Ranking the Best Picture Winners, Part VIII

23.  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

The gender politics in this one—oof.  Setting that aside, some truly great performances here.  That a fiercely talented “character actor” like Louise Fletcher could land a starring role in a movie this big and ride it all the way to a Best Actress win is proof that the system can work (sometimes).

22.  The Hurt Locker (2009)

2009 was by no means Hollywood’s greatest year.  The Hurt Locker’s fellow Best Picture nominees included District 9 and The Blind Side.  (Worthier nominees included Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man.)  The Hurt Locker’s chief competitor, though, was Avatar, for which it served as a perfect foil.  Big-budget fantasy spectacle vs. cynical, ironic realism: it’s rare that Academy voters go with the latter over the former, but go with it they did, also throwing in a Best Director win for Kathryn Bigelow.  

21.  Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

I love what Glenn Kenny says about this: “the one Best Picture winner that most resembles a Truffaut film, stylistically.”  (Might it have something to do with having been lensed by Nestor Almendros?)  Also, Meryl Streep. 

20.  Chicago (2002)

In case I haven’t already proven that I’m not immune to the type of “big-budget spectacle” that I knocked in my entry for The Hurt Locker (see above), I’ll go ahead and level the claim that Chicago was not only the best of the five Best Picture nominees of 2002, it was among the best films of that year, period, and one of the best Hollywood musicals of the last thirty years.  (Make that “one of the only Hollywood musicals in the last thirty years that Hollywood hasn’t somehow fucked up.”)  N.b.: I haven’t seen it since 2003.

19.  American Beauty (1999)

My suspicion is that this has not aged well.  At the time, it was incredibly exciting to see Academy voters go for something contemporary, funny, “dark,” and small-ish.  As with Chicago, it remains the best of the five films nominated in its year.  The bigger question: why wasn’t Being John Malkovich nominated?  Or Topsy-Turvy?  Or Election?  Or Boys Don’t Cry?  Or The Talented Mr. Ripley?  Or Magnolia?  Or…

18.  Million Dollar Baby (2004)

I remember that as of mid-December 2004 everyone thought that Scorsese’s The Aviator had the Best Picture race locked up, until this swooped in at the eleventh hour.  I went to see it in mid-January out of sense of duty and had to admit that it worked.  It’s of a piece with Clint Eastwood’s other late-period dramas, all of which are studies in male pain, and which are, to varying degrees, shattering.  See also Unforgiven

17.  The Departed (2006)

Scorsese’s eleventh- or twelfth-best movie is still better than anything most directors do in their entire careers.   

16.  Schindler’s List (1993)

No, it’s no Shoah.  But I again quote Glenn Kenny: “I can’t see how American culture could have handled this subject better.” 

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