Every Best Picture Winner Since 2000, Ranked

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 8.48.18 PMSo here is a dumb little exercise I decided to tackle for no reason. Following the end of the Oscars on Sunday, I started to look back on the Best Picture winners of recent years. And, honestly, I was pleasantly surprised. As much as we like to complain about the movies that win Academy Awards, the truth is that the winners are rarely genuinely bad. If anything, we get angry because they choose the wrong kind of good movie, consistently showing affection for solid, inoffensive, B-plus material while passing by more ambitious, bolder fare. Anyway, for kicks and giggles, I decided to rank every Best Picture winner since the turn of the century, explain my verdict, and then provide my choice for the nominee that should have won that year. I’ve also decided to divide the winners into three tiers: the years when the Academy chose well, the years when the Academy chose a good movie instead of a great one, and the years where they just plain blew it. Now, let’s get started. Continue reading

The Same Old Song: An Oscar Postmortem

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The Oscars are, of course, incredibly predictable. They have been for a long time, and it’s hard to see that changing in the foreseeable future. There are too many guild awards, too many prognosticators, and the months (months!) leading up to the ceremony have become a deafening buzz machine full of stupid, desperate campaigning and even stupider smear campaigns. As Oscar season rolls on, various movies are placed on a pedestal only to be violently torn down. Selma, Boyhood and even American Sniper had moments on that pedestal, and once all the mud-slinging is done, what are we left with? Birdman, another film that ostensibly pokes fun at show business, but does so politely for two hours before coming to the conclusion that it’s actually awesome and important. Continue reading

Ones on 1: The rambling, personal charm of “Funny People”

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 8.56.10 PMOnes on 1 is a monthly feature in which I write about a selected film that reached number one at the box office for precisely one weekend. This month, we examine the film that took the crown on August 2, 2009: Funny People.

Five years removed from its theatrical run, it seems particularly insane that a film like Judd Apatow’s Funny People was given a wide release. It’s hard to even recall a recent independent movie that has aimed for the same kind of specific, rambling ambition. There may not be another movie like it, and that is both to its credit and detriment. It isn’t terribly unique on a micro level, but when looking at the big picture—and all the bits, conflicts and ideas it throws into its 146-minute stew—it reveals just how strange and admirable this whole undertaking was. This could only be made by someone who had already reached the top of the mountain, and by the time Funny People came out, Apatow was on an unparalleled roll. This film ended that roll, but it clearly wasn’t for lack of trying. Continue reading

Summer of Cruise VI: The end of ambition

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Throughout most of his career, Tom Cruise has made his film decisions based on one thing: to where will audiences follow him? For a while, the answer to that question was “pretty much anywhere.” However, in the last decade or so, a slight tension seems to have developed between Cruise and audiences. His films have been quite successful for the most part, but this summer’s critically lauded Edge of Tomorrow is a rare Cruise blockbuster that bombed in theaters. You could feel something like this coming for a while. In the last several years, we have seen Cruise star in several action movies that are broadly appealing, but hardly the best use of the star’s talents, and none of the marketing leading up to Edge of Tomorrow’s release indicated that audiences would be getting anything new. We have entered an age of potential Cruise fatigue, and it can all be traced back to the hullabaloo surrounding the release of War of the Worlds in 2005. Continue reading

Ones on 1: In 1991, Martin Scorsese finally scored a hit with “Cape Fear”

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Ones on 1 is a monthly feature in which I write about a selected film that reached number one at the box office for precisely one weekend. This month, we examine the film which took the crown on November 17, 1991: 
Cape Fear.

