It’s Oscar week, and all week long we’ll be running features to amp you up before Sunday’s ceremony brings awards season to a close and we learn whether “La La Land” sweeps or if “Moonlight” can be a spoiler to the party. And having ranked all the Best Picture winners a few years back, we thought, how else to kick off Oscar week but to rank all the Best Picture nominees?
Well, not all of them: we’re crazy, but not that crazy. We decided to keep it to recent history, so below you’ll find, from worst to best, every Best Picture-nominated film from the 21st century so far (including, for completism’s sake, the films from 1999 that were nominated after the date changed to 2000).
We’re pretty sure you’ll disagree with the list, if only because we all disagree with each other on it, too. But it’ll be sure to spark some debate, and it’s a reminder that, for all the questionable films that end up being honored by the Academy, there are just as many stone-cold classics too. Take a look below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
122. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (2011)
Seemingly breaking through to the Best Picture line-up by sheer force of Scott Rudin’s will, this Stephen Daldry adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel had all the hallmarks of an Oscar movie, with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock leading the film. But despite a few good performances, it’s a mawkish and tin-eared treatment of a host of weighty issues — autism! 9/11! The Holocaust! — that aims for transcendent but only feels gross and manipulative.
121. “Les Misérables” (2012)
After a quarter-century on stages around the world, the hit musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel of Revolutionary France finally reached screens thanks to Tom Hooper, fresh off “The King’s Speech.” The decision to record all the music live gives it an immediacy, but Hooper’s one-size-fits-all visual style and uneven casting (Russell Crowe’s foghorn Bowie, Helena Bonham Carter playing Helena Bonham Carter) made an already bloated piece feel doubly stodgy.
120. “Chocolat” (2000)
While admittedly not the strongest year in movie history, there were surely a few dozen better options to nominate in 2000 than Lasse Hallström’s Euro-pudding sex comedy, based on Joanne Harris’s novel. Arriving at the peak of the time when Miramax could seemingly get any movie nominated, this is a featherlight confection (sorry) that could potentially be charming if the performances (Alfred Molina only just resisting literally twiddling his mustache) or accents (Johnny Depp: stop doing Irish) lined up.
119. “The Cider House Rules” (1999)
The first of Lasse Hallström’s two Best Picture nominations in a row, “The Cider House Rules” is spared from being lower than “Chocolat” because it won Michael Caine an Oscar and let him give a lovely speech. Otherwise, this turgid, undeservedly sentimental adaptation of John Irving’s turgid, undeservedly sentimental novel about orphanages and abortion is a brutal sit-through, made all the more infuriating because it robbed great movies like “Magnolia,” “Three Kings” and “Election” of a slot.
118. “Crash” (2005)
The lowest-ranked of the films that actually won the Best Picture Oscar, “Crash” is at least well-intentioned and has a strong cast giving good performances. It’s also an obvious, shallow film that favors pat, easy coincidences over hard questions about racism, and is directed with all the artfulness of a TV movie, back when that was still an insult. That it famously beat out “Brokeback Mountain” (and three other very good films) to the prize only makes things worse.
117. “The Reader” (2008)
“I’m doing it because I’ve noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust — guaranteed Oscar!,” Kate Winslet said about a fictional movie in her delightful cameo in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s “Extras.” And credit her commitment to the joke by, just a few years later, doing Stephen Daldry’s emptily prestigious, fairly offensive legacy-of-collaboration drama. Maybe in the right hands, Bernhard Schlink’s novel could have been a provocative, tangled moral drama, but these were clearly not the right hands.
116. “The Blind Side” (2009)
It’s hard to fault the effectiveness of John Lee Hancock’s “The Blind Side” as a crowd-pleaser, but in the same way that it’s hard to fault the effectiveness of a gif of a basket of kittens — there’s not a lot of artfulness to the execution here. Indeed, it’s worse than that: the story of how a nice lady (Sandra Bullock, answering the question ‘how annoyed was Sandra Bullock that she didn’t play Erin Brockovich?’) helped a homeless black teenager (Quinton Aaron) become an NFL star stinks of white-savior narrative in the crassest way.
115. “Finding Neverland” (2003)
The most successful of the brace of period author biopics that became oddly frequent in the mid-’00s, Marc Forster’s film (the final Miramax-brand Oscar triumph) tells the story of J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) creating Peter Pan. Kate Winslet and talented young Freddie Highmore try to give it some dignity, but it’s also overladen by whimsy and ends up oddly airless and uninspired. If nothing else, though, it’s still a million times better than Joe Wright’s “Pan.”
114. “The Theory Of Everything” (2014)
There’s potentially a great film to be made of the life of Stephen Hawking, but despite two good lead performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, James Marsh’s “The Theory Of Everything” ain’t it. It’s a prime example of Wikipedia biopic syndrome — giving a shallow read of the sweep of the subject’s life without ever finding a focus. It’s particularly frustrating because it occasionally brushes up against something interesting, but then gets too shy to do it properly, for fear of offending its subject.
113. “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016)
Is there a better 2017 Oscar indication that everything is awful now than that Mel Gibson’s alternately cloyingly sentimental and grotesquely violent “pacifist” movie not only picked up a Best Picture nod but also sealed the “comeback” deal by securing him a Director nod? No, there is not. Fans of bodies blowing up in slow motion and unabashedly agenda-based Messiah stories will disagree, but real hero Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, also nominated) deserved better.
