Ranking all the Oscar best picture years, worst to first, since the category expanded

Illustration for Glenn Whipp's column, The Gold Standard, for the Envelope Magazine.
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Ever since the motion picture academy super-sized the Oscars' best picture category up from five in 2009, there has been constant complaining about how the prestige of a nomination has been diluted, almost as if there was a collective amnesia about the scores of cringe-worthy movies that have picked up the honor over the decades.

This year, though, the grumblers went silent as Oscar voters delivered an unimpeachable best picture field, a group of 10 movies that only a self-proclaimed Scrooge could find fault with.

Is it the best group of best picture nominees we've had since the category was expanded? There's one way to find out. But before we begin, a note on the rankings:

The tiers:

Absolutely: I'd be happy to re-watch this movie right now. In fact, I may even be doing so while writing this.

Sure: If I was on a flight and this was an in-flight entertainment option, I'd gladly re-watch.

Meh: If I was on a flight, I'd only re-watch if I had a lot of time to kill, like maybe on a 15-hour trip to Australia.

No: I would not re-watch this movie under any circumstances, even if I was flying to Australia and this was the only film available.

Hell no: If, given the option between re-watching this movie and my plane crashing into the side of a mountain, I would choose a quick and painless death.

And now, to the highly subjective rankings, from worst to best, with the years corresponding to when the films were released.

15. 2020: The year we didn't go to the movies

Sure: "Nomadland," "Sound of Metal," "Minari," "Judas and the Black Messiah," "Mank," "Promising Young Woman," "Mank," "The Father," "The Trial of the Chicago 7"

"Nomadland" is the only one of these pandemic-year movies I've seen on the big screen, and that was at a Rose Bowl drive-in. None of these films, save for perhaps "Nomadland," is great, but they all have something to recommend, notably the acting. Some repertory film theater should spotlight this group with a week of programming, if only to properly see "Mank" cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt's deep focus "Citizen Kane" hat tips.

14. 2011: The Weinstein era's last hurrah year

Absolutely: "The Tree of Life"

Sure: "The Descendants," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball"

Meh: "The Artist," "The Help," "War Horse"

Hell no: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Slight entries from Spielberg and Scorsese, plus perhaps the most insufferable movie to ever be nominated for best picture. Say what you will about "Bohemian Rhapsody," but at least you could close your eyes and just listen to the music.

13. 2021: The year of the unlikeliest best picture winner ever

Absolutely: "Drive My Car"

Sure: "CODA," "Licorice Pizza," "The Power of the Dog"

Meh: "Dune," "Belfast," "Nightmare Alley," "West Side Story," "King Richard"

No: "Don't Look Up"

Frank Herbert’s "Dune" remains undefeated by films, though, sap that I am, I'm still looking forward to part two.

12. 2022: The "Everything Everywhere All at Once" year

Sure: "Everything Everywhere All at Once," "The Fabelmans," "Tár," "Top Gun: Maverick," "The Banshees of Inisherin," "Women Talking," "Elvis"

Meh: "Avatar: The Way of Water"

No: "All Quiet on the Western Front"

Hell no: "Triangle of Sadness"

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" is the only movie to win six above-the-line Oscars — picture, director, actress, supporting actor and actress, original screenplay. That is ... astounding? A bit much? A lot much? Talk among yourselves.

11. 2018: The year "Green Book" broke the internet

Sure: "Black Panther," "BlacKkKlansman," "The Favourite," "Roma," "Green Book," "A Star Is Born"

Meh: "Vice"

Hell no: "Bohemian Rhapsody"

"Green Book" and Spike Lee in the same tier, along with "A Star Is Born"? I know what you're saying, and (Gaga, are you ready?) it sounds a little something like “Haaaaaa-ahhhh-ahhh-ohhhh-ahhaaaaaa-ahhhh-ahhh-ohhhh-ah.”

10. 2014: The "Birdman" sweep year that still grates

Absolutely: "Boyhood," "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Sure: "Birdman," "American Sniper," "Selma," "Whiplash"

Meh: "The Imitation Game," "The Theory of Everything"

Alejandro G. Iñárritu ("Birdman"), Wes Anderson ("Grand Budapest") and Richard Linklater ("Boyhood") are up for picture, director and original screenplay ... and Iñárritu wins all three. Somewhere there's one, continuous shot of me watching the ceremony in disbelief.

9. 2009: The Kathryn Bigelow makes history year

Absolutely: "Up," