Thursday, February 20, 2014

My 10 Favorite Best Picture Losers (2004-2013)

Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially 10 days away from the big ceremony on Sunday, March 2. With everyone rushing to catch their last few missing pieces, I have decided to commemorate the final stretch by looking back at a top 10 different from the one most people are talking about: My Top 10 Favorite Best Picture Losers (2004-2013). What does this entail? It simply means that of the numerous nominees in the category, these are the ones that made the cut, but left the ceremony without the big trophy. With the 86 years being a daunting task to compile a singular 10, this is a look at the past decade and highlighting the ones that I either loved more or revisit with some regularity. 

Much like the other compilations on this blog from the past, I do these lists initially to introduce myself through my tastes as well as get feedback from readers. In the past, I have shared my favorite Best Picture winners by decade and favorite post-millennial directors. This time, I decided to remain thematic and explore the time frame that is most formative to how I viewed the Oscars. While I have been watching since I was a child, the ceremony's significance hadn't gained much ground for me until the 00's came along. Much like everyone else, I had my favorites and the build-up to the big night is unnerving. Even if I still think that 12 Years a Slave will win big, the skeptic in me worries of something strange to happen. 

For me, each winner is a mark into the history books to be discussed for decades to come (I still cannot shut up about how bad Chariots of Fire and Dances with Wolves are). While some will remain uneventful, most serve a bigger narrative of themes relevant to the culture at the time. Even in compiling this list, it was hard for me to cut down from 15, as films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 127 Hours, or The Aviator barely missed the cut. 

However, when finalizing the list, I decided to think of the films that have stayed with me. These are the ones that I either revisit with regularity or had an emotional attachment to upon release. These are the films that make me believe in the significance of the Oscars, and makes me at times a little too defensive. Even if my Top 10 would likely change among another five selections on any given day, this is what I feel best represents how I perceive the Best Picture award in general.

Daniel Day-Lewis
There Will Be Blood (2007)

LOST TO: No Country For Old Men

It was a year of unprecedented riches with two auteur releases that have since defined their careers and cinematic achievement in the modern era. While No Country for Old Men took the top prize, There Will Be Blood's second place is no insult. With a performance that ranks among Daniel Day-Lewis' greatest, this film of mining oil in California is one that explores a lot of heavy themes while displaying director Paul Thomas Anderson at his technical high. The soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood may be a little divisive, but the craft in this film has made it such a memorable film that continues to grow with each continuous viewing. It is a masterpiece only threatened by Anderson's next film The Master. It is hard to say that No Country for Old Men was the wrong winner, as it is brilliantly kinetic, but the film feels like a slightly more universal picture that clicked better with audiences. Even then, 2007 ranks as one of the greatest Best Picture races in all time history, where even the losers are still films that I am likely to watch multiple times (there are three films on the list that I have seen over seven times).

Michael Stuhlbarg
A Serious Man (2009)

LOST TO: The Hurt Locker

With the Academy in the second year of the short lived 10 nominees, this gem by the Coen Brothers sneaked into the Best Picture race. Even if it seemed like a bizarre choice to have a film about Jewish Americana in the mix, it is a film that has become my favorite by the directing duo. With a breakthrough performance by Michael Stuhlbarg (who also received a Best Actor nomination), the story was delightfully dry and captured the Coens at their most maturely strange. It is a film with so much subtext that the ending is one with many interpretations. It may have never stood a chance at winning, if for how niche its target audience seemed to be, but as a whole, it is one of the most profound losers who somehow made the cut anyways.

Jesse Eisenberg
The Social Network (2010)

LOST TO: The King's Speech

For many reasons, 2010 was the year that proved why the 10 Best Picture nominees was a great idea. It showed a diverse collection of films that reflected the best year of films since 2007. Among them lied The Social Network, which remains one of the more controversial losers of the past few years on the grounds that the year's winner, The King's Speech, reflected the Academy's aging viewpoints. What David Fincher's tale of the Facebook induction did was unprecedented, mixing a wonderfully dramatic tale with cutting edge technology that made computer coding look riveting. Even if the social network in question falls out of favor with the public, it is likely that this film will continue to be one of the defining achievements in film for its amazing script by Aaron Sorkin, including the fast paced opening dialogue that sets the film up for some remarkable feats. It is a drama that reflects Fincher at his heights and is hopefully the start of a grand new era for the director as well as film culture.

George Clooney
Up in the Air (2009)

LOST TO: The Hurt Locker

As stated in previous entries, Jason Reitman is one of my favorite directors and his work reflects a side of contemporary America that is likely to add a timeless quality to his work. In particular, Up in the Air feels like the sensitive predecessor to the money-hungry capitalism tales of 2013 with George Clooney turning in a great performance that reflects how complicated the economy has become. Those in power are isolated and there is no certainty anymore as Clooney tries to find a way to exist in a world that he mostly sees from an airplane. It is an emotionally deep tale that also gave Anna Kendrick a breakthrough performance as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. While it does feel like its loss to The Hurt Locker was more about history (Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director win was the first female to win the category), it is intriguing to see how this particular film will age. Its exploration of economics and isolation are all powerfully told in ways that Reitman hasn't quite captured since.