112. “A Beautiful Mind” (2001)
A forerunner to the aforementioned “The Theory Of Everything” in many ways — campus setting, pat treatment of a serious condition — Ron Howard’s “A Beautiful Mind” has some strong performances (Jennifer Connelly won an Oscar, though it’s Paul Bettany that steals the show) and looks beautiful thanks to Roger Deakins, but a ropey Akiva Goldsman script attempts to turn the central concern of Nash’s paranoid schizophrenia into a “Twilight Zone” twist in a way that makes it feel cheap and callous.
111. “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)
After a drab late-’90s, Clint Eastwood’s long relationship with the Oscars peaked in the early- to mid-’00s with three Best Picture nominees in four years, including a surprise win for this. A shame, then, that the film that took the prize was the least good of them: though well-acted, it’s a story that only stops being familiar because of how bleak it is, particularly after its third-act turn. Still, there’s a classicism to the execution here that’s admirable at least, and Hillary Swank, Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are all strong.
110. “Precious” (2009)
Despite some fine performances (especially from Gabourey Sidibe, who impresses rather more than the operatic anti-mother played by Oscar-winner Mo’Nique) the sledgehammer-subtle miserablism of Lee Daniels‘ Sundance breakout makes it unpleasantly tough going. The story of a serially abused, obese, illiterate black teenager who had a Down Syndrome baby by her rapist father and is pregnant again when she’s diagnosed as HIV positive, the film is emotional torture porn that then has the gall to deliver a schematic, falsely uplifting finale.
109. “American Sniper” (2014)
Although a relief after the run of terminally dull titles that Clint Eastwood had just delivered (“Jersey Boys,” “J.Edgar,” “Hereafter,” “Invictus” — woof), considered on its own merits, “American Sniper” doesn’t have many. Bradley Cooper‘s nuanced turn aside, the film is at its most effective when also being its most blunt and unthinking, and a powerful investigation into the heavy toll of combat devolves into a rah-rah showdown between good and evil.
108. “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)
Sometimes it takes decades before we can look back and be all “what were we thinking?” But already now, the awards-laden admiration for Jean-Marc Vallée‘s HIV/AIDs movie seems more a factor of McConnaissance fever (he lost so much weight!) and hot-topic transgender themes than the quality of the film. We also have it to blame for making Jared Leto an Academy Award-winner and giving Vallée an increasingly uninspired subsequent career in would-be Oscar bait.
107. “Nebraska” (2013)
A cherishably gruff late-career turn from Bruce Dern notwithstanding (and even there he’s acted off the screen by a tragically underused June Squibb), Alexander Payne‘s black-and-white father-son road movie is — are we allowed to say this yet? — really quite dull. Marred further by Payne’s condescension toward the locals that Dern and a miscast Will Forte meet along the way, it is, like any long car journey with an irascible elder relative, a chore.
106. “The Imitation Game” (2014)
One of those baffling films that picks up eight Oscar nominations without anybody ever actually liking it, Oscar-nominee (eyeroll) Morten Tyldum‘s biopic of British wartime maths genius and father of modern computing Alan Turing is a film that won votes for its anonymously prestige-y period filmmaking, hot lead in Benedict Cumberbatch, Important Themes, and also very probably because people kept mixing it up with the year’s other British math-genius period movie, “The Theory Of Everything.”
105. “Ray” (2004)
Taylor Hackford‘s biopic of soul pioneer Ray Charles in retrospect seems like a prime example of a film that benefitted hugely from the reflected love that its subject generates — and from Jamie Foxx‘s then-revelatory, Oscar-winning turn as the legendarily gifted but troubled blind musician. In all other respects, the film is pretty bland, with a scope so broad and undiscerning that at times it feels like an extended montage in search of a movie.
104. “Seabiscuit” (2003)
Sweet-natured, well-intentioned and completely forgettable, Gary Ross‘ equine biopic could be the standard-bearer for the type of handsomely mounted, well-acted prestige pic that the Academy briefly loses its shit for and then never refers to again. “Seabiscuit” picked up eight (!) Oscar nominations, but today its greatest legacy may be as the precursor to “Secretariat,” the racehorse movie that reps BoJack Horseman’s best shot at an Academy Award.
103. “The Descendants” (2011)
It’s Alexander Payne again, but if “Nebraska” (above) is possibly his weakest film, “The Descendants” is maybe his most toothless. Partly that’s due to the film’s less acerbic take on the dynamics of modern family life and partly to an unusually likeable lead male in the Oscar-nominated George Clooney. Still, Shailene Woodley and Robert Forster take up the “spikily caustic” Payne mantle and land the only memorable punches in an otherwise too-gentle story.
102. “Lion” (2016)
We’re not made of stone: “Lion” definitely moved us when it came to the end. And it’s certainly not a bad movie, just never really a good one either. Garth Davis is an undeniably talented filmmaker, the cast put in strong work (though Rooney Mara doesn’t get enough to do), and the score and photography are excellent, but ultimately, the problems inherent in the story — that it’s in two halves, and the second half is Dev Patel looking at Google — are too much to overcome.
101. “The Help” (2011)
The chemistry between the outstanding, predominantly female cast — Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard and Allison Janney — make it all but impossible to hate Tate Taylor‘s “The Help.” But on the other hand, that absolutely terrific lineup, all popping and fizzing off one another, also makes one angry that they weren’t assembled for a less pinkly domesticated, tame story with less of a white-savior bent.