The 5 Best Best Picture Oscar Line-Ups Of All Time

Awards
by Oliver Lyttelton
February 20, 2012 2:39 PM
43 Comments
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Given that 2011 was one of the better years for English-language cinema in recent memory, it's disappointing that this year's Best Picture line up feels more anaemic. Sure, you'll find few who'll quibble with the inclusion of " Moneyball" -- it's the kind of fearsomely smart, grown-up entertainment that in an ideal world, would make up the majority of nominees. And even those who weren't totally won over by "The Tree of Life" surely can't find much to complain about when it comes to its inclusion.

But those are only two of the nine nominees, and the rest are a rather thin lot: the charming but slight expected winner "The Artist," the also charming but slight "Midnight In Paris," the charming but misshapen "Hugo," the patronizing, overlong "The Help," B-list Spielberg in "War Horse," Alexander Payne's fifth best film in "The Descendants" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," the worst-reviewed Best Picture nominee in modern times.

So not a banner year, but then, one doesn't have to look far back into the history of the Academy Awards to discover years that were far worse. And indeed, one need not give up hope with the institution, because there are plenty of years where the memberships' picks have done them proud. To kick off our week of Oscar coverage, we've picked out the five years where the Academy nominated a stellar line-up, and five where they dropped the ball. Read on for more. (Note: for clarity's sake, we're referring to the year in which the eligible films were released -- the ceremonies, as ever, were held early the following year).

The 5 Best Best Picture Line-Ups

1939
The Best Picture Nominees:
"Gone With The Wind" (winner), "Dark Victory," "Goodbye Mr Chips," "Love Affair," "Mr Smith Goes To Washington," "Ninotchka," "Of Mice and Men," "Stagecoach," "The Wizard Of Oz," "Wuthering Heights"
What Could They Have Nominated?
"Dodge City," "Jesse James," "The Old Maid," "The Women," "Gunga Din," "Intermezzo," "Jamaica Inn," "The Roaring Twenties"
Why Is It One Of The Best? Well, in one of the the great years in cinema history, they managed to pick most of the right ones. Obviously, ten nominations means you've got more room, but there's really very little filler in there -- even the lesser known films on the line-up, most notably Bette Davis melodrama "Dark Victory" and the adaptation of "Of Mice and Men," which was lost until relatively recently, hold up terrifically. And otherwise, they're pretty much stone-cold classics. You might argue that "Goodbye Mr. Chips" and "Love Affair" are sentimental fluff, but they look pretty substantial compared to some of the things that got the nod this year.

1948

The Best Picture Nominees:
"Hamlet" (winner), "Johnny Belinda," "The Red Shoes," "The Snake Pit," "The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre"
What Else Could They Have Nominated?
"Red River," "Easter Parade," "Key Largo," "Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House," "State of the Union," "A Foreign Affair," "The Bicycle Thieves"
Why Is It One Of The Best? The 1940s was probably the best decade for the Oscars, movie wise, and we could have taken our pick, but few years were as consistent as '48. Olivier's directorial effort in "Hamlet," which took Best Picture, remains the definitive take on the play, and one of the best screen Shakespeares, with one of the most thrilling swordfights ever to come on screen. But with Powell & Pressburger's staggering dance drama, "The Red Shoes," "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," one of John Huston's very best, and even the lesser-known melodramas "Johnny Belinda" and "The Snake Pit" (which each feature stunning performances from their leads Jane Wyman - who won Best Actress - and Olivia De Havilland) it's hard to argue with the lineup even if we wouldn't have objected to seeing "Key Largo" or "The Bicycle Thieves" among the final five.

