Think you’re a movie buff? Here’s a list of the all the Best Picture Oscar movies from the 21st century to work your way through. Some may shock you, and others may feel dated and not worthy of its status anymore. One thing’s for sure, you need to watch them.
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This film cleaned up at the Oscars taking Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film – all the big ones. We can see why. It’s rare for a movie to combine cinematic fireworks and social commentary in quite the thrilling and mischievous way that Korean director Bong Joon-ho manages with Parasite, a slick home-invasion drama that mirrors the masks worn by its characters – polite until they drop the pretense.
Green Book – 2019
What happens when a rough Italian-American from the Bronx takes a world-class African-American pianist on a concert tour to the Deep South of the US? A lot of bickering, banter between two men on completely different paths in life, and a whole lot of important life lessons to be learned. Mahershala Ali got the award for Best Actor in a supporting role, too. This one hits hard.
In this romantic fantasy, director Guillermo del Toro blows a kiss to a monster. The Shape of Water is set in 1962 and Elisa is a mute loner who works – somewhat improbably – in a secret government facility in Baltimore (go with it, it gets better). Who would have guessed an amphibious creature would meet with Elisa, and more dramatically, form a connection none of us were expecting? The Shape of Water broke new grounds in the film industry, as finally there was a fantasy film that won.
Moonlight – 2017
Oh, the fiasco over this one. That shouldn’t take away from the all-singing, all-dancing musical film that was La La Land, but rightfully so, the Oscar had to go to Moonlight which touches upon critical issues in 2017 that opened many conversations. The tough childhood of a poor Miami kid is the subject of Barry Jenkins’s powerful and moving indie portrait of African-American life.
Spotlight – 2016
It’s that all-too-rare beast: a movie that’s both important and engrossing. Spotlight calmly and powerfully traces the work of a group of dogged Boston Globe journalists in 2001, who were determined to expose the systematic cover-up of abuse in Boston. It’s the story behind the story, and it’s the film equivalent of reading an especially thrilling New Yorker article: ruthlessly detailed, precise and gripping but never brash or overemotional.
It’s the movie that brought about the craze of “oh my, was this all taken in one shot?” cinematography. “Most of the successful people in Hollywood are failures as human beings”, or so said Marlon Brando. But what happens when their 15 minutes are up?
It’s not like failure suddenly transforms former mega-celebs into humble human beings who can pick up their own coffee. That’s Michael Keaton’s problem in this savagely funny, strangely sweet, sad and utterly brilliant New York-set comedy from Mexican writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu.
12 Years a Slave has absolutely no interest in reconciliation, in forgiveness, in making slavery history. McQueen’s film may be stylistically traditional, but its outlook is as confrontational and uncompromising as any ripped-from-the-headlines drama.
How to smuggle six ambassadors out of a country without anyone noticing? Make up a new sci-fi franchise, apparently. For 100 minutes, Argo is close to flawless. Unashamedly modelling his directorial style on the stark, serious ’70s thrillers of Alan J. Pakula and Sidney Lumet, Ben Affleck cranks up the tension expertly and the script is witty and insightful.
A loving – and silent – recreation of Hollywood on the verge of sound. The Artist is shot in exactly the same speechless, monochrome style as the movies in which our tragic hero, actor George Valentin (Dujardin), employs a canny arched eyebrow or breaks out into a rip-roaring tap-dancing routine to wow his adoring audience.
As attention-grabbing plotlines go, it’s hardly a world-beater: buttoned-down British royal suffers speech impediment and hires unconventional Aussie doctor to conquer his fear of public oratory. So it’s thanks to the best efforts of writer David Seidler, director Tom Hooper and, especially, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush that The King’s Speech isn’t just an enlightening period drama, but a very entertaining, heartfelt and surprisingly funny crowd-pleaser.
For a true depiction of the difference between heroism and heroics, director Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is it. Bigelow’s film combines an expert management of tension with a sensitive and journalistic attention to detail: she has one eye on the truth and the other on the multiplex, and this makes for an unusual mix of the thrilling and the sobering.
Slumdog Millionaire – 2009
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is a film so upbeat and colourful that, by the time you’re relaying its infectious air of optimism to friends, you could forget that it features organised crime, poverty, enslavement and police brutality in its crowd-pleasing repertoire of suffering and renewal. It even ends with a get-up-and-dance Bollywood number on the platform of Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus.
A masterly tale of the good, the deranged and the doomed that inflects the raw violence of the west with a wry acknowledgement of the demise of codes of honour, this is frighteningly intelligent and imaginative. The Coen brothers made a chilling villain in Javier Bardem, but the premise of hunter being hunted goes beyond that thanks to enthralling characters and a peculiar ending.
The Departed – 2007
Infernal Affairs, the 2002 Hong Kong crime-thriller that pitched a triad mole in the police force against an undercover cop in the mob, finds its reflection in The Departed. We’ve moved to Boston, where hot-headed rookie Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is ostensibly turfed out of the force as a cover for his long-term assignment, while ambitious hood Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) signs up for the State Police Academy and a speedy promotion. Their respective controls are police Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).
Crash – 2006
Car-jackers, a Latino locksmith, an Iranian storekeeper, a daytime-TV actor, a seemingly helpless man and various partners, both professional or personal. If that sounds an almost Altman-esque tall order for an American movie, rest assured writer-director Haggis (who wrote Eastwood’s superb Million Dollar Baby) has won some fulsome praise for this ensemble drama evoking the tensions in post-9/11 Los Angeles.
Million Dollar Baby – 2005
When Maggie (Hilary Swank), a struggling waitress from the Ozarks, turns up asking for tuition from boxing couch Frankie (Clint Eastwood), Scrap (Morgan Freeman) sees real talent, but Frankie insists she’s too inexperienced, too old… and a woman. And Frankie doesn’t train women. But this one won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. No need to read or listen to anything that tells you more than the above; the only other thing you need know is that Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby is a tremendous movie you should see, even if you think boxing pictures aren’t for you.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – 2004
It may be the longest climax in film history: more than three hours of mad kings, massing troops, battle cries and ballyhoo. In terms of spectacle, there’s nothing like it. Peter Jackson has weight of numbers on his side, but it’s also the heartfelt stories of our favourite hobbits, and how Samwise is definitely the real hero of The Lord of the Rings.
Chicago – 2003
Based on the musical theatre show of the same name, this is a toe-tapper of a movie. Two death-row murderesses develop a fierce rivalry while competing for publicity, celebrity, and a sleazy lawyer’s attention. What a setup for a story, and Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones absolutely steal the show. Chicago may not be the most well remembered Oscar winner, but it’s a movie you don’t want to miss.
A Beautiful Mind – 2002
Based on true events, as a math student at Princeton in 1947, John Nash (Crowe) was eccentric, uncouth and arrogant, but his PhD thesis on ‘Non-Cooperative Games’ justified his self-esteem, and he was promptly ushered into top level government think tanks. At the age of 30, however, Nash was diagnosed with schizophrenia after claiming he was communicating with ‘abstract powers from outer space – or perhaps foreign governments’ via The New York Times. It’s enthralling, and Russell Crowe does John justice.
Gladiator – 2001
Director Ridley Scott’s sword and sandal spectacular is a good yarn, packed with epic pomp and pageantry, dastardly plots, massed action and forthright, fundamental emotions. We mean, are you not entertained?
American Beauty – 2000
The best reviewed movie of 1999 (and winner of a whopping five Oscars) is a polished and acerbic social satire with ‘countercultural’ tendencies. Director Sam Mendes guides an artful path between desire and self-disgust, playing youth against experience, male against female.