In Search of Best Picture
As the Oscar telecast creeps up on us again, it begs the question: How many times has the Academy really gotten this "Best Picture" thing right, anyway?
Think about it. How many controversial decisions are there in the Academy's history? How many times is a movie other than Best Picture long remembered as the best of the year?
Some examples spring immediately to mind: Take 1977, when George Lucas's iconic Star Wars - currently ranked #3 of all-time on Flickchart - was beaten out by Woody Allen's Annie Hall. (To be fair, Annie Hall is ranked #2 for 1977, and still clocks in at an impressive #130 of all-time.) Or 1941, when How Green Was My Valley stole the award from Orson Welles's immortal Citizen Kane. The 1998 award inexplicably went to Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan. How about 1999? American Beauty seems worthy of the award (ranking #4 on Flickchart for the year), but the two highest-ranked '99 films - Fight Club and The Matrix - were certainly more influential, and, arguably, better. (In a bit of irony, The Matrix was the biggest winner at the Oscar ceremony, taking home a slew of technical awards, but Fight Club was completely snubbed.)
Or, one of the most controversial years of all: 1994, the year both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption lost Best Picture to Forrest Gump. To be sure, all three movies have their rabid fans, but at least 66% of the population would tell you the Academy got it wrong in '94. And Flickchart helps prove it: Pulp Fiction is ranked #4 globally, with Shawshank immediately behind at #5. (They're reversed on the IMDb Top 250, with Shawshank at #1 and Pulp at #5.) Gump manages an extremely respectable #68 on Flickchart, but it even comes in behind another '94 film, Luc Besson's The Professional, at #54.
At Flickchart, we're all about finding out what the "Best Picture" is. So, to examine the Academy's track record, let's look at the past decade's Best Pictures...
Let's all be honest: Did anybody really expect Ridley Scott's Gladiator to win Best Picture? I can't say I mind (the movie currently sits at #27 on my personal chart), but frankly, I was surprised when the movie was even nominated. At the time, the odds-on favorite must have been Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. (Remember that Soderbergh had two films in the running? He was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director for Erin Brockovich; he took home the latter statue for Traffic.)
What does Flickchart have to say about this? Well, the Academy got it close; Gladiator is ranked second for 2000, but according to Flickchart, the best movie of the year was Memento, the film that brought our attention to Christopher Nolan. It was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (from a short story by Nolan's brother), but it was nowhere near the Best Picture category. And Traffic only clocks in at #15 for the year. The second highest-ranking Best Picture nominee is Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, at #11 for the year. (That one did, oh so obviously, win Best Foreign Language Film.) Erin Brockovich and Chocolat barely register, clocking in at #2018 and #1423, respectively, on the global charts.
This one is the most egregious for me, personally. Despite the triumph that was Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (my personal #1), Russell Crowe starred in his second Best Picture winner in a row, Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, a movie I found decent, but totally forgettable. Flickchart would seem to agree with me; though a global ranking of #394 is nothing to sneeze at, it falls far short of Fellowship's #22. And where do the other nominees clock in? In the Bedroom at #735, Moulin Rouge at #746 and Gosford Park at #1140. Flickchart claims there are 29 movies from 2001 that are better than Gosford Park.
Okay, so The Lord of the Rings dominates on Flickchart. But The Two Towers is, arguably, the weakest chapter in the trilogy. Still, what about the other nominees from this year? The highest-ranked is Adaptation, #7 for the year. The Pianist is #8. Best Picture winner Chicago is all the way down at #40 for the year. I don't know; perhaps musicals don't fare well on Flickchart. (On a personal note, Chicago is one musical that I actually, legitimately enjoyed, and The Two Towers is my least-favorite third of my favorite movie, so I'm actually more okay with this year's result than I was with 2001.) The Hours is a non-entity at #65 on the list of films from 2002. But this was the year of genre hits The Bourne Identity, 28 Days Later and Spider-Man, as well as cult favorite Donnie Darko. What I want to know is: Where was Catch Me If You Can on the Best Picture nominee list? It's ranked #5 for the year (#180 of all-time). It got snubbed in favor of The Hours?
