A-List: Best Picture Nominee Slates - Part 2

By J. Don Birnam

July 20, 2016

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10. 2013: 12 Years A Slave Gets Things Warmer

Two years ago, a hard look at slavery in America took the Best Picture trophy, while the Best Director statue went to fellow Best Picture nominee Gravity. Other nominees included Dallas Buyers Club, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, Her, Captain Phillips,and American Hustle.

At least two of those, Wolf and Gravity, I suspect, will be considered masterpieces of their time in years to come. Nebraska, 12 Years, Philomena and Captain Phillips are all a strong middle contingency featuring beautiful or stunning performances and/or scripts, and telling a wide array of stories from the elderly to the historical past to the modern. I’m not particularly a fan of Her or Dallas Buyers Club, but I can see the praise showered on them. American Hustle, by contrast, is a steaming mess of wigs and showy dialogue, so hey, the year isn’t perfect.

But, these are Best Picture nominees we are talking about, and already by the 10th spot on the list we see a shift into solid ground, with at least two to three great to very good movies near the top. And when you consided that three other great to solid movies - Blue Jasmine, August: Osage County, and Saving Mr. Banks - had credible shots at nominations, things start to look a lot better. Still, the year is overall somewhat on the weaker side, and the “important” feeling movie took it that time around.

9. 2007: No Country for Old Men Beats There Will Be Blood

In 2007, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood faced off in one of the toughest competitions for the top Oscar in a long time. Both movies were visceral, dark challenges to normal movie-making norms, and presented a breath of fresh air from the facile winners that had and have come to define the Academy. The other three nominees were also pretty good, Juno, Michael Clayton, and Atonement, even if they don’t speak masterpiece.

Clayton was a fresh twist on the typical political thriller, Juno modernized the clichéd type that Sideways ruined, and Atonement was a solemn, beautiful analysis of love and regret in a familiar setting (England during the War).

The Best Picture lineup also shows remarkable depth for the first time in these rankings—American Gangster, The Savages, Eastern Promises, La Vie En Rose, Into The Wild, Lars and The Real Girl, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly all could have made the final cut and been respectable choices. Again, none of those is an Earth-shattering masterpiece, but we have for the first time a solid range of movies that run the gamut of entertainment.


8. 2012: Argo Ousts a Solid Slate

Ang Lee, that pesky man again. Every time he has been in the Oscar race, the Crouching Tiger year (see below), the Brokeback year, he causes problems. His last appearance at the Oscars was no different, as his Life of Pi won Best Director while Ben Affleck’s Argo took home the top prize. Other nominees that year were the masterful Lincoln, the touching and harrowing Amour, the groundbreaking Zero Dark Thirty, the innovative Beasts of the Southern Wild, the solid musical Les Miserables, along with Tarantino’s Django Unchained and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. Only the last two are truly weak in my view.

Argo’s win looks highly suspect in the face of the strong competition it ousted. It seems to be, in fact, that years with splits also point to a diverse set of strong contenders - again, perhaps a harbinger of the upcoming awards.

The year is overall down in the middle of the pack, however, because despite the strength of the slate itself there wasn’t much more left on the table for the Academy to pick from. The Master and Moonrise Kingdom could have been nominees, but no one really laments their absence from the lineup.

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