Let’s face it, sometimes the Oscars do get it right. However, they frequently don’t. In the 2000’s, of the ten films that won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s top award, most of them deserved it. It is a diverse group of winners. From small biopics to neo-westerns to giant fantasy films, the class of the 2000’s is certainly diverse. Yet, how do they stack up with each other? Do they still hold up today? Let’s take a look at these ten movies ranked from worst to best.
#10. Crash (2005)
In perhaps one of the most puzzling decisions the Academy made, Paul Haggis’s ensemble crime drama earned the big prize. Some in the industry believed Academy members weren’t comfortable with the subject matter in Brokeback Mountain. Crash tells the story of several diverse people in Los Angeles dealing with racism. The movie was met with mixed reviews by critics, but arguably was the lesser of the five films nominated. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert noted it was his favorite movie of that year. However, the movie doesn’t seem to have aged all that well in the years since. Though this may be the worst of the winners from the decade, it certainly isn’t unwatchable. Still, the movie’s lack of subtlety and forced thematic moments never feel quite earnest in their execution.
Featuring a great cast, this rousing adaptation of the famed musical struck a chord within the Academy. Earning six statues overall and a near-record thirteen nominations, Chicago is a humorous, well-acted movie musical. It earned Catherine Zeta-Jones an Oscar win for supporting actress and netted two spots in that category overall. Director Rob Marshall’s movie is energetic, and was able to outlast hard-hitting dramas like The Hours and The Pianist. Unfortunately, like Crash, and many other Best Picture winners in history, the movie doesn’t seem to have stuck around in the minds of film fans. It’s glossy and altogether harmless, but the biggest knock against it is that is just a little too forgettable among all the great movie musicals.
Though director Danny Boyle enriched this film with a ton of energy and sincerity, Slumdog Millionaire never really transcends its typical rags-to-riches story. Nonetheless, the movie is very well acted with Dev Patel and Fredia Pinto exuding some great chemistry. It is a crowd pleaser no doubt, earning a win for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008. Other winners of that award have gone on to Best Picture wins as well with The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave being recent examples. Overall, the movie just never reaches higher than a feel-good story mixed in with some socioeconomic political commentary. Slumdog is a heartwarming nonetheless, and in a fairly weak year, it came out on top.
The late ’90s and early 2000’s were good to Russell Crowe. Though he didn’t nab two consecutive Best Actor trophies (more on that later) his performance as mathematician John Nash did get him on the short list. But overall, A Beautiful Mind took the nights biggest prize over Robert Altman’s critically acclaimed Gosford Park and musical Moulin Rogue! as well. Ron Howard’s movie is a moving and extremely well-acted bit of prestige filmmaking, and one of the textbook movies you’ll see when you look up “Oscar bait” in the dictionary. However, the movie succeeds in its subtle storytelling, assured direction and unflinching look at mental illness. A Beautiful Mind remains one of Howard’s most enduring works and undoubtedly one of Crowe’s very best performances.
Clint Eastwood’s powerful, heartbreaking tale of boxer Maggie Fitzgerald won over audiences and critics, and the Academy. Million Dollar Baby earned four Oscars including two for actors Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. Swank’s moving performance as the driven but fairly naive boxer who employs Eastwood to train her is flawless. It subverts the obvious tropes of feel-good sports dramas to deliver a nuanced, emotional gut punch. Eastwood went toe-to-toe with Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and came out on top. Though it may not have the re-watchability of some other similar films, this is a movie that sticks with you long after the credits roll.
#5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
One of the Academy’s most satisfying selections, Peter Jackson’s conclusion to one of the greatest film trilogies ever pleased genre fans the nation over. Though its win is viewed, probably fairly, as one that honors the franchise as a whole, Jackson created what is likely the most recent example of a true, classic Hollywood epic. It tied the most wins ever for a film at the Oscars (11, also won by Ben-Hur in 1959 and Titanic in 1997) and gave the franchise a fitting bow to tie over it all. The movie is visually stunning and offers a brilliant emotional punch to boot. You never feel its length and that all of the sacrifice laid over the first two films is earned in this incredible conclusion.
Clint Eastwood may have knocked out Martin Scorsese back in 2004, but Scorsese finally got his golden statue in 2006. His brilliant, thoughtful and powerfully acted remake of Infernal Affairs earned Mr. Scorsese his long overdue win not only for Best Picture but Best Director. Movies like Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and even The Aviator were ignored almost completely by the Academy aside from some wins for actors. However, The Departed features a true all-star cast giving top-notch performances. A tight script and Scorsese’s now signature street-level deep dive into the world of gangsters only help to bolster this truly exceptional crime drama.
Leading up to the ceremony, it seemed like a no-doubter that Avatar would steal the show. Even though the Academy expanded to ten nominees for the first time since the early days of the Oscars, it was sure bet James Cameron’s epic would score a nomination for Best Picture. They didn’t account for The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow’s exquisite war drama earned her a Best Director, a first for any female director, and the movie took home Best Picture. The Hurt Locker offers up edge of your seat tension and offers a visceral portrayal of a bomb squad in the Middle East. It marked a career transformation for Bigelow who has focused more on real-life drama. Her engrossing work here was certainly worth the win.
Ridley Scott harkened back to the classic Hollywood sword and sandal epics of the 1950’s and ’60s. Russell Crowe gives an emotional and textured performance. Scott crafted a historical epic layered with intense violence and engaging storytelling. Gladiator tells a story filled with the political inner-workings of the Roman Empire while always remaining accessible to its audience. Crowe is magnetic, as is Joaquin Phoenix in a movie filled with believable performances. Not to mention, the film plays to Scott’s strengths as a filmmaker with its technically astounding filmmaking and highly thrilling visuals. The film is certainly one of Scott’s masterpieces.
The 2000’s seemed to be the decade of recognition. Scorsese and Scott’s films earned their due after decades of nominations. However, 2007 was the year of the Coen’s. Joel and Ethan Coen put out quality work for decades until winning all the big prizes for their masterpiece, No Country for Old Men. The pair took home a trio of awards and no film in the 2000’s was more deserving than this one. A stunning, brilliantly shot, impeccably acted neo-western, No Country for Old Men paints a dark and hopeless portrait of rural Texas. In a tale of morality, fate and human nature, the movie follows a sadistic murderer (Javier Bardem) and his pursuit of a hunter (Josh Brolin) who finds drug money that belongs to truly horrific people. Bardem gives a performance for the ages and won the Oscar for Supporting Actor that year as well to give the movie four wins overall. It’s a bleak, but endlessly re-watchable movie covering weighty themes.