We posted the Oscar nominees when they were first announced, and now that speculation is heating up about which films and individuals will actually take home the awards, it’s time to have some fun with them. The Best Picture category actually seems to be pretty wide open this year, so instead of trying to pick a winner, I wanted to look at previous Best Picture winners in the 21st century and find a realistic comparison for each of the eight films nominated. This at least serves as an explanation of why each of them could win. So here goes nothing…
“The Big Short” – “Argo”
These films are actually very different, not only in subject matter but in style and execution. “The Big Short” is inherently kind of strange. It’s a film about big bank corruption and the housing crisis directed by the same guy who made “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” As such it’s filled with little touches of comedy, whereas “Argo” was played pretty straight-perhaps even too much so. But I’m lopping these two together more as a criticism than anything else: both are serious films about real events, and both look like an Oscar winner ought to look, if you’re not watching that closely. But they’re also two films during which it’s fair to ask: is this really that good?
“Bridge Of Spies” – “The King’s Speech”
These two films tell surprisingly similar stories. Both take place in non-violent times of conflict and demonstrate that in the face of such conflict humility and morality hold real power. This is also an interesting comparison in that both films featured stellar main actors with glowing reputations, and yet in both the supporting actors were just as memorable, if not more so. Some may forget that Geoffrey Rush was nearly as big a story as Colin Firth was coming out of “The King’s Speech,” but this article reminds us that just like Mark Rylance for “Bridge Of Spies,” he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
“Brooklyn” – “The Artist”
This is one of the more straightforward comparisons on the list. Both films more or less involve love triangles and themes of temptation, and both also stand as reminders that an understated film can still be a wonderful one.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” – “Gladiator”
It’s hard to compare “Mad Max: Fury Road” to anything because it was so wildly grand and inventive. But for sheer scope and quality of action (not to mention beauty), 2001 winner “Gladiator” may be the best comparison. It’s also worth noting that “Gladiator” has proven to be among the most memorable Oscar winners of the century, having cultivated an image that’s easily and fondly recalled by fans. This site is even featuring a “Gladiator”-themed game on its front page, 15 full years after the film debuted. The game is one of many film-based offerings on the site, but it’s highlighted over the likes of Marvel Avengers character games even now. It’s a sort of side issue, but ask yourself which of this year’s contenders looks likeliest to have that kind of lasting image, or to produce a video game in 15 years. It’s almost certainly “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
“The Martian” – “The Departed”
Well, I suppose “Mad Max: Fury Road” isn’t the only video game-worthy title among this year’s Oscar contenders (and when you think about it, that’s a surprisingly rare distinction), given that this report claims there was a playable virtual reality experience based on “The Martian” at this year’s CES. But that’s beside the point. “The Martian” really has no comparison among this century’s Oscar winners, but I’m going for “The Departed.” It’s not because both films have Matt Damon in them, but because if “The Martian” wins, these might just go down as the two most entertaining Best Picture winners we’ve seen yet in the 21st century. There’s a lot of value in a film that entertains the masses and pleases critics. These two nailed it.
“The Revenant” – “Slumdog Millionaire”
The more obvious comparison for “The Revenant” might be “No Country For Old Men,” but I’m opting for “Slumdog Millionaire” because of spectacle. Both of these films recognize and capitalize mightily on the idea of showcasing real world beauty and cultural exploration, even if they’re delving into entirely different subject matter. These are films meant to be experienced more than viewed or analyzed, and in that regard they’re surprisingly similar.
“Room” – “Birdman”
Like “The Martian,” “Room” just about defies comparison. This is a very unique film that simply doesn’t remind you of much else, and for that reason I’ve paired it with arguably the biggest Best Picture oddball to precede it in last year’s “Birdman.” It’s interesting that both films deal somewhat with themes of being trapped and of finding escape and meaning, but I won’t pretend this comparison goes particularly deep.
“Spotlight” – “12 Years A Slave”
“12 Years A Slave” is decidedly more dramatic than “Spotlight,” but I actually see a lot of similarity between these two films. Both attacked devastatingly horrible stories of abuse and did so without pulling any punches. Both used ensemble casts to wonderful effect, and both took the dedicated historian’s approach. They didn’t exploit subject matter for the sake of shock value and instead explored in depth how the respective climates of abuse were allowed to exist. They’re immensely powerful and memorable films, and in some ways both exemplify what we expect in a Best Picture winner.
So who wins? This year it really is just about impossible to say. Every film on the list has a pretty legitimate argument. But at the very least, perhaps this set of comparisons can shed some light on how the Academy might be viewing the nominees.