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.