Top Ten Oscars of the 2000s

This is the time of the year when lots of people (most of them smarter than I) put out their best of the year lists. I always find this prospect daunting. It’s easy for me to say which is the best movie among five or ten Oscar nominees or which show was the best out of the Emmy nominees, but from a list of hundreds, it’s always very hard.

This year is particularly challenging because many are putting out their best of the 2000s list in film, theatre, music, and television. I would have no idea where to start on such a list when the options are endless. Therefore, I thought that instead of doing some traditional list, I would break down the four major award show winners by year and see how they really stand up, as many as ten years after they won. I plan on taking on the Tonys, Emmys and Grammys in the next few weeks, but I thought I would start by examining Oscar’s chosen few from the past decade.

Ten Best “Best Picture” winners of the 2000s

#10Crash (2006)
How did this win best picture again? Many believe that “Crash” upset “Brokeback Mountain” based on the homophobia that is said to be running through traditional Hollywood. When we look back on this film and stack it up just a mere three years after its release, its almost laughable at times. The dialogue (also an Oscar winner) comes across as forced and cheesy. The message of this film essentially boils down to this “sometimes people from different races don’t like each other, and that is bad.” “Crash” could almost be a run of the mill movie of the week with its forced sentimentality and sticky agenda. I think that for years, voters will look back on this as a huge mistake.

#9 – Slumdog Millionaire (2009)
It’s interesting how “Slumdog Millionaire” won pretty much every award in sight. It isn’t a traditional Oscar-type film, however, for a few months last year, voters were overtaken with this sweet little story. Now, a year later, I ask you, ”Will this movie hold up?” It beat superior films like “Milk” on pure cheese factor. I didn’t hate “Slumdog” but I also didn’t love it. In fact, I would venture to say that those who loved it last spring could probably look at it differently now. It simply doesn’t hold its own weight. Plus, there are so many damn holes in its contrived story. The big hole remains: How does the most popular “MILLLIIONNNAIIRE” in India sit unbothered and quiet in a train station after a major national event was televised earlier, staring said millionaire? Where to begin with the holes in this light-yet-enjoyable film.

#8 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004)
I sort of feel like the “Lord of the Rings 3” finally won their Oscar by default after losing their previous two bids. Many who love the LOTR franchise would argue that this isn’t the best of the three films. With its 11 or 12 different endings and its sappiness, this film was entirely too long. That being said, the film was probably the best of the year, in a year without heavy competition. However, stacked up against its brothers and sisters, it falls to the back of the decade.

#7 – Gladiator (2001)
I’m sorry but I can’t even say the name of this film without laughing, especially when thinking about poor Elizabeth Taylor trying to read it off the teleprompter at that year’s Golden Globes (YouTube it). Of course, I also think of the classic “Glad He Ate Her” but that’s another story. This film falls in the middle of the pack because it did what many epic sword movies can’t do—it entertained. With an Oscar-winning role by Russell Crowe at its center, this movie broke free with its genre and actually delivered a great popcorn and critical movie. Although I might have selected “Traffic” that year, “Gladiator” is good enough to fall at number 7. On a side note, the script on this thing was so damn bad…”I am vexed brother, vexed.”

#6 – A Beautiful Mind (2002)
This is the little movie that took down “The Lord of the Rings” and I was fairly happy about that. Although, I preferred “Gosford Park” and “In the Bedroom,” “A Beautiful Mind” was a nice film in a very good year. Lead by the Oscar-winning performance of Jennifer Connelly and the nominated performance of Russell Crowe, “A Beautiful Mind” has sort of stood the test of time. I recently rewatched it and it still stands on its good story telling and interesting direction. That being said, if you know anything about John Nash or his story, you know that there are lots of liberties taken within the script. However, it still stands as a good movie in a decade of many great ones.

#5 – The Departed (2007)
So this was the movie that was never supposed to win “Best Picture.” First off, it came out in the early fall of 2006. It was extremely violent and was a remake of an older Asian film. However, as big films came and went throughout the fall, “The Departed” still stood tall. It also has the distinction of being the film that FINALLY won Martin Scorsese his Academy Award for best director. The film appears fairly high on this list because it is still so damn enjoyable. I watched it a few weeks back and it still is just as sharp and witty as the first time I saw it. In fact, it’s one of those films that I could watch many times and enjoy it over and over. That’s the sign of a great movie.

#4 – Million Dollar Baby (2005)
Most everyone knows that I don’t always drink the Clint Eastwood Kool-Aid. I didn’t really support “Gran Torino” and I laugh at every single preview for “Invictus.” That being said, he got me good in 2004. Remember when this film came out and nobody really knew what it was about? We all sort of bought the PR that made us think it was some sort of coming-of-age boxing movie. Of course, once you actually saw the film, you knew exactly what it was about. It is one of the only movies where I have actually seen grown, presumably straight males cry and scream “NO” at the screen. It brought Morgan Freeman his elusive Oscar and gave Hillary Swank another chance to walk up to the podium. Some of it may seem silly, but the truth is, this film stays in your gut more than just about any recent film.

#3 – Chicago (2003)
I wasn’t a huge “Moulin Rogue” fan and therefore went into “Chicago” with serious reservations. All that went right out the window the minute the movie started. It is still one of the quickest-moving movies I can remember. With its fantastic casting and editing, director Rob Marshall created the best musical since “Cabaret.” A feat that he has tried to match since and hasn’t had any success yet. Oscar winner Catherine Zeta Jones steals the show from other talented nominees including Renee Zellwegger, John C. Riley, and Queen Latifah. It is perhaps the most fun movie of the decade and set the gold standard for movie musicals.

#2 – American Beauty (2000)
I remember seeing “American Beauty” my freshman year in college and really feeling like the film spoke to me and who I was. I have no idea what that means now, but I wanted to make sure that everyone I knew actually saw “American Beauty.” In truth, it’s kind of shocking that the oldest film on this list actually represents the decade more than most others. The story of “American Beauty” is pretty simple. It actually just follows around a couple who are living a life that they can’t quite fit into. It has gorgeous visuals and haunting music. However, the stars of “American Beauty” remain the leads, Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and (should have won) Annette Benning. It is a story of greed, lost youth, dreams, drugs, domestic reality, and a whole lot of tragic fun.

#1 – No Country for Old Men (2008)
When looking over the list of the past ten years of Best Picture winners, it was easy to choose the bottom ones and even the top ones. However, it was a no-brainer to select the best of them all. “No Country for Old Men” is simply the finest winner of the decade and one of the best films released in the past twenty years or so. Joel and Ethan Cohen wrote and directed the film based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a pretty simple story. Man steals money. Man wants money. Man will kill for money. Man will die for money. However, the film is SO much more. It is an almost perfect film from its cinematography to its amazing script. However, what I remember most about this film is how many nights of sleep I lost after seeing it. Academy Award winner Javier Bardem created one of, if not THE, scariest villain(s) of all time. There’s no debate about right or wrong in this film. It simply is what it is, and that’s beautiful. The ending may have turned off many people, but they still can acknowledge what a fine film it is.

Like I said, I plan to look at the Grammys, Emmys, and Tonys within the next few weeks. It’s interesting because these articles always stir up debate. However, in this case, I think we can say that the 2000s were pretty good (not great) to us in film. That’s about all you can ask for.

Wayne Bell is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Masters Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.

[Original photo by cliff1066 via Flickr and Creative Commons 2.0.]