Not all Best Picture groupings are created equal. Some years shine (congrats, 1994) but most of them stink (you suck, 2001).
In the political world of Hollywood, being nominated for "Best Picture" could account for many different things. Is it the best movie of that year only? A movie that can stand the test of time? A popularity contest? A gesture for those who have been slighted in the past? The studio with the most aggressive campaign? Regardless of your interpretation, the one constant is the quality of the Best Picture nominee lineup fluctuates drastically from year to year, often having one front-runner and three to four--or in 2012's case eight to nine--throwaways. (Yes, we're aware there are nine nominees this year.)
Maxim.com’s Criteria: We only included the past twenty or so years because that's all we really care about. A proper Best Picture grouping should consist of movies that cover a diverse selection of movies you've seen, hopefully liked (or at least appreciated,) and can remember long past the Oscar telecast's closing credits. There's nothing worse than settling down for a long award show only to root for (or against) the only movie you saw because the rest are take-your-vegetables picks. These are movies, not Nobel Peace Prizes. It's that simple.
Below is our ranking broken into seven sections. Best, Great, Good, Lean, Bad, Horrible, Worst.
BEST YEAR: 1994
1994- Forrest Gump; Four Weddings and a Funeral; Pulp Fiction; Quiz Show; The Shawshank Redemption
Best Picture Winner: Forrest Gump
Film That Held Up The Best Since: The Shawshank Redemption
Most Forgettable: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Love it or hate it, this is a year carved into the side of movie history. Three movies here are instantly recognizable to even the most marginal moviegoer: Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption. Each has achieved lasting status in its own way. Even Quiz Show was a solid effort with a great ensemble cast. Subtract Four Weddings, which isn't really that horrible (it's just not that great), and you've got a historic lineup.
1991- Beauty and the Beast; Bugsy; JFK; The Prince of Tides; The Silence of the Lambs
Best Picture Winner: The Silence of the Lambs
Film That Held Up The Best (tie): Bugsy, The Silence of the Lambs
Most Forgettable: The Prince of Tides
A diverse mix of a horror, conspiracy, mob, and animation in the best picture category. Actually, two animated films if you count all the special effects used to make Streisand's skin look thirty years younger. With the except of Tides, each one of these movies is remarkable. Beauty and the Beast revived Disney animation and was a visual marvel at the time. Barry Levinson and Warren Beatty are in rare form in the Jewish gangster epic. Oliver Stone teeters on the edge of sanity with the most manic and entertaining film of his career prior to Natural Born Killers. Jodie Foster squaring off with Hopkins' haunting Hannibal Lecter proved to be one of the best movies of the decade. Too bad Babs had to screw it all up.
1997- As Good As It Gets; The Full Monty; Good Will Hunting; L.A. Confidential; Titanic
Best Picture Winner: Titanic
Film That Held Up The Best Since: L.A. Confidential
Most Forgettable (tie): As Good As It Gets, The Full Monty
Hard to believe that Good Will Hunting and Titanic came out in the same year. And that, nearly 10 years after the films that jump-started their careers, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio's careers would intersect once more in Oscar-winner The Departed. The aforementioned movies band together with neo-noir L.A. Confidential and the overrated but still popular As Good As It Gets to make this a very impressive year.
2007-Atonement; Juno; Michael Clayton; No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood
Best Picture Winner: No Country For Old Men
Film That Held Up The Best Since: There Will Be Blood
Most Forgettable: Juno
Easily two of the greatest film of the past twenty years, No Country and Blood, Hollywood articulated a darkness and cynicism that brought a whole new resonant and immediate tone and purpose/direction to modern movies. Michael Clayton took this same tone into the corporate setting, with great success all its own. An outstanding group...if you drop the highly annoying jargon-spewing Juno.
1990- Awakenings; Dances with Wolves; Ghost; The Godfather Part III; Goodfellas
Best Picture Winner: Dances With Wolves
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Goodfellas
Most Forgettable: Awakenings
A really mixed bag. This grouping has an absolute hands-down classic, Goodfellas, thrown in with a bunch of love it, hate it, or don't remember it material. What the hell is Awakenings, you may ask? Besides a solid (and sappy) Robin Williams/Robert De Niro vehicle, it sounds like a period novel we Spark Noted in college. But you've gotta kind of respect the high water-marks for two actors this year: Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves and Patrick Swayze in Ghost (say what you will, the movie defined sensuality). Subtract Sofia Coppala's unfortunate performance in Godfather Part III, which was completely her father's fault, and this could have been great.
