While "there’s no accounting for taste" is a cliché for a reason, when it comes to the Academy voters, there has been a lot of taste accounting done. But as film critic Mick LaSalle explained last year, some of the conventional wisdom around Best Picture prognosticating (epics, war movies, historical dramas, etc.) has changed since the voting process was tweaked in 2009. Before that point, there were five nominees, and the film that got the most votes (which could’ve been as low as 21%) would win—now there can be as many as 10 nominees and voters rank the films from first to last. Before 2009, big dumb movies that employed a lot of people tended to win (Best Picture is voted on by directors and actors, but also set designers, CGI people, etc.). Since 2009, smaller films have done much better, partly because people have strategically voted against front-runners, leading to several upsets (Argo over Lincoln, Spotlight over The Revenant, and Moonlight over La La Land).
But, even as voters have begun to move toward smaller, more transgressive films (and away from big boring “Oscar” films like Dances with Wolves), they still manage to get it wrong about as much as they get it right. So, we at Stacker decided to do some taste accounting of our own, and to join in on the best part of Oscar season: making the case for who really should have won. By using a Stacker Score that incorporates IMDb ratings and Rotten Tomatoes, we have re-picked the Best Picture for every Academy Awards since 1985. Each year’s real winner is the film with the highest score among the nominees (ties are broken by total number of IMDb votes). So let’s go grab Little Gold Men from the La La Lands of years past and hand them to the films that really should have won the biggest award of them all...
Actual winner: Amadeus
Repicked Winner: Amadeus (Stacker Score: 89.00; IMDb rating: 8.3; Tomatometer: 95%)
Other nominees: The Killing Fields (86.00), Places in the Heart (84.50), A Soldier's Story (80.50), A Passage to India (79.50)
Hollywood’s 1984 was an absolute beast when it came to blockbuster hits. The year in movies gave us The Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, The Terminator, Gremlins, an Indiana Jones and Splash (the original fish-love epic). It also gave us a wonderful, informative, wildly fun epic about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and his rival, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). This year, Hollywood was winning at the box office, and the Academy was spot on at its awards show too.
Actual winner: Out of Africa
Repicked winner: Witness (Stacker Score: 83.00; IMDb rating: 7.4; Tomatometer: 92%)
Other nominees: The Color Purple (83.00), Kiss of the Spider Woman (81.00), Prizzi's Honor (78.00), Out of Africa (64.50)
This is where things start to get tricky with re-picking awards. By no means, all other factors aside, should Out of Africa, a mess of a colonial love story starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, have won Best Picture at the 1986 Academy Awards. But director Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie) entered the Awards season seeming like he absolutely should’ve won some Academy Awards already. Witness (a thriller starring Harrison Ford) and The Color Purple (Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Alice Walker novel starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey) are much better films, but it was Pollack’s time to be awarded in the Academy’s eyes. This is another case of right man, wrong movie, which is a classic Oscars issue.
Actual winner: Platoon
Repicked winner: A Room with a View (Stacker Score: 87.00; IMDb rating: 7.4; Tomatometer: 100%)
Other nominees: Hannah and Her Sisters (86.50), Platoon (84.50), Children of a Lesser God (76.50), The Mission (70.00)
This intellectual, witty and funny adaptation of E.M Forster’s novel could not be less like Oliver Stone’s Vietnam epic, Platoon, which actually won the 1987 Best Picture award. With A Room with a View, director James Ivory (who wrote this year’s Call Me By Your Name) offered his take on the British upper class during the early 20th Century. The result was consistently smart, perfectly acted (with an incredible debut by Helena Bonham Carter) and even pleasant to watch, which no one has ever said about an Oliver Stone film. Another point for Ivory: Unlike Stone, he has never made a four-hour love letter to Vladimir Putin.