1972

The Best Picture Nominees:
"The Godfather" (winner), "Cabaret," "Deliverance," "The Emigrants," "Sounder."
What Else Could They Have Nominated?
"The Poseidon Adventure," "What's Up, Doc?" "Jeremiah Johnson," "The Candidate," "The King of Marvin Gardens"
Why Is It One Of The Best? Even if it wasn't a masterpiece, "The Godfather" being one of the biggest hits of all time meant it was a no-brainer of a winner, but what's impressive is how adventurous the rest of the five were. While other years in the seventies were tarnished with the selection of disaster movies like "Airport" and "The Towering Inferno," the Academy of the early 1970s went with Bob Fosse's impeccable musical about the rise of Nazism, John Boorman's gripping thriller of masculinity under threat, a Swedish-language Western with Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman, and while it's certainly the weakest of the bunch, a compassionate, honest tale of a black family in the South during the Depression that shows up "The Help" as the Lifetime movie-of-the-week it really is. Plus, Luis Bunuel and Louis Malle both got Screenplay nominations. The 1970s, man. Better days.

1975

The Best Picture Nominees:
"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" (winner), "Barry Lyndon," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Jaws," "Nashville"
What Else Could They have Nominated?
"Shampoo," "The Sunshine Boys," "Amarcord,"  "The Man Who Would Be King,"  "Three Days Of The Condor," "Night Moves,"
Why Is It One of The Best? Look over those nominees again. For our money, that's the single greatest line-up in Best Picture history. There's not a bad film in the bunch, with career best work from Robert Altman and Milos Forman, Spielberg's taut-as-hell blockbuster, Lumet's near-perfect, progressive drama, and to our mind, one of Stanley Kubrick's best films. It's the peak of the thrilling 1970s era of smart films being celebrated, and there were joys to be found across the ceremony, from Fellini's Best Director nomination for "Amarcord" to Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" winning Best Foreign Language Film.

2007

The Best Picture Nominees:
"No Country For Old Men" (winner), "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "There Will Be Blood"
What Else Could They Have Nominated?
"Into The Wild," "Sweeney Todd," "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly," "The Savages," "American Gangster," "Ratatouille," "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford," "Zodiac"
Why Is It One Of The Best? Generally deemed as one of the greatest modern years for American cinema, it could have been easy for the Academy to go with safer fare. But, in a real return to the 1970s, they came through, giving the dark duo of 'No Country' and "There Will Be Blood" the top number of nominations, with each film winning major awards. And, while we suspect some will disagree, there's not a film in that five that we don't like: the first act of "Atonement" is phenomenal, "Juno" is as good a film of its type as has been made in recent years, and "Michael Clayton" gets better and better with each rewatch. Are there a few films that we'd rather have seen up there -- "Zodiac," 'Jesse James,' "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly"? Sure. But we'll happily meet the Academy half-way on this one.

Other Great Years:
1945: "The Lost Weekend," "Anchors Aweigh," "Mildred Pierce," "Spellbound." Let down by: "Bells Of St. Mary's"
1953: "From Here To Eternity," "Julius Caesar," "Roman Holiday," "Shane" Let down by: "The Robe."
1957: "Bridge Over The River Kwai," "Witness For The Prosecution," "12 Angry Men," "Sayonara," "Peyton Place"
1962: "Lawrence Of Arabia," "The Music Man," "The Longest Day," "To Kill A Mockingbird" Let down by: "Mutiny On The Bounty"
1974: "The Godfather Part II," "Chinatown," "The Conversation," "Lenny," Let down by: "The Towering Inferno"
1976: "All The President's Men," "Bound For Glory," "Network," "Taxi Driver," Let down by: "Rocky"
1978: "The Deer Hunter," "Coming Home," "Heaven Can Wait," "Midnight Express," "An Unmarried Woman"
1982: "E.T," "Missing," "Tootsie," "The Verdict," "Gandhi"

Thoughts? Agree, disagree? Weigh in below.

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43 Comments

  • ladyofargonne | February 22, 2013 5:41 PMReply

    I have actually patterned my life after What's Up Doc. But it's no Best Picture.

