For the past 92 years, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences claim to have chosen the best film of the year. Not the most popular film or the most innovative: the best. We all know that such a subjective declaration is, by design, highly flawed. While we could spend our lives detailing the many ways they have completely missed the mark, it seems far more interesting and celebratory to look at the few times The Academy got it right.
This week: Which Best Picture was actually that year’s best picture?
All About Eve
My favourite thing about All About Eve is Bette Davis. After my mother showed me this movie as a child i could only see Bette Davis as Margo Channing. An amazing woman who was funny and confident but vulnerable at exactly the right time. It was a pretty well rounded character. The movie is also amazingly funny while also featuring friendship as the main engine for the plot. Margo and Karen’s friendship vs what Margo and Eve’s relationship was. I truly respect that the tension between Margo and Eve is more about ambition and personal growth than it is about a love triangle. The themes have stuck with me to this day which is why All About Eve was without a doubt the correct choice the year that it won. –Daniel Grant
No Country For Old Men
West Texas in the summer of 2006 was the place to be if brilliant filmmakers were to gather and prod at central tenets of the American myth. Two productions, one helmed by iconoclastic brothers, the other by a man made famous by an Altmanesque ode to porn, were shooting a pair of the great films of any age. WhilCsaAe Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is dark, symphonic, brooding work about hubris and greed, it was the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, with its nihilistic portent and jet-black reiminaging of Western tropes, that took home (deservedly) the top prize. Other nominees such as the quirky and effective Juno, the maudlin and overwrought Atonement and the surprise nod for Tony Gilroy’s forgettable Michael Clayton were never really in the running. It came down to these two dusty, diabolical works shot within miles of one another that vied not only for the top trophy but decades later a fun game of which masterwork is more delicious. As fans, we have them both, but if we’re going to have one edge out the other I’ll take this exquisite translation of Cormac McCarthy to the big screen every time. Why? To quote, “the point is there ain’t no point.” Darn tootin’. –Jason Gorber
Spotlight is not only the best film of 2015 that deserved Best Picture, it’s one of the best and most important films I’ve seen in the past ten years. It’s a film that doesn’t need to rely on fancy camerawork or showy filmmaking techniques to get its story across. Rather, every ounce of its emotional impact and resonance comes from its writing and the astounding cast.
Told in present tense, the film treats every revelation with urgency and horror; we find out disturbing truths the same time the journalists do. We seek to find out more just as much as the characters do, and when the characters plan their methods to get to the bottom of something, we root for them to succeed.
The film pays great respect and attention to detail to the Spotlight team not because they are heroes, even though they are. These characters, based on real reporters, have their own flaws and have made their own past mistakes that creep back to the present. But now, at this very moment in unveiling the scandal, they do their best because it’s their job. It’s a responsibility. It’s a duty of journalism and reporting to do the right thing and inform people of a hidden devastating truth.
Most films based on a true story would end with some text that informs the audience what happens after the events shown, but the end text for Spotlight is on a completely different level. They cut deep. To see cities I grew up in appear on the big screen like that is jarring, surreal, and overwhelming. And there’s no overacting in this to sell that devastation. No heavy-handed acting or music to manipulate us into crying. All it does is tell a story by revealing facts and truths one step at a time. Spotlight is a story of everyday people becoming heroes for doing the right thing and being the best at their jobs. It’s a story of integrity and accepting responsibility for past ignorance. I truly believe it’s one of the best films 2015 had to offer, and it deserved every ounce of that Best Picture Oscar. –Kevin Lee
Silence Of The Lambs
Nominated against Beauty And The Beast, JFK, Bugsy and The Prince Of Tides, Jonathan Demme’s Silence Of The Lambs was by far and away the year’s best film, becoming just the third film to win the Big Five at the Oscars (after It Happened One Night and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest). To date, it’s the first and only horror movie to win Best Picture — a huge accomplishment for a genre that rarely gets acknowledged at film awards, let alone earn the most prestigious prizes of the night. (In 92 years, only six horror films have been nominated for Best Picture: The Exorcist, Jaws, Silence Of The Lambs, The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, and Get Out). The definition of a sleeper hit, it seems like an anomaly now for a movie released in February to clean up at the Oscars ceremony held a full 13 months after its release, but Silence Of The Lambs really was – and is – that good. There’s no missteps here from casting to cinematography to screenplay. The film transformed Thomas Harris’ novel and firmly stuck into our collective pop culture consciousness. Nearly 30 years later, Anthony Hopkins is still just as terrifying while asking for a little Chianti to go with his liver and fava beans. –Rachel West
I humbly submit that Casablanca is not just the best picture out of all the movies from 1943, but one of the best movies of the 20th century. It’s a classic that’s widely beloved and often touted as the best movie of all time, so maybe this is an easy pick; but there are other reasons that make it resonant in the modern era. Beyond the snappy wit and crackling dialogue that have become cultural cliches, the themes of love and sacrifice and honour are universal. Another reason is that no-one in this movie is “the bad guy”; sure, cynics and opportunists abound, but if even the German Chief of Police can be redeemed at the end, it gives us hope that anyone can change for the better. But ultimately what makes this movie remarkable is that it’s set during a war that was still taking place, in which, at the time, there were no guarantees that the Allies would triumph. It’s a move about refugees, people fleeing war, in which a significant number of the cast were themselves refugees from the exact war the movie portrays. When the people in Rick’s sing La Marseillaise as an act of rebellion against the Nazis, it’s an act of hope, not just for the characters, but for them as people. – Jenny Bullough
I was going to say Casablanca, but since the film won the Best Picture Oscar for 1943 despite opening in 1942, I don’t know if that’s fair. Instead, I’m going to go with the hugely unpopular choice of Annie Hall. In the year that brought us Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Oscars for 1977 did the right thing by honouring a deeply funny and heartfelt film about an ill-fated romance. Annie Hall‘s enduring sense of humour shows how a film with a whipsmart script and great performances can have a stronger impact than the biggest of blockbusters. Its neuroses are infectious, while its observations about life and love speak to the insecurities that plague the best of relationships. Annie Hall also features my favourite dose of art-imitating life with Diane Keaton (née Hall) giving one of the best comedic performances of all time. Her Annie Hall is an iconic character, whose charm, vulnerability, and depth appears too rarely in a Best Picture winner. She makes Annie Hall the best-dressed of the Best Picture winners. – Pat Mullen