Actual winner: The Last Emperor
Repicked winner: The Last Emperor (Stacker Score: 85.00; IMDb rating: 7.8; Tomatometer: 92%)
Other nominees: Broadcast News (85.00), Hope and Glory (84.00), Moonstruck (81.50), Fatal Attraction (73.50)
The Last Emperor is an epic through and through—a sweeping storyline with grand visuals and, of course, an imposing run-time. But Bernardo Bertolucci’s film, which follows the life of Pu-Yi, from his lavish childhood through the rise of the Red Army in China, is breathtaking enough to look and holds the viewer’s interest throughout. While the case can certainly be made for Albert Brooks’ classic Broadcast News—which actually tied The Last Emperor in its Stacker Score—this is assuredly not one of the great Oscar heists.
Actual winner: Rain Man
Repicked winner: Rain Man (Stacker Score: 84.50; IMDb rating: 8.0; Tomatometer: 89%)
Other nominees: Dangerous Liaisons (84.50), Mississippi Burning (83.50), Working Girl (76.00), The Accidental Tourist (74.00)
While all the Dangerous Liaisons-hive may argue (I see you out there, still shipping Malkovich/Pfeiffer), Rain Man rightfully won Best Picture in 1989. Director Barry Levinson’s film tells the story of a handsome jerk (Tom Cruise) who takes his estranged autistic brother (who also happens to be a savant) on a cross-country road-trip to try to get a piece of their father’s fortune. It is fast-paced, fun and heartbreaking at times. Tom Cruise is at absolute peak Cruise, and manages to make you hate, root against, root for, and then love him as the movie’s protagonist.
Actual winner: Driving Miss Daisy
Repicked winner: My Left Foot (Stacker Score: 88.00; IMDb rating: 7.9; Tomatometer: 97%)
Other nominees: Dead Poets Society (83.50), Born on the Fourth of July (81.00), Field of Dreams (80.50), Driving Miss Daisy (78.00)
Driving Miss Daisy is perfect Academy catnip. Two great actors—Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy—investigating a relationship over many, many years. But, then again, My Left Foot, the story of a difficult man with cerebral palsy who becomes an accomplished writer/painter using only his left foot, also checks a lot of Oscar voter boxes. The absolutely astounding performance by Daniel Day-Lewis turns a biopic we’ve seen before into something else entirely. Though Kevin Costner playing catch with his dad in Field of Dreams is a scene for the ages, My Left Foot deserved the Oscar this year.
Actual winner: Dances with Wolves
Repicked winner: Goodfellas (Stacker Score: 91.00; IMDb rating: 8.7; Tomatometer: 95%)
Other nominees: Awakenings (83.00), Dances with Wolves (81.00), Ghost (72.00), The Godfather: Part III (71.50)
Decisions like the one the Academy made in 1991 are why lists like this exist. At no point during Dances with Wolves—Kevin Costner’s bloated epic about a Union soldier assigned to Sioux land in South Dakota who falls for the Native American culture—does a character explain the optimal way to slice garlic. The film never gets close to the propulsive fun that runs through the entirety (at least until the helicopters show up) of Martin Scorsese's gangster masterpiece. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and every other gangster movie bitplayer are perfect in this film. No one has ever said, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be Kevin Costner with a bad mustache….”
Actual winner: The Silence of the Lambs
Repicked winner: The Silence of the Lambs (Stacker Score: 90.50; IMDb rating: 8.6; Tomatometer: 95%)
Other nominees: JFK (82.00), Bugsy (76.50), Beauty and the Beast (75.50), The Prince of Tides (70.00)
In many ways, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs never should have won an Oscar—horror movies don’t win Oscars, and February releases rarely receive awards. And yet, buoyed by legendary performances by Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, and up against a truly terrible slate of films, the murderous classic swept the Big 4 (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director). The only real controversy of the 1992 Awards is if Hopkins really deserved Best Actor when he was only seen on screen for 16 minutes. Winning a Little Golden Man for under 20 minutes of work? The knighted thespian is nothing if not efficient.