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King's victory had been predestined for three years. It seems that, had LOTR not existed, Mystic River would have taken home the gold for 2003. How does it fare on Flickchart? #10 for the year. Some potential contenders that could/should have been Best Picture nominated? How about Best Foreign Language Film City of God, Best Animated Feature Finding Nemo, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Oldboy (okay, those two are probably too violent for Oscar), or Tim Burton's Big Fish? Fellow nominee Lost in Translation also ranks higher than Mystic River, but Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Seabiscuit are much further behind in the rankings, #24 and #51 for the year, respectively.
There was a time when it seemed that Martin Scorsese might finally get his first Best Director Oscar for The Aviator. Then Clint Eastwood sucker-punched him with Million Dollar Baby, taking the two big awards. Baby does rank higher on Flickchart, but at #14 for the year, it's the highest-ranked Best Picture nominee. Most people are going to tell you that Flickchart's #1 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind should not only have been nominated, it should have won. (It did take home the gold for Best Original Screenplay.)
A lot of people remember 2005 as the year Crash inexplicably stole the Best Picture Oscar from Brokeback Mountain. The two are actually extremely close in Flickchart's rankings, with Brokeback edging out Crash as #19 and #20 for the year, and #610 and #622 of all-time. But the highest-ranked Best Picture nominees are Good Night, and Good Luck and Munich at #464 and #480, #10 and #11 for the year. The Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line - snubbed in the Best Picture category but nabbing Best Actress for Reese Witherspoon - ranks higher than all of them. The fifth Best Picture nominee, Capote, comes in at #28 for the year, but the highest-ranked films on Flickchart are, again, crowd-pleasers: Batman Begins, Serenity, Sin City and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Batman doesn't seem like a Best Picture candidate to you? How about Howl's Moving Castle or A History of Violence? Oh, right. Howl lost the Best Animated Feature Oscar to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (ranked nearly 1000 spots lower, globally) and Violence came close to being snubbed, with only noms for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for William Hurt.
It's a remake! It's not nearly Scorsese's best film! Doesn't matter; here, Flickchart actually agrees with the Academy, as The Departed is the highest-ranked film for 2006. It's followed closely (they're both in the global Top 100) by Pan's Labyrinth, though Guillermo Del Toro's masterpiece lost the Best Foreign Language Oscar to The Lives of Others. (At least that one ranks in the Top 10 for the year.) Third highest-ranked for the year? Alfonso Cuarón's superlative Children of Men, nominated for Cinematography, Editing and Adapted Screenplay, but snubbed in the majors. Little Miss Sunshine fairs pretty well (#7 for '06, #176 of all-time), but the only other Best Picture nominee to rank in the Top 20 for 2006 is Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima. The Queen and Babel are almost footnotes.
Astonishingly, the Academy falls in line with Flickchart once again. Ask almost anybody, and they'll tell you either that No Country for Old Men deserved its Oscar, or that the award should have gone to There Will Be Blood. Sure enough, these films are #1 and #2 for the year on Flickchart (#31 and #70, globally). (See here for a detailed look at No Country for Old Men vs. There Will Be Blood.) Then you have to go down to #227 to find Juno, ranked #9 for the year. Michael Clayton and Atonement are ranked #25 and #36 for the year. Ahead of them are such "snubbed" films as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Zodiac, Eastern Promises, Gone Baby Gone and 3:10 to Yuma. And heck...why couldn't the years #3 and #4 films - Hot Fuzz and The Bourne Ultimatum - have made the grade? Oh yeah, they're action movies...
This year changed everything. Not only is The Dark Knight the #1 film snubbed by Oscar, it's the #1 film on Flickchart, period. The year's #2 film, WALL·E, isn't far behind; it's ranked #35 globally. (At least they took home the gold for Best Animated Feature and Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger's riveting turn as the Joker.) Some might even say that 2008's #3 film, Iron Man, was good enough to be worthy of consideration. It is, no doubt, the snubbing of The Dark Knight and WALL·E for Best Picture that led to the Academy increasing the field of nominees to ten the following year. (The last time there were ten nominees, Casablanca won.) Meanwhile, you have to go all the way down to #7 to find the winner, Slumdog Millionaire. (It's ranked #115 on the global chart.) What else is ahead of it? Let the Right One In, The Wrestler and In Bruges. (The Wrestler got Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress nods, but Mickey Rourke's resurrection was passed up in favor of giving Sean Penn a second statue for Milk.) Speaking of Milk, it's the second highest-ranked Best Picture nominee at #9. Frost/Nixon and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are in the Top 20, but The Reader is all the way down at #29. The Dark Knight and WALL·E were snubbed in favor of The Reader...?
