fascinating slice of life should find much to enjoy here.

2021: CODA [Good]

This story of a “Child of Deaf Adults” (CODA), winningly played by Emilia Jones, torn between her longing to pursue her musical ambitions and her responsibility (as she sees it) to protect and care for her family was not my pick to win. I was rooting hard for Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story; had that film won, it would have earned God-Tier, or at least Personal Favorite. Still, CODA is solidly good, with a touching storyline, interesting and often likable characters, and strong performances all around. I understand complaints that nothing much about it stands out — my husband, though he enjoyed it, had issues with its predictability — but I do not agree with those who claim it had no business winning Best Picture because it’s a “feel-good movie,” as if that’s some sort of weakness, some sign of irrelevance or unintelligence. Should we really reserve the Best Picture Oscar for those movies that make us feel terrible? Surely not.

2022: Everything Everywhere All at Once [God-Tier]

Author Jorge Luis Borges would love Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s wild ride through a multiverse; it’s a veritable garden of forking paths, as its protagonist Evelyn (Best Actress winner Michelle Yeoh), a laundromat/dry-cleaner owner dissatisfied with her life and at odds with her daughter (the also excellent Stephanie Hsu). must confront a multitude of roads not taken and the various forms taken not only by her daughter but also her husband (Best Supporting Actor winner Ke Huy Quan), whose love is the one thing constant in every ‘verse she visits. This movie could so easily have misfired and left us talking about it as yet another example of shine over substance, of trickery replacing solid storytelling. Yet the screenplay, also the work of “the Daniels,” takes the time to develop the story’s characters and their relationships, grounding the bizarre affair in humanity and warmth. Weary, confused, but strong-willed Evelyn, in some worlds an action heroine and in others simply a loving, frightened mom out of her depth, provides the vital emotional core. If she isn’t my favorite live-action female protagonist of the past twenty years, she is certainly in the top five. And oh, yeah, Jamie Lee Curtis delivers the performance of a lifetime, earning her a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

What will 2023 have in store? I’ve already seen one excellent film — Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret — and I’m eager to see what’s next.


All Best Picture Winners, Ranked: 2010 – 2015

2010: The King’s Speech [Personal Favorite]

This British period piece is the most unpopular winner of the decade. Its detractors, most of them massive fans of David Fincher’s very contemporary, very American drama The Social Network, claim its victory serves as a sign that Academy voters are hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch. They’re not far wrong — Academy voters can indeed be pretty darn out of touch — but I would argue that what it really reveals is the problematic nature of the Best Picture award itself, that two such different films — one a humanistic historical drama about a friendship that transcends the class divide, the other an edgy, cynical expose’ of humans’ appetite for exploitation and tendency toward betrayal — should be judged against each other when each film succeeds brilliantly in what it sets out to do. It all comes down to what flavor you’re hungry for, and I will always gravitate toward a smart, well-crafted heartwarming film, particularly one which features strong performances from Colin Firth (as King George VI), Geoffrey Rush (as speech therapist Lionel Logue), Helena Bonham Carter (as George’s loyal, loving Queen), Guy Pearce (as his feckless older brother Edward, who surrenders his throne to marry Nazi sympathizer Wallis Simpson), and Michael Gambon (as the exacting George V).

Perhaps the Academy voters took the criticisms to heart, as this marks the last victory (so far) for a British period drama. This Masterpiece Theatre fan blinks the mist from her eyes.

2011: The Artist [Good]

The first silent film since 1927’s Wings to win Best Picture, this one has met with some backlash as well, yet I find it an effective depiction of Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound movies and its displacement of one-time matinee idols like George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), the darker side of my beloved Singin’ in the Rain. Unlike John Gilbert, the silent star on whom he may have been based, George manages to struggle to an eventual happy ending, once he’s been humbled and learned to adapt. Yet, having seen in the film itself how effective silent drama can be, we feel a sense of loss just the same.

2012: Argo [Good]

The first big news story I can remember following, the Iranian Islamic Revolution and the taking of American hostages, forms the backdrop of this taut nail-biter, which tells the story of six Americans who escaped the U.S. embassy in Iran and took refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home, and the successful rescue mission mounted by the CIA’s Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed). Affleck is among those actors whose real-life behavior I find off-putting, but this film nonetheless shines an intriguing light on a piece of little-known history. Even though I knew the fate of the six escapees going in, I found myself worrying about them every step of the way. Affleck’s performance is serviceable, but the cast is full of performers who disappear into their featured or minor roles, adding to the film’s realistic you-are-there feel. Alan Arkin is here as well, awesome as usual. And John Goodman (at the time) made an excellent John Chambers, the make up whiz of Hollywood.

2013: Twelve Years a Slave [Good]

Chiwetel Ejeofor is an insufficiently acknowledged treasure, an intently charismatic actor equally at home in blockbusters (his performance was pretty much the only thing I liked about Doctor Strange) and serious dramas. Here he brings his energy and power to the role of Solomon Northrup, an African-American New Yorker kidnapped, taken south, and sold into slavery. Even the ultimately happy ending, in which Northrup regains his freedom, can’t soft-pedal the brutality and degradation he is forced to endure; this film is not an easy watch, nor should it be. Yet tough meat is often the most nourishing. The movie boasts strong performances not only from Ejeofor but from Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson (as an especially despicable pair of slaveholders) and Lupita Nyong’o (who won Best Supporting Actress for her turn as Northrup’s fellow slave Patsey, a sexually exploited girl fighting for every scrap of dignity).

2014: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance [Good, but Not for Everyone]

Alejandro G. Inarritu’s backstage drama centering on a disaffected actor (Michael Keaton in an inspired bit of casting) who made his name playing a superhero but now hopes to stage a comeback on the “legitimate stage” made a strong impression on me when I first saw it, with solid performances from all involved. Yet while I still remember it as an interesting, incisive look into the world of theater and the acting profession, there were points at which I wasn’t sure where my sympathies were meant to lie, most of them involving female characters. Keaton’s performance provides a strong anchor for the film, but a specific scene involving one of his co-stars, played by Naomi Watts, leaves a sour aftertaste in my mouth. Trigger warning for sexual assault.

2015: Spotlight [Good]

This film’s victory represents a triumph of competence, the first word that comes to mind when I think of it. Its parts combine into a well-oiled machine, particularly its screenplay, which tells the story of a team of journalists’ exposure of sexual abuse and corruption in Boston’s Catholic Church, and its performances. (Michael Keaton is here again, in a less flashy but still solid turn.) It doesn’t quite have the oomph that might make it a favorite frequent watch of mine, but those looking for a serious workplace drama with a minimum of personal distractions could do far worse than this film.