2000- Chocolat; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Erin Brokovich; Gladiator; Traffic
Best Picture Winner: Gladiator
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Gladiator
Most Forgettable: Traffic
At first glance this year seems like a heavy-hitter. But then we realized that's partially attributable to those instantly recognizable, punch-packing one word titles: Gladiator, Traffic, Chocolat? Yes, Johnny Depp was a pirate once before, and he solicited chocolate-crack that turned uptight women into voracious sex slaves. And so it goes with the year 2000, as the subtitled, flying magical realism of Crouching Tiger now seems like a novelty act and Erin Brokovich reminds us, distressingly, of The Blind Side. Maximus is the only one still standing atop this diminished heap.
1999- American Beauty; The Cider House Rules; The Green Mile; The Insider; The Sixth Sense
Best Picture Winner: American Beauty
Film That Held Up The Best Since (tie): The Insider, The Green Mile
Most Forgettable: The Cider House Rules
The bookend to the millennium group actually had an appealing, if not hands-down compelling, blend of disparate themes and tableaus going for it. Modern family with growing cracks and leakage, feel-good orphanage, dead people, and red balloons! American Beauty doesn't always get the respect it deserves for helping usher in the era of interrelationships-with-twists dramas that would define part of the next decade. And The Sixth Sense got M. Night Shyamalan respect that he actually deserved (and would later drop multiple ACME anvils on). Plus Michael Clarke Duncan sweetly petting a mouse named Mr. Jingles makes us giggle.
2009 - Avatar, Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, The Hurt Locker, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
Best Picture Winner: The Hurt Locker
Film That Held Up The Best Since (tie): District 9, Inglourious Basterds
Most Forgettable: A Serious Man
All in all, a pretty good spread. This was the year that gave us cool alien shrimps, bomb defusion, Nazi huntin' and a whole new sci-fi language for Klingon enthusiasts looking for a challenge. Sure, some of these movies left our consciousness the second we left the theater--though, The Hurt Locker was out of theaters before we even had a chance to see it on the big screen--but we can't give it too much crap, since we already forgot basically every 2011 nominee.
2005- Brokeback Mountain; Capote; Crash; Good Night, and Good Luck; Munich
Best Picture Winner: Crash
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Munich
Most Forgettable: Crash
Something of a return to form for the best pic nominees, followed by a gruesome travesty on Oscar night. Brokeback Mountain garnered more attention than most in the Aughts, and Capote nailed both the fifties and the anatomy of creepy relationships; Yet it was the pandering, disingenuous Crash that took home Oscar and put him on its dashboard. Even Good Night, and Good Luck was a strong political period piece. If not for Crash, this category would have been a great time-machine to 20th Century America. Still, this remains one of the premiere take-your-medicine years if there every was one.
2004- The Aviator; Finding Neverland; Million Dollar Baby; Ray; Sideways
Best Picture Winner: Million Dollar Baby
Film That Held Up The Best Since: The Aviator
Most Forgettable: Finding Neverland
Another performance-driven year, with Leonardo DiCaprio coming into his own as doorknob-fearing neurotic Howard Hughes, Hilary Swank going androgynous again for another Oscar, Johnny Depp bringing the Peter Pan author to the screen, and Jamie Foxx showing his musical and acting ability. On its merit, each one of these movies is good, but overall they're also hazardously forgettable.
1993- The Fugitive; In the Name of the Father; The Piano; The Remains of the Day; Schindler's List
Best Picture Winner: Schindler's List
Film That Held Up The Best Since: The Fugitive
Most Forgettable: In The Name of the Father
Was The Piano a prequel to The Pianist? We're guessing not, but pianos sure seem to bring out the best in actors (Adrien Brody, Holly Hunter). Schindler's List is usually remembered as one of the foremost classics of the past twenty-five years, so we won't mess with that. And we're moderately surprised a crime-thriller like The Fugitive made the cut. In The Name of the Father and The Remains of the Day are good movies, but they never broke from the small, art-house or blue blood crowd. All in all, an average year.
2002- Chicago; Gangs of New York; The Hours; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Pianist
Best Picture Winner: Chicago
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Two Towers, we guess
Most Forgettable (tie): The Hours, Chicago
This year's got a few decent films that are held up by mesmerizing performances. Bill the Butcher in Gangs, any number of actors in the grossly overrated The Hours (Moore, Streep, Harris), Adrien Brody in The Pianist, and Richard Gere in Chicago (We kid! Of course we mean Queen Latifah). This year was an acting clinic that could have benefited from tighter, or just plain better storytelling.
1992- The Crying Game; A Few Good Men; Howard's End; Scent of a Women; Unforgiven
Best Picture Winner: Unforgiven
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Unforgiven
Most Forgettable (tie): The Crying Game
This year wins the distinctive award for most incomprehensibly dirty titles. A Few Good Men? The Crying Game? Howard's End? Even Scent of a Woman sounds (smells?) more like straight-to-DVD softcore porn than Pacino's single Oscar-winning performance. A truly lackluster year, with the only exception being Clint Eastwood's drunk-cowboy-killing-spree opus, which we consider the best western ever made.