  • ColonelFatheart | February 22, 2013 1:27 PMReply

    1976 easily trumps 2007. Rocky is no let-down. Come on now. It's a fantastic movie. Is it better than Taxi Driver or Network or All the President's Men? Heck no, but it gets a lot of unfair disrespect.

    Replace Juno and Atonement with Zodiac and The Assassination of Jesse James, and we might be talking. (And I'd put Ratatouille in there over Michael Clayton, but that's me.)

  • thaty | February 24, 2012 7:25 PMReply

    In my opinion, 2006 was one of the best years. I would have been happy if any of the five nominees had won. They all deserved it. The Departed, The Queen, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine and Babel.
    There were also a lot of other great movies that could have been nominated like Children of Men (my favorite movie that year), Pan's Labyrinth, Volver, Little Children, Notes on a Scandal, The Prestige, The Fountain (I know some people hated it, but I loved it), United 93, The Last king of Scotland

  • rich | February 24, 2012 2:03 AMReply

    also, 1994 blows away most of these years. forrest jump is one of the greatest films of all time. pulp fiction.. incredible. both can be viewed over and over...shawshank.. awesome film.. woody allen.. right on target...

  • rich | February 24, 2012 2:00 AMReply

    mostly a pretty good take on things except i would disagree about this year.. the help is the best picture by far and as for 2007, no country was a stupid, overly violent movie about a bunch of unlikable people. why anyone would enjoy that film is beyond me. the only best picture winners worse than that were "crash" and "the hurt locker". 1974and 1976 were both stronger than 2007 and this year.. money ball? best picture? please. the natural, field of dreams and the rookie were way better baseball pics.

  • Neil | February 23, 2012 11:20 PMReply

    Edward Copeland, I agree completely with your assessment of 1978. In my mind, one of the weaker crops of nominees out there. The Deer Hunter is the best, in my opinion, by far, but far too long, one-sided, and self-important to be a true masterpiece. Midnight Express is one of the worst best picture nominees I've ever seen- dated, offensive, boring, and inaccurate.
    If you take out Dr. Doolittle, 1967 was pretty great. And I think Rocky is great, and 1976 is an exceptional year. 1979 in my mind has no serious flaws (Norma Rae is a little lackluster, but not terrible). Also 1997, Titanic is not my favorite, but LA Confidential is. As Good As it Gets, The Full Monty, and Good Will Hunting round out a great year. Also, 98 and 99.

  • Liam | February 23, 2012 1:49 PMReply

    What movie is the Picture next to gone with the wind

  • Brent | February 22, 2012 5:03 PMReply

    What about 1994...shawshank, gump, and pulp fict???

  • Gaspar Marino | February 21, 2012 6:09 PMReply

    All through the years you always get 2 or 3 films that should never make a Best Picture list at anytime. Looking through the list I think 1978 was an excellent example of films that were relevant to the times and also entertaining. Women's liberation the Viet Nam war, a comedy and a startling dramatic true story thriller. To me, that's what a Best Picture list should resemble.

  • Fred | February 22, 2012 4:55 PM

    What an excellent analysis, and a great counterpoint to those who strive to show how cool and of the moment they are by whining about how "dated" old movies are and how the only "timeless" ones from a given year are usually a couple of fanboy/hipster/rocknroll faves.

  • Edward Copeland | February 21, 2012 4:13 PMReply

    2007? No Country for Old Men, yes. Juno and Michael Clayton are fine, but there were better. Atonement was a bore and don't get me started about everything wrong with There Will Be Blood. Diving Bell and the Butterfly certainly belonged there and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was better than all but No Country on that list. Zodiac and Into the Wild were worthy contenders. As for runners-up: 1978? Has anyone sat through The Deer Hunter, Coming Home or Midnight Express lately? Egads. Halloween and The Last Waltz were better than all five nominees that year.

  • ladyofargonne | February 22, 2013 5:51 PM

    I didn't think I would like the Butterfly and the Diving Bell at all. It was mesmerizing and I didn't even know what people were saying. But I think foreign language films should compete in their own category.