Actual winner: Unforgiven
Repicked winner: Unforgiven (Stacker Score: 89.00; IMDb rating: 8.2; Tomatometer: 96%)
Other nominees: Howards End (86.00), The Crying Game (85.00), Scent of a Woman (84.00), A Few Good Men (79.00)
Clint Eastwood’s magnificent Western manages to strip the genre of its varnish to create a brutal and beautiful film about the rough reality of the Wild West. Eastwood, Gene Hackman, and Morgan Freeman are all fantastic (Hackman won Best Supporting Actor and Eastwood Best Director). In the worst case of right man, wrong movie, Al Pacino won Best Actor over Eastwood, Denzel Washington, and Robert Downey Jr. The only downside of this masterpiece is that it means Eastwood can keep directing films forever—it’s frightening to imagine what comes next after The 15:17 to Paris.
Actual winner: Schindler’s List
Repicked winner: Schindler's List (Stacker Score: 93.00; IMDb rating: 8.9; Tomatometer: 97%)
Other nominees: The Remains of the Day (88.00), In the Name of the Father (87.50), The Fugitive (87.00), The Piano (83.00)
There was no question that Schindler’s List would win the Oscar this year. The heartbreaking yet humanity-affirming tale of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a greedy German businessman who eventually risks his life to save his Jewish workers from the Nazis was expertly directed by Steven Spielberg and populated with fantastic performances from Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and, of course, Neeson. And looking back, it’s clear that the story remains important today. Neeson has become everybody’s favorite Vengeful Action Dad, but hopefully, he has the opportunity to give another performance like this one.
Actual winner: Forrest Gump
Repicked winner: The Shawshank Redemption (Stacker Score: 92.00; IMDb rating: 9.3; Tomatometer: 91%)
Other nominees: Pulp Fiction (91.50), Quiz Show (85.50), Four Weddings and a Funeral (83.00), Forrest Gump (79.50)
The 1995 Academy Awards was an unfortunate perfect storm of Industry Favorites (Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis) mixed with Nostalgia Porn that almost guaranteed Forrest Gump this award. In retrospect, it’s amazing that the film that launched a thousand locations of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. beat out Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s endlessly rewatchable adaption of the Stephen King short story, or Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s electrifying, hilarious, inventive classic. Darabont gave us Morgan Freeman, and Tarantino brought John Travolta back from the dead—clearly one of them deserved this award.
Actual winner: Braveheart
Repicked winner: Sense and Sensibility (Stacker Score: 87.50; IMDb rating: 7.7; Tomatometer: 98%)
Other nominees: Apollo 13 (85.50), Il Postino (85.00), Babe (82.50), Braveheart (80.50)
Sense and Sensibility is the best Jane Austen adaptation to date, with a wonderful performance by Emma Thompson (who also wrote the film). The film manages to tell the story grandly, with elegant costumes, while keeping Austen’s wit throughout. But it was up against two truly gigantic films—the story of NASA’s fight to save a spaceship and the story of William Wallace’s Scottish rebellion. Braveheart won the award, and it seems likely Apollo 13 came in second—the Academy loves war and is entranced by space.
Actual winner: The English Patient
Repicked winner: Secrets & Lies (Stacker Score: 87.50; IMDb rating: 8.0; Tomatometer: 95%)
Other nominees: Fargo (87.00), Shine (84.00), The English Patient (79.00), Jerry Maguire (78.00)
There’s not a lot to remember about The English Patient—the World War II epic about an English burn victim with an oh-so-long story to tell. The film’s best moment came soon after the awards, when it appeared in a Seinfeld episode as the bane of Elaine’s existence. The English Patient winning this award was extra painful because Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, was a beautiful look at a complicated family, and Fargo, the Coen Brothers’ finest film, is a hilarious, engrossing, incredibly inventive story. This was an example of the Academy picking the film that felt like a Best Picture winner, rather than awarding the best film of the year.
Actual winner: Titanic
Repicked winner: L.A. Confidential (Stacker Score: 91.00; IMDb rating: 8.3; Tomatometer: 99%)
Other nominees: Good Will Hunting (90.00), The Full Monty (83.50), Titanic (83.00), As Good as It Gets (80.50)
It seems our revisionist understanding of James Cameron’s (spoiler-alert) sunken boat epic has finally jumped the shark. Sure, Titanic is long. Certainly, the Celine Dion soundtrack is a bit over the top. Without a doubt, Rose could’ve moved over and saved Jack. But for the Academy to award L.A. Confidential—the Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe 1950s LA noir film—over the film that broke every box office record and a million teenagers’ hearts would have been out of touch, even by the Oscar’s standards. To have it ranked under The Full Monty feels like Leonardo DiCaprio haters fudging the numbers.
