Posted Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 10:50 AM PST by David Krauss
by David Krauss
Over the past five weeks, we've examined Best Picture winners from the 1920s and 1930s, the 1940s and 1950s, the 1960s and 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s . This week, in our final installment, we turn our attention to the 21st century. Social networking proved to be a valuable tool for filmmakers trying to hype indie releases, and the return of 3D and proliferation of larger screen formats, such as IMAX, ramped up excitement levels – and raised box office receipts – for potential blockbusters. In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded the number of Best Picture nominees to no more than 10 – the first time in 66 years the field grew larger than five. The move was designed to increase interest in the Oscars and allow more popular films to be recognized. All 13 Best Picture winners of the 2000s are currently available on Blu-ray, and they are…
'Gladiator' (2000) – Oscar loves epics, but director Ridley Scott injects some welcome angst into this eye-filling spectacle about a heroic Roman warrior (Russell Crowe) whose bitter clashes with the new emperor (Joaquin Phoenix) lead to tragedy, enslavement, and eventual life as a vengeful gladiator who must either kill or be killed. (Sounds a little like 'Ben-Hur,' huh?) Crowe won a Best Actor award for his brooding performance (Phoenix also was nominated in the supporting category for a far more colorful portrayal), and the film was also cited for its costume design, sound, and visual effects. Surprisingly, Scott lost the Best Director award to Steven Soderbergh for 'Traffic,' and is still waiting to be honored by the Academy. Hopefully, that will happen in the not-too-distant future.
'A Beautiful Mind' (2001) – Some have criticized Ron Howard's portrait of the brilliant, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, Jr., whose long struggle with schizophrenia severely impacted his life, for its deceptive storytelling technique and sentimental tone, but I feel 'A Beautiful Mind' is often a beautiful film that allows us to see inside a highly intelligent yet deeply disturbed brain, and gain a deep appreciation for all that Nash has overcome. Russell Crowe was poised to receive his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar for his finely etched, sensitive portrayal (I feel Crowe is better here than in 'Gladiator'), but his bad-boy off-screen behavior and supposedly monstrous ego may have sabotaged the rare back-to-back victory. (Denzel Washington was honored instead for 'Training Day.') Jennifer Connelly took home the Best Supporting Actress prize for her compassionate performance as Nash's devoted wife, Howard was named Best Director, and the film was also cited for its adapted screenplay by Akiva Goldsmith.
'Chicago' (2002) – The first musical to win Best Picture since 'Oliver!' in 1968, this imaginative, kinetic adaptation of the long-running Broadway hit not only impresses with its dazzling numbers, but also tackles such potent themes as celebrity worship, the media's fickle nature, and ruthless opportunism as it chronicles how two hot-headed murderesses (Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones) and their slick lawyer (Richard Gere) make a circus of the system in 1920s Chicago. Director Rob Marshall masterfully constructs the film so the musical sequences evolve out of the star-struck imagination of heroine Roxie Hart (Zellweger), and their exhilarating presentation stokes the senses. Zeta-Jones won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (her sultry rendition of 'And All That Jazz' is a showstopper), and other awards went to the movie's art direction-set decoration, costume design, editing, and sound.
'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003) – The first two installments of director Peter Jackson's monumental 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy were nominated for Best Picture in 2001 and 2002, but the climactic chapter nabbed the coveted prize…as well as 10 other Academy Awards! 'The Return of the King' tied 'Ben-Hur,' and 'Titanic' for the most Oscars won by a single film, and its absorbing mix of fantasy, action, and intrigue coupled with breathtaking production values and impressive technical wizardry makes it an enduring fan favorite. Jackson at last won a Best Director award, and the movie triumphed in all 11 categories in which it secured nominations – an awe-inspiring feat that may never be equaled.
'Million Dollar Baby' (2004) – Billed as a movie about female boxers and the unlikely contender who makes good despite long odds, 'Million Dollar Baby' might seem like a gender-bending 'Rocky' knockoff, but Clint Eastwood's moving and perceptive character study is the antithesis of the feel-good sports film. Emotionally charged yet subtly presented, this affecting film about perseverance, dedication, devotion, and the bonds of family earned Eastwood his second Best Director Oscar and Hilary Swank a well-deserved second Best Actress award. Morgan Freeman also was at last honored for a brilliantly understated supporting performance. Though many felt Martin Scorsese's 'The Aviator' should have prevailed, the Academy's heart belonged to this quiet yet searing film.
'Crash' (2005) – One of the biggest – and most controversial – upsets in Oscar history occurred when Jack Nicholson opened the envelope and said, "Whoa!" 'Crash,' a low-budget ensemble piece directed by Paul Haggis about racial tensions in Los Angeles beat Ang Lee's widely acclaimed "gay cowboy" romance, 'Brokeback Mountain,' much to the consternation of social groups and many film fans. Those deriding the victory of 'Crash' claimed a decided L.A. bias turned the tide, as well as a backlash against homosexuals by the stodgy and conservative Academy. Whatever the case, 'Crash' remains a well-made, thought-provoking, and tightly constructed film that features fine performances from Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Ryan Phillippe, Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, and others. In addition to Best Picture, the movie also won awards for its original screenplay and editing.
'The Departed' (2006) – After inexplicable snubs for such masterpieces as 'Raging Bull' and 'GoodFellas,' arguably America's finest contemporary director – on his sixth try – at last received the Academy recognition he so richly deserved. Though 'The Departed,' a rough, crude, violent – and mesmerizing – mob flick, doesn't possess the artistic merit of the aforementioned Scorsese films, it stands as the most commercially successful movie of Marty's four-decade career. Blistering performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Vera Farmiga elevate the material, and Scorsese's firm grasp of the genre makes this pulsating drama, which also was honored for its adapted screenplay and editing, a pleasure to watch from start to finish.