  • Robbie | February 21, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    "Michael Clayton gets better and better with each rewatch." Couldn't agree more.

  • Robbie | February 21, 2012 2:53 PMReply

    "Michael Clayton gets better and better with each rewatch." Couldn't agree more.

  • Robbie | February 21, 2012 2:53 PMReply

    "Michael Clayton gets better and better with each rewatch." Couldn't agree more.

  • Robbie | February 21, 2012 2:52 PMReply

    "Michael Clayton gets better and better with each rewatch." Couldn't agree more.

  • Robbie | February 21, 2012 2:52 PMReply

    "Michael Clayton gets better and better with each rewatch." Couldn't agree more.

  • Brian Verderosa | February 21, 2012 2:16 PMReply

    I also couldn't do more than just type out a list because apparently my word usage is akin to spam.

  • Brian Verderosa | February 21, 2012 2:15 PMReply

    1994
    "The Shawshank Redemption"
    "Quiz Show"
    "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (I know)
    "Pulp Fiction"
    "Forrest Gump"

    Legends of the Fall
    The Lion King
    The Paper
    Mary Shelly's Frankenstein
    Ed Wood
    Bullets over Broadway
    Nobody's Fool
    The Hudsucker Proxy
    The Professional

  • James | February 21, 2012 12:11 PMReply

    "Jesse James" will always be the classic film that almost no one saw. Phenomenal on all counts and one of the most beautifully photographed ever.

  • Mel | February 21, 2012 11:41 AMReply

    What about 1994? There was Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, The Lion King, Clerks, Ed Wood, Leon, Three Colors...

  • Mark | February 21, 2012 9:01 AMReply

    If they had ditched Atonement and Juno, and replaced them with Jesse James and Zodiac, then 2007 would have been the best Oscar line-up since 1975.

  • Clinton | February 23, 2012 1:59 AM

    Atonement is one of the best film adaptations in the last decade or so. Juno is an original, entertaining crowd-pleaser with solid performances and a terrific script. Hate all you want but those two deserved to be nominated. Loved Zodiac and would have really liked to see Jake G. get some love for that film but it wasn't more worthy of a nom than the other 5. Jesse James was great, too but the most deserving nomination for that film was rightfully received aka baby Affleck.

  • Helgi | February 21, 2012 6:30 AMReply

    1975: what a year.

  • Zack | February 21, 2012 12:16 AMReply

    Totally with you on 2007, only I would have included "Gone Baby Gone" in the Could Have Been column.

  • Zack | February 21, 2012 12:21 AM

    Oh, and "Eastern Promises".

  • Arthur | February 20, 2012 11:46 PMReply

    Maybe Rocky winning in 1976 was a bit of a letdown. But take a look at all the candidates... we're talking about Lumet, Scorsese, AND Hal Ashby at their best game here. And considering the political atmosphere at the time, personally, I think 1976 IS the 70's.

  • Glass | February 20, 2012 8:10 PMReply

    That lineup for 1975 still blows me away... every single one of those is a 10/10. Every one. '07 was great, even though a lot of movies were better than Clayton and Atonement. The 70s really ruled for movies, though.

  • Alfonso | February 20, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    I would add 1997, with Titanic, As Good as It Gets, LA Confidential, Good Will Hunting, and The Full Monty. Not a big fan of The Full Monty, but the other four are top notch, best quality that Hollywood can deliver.

  • Steve | February 20, 2012 5:42 PMReply

    What about 1967? With the exception of the unbelievably unrealistic nomination of "Doctor Doolittle", the other 4 nominees for Best Picture are some of the single greatest moments in cinema history! Despite the fact that "Bonnie & Clyde" SHOULD have won Best Picture, there was also, "In The Heat Of The Night" (the PC winner), "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" and "The Graduate"!