Actual winner: Shakespeare in Love
Repicked winner: Saving Private Ryan (Stacker Score: 89.00; IMDb rating: 8.6; Tomatometer: 92%)
Other nominees: Life Is Beautiful (83.00), Shakespeare in Love (82.00), Elizabeth (78.50), The Thin Red Line (77.50)
Directed by John Madden (not the Master of the Telestrator), Shakespeare in Love is a perfectly fine romantic comedy (starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes) that got elevated to award-winning status because of its period setting. While Saving Private Ryan is a bit overrated, it’s probably because it so clearly should’ve won the Oscar in this underwhelming class of nominees. The gigantic Steven Spielberg-directed war epic—starring almost every approachable handsome white male in Hollywood (Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, etc.)—is beautifully shot and exciting, even if the igniting plot point is a bit flimsy. But putting the reality of saving a single private to relieve the suffering of a mother aside, this movie absolutely should have beaten out Shakespeare in Love for the 1999 award.
Actual winner: American Beauty
Repicked winner: The Insider (Stacker Score: 87.50; IMDb rating: 7.9; Tomatometer: 96%)
Other nominees: American Beauty (86.00), The Sixth Sense (83.00), The Green Mile (82.50), The Cider House Rules (72.50)
American Beauty—the darkly wry look at late-’90s suburban dread—was a mammoth debut by director Sam Mendes. Obviously, the recent revelations about Kevin Spacey’s misconduct have made the disturbingly funny film (in which Spacey falls for a high schooler) feel like something else. But aside from Spacey (who is fantastic in the role), Annette Bening also gives one of her best performances. By no means was this an outlandish Oscar snub, but The Insider—Michael Mann’s thriller that follows a cigarette company researcher (Russell Crowe) who decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” exposé (reported by Al Pacino)—absolutely would have been deserving of the award. Also, if you’re keeping score at home, this is the start of one of the greatest three-year runs in Oscar history for Crowe.
Actual winner: Gladiator
Repicked winner: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Stacker Score: 88.00; IMDb rating: 7.9; Tomatometer: 97%)
Other nominees: Traffic (84.00), Gladiator (80.50), Erin Brockovich (78.50), Chocolat (67.50)
It wasn’t shocking that Gladiator—the most traditionally Best Picture-y film in this class of nominees—took home the 2001 award. The epic story of a Roman general turned slave, turned revolutionary was expertly directed by Ridley Scott and features big-time performances by Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. But Ang Lee’s magical film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which tells of a stolen sword and a warrior’s love story in 19th-century China, was a much more inventive and difficult story-telling feat. Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, which weaved interlocking stories of drugs and the border together (and featured amazing performances from Michael Douglas, Benicio del Toro and Catherine Zeta-Jones), also had a real chance to win the award.
Actual winner: A Beautiful Mind
Repicked winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Stacker Score: 89.50; IMDb rating: 8.8; Tomatometer: 91%)
Other nominees: In the Bedroom (84.00), Gosford Park (79.50), A Beautiful Mind (78.50), Moulin Rouge! (76.00)
While A Beautiful Mind is by no means a perfect film, this is a good reminder of why the Academy exists in the first place. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films are perfectly fun, gigantically epic retellings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic masterpieces. But, no matter how pretty New Zealand looks in Jackson’s camera, this is not a Best Picture film (Liv Tyler plays an elf, for god’s sake!). Ron Howard’s biographical look at the life of mentally ill mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe) has some issues (missing pieces that complicate Nash’s history), but is a much weightier film than Jackson’s first LOTR.
Actual winner: Chicago
Repicked winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Stacker Score: 91.00; IMDb rating: 8.7; Tomatometer: 95%)
Other nominees: The Pianist (90.50), Chicago (79.00), The Hours (78.00), Gangs of New York (75.00)
All of the same points apply for Peter Jackson’s second Lord of the Rings entry—a fun, exciting film that is just not Best Picture-worthy. However, that doesn’t mean the actual winner, Chicago—the adaptation of the Broadway musical starring Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Renée Zellweger—was any more deserving. In reality, the dark, haunting Holocaust film, The Pianist, starring Adrien Brody as Polish composer Wladyslaw Szpilman and directed by Roman Polanski, probably deserved this year’s award.
Actual winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Repicked winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Stacker Score: 91.50; IMDb rating: 8.9; Tomatometer: 94%)
Other nominees: Lost in Translation (86.50), Mystic River (84.00), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (79.00), Seabiscuit (75.00)
Once again, it must be said, you just can’t give Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King a Best Picture Oscar. Obviously, this is a bit of a “Wow, you really made these three films in three years” award from the Academy—but the multiple endings alone should have disqualified this film. Also, a world where a LOTR film can win Best Picture is a world where a Star Wars or Marvel film can as well. Are you really ready for that reality? Sofia Coppola’s wonderfully lovely, morose Lost in Translation (which showcased the genius of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson (as well as Coppola and Spike Jonze’s unparalleled abilities to put characters portraying the other into films) was much more deserving of this award. Also, worth noting, Russell Crowe (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) starred in a Best Picture nominee four of the five years to start the 2000s, and five of seven between 1998 and 2004.
Actual winner: Million Dollar Baby
Repicked winner: Million Dollar Baby (Stacker Score: 86.00; IMDb rating: 8.1; Tomatometer: 91%)
Other nominees: Sideways (85.50), The Aviator (81.00), Finding Neverland (79.50), Ray (79.00)
Though sometimes overrun with cliché, as sports film tend to be, Million Dollar Baby reaches Best Picture heights because of incredible performances by Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. Clint Eastwood directed the film, and also stars as a gruff boxing trainer (which is not a stretch for the Brando of Gruff). Alexander Payne’s Sideways was good, but not quite consequential enough to earn the award, and The Aviator was inches away from great (but every inch matters when the room is filled with jars of urine).
Actual winner: Crash
Repicked winner: Good Night, and Good Luck (Stacker Score: 84.00; IMDb rating: 7.5; Tomatometer: 93%)
Other nominees: Brokeback Mountain (82.00), Capote (82.00), Crash (76.50), Munich (76.50)
Crash—the messy, sometimes boring Paul Haggis film—is regularly brought up as one of the Best Pictures the Academy wants back. The movie bucked a trend where unlike most Best Pictures, the film was not nominated for any Golden Globe best film categories, making it one of only two movies to do so. George Clooney’s overly on-the-nose look at the heroic stand Edward R. Murrow takes against McCarthyism was nominated in six Oscar categories, but took not a single one.
Actual winner: The Departed
Repicked winner: The Departed (Stacker Score: 88.00; IMDb rating: 8.5; Tomatometer: 91%)
Other nominees: Letters from Iwo Jima (85.00), The Queen (85.00), Little Miss Sunshine (84.50), Babel (72.00)
The Departed is an endlessly watchable cable movie, and probably did deserve the 2007 Academy Award. Martin Scorsese’s film tells the overlapping stories of a cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) that infiltrates a South Boston Irish mob and a gangster (Matt Damon) that infiltrates Boston’s police department. Jack Nicholson plays mob boss Frank Costello, who seems more than loosely based on actual crime boss Whitey Bulger. Always entertaining and overflowing with talented actors, this film still feels a bit odd as a Best Picture winner, mainly as it so clearly not even close to Scorsese’s finest work. It’s another example of right man, wrong movie, though in this case, none of the other nominees are more deserving.