Left to right: Joseph Gordon Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Inception (2010)

LOST TO: The King's Speech

While it could be argued that Inception's nomination was more to appease The Dark Knight conspirators,  I do feel like it is far superior, even if it is more flawed. One of the things that gets lost to eras is the ability to "discover" a film and be taken away with awe. To date, Christopher Nolan remains one of the phenomenons whose films create discussion points while also making for severely entertaining blockbusters. Until Gravity, it was the last blockbuster that felt like it warranted the big screen with its now cliche Hans Zimmer score and cryptic story, it is a sci-fi film that pushed boundaries, sparked conversations, and made paying to see it four times in one summer (which I did) seem logical. It is unlikely that future audiences will "get" how great the film was in the summer of 2010 much like Jaws to current audiences, but it is a film that has become ingrained in the culture unlike few other nominees even in 2010.

Suraj Sharma
Life of Pi (2012)


In fairness, the film did win Best Director, which definitely shows in a film that stars Suraj Sharma, water, and the most gorgeous CGI landscape in years. The film is as much of a technical achievement as it is narrative and even spiritual. It is a film that shouldn't have worked, but brings the beauty of life into a poetic, big budgeted film that is rather ambitious. Of course, the real hero of the film is the CGI tiger Richard Parker, who manages to bring emotion to pixels and anchors the film's sense of realism, challenging the audience to accept what is real and fake. The only downside is that the masterminds behind the film, Rhythm & Hues, went bankrupt shortly following and thus will likely keep gems like this from ever surfacing again.

Ellen Page
Juno (2007)

LOST TO: No Country for Old Men

The film has become notoriously divisive for being aggressively creative with its language, but that is part of the film's charm. Not only did it introduce writer Diablo Cody to the zeitgeist, but it gave Ellen Page an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and Jason Reitman his first Best Director nomination as well. As a writer, one of my goals is to have memorable characters and dialogue, which this film has in ways that I have never quite shaken. With endless quotes and a charismatic lead, the tale of teenage pregnancy is one unlike any other. Maybe it came along at the right time, but it became my quintessential high school film as I was months away from graduating. Most of all, it also introduced me to the prospects of what an indie comedy could be when at its most candid. While it forever labeled Page as Juno, despite also being in the more successful Inception, it isn't a bad thing, as it introduced the world to an actress whose career has been an attempt to take on roles of strong, independent women. 

Natalie Portman
Black Swan (2010)

LOST TO: The King's Speech

Another oddly alluring film from the class of 2010 that turned ballet into a dark, psychological thriller. Maybe it was at points campy, but director Darren Aronofsky's dedication to bleak obsession helped to make this compelling story come to life, with help from Natalie Portman, who won Best Actress for this role, and Mila Kunis whose sexual tension added layers and forever shifted how many perceived the music of Swan Lake. More than anything, it is ambitiously strange and with haunting imagery, it is one of the few pseudo-horror films to be in the Best Picture race, and deservedly so. The film is highly entertaining and well crafted while hopefully setting the stage up for whatever Aronofsky's future will be. Even then, the passion and craft that went into this production that produced several lawsuits from interns and back-up dancers is unlikely to be topped for its majestic character study.

Sean Penn
Milk (2008)

LOST TO: Slumdog Millionaire 

Sean Penn's depiction of Mayor Harvey Milk is one of the best depictions of gay rights to be recognized by the Academy. It earned Penn an Oscar win for Best Actor and started the trend of the Academy recognizing movies with LGBT themes. From its dynamic performance to the mixture of actual news footage, it is a tale that feels as relevant in an era when Prop 8 started a huge campaign and brought people together in hopes of reaching tolerance. The film does an admirable job of not only making gay rights entertaining, but also bringing to life in an exciting way an activist who changed the world in exciting and important ways.

Jessica Chastain
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)


In many ways, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty felt like similar themed movies in which the latter was darker and more controversial, thanks to its depiction of torture. In one of the biggest travesties of last year's ceremony, this tale of hunting down Osama Bin Laden walked away with one Oscar win, which was shared with an additional film. More-so than director Kathryn Bigelow's Best Picture winning The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty felt like an epic that encapsulated a period in modern American history that we're all still grappling with. It may be a problematic subject, but with a fantastic performance by Jessica Chastain, there is plenty to enjoy of this film from its narrative to its use of sound and the excellent Alexandre Desplat score. This is a film that while having walked away practically empty handed, is likely to age better than most of the other 2012 films that it was up against.

What are some of your favorite Best Picture losers from the past 10 years? 

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