'No Country for Old Men' (2007) – For the second year in a row, the Academy went to the dark side, foregoing the sweeping romantic elegance of 'Atonement' for this lean, mean, oh-so-bleak examination of greed and vengeance in the American Southwest. Joel and Ethan Coen each took home three Oscars for producing, directing, and adapting Cormac McCarthy's brooding, suspenseful tale of the violent fallout from a drug deal gone wrong. As the ruthless killing machine bound and determined to retrieve what he perceives to be rightfully his, Javier Bardem sports the worst haircut in film history, but creates arguably cinema's most frightening villain, and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his excellent work. Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Woody Harrelson also contribute first-rate performances in this terrific thriller.
'Slumdog Millionaire' (2008) – Feel-good made a return in 2008, as Danny Boyle's exuberant chronicle of how a young Indian man's unlikely success on a TV quiz show spawns an investigation into his poor and checkered past won a whopping eight Academy Awards, including Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Score, Song, and Sound Mixing. Boyle thrusts us into the slums of Mumbai and mystical culture of India as he weaves this romantic and inspirational yarn that renews our faith in true love, a never-say-die attitude, and the power of fate. Mixing Bollywood and Hollywood conventions, this magnetic, often magical hybrid production expanded our horizons and became a popular phenomenon that snowballed into Oscar gold.
'The Hurt Locker' (2009) – Not only was 2009 the first year since 1943 to see more than five movies nominated for Best Picture, it was far more importantly the first time in the 82-year history of the Academy Awards that a woman was named Best Director. Kathryn Bigelow beat out her ex-husband James Cameron and 'The Hurt Locker' bested the insanely popular (and overrated) 'Avatar' in the year's top categories. This taut, macho, and agonizingly intense portrait of an Army bomb disposal unit and the renegade leader who puts his team in perpetual jeopardy also won awards for its original screenplay, editing, sound editing, and sound mixing.
'The King's Speech' (2010) – Richard III's hunchback was nothing compared to the crippling infirmity that afflicted England's George VII, and 'The King's Speech' chronicles how the insecure monarch, who reluctantly ascended to the throne after his selfish and weak-willed brother abdicated, learns to live with and manage his debilitating stammer. It's an inspiring – if often agonizing – story, and Tom Hooper, who won the Best Director award, presents it with elegance, humor, warmth, and grace. Though I preferred the brash and stylish 'The Social Network' to this more refined period piece, the performance of Colin Firth as the tortured king was by far the year's best, and he was justly honored with the Best Actor award. In addition, the original screenplay for 'The King's Speech' also was appropriately cited.
'The Artist' (2011) – Before 'The Artist,' the only silent film ever to win Best Picture was the 1927 World War I aerial epic, 'Wings,' and it took home the prize at the very first Academy Awards. Eighty-four years later, French director Michel Hazanavicius – who was named Best Director – boldly revived the form, and his clever, endearing love letter to old Hollywood during the turbulent time when sound rocked the industry charmed audiences nationwide. While my favorite film of 2011 was another reverent salute to the even earlier days of cinema – Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' – I couldn't help but appreciate the meticulous attention to detail and inventive presentation of 'The Artist,' which perfectly captures a bygone style and era. French actor Jean Dujardin won Best Actor for his spirited portrayal of a vain and stubborn matinee idol unable to accept change, and the film also received honors for its costume design and score.
'Argo' (2012) – Many fine films vied for last year's top Academy honor, including Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln,' Ang Lee's 'Life of Pi,' Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty,' and my personal favorite, David O. Russell's 'Silver Linings Playbook,' but the ultimate winner was Ben Affleck's 'Argo,' an absorbing chronicle of a little-known undercover CIA mission to rescue a handful of kidnapped Americans during the notorious Iran hostage crisis of 1979-80. Affleck wasn't even nominated for Best Director, but his movie, which mixes humor with tension and tells an unbelievable true story of courage and audacity, developed a devoted following that grew over the course of several months, culminating in an Oscar victory. Affleck also stars in the film, giving one of his better performances, and a stellar cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin (nominated for Best Supporting Actor), and John Goodman does justice to the Academy Award-winning adapted screenplay.
Best Picture Nominees of the 2000s Available on Blu-ray:
'Erin Brockovich' (2000)
'Moulin Rouge' (2001)
'Gangs of New York' (2002)
'The Pianist' (2002)
'Lost in Translation' (2003)
'Mystic River' (2003)
'The Aviator' (2004)
'Finding Neverland' (2004)
'Brokeback Mountain' (2005)
'Good Night, and Good Luck' (2005)
'Letters from Iwo Jima' (2006)
'Little Miss Sunshine' (2006)
'The Queen' (2006)
'Michael Clayton' (2007)
'There Will Be Blood' (2007)
'The Reader' (2008)
'The Blind Side' (2009)
'District 9' (2009)
'An Education' (2009)
'Inglorious Basterds' (2009)
'A Serious Man' (2009)
'Up in the Air' (2009)
'Black Swan' (2010)
'The Fighter' (2010)
'The Kids Are All Right' (2010)
'127 Hours' (2010)
'The Social Network' (2010)
'Toy Story 3' (2010)
'True Grit' (2010)
'Winter's Bone' (2010)
'The Descendants' (2011)
'The Help' (2011)
'Midnight in Paris' (2011)
'The Tree of Life' (2011)
'War Horse' (2011)
'Django Unchained' (2012)
'Les Misérables' (2012)
'Life of Pi' (2012)
'Silver Linings Playbook' (2012)
'Zero Dark Thirty' (2012)
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