Since his rise in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Martin Scorsese has always been one of the most respected filmmakers in the world. However, Scorsese the commercially successful filmmaker is a relatively new phenomenon. His four most successful films (The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator) have all come in the last 10 years. In the ’80s especially, he was seen as a brilliant filmmaker who made box office failure after box office failure, with the lone exception being 1986’s The Color of Money. Other, intensely personal projects like Raging Bull, The King of Comedy and The Last Temptation of Christ all failed when loosed upon the general public. He was always a brilliant director, but as the ’80s turned into the ’90s, most were ready to accept that his work just was never going to really click with the public at large. Continue reading

Ones on 1: The brief, unprecedented success of “Fahrenheit 9/11”

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Welcome to the first edition of Ones on 1, a new monthly feature I will be doing for the blog. The basic premise is simple: on the first of every month, I will write about a random film that was number one at the box office for precisely one weekend. That may sound like a broad topic, and it is, but the goal will be to choose films that achieved that peak, but didn’t quite belong there. Every Sunday, film journalists look at the box office standings, and most of the time the “winning” film is the most obvious choice. Ones on 1 will shine a light on some of the misfits who found themselves in a very exclusive, blockbuster-filled club. On that note, it feels appropriate that the first installment of this feature will examine the single most successful documentary of all time: Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. That’s right: to this day no documentary has been more financially successful, and it made headlines upon its release for being the first film in that genre to top the weekend box office. In the spring of 2004, it won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival. This is an insane level of success and attention, but just ten years later it seems almost nobody thinks about it anymore. Most wouldn’t even call it the best Michael Moore movie. This was a documentary that burned impossibly bright, then quickly faded away. Continue reading

Summer of Cruise V: You had me at “Fidelio”

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Tom Cruise’s career had now entered its fourth decade, and in all that time there is one stretch that stands out as the most interesting. It begins in 1996, which brought us two of the most important films of his career: the original Mission: Impossible (covered previously) and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire. The former is notable for sending Cruise down the action hero path that would eventually lead him to his current state, and the latter is a memorable quote factory that was able to get not one, but two lines onto AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes list, with a third just missing the cut. It’s the film that got Cruise his second Oscar nomination, and for the next few years he continued to chase that dragon, resulting in perhaps the three weirdest movies Cruise has ever starred in: Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia and Vanilla Sky. Continue reading

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a rare anti-violent blockbuster

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The last few weeks of summer movie season have provided us with something of an accidental contrast in how violence is handled in your usual blockbuster. The weekend before Independence Day, there was the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction, which provides viewers with the usual heavy dose of constant mayhem, robot fights and boring/embarrassing human storylines. Like the previous Transformers films, along with most of Michael Bay’s oeuvre, it could not care less about what any of the carnage or violence means. On top of that, the scenes of hand-to-hand robot combat would be The Raid 2-level gruesome if they played out between human beings, and the series’ ostensible noble “hero” Optimus Prime is actually a super-violent psychopath who will quickly murder anyone that even looks at him funny. As much as I dislike the Transformers films, however, it is unfair to single them out. Most summer blockbusters and big-budget action films share this series’ bloodlust, and only when something like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes along do we realize that there’s actually another way to go about things. Continue reading

Summer of Cruise IV: The truth, and how to handle it

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As I discussed last time around, one of the most difficult moments in any young movie star’s career is what they do immediately after their sudden rise to fame. These days, we’re actually seeing several actors go through this stage, what with franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight reaching their end. When Top Gun exploded and Tom Cruise became a household name, he decided to respond by simply making as many movies as possible. He also helped himself by refusing to simply make Top Gun 2: Still Playin’ With the Boys, and instead tried out a bunch of different projects. Many of them may have had similar plots, characters and themes, but others decided to push his now-famous persona into more interesting places. This post covers three early attempts by Cruise to work on more prestigious fare, and in one case he was able to get his first Oscar nomination. Continue reading

The 2014 Halftime Report

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As hard as it is to believe, we now find ourselves six months into another year. Of course, we should use this time to reflect. Not on our lives, of course. Who cares about that? We should instead turn our attention to the various movies that have been released so far in 2014, and this has probably been the best January-to-June stretch we’ve seen in several years. Normally when I do a mid-year post, I have trouble coming up with five movies that I really liked. This time around, I quite easily came up with a list of 10 movies I really, really liked, and the even greater miracle is just how strong Hollywood has been so far this year. We didn’t get our first genuine stinker of the summer movie season until a certain Michael Bay arrived last week to muck things up. 2014 is off to a rousing start, and we still have six months ahead that are full of new movies from Paul Thomas Anderson, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan and more. Continue reading