  • cory everett | February 20, 2012 4:15 PMReply

    Funny how everyone acknowledges 1999 to be a banner year for cinema but you wouldn't know it from the 2000 Oscars: American Beauty, Cider House Rules, Green Mile, Insider, Sixth Sense were picked over Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut, Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, Three Kings, Toy Story 2, The Matrix, Election, etc.

    As always, the Oscars are clueless. They get it right only occasionally and only by accident.

  • Tobi | February 22, 2013 2:12 PM

    Yeah, everyone always mentions how 1999 was a great year but the Academy real screwed the pooch on that year with the weakest lineup they could be. Also, I always tell friends that 2007 was one of the best years in certain memory as this article mentions and with the last three years with the extended number of nominees, the Best Picture field has been very weak overall lately.

  • Todd | February 20, 2012 3:50 PMReply

    1950 was heavyweight year.

    But when I try to list them all, this site blocks my post as suspected spam.

  • Todd | February 20, 2012 3:55 PM

    Could have been nominated: Winchester '73, The Furies, Broken Arrow, The Asphalt Jungle, The Gunfighter, Adam's Rib, No Way Out, Cinderella, In a Lonely Place, Harvey, Panic in the Streets, Rio Grande, Rashomon, Devil's Doorway, Rio Grande, The Flowers of St. Francis, Stars in My Crown, Madeleine, Gone to Earth, The Young and the Damned...

  • Todd | February 20, 2012 3:54 PM

    1950: All About Eve (Winner), Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, Sunset Boulevard, King Solomon's Mines (the clunker)

  • IndieMcNulty | February 20, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    It's like reading a person trying to be pretentious without the knowledge to support their obvious sophism. Tree of Life is vintage Malik. Beautifully crafted and unrecognized for years before being declared a masterpiece.
    Also, 1948 was an awful year. I think you need to rewatch those movies and not just google this information on your own. Most film historians would agree. Your list should be a decade and that decade should be the 1970s. Followed by the 1990s and then maybe the 50s. 40s were dominated by Welles and nobody else.

  • JD | February 20, 2012 3:31 PMReply

    The early 90s had some pretty damn impressive line ups:

    -1990: The Godfather Part III, Awakenings, Ghost, Dances With Wolves, and Goodfellas

    -1991: Beauty And The Beast, Bugsy, The Silence Of The Lambs, and JFK (with The Prince Of Tides striking the only sour note)

    -1992: The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howard's End, and Unforgiven (and Scent Of A Woman, which at least has some Pacino mega-acting...)

    -1993: In The Name Of The Father, The Piano, The Remains Of The Day, The Fugitive, Schindler's List.

  • Milton | February 20, 2012 3:28 PMReply

    1994 in my opinion was the best one. Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump alone are three of among the best film I've ever seen. Then throw in the entertaining Quiz Show and you have yourself a really powerful lineup.

  • SoulHonky | February 20, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    Odd, most everyone I know considers 2011 to be a down year for cinema. I don't even think it's the best year of this decade, nevermind recent memory. And how does 1994 (Gump, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank, Lion King, Quiz Show, In the Name of the Father, etc.) not even get an honorable mention?

  • Pedro | February 20, 2012 3:09 PMReply

    I totally agree with this post. 2007 was by far the greatest year for American cinema recently. "Atonement" There will be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men" are undoubtedly masterpieces. I would probably add 1994 (the year of rom-com golden "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Forest Gump", "Pulp Fiction", "Quiz Show" and "The Shawshank Redemption") and 2006 ("The Departed", "Babel", "Little Miss Sunshine", "Letters from Iwo Jima" and "The Queen") was also a good year. Do you agree with me?

  • oogle monster | February 20, 2012 3:02 PMReply

    Last year was spot on, too.

  • PEDRO | February 20, 2012 3:11 PM

    Yeah, 2011 rocks! (The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, The King's Speech, True Grit, Toy Story 3...)

  • Niko | February 20, 2012 2:51 PMReply

    1974! Chinatown, Godfather 2, Lenny, The Conversation and, almost perfect but not quite, The Towering Inferno.

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