1996- The English Patient; Fargo; Jerry Maguire; Secrets and Lies; Shine
Best Picture Winner: The English Patient
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Fargo
Most Forgettable (tie): The English Patient, Secrets and Lies
The English Patient won nine Oscars, Fargo is a canonized must-see, Geoffry Rush had his breakout performance in Shine, and Jerry Maguire may be the acting high-point for one of the biggest movie stars of a generation. But somehow it doesn't quite do it for us. Now that Cuba Gooding Jr. has been on some variation of a gay cruise-liner for the past six years, Renee Zellwegger butchered perfectly good movies (Cinderella Man, Appaloosa), and Tom Cruise is, well, not the same Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire seems like a joke we can't believe we fell for. The only movie we'd willingly watch right now from this list over and over again? Fargo.
2003- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Lost in Translation; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Mystic River; Seabiscuit
Best Picture Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Mystic River
Most Forgettable (tie): Lost in Translation
Simply put, a bad year. Besides what may be Clint Eastwood's crowning directorial achievement, and a LOTR that won eleven Oscars as the stand-in for two better movies, you've got a intriguing/meandering directing debut, an ESPN Classic special, and a movie that has born a second life being confused for a bi-curious porno (that would be Master and Commander).
1998- Elizabeth; Life is Beautiful; Saving Private Ryan; Shakespeare in Love; The Thin Red Line
Best Picture Winner: Shakespeare in Love
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Saving Private Ryan
Most Forgettable: Shakespeare in Love
One of the most notorious Oscar years in modern film history. Gwyneth gets the statue for playing a cross-dressing actress (over Cate Blanchett's Queen Elizabeth), and Shakespeare in Love beats out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture. The year the period romance defied the visceral, exceptional war movie. This is an extremely polarizing group, with strong love it/hate it cases to be made for almost every one of these movies. And, aside from the subject matter, diverse too; where else would Terrence Malick and Robert Benigni be uttered in the same breath? Undeniably memorable not necessarily for the films themselves, but for the fractious, argumentative grouping of them.
2008- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Frost/Nixon; Milk; The Reader; Slumdog Millionaire
Best Picture Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Film That Held Up The Best Since: The Dark Knight, The Wrestler (suck on that, Academy!)
Most Forgettable: The rest of them
Two movies that didn't even make the final cut (The Wrestler and The Dark Knight) have already outlasted this rapidly-waning showing. It looks like movies were trying to respond to the misanthropy of the previous year with against-all-odds optimism (Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk). It only worked, to some degree, with Milk. Not to mention the fact that Frost/Nixon and The Reader were seen by more in-the-tower-of-a-fortress-under-the-rose Oscar voters than actual human beings.
2006- Babel; The Departed; Letters from Iwo Jima; Little Miss Sunshine; The Queen
Best Picture Winner: The Departed
Film That Held Up The Best Since: The Departed
Most Forgettable: Little Miss Sunshine, Babel
Even though it wasn't quite a shoe-in at the time, retrospectively The Departed seems like the painfully obvious choice to take home the Oscar. Others are ultimately too remote/inaccessible (Babel, Letters, The Queen), and The Little Engine That Could only can for so long. This was the year Marty got justice, but that's about it.
1995- Apollo 13; Babe; Braveheart; Il Postino (The Postman); Sense and Sensibility
Best Picture Winner: Braveheart
Film That Held Up The Best Since: Braveheart
Most Forgettable: Sense and Sensibility
Look, Apollo 13 seemed pretty cool at the time, but since then we've left it on the NASA floor. And we're nearly certain Babe was never cool. (Was this what Little Miss Sunshine looked like in the mid-90s?) Another member of the lineup, Il Postino, was nominated predominately as a final tribute to its writer/director Massimo Troisi, who died of a heart attack the day after filming wrapped. Alas, for never-give-up inspiration and bloody, rousing violence, its hard to beat Braveheart.
2001- A Beautiful Mind; Gosford Park; In The Bedroom; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Moulin Rouge
Best Picture Winner: A Beautiful Mind
Film That Held Up The Best Since: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Most Forgettable: All of them except LOTR
This was the year Hollywood decided to honor Ron Howard for all his success, but we'd rather them give it to Nightshift or Gung Ho than A Beautiful Mind. It's hard to believe Mind, which had the shortest shelf life of any of these movies, took home Best Picture. Even Moulin Rouge, based on sheer cloyingness, outlasted John Nash and his imaginary friends. 2001 did pack together the spectacular achievement of the first Lord of the Rings with two virtually unseen movies of art-house eminence (Gosford Park, In The Bedroom).
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