Actual winner: No Country for Old Men
Repicked winner: No Country for Old Men (Stacker Score: 87.00; IMDb rating: 8.1; Tomatometer: 93%)
Other nominees: There Will Be Blood (86.00), Juno (84.50), Michael Clayton (81.50), Atonement (80.50)
2008 was an absolutely loaded Best Picture class. In almost any other year, There Will Be Blood—Paul Thomas Anderson’s oil baron epic starring the unmatchable Daniel Day-Lewis and a wonderfully creepy Paul Dano—would have won Best Picture. There’s a pretty good argument to be made that it should have won anyway. But the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is another absolutely unimpeachable film. Tommy Lee Jones plays an old sheriff confronting an evil he’d hoped to never see (Javier Bardem), while Josh Brolin tries to run for his life with the suitcase full of money that he’s found. Incredibly, both films were shot simultaneously in the small West Texas town of Marfa.
Actual winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Repicked winner: Slumdog Millionaire (Stacker Score: 86.00; IMDb rating: 8.0; Tomatometer: 92%)
Other nominees: Milk (85.00), Frost/Nixon (84.50), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (75.00), The Reader (69.00)
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire has no business working as well as it does. Framed around the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, the film shows how an orphan from the slums of Mumbai (Dev Patel) could know the answer to every question posed to him. Two important other notes on the 2009 Academy Awards: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one of the worst movies ever made by extremely capable actors and a great director; if There Will Be Blood had come out a year later, P.T. Anderson’s film would have won every single award.
Actual winner: The Hurt Locker
Repicked winner: Up (Stacker Score: 90.50; IMDb rating: 8.3; Tomatometer: 98%)
Other nominees: The Hurt Locker (86.50), Inglourious Basterds (85.50), District 9 (85.00), An Education (84.00), Up in the Air (82.50), Precious (82.00), Avatar (80.50), A Serious Man (80.00), The Blind Side (72.00)
In this field of nominees, populated with wonderfully entertaining romps (Inglourious Basterds), Pocahontas remakes (Avatar), fun weird sci-fi (District 9), and touching yet controversial sports movies (The Blind Side), it makes sense that Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq War epic won Best Picture. The film is incredibly intense, well acted (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Guy Pearce are all great), and impressively poignant commenting on an ongoing war. But, in a crowded year without a truly standout masterpiece, it should have been the Pixar animated film. Up is the only film in the field that can make even the Gruffest Brando laugh, smile and cry.
Actual winner: The King’s Speech
Repicked winner: Toy Story 3 (Stacker Score: 91.00; IMDb rating: 8.3; Tomatometer: 99%)
Other nominees: The King's Speech (87.50), Inception (87.00), The Social Network (86.50), True Grit (85.50), 127 Hours (84.50), The Fighter (84.00), Black Swan (83.00), Winter's Bone (83.00), The Kids Are All Right (81.50)
While The King’s Speech—which tells the story of Bertie, the unlikely new King of England, working with a speech therapist to overcome a stutter to give a much-needed rousing radio-address—was a bit of a meh Best Picture winner, it made perfect sense based on the Academy’s taste. Toy Story's third and final installment was a tear jerker, and could have been a hat tip to one of the most classic trilogies of the 21st century.
Actual winner: The Artist
Repicked winner: The Artist (Stacker Score: 87.50; IMDb rating: 7.9; Tomatometer: 96%)
Other nominees: Midnight in Paris (85.00), Moneyball (85.00), Hugo (84.50), The Descendants (81.00), The Help (78.00), The Tree of Life (76.00), War Horse (74.00), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (57.50)
The Artist is catnip for the Academy—it’s a period piece, overly stylized and reverential to the good ol’ days of Hollywood. The silent film is impressively made and does feature a truly great performance by a Jack Russell, but it simply feels too cute by half. In this field, there isn’t a clear snub (Midnight in Paris is incredibly fun, but also not quite serious enough to deserve the top honor).
Actual winner: Argo
Repicked winner: Argo (Stacker Score: 86.50; IMDb rating: 7.7; Tomatometer: 96%)
Other nominees: Amour (86.00), Django Unchained (85.50), Silver Linings Playbook (85.00), Life of Pi (83.00), Zero Dark Thirty (82.50), Lincoln (82.00), Beasts of the Southern Wild (79.50), Les Misérables (72.50)
Based on the fantastic Wired article by Joshuah Bearman, Argo tells the story of the CIA’s unlikely ploy to rescue six American hostages being held in Tehran. Ben Affleck does an impressive job directing and starring in the film, and Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman are all wonderful as the supporting cast. Argo is a deserving enough Best Picture winner, but was less affecting than Zero Dark Thirty, and much less inventive than Silver Linings Playbook. It was amazing that the tiny Beasts of the Southern Wild was even nominated, but at the same time, it was the most wonderful film of the year.