With ten nominees this year, did Oscar do better at picking the films at the top of Flickchart's list? Well, the top two were nominated: Inglourious Basterds and Up. But the rest of the top five - Star Trek, (500) Days of Summer and Moon - were almost completely forgotten. (Trek did manage to take home the franchise's first Oscar...for makeup.) Next come nominee District 9 and winner The Hurt Locker. (THL clocks in at a very respectable #76 on the all-time chart.) Up in the Air, Avatar and A Serious Man are all in the Top 20 for the year. An Education is #23, but Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and The Blind Side don't appear until well into the 40s. I don't know if anybody can figure out why Star Trek or Moon were snubbed in favor of The Blind Side, even if the Academy really wanted to give Best Actress to Sandra Bullock. I guess two science fiction nominees were already too much for Oscar.
This brings us to the present, where for the fourth time since 2000, Christopher Nolan has the top-ranked film on Flickchart for the year. Inception is currently #2 on the global charts, and this time, it's actually nominated for Best Picture. But Nolan is snubbed for Best Director, and conventional wisdom would seem to dictate that The King's Speech (with a whopping 12 nominations) will be named Best Picture, with True Grit (10 nominations) and The Social Network (once the favorite, now only nabbing 8 nods) being outside possibilities.
Here's a rundown of how the ten nominees currently stack up on Flickchart:
- Inception: #1 for 2010, #2 of all-time; 82% win percentage; 1076 users have it in their Top 20
- Black Swan: #2 for 2010, #10 all-time; 67% win percentage; 164 Top 20 lists
- The Social Network: #3 for 2010, #12 all-time; 67% win percentage; 241 Top 20 lists
- Toy Story 3: #5 for 2010, #30 all-time; 75% win percentage; 337 Top 20 lists
- True Grit: #6 for 2010, #37 all-time; 67% win percentage; 58 Top 20 lists
- The King's Speech: #7 for 2010, #99 all-time; 63% win percentage; 48 Top 20 lists
- 127 Hours: #9 for 2010, #152 all-time; 63% win percentage; 38 Top 20 lists
- The Fighter: #11 for 2010, #159 all-time; 63% win percentage; 36 Top 20 lists
- Winter's Bone: #16 for 2010, #337 all-time; 62% win percentage; 34 Top 20 lists
- The Kids Are All Right: #18 for 2010, #497 all-time; 60% win percentage; 19 Top 20 lists
That's pretty good; all ten nominees are in the Top 20 for the year. Though, of course, by all accounts, 2010 was a pretty weak year outside the nominees. So was anything "snubbed"? Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kick-Ass and How to Train Your Dragon are all in the Top 10. The first two don't really seem like Oscar's cup of tea, and the third would only have meant two animated nominees in the Best Picture category. (That's gotta be a no-no; cartoons have their own category, after all.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 doesn't seem like an "Oscar" film either, but Shutter Island, The Town and Exit Through the Gift Shop all rank above Winter's Bone.
Still, Oscar's done a pretty good job this year of choosing films that have been popular with audiences. And that's the very definition of "Best Picture", isn't it? The movie that was most popular with the audiences.
What's the Point of All This?
The Academy Awards, at times, can come across as a little stuffy and pretentious. There's a severe bias against genre films. There's only ever been one horror film to win Best Picture, and The Lord of the Rings was a serious aberration, as fantasy films are generally shunned. Science fiction often gets a bum rap, too; even in 2009, one of the best years in recent history for sci-fi, there were only two pictures up for the big award, when there easily could have been three or four.
Nonetheless, there were three years in the 2000s where Oscar's Best Picture is, indeed, the highest-ranked film of the year on Flickchart. (A track record of 30% isn't too shabby for the Academy.) And many times, the Best Picture winner does rank in Flickchart's Top 10 for the year. Flickchart obviously attracts a certain demographic, and certainly films that have been seen by more people will fare better than those that have not found a wide audience, but if you're looking for the "Best Pictures" of the year, you don't need to turn to Oscar. Just look 'em up on Flickchart; you're sure to find a gem.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Nigel as johnmason on Flickchart. If you're interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.