Actual winner: 12 Years a Slave
Repicked winner: 12 Years a Slave (Stacker Score: 88.50; IMDb rating: 8.1; Tomatometer: 96%)
Other nominees: Gravity (87.00), Her (87.00), Dallas Buyers Club (86.50), Captain Phillips (85.50), Nebraska (84.00), Philomena (84.00), American Hustle (83.00), The Wolf of Wall Street (80.00)
In 2014, there was an incredibly impressive slate of nominees, but Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave—which tells the true story of a Northern musician kidnapped and sold into slavery on an Antebellum plantation—hit the right balance of powerful storytelling, beautiful direction and affecting performances (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender were all nominated, and Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress). A handful of other nominees were deserving and could have won in another year: Spike Jonze’s Her was gorgeously original (and had a great Sofia Coppola stand-in), Dallas Buyers Club was overflowing with transformative performances, Gravity was a masterclass in filmmaking, and The Wolf of Wall Street was a darn good time. Nebraska and Philomena were both small, intimate, deeply beautiful films.
Actual winner: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Repicked winner: Whiplash (Stacker Score: 89.50; IMDb rating: 8.5; Tomatometer: 94%)
Other nominees: Boyhood (88.00), Selma (87.00), The Grand Budapest Hotel (86.50), The Imitation Game (85.50), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (84.50), The Theory of Everything (77.50), American Sniper (72.50)
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash was about as meteoric a debut as one can imagine. The young director’s film tracked a jazz drummer (Miles Teller) and his demanding/sadistic teacher (J.K. Simmons) and muses on what the artist must give up in order to make great art. It went from Sundance darling to legitimate Oscar contender. The stylish, hilarious, bizarre Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) ended up winning the big award, but it seems clear Chazelle will get one sooner than later. His film La La Land literally had the award in its hands before Moonlight was named Best Picture last year—his next film, which stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong is already a front-runner.
Actual winner: Spotlight
Repicked winner: Mad Max: Fury Road (Stacker Score: 89.00; IMDb rating: 8.1; Tomatometer: 97%)
Other nominees: Spotlight (89.00), Room (88.00), Brooklyn (86.00), The Martian (85.50), Bridge of Spies (83.50), The Big Short (83.00), The Revenant (80.00)
In times like these, a film like Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight—which tells the story of The Boston Globe uncovering the massive sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church—seems extra important. As the President attacks the free press, it seems important to lionize great journalists doing the hard work of exposing the evils of the powerful. But, if we’re being honest, the best film of 2016 was another disturbingly relatable movie; this one telling the story of a post-apocalyptic hellscape in which a powerful woman (Charlize Theron) leads a rebellion against a ghoulish tyrant with bad hair and many brides. George Miller’s film was such an unexpected joy, but was probably a step too far for some Academy voters.
Actual winner: Moonlight
Repicked winner: Manchester by the Sea (Stacker Score: 87.00; IMDb rating: 7.9; Tomatometer: 95%)
Other nominees: Arrival (86.50), La La Land (86.50), Moonlight (86.50), Hell or High Water (86.50), Hidden Figures (85.50), Hacksaw Ridge (84.00), Lion (83.50), Fences (83.00)
As discussed earlier, the Academy loves films about art in LA (La La Land), loves films about space (Arrival and Hidden Figures), and loves films about war (Hacksaw Ridge)— though director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight—which features jaw-dropping performances from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris—featured none of the above, it was such an overwhelmingly beautiful, breathtaking film that it was able to take home the award. Still, when looking at the data in retrospect, Manchester by the Sea—Kenneth Lonergan’s absolutely tragic movie about a depressed uncle (Casey Affleck) raising his nephew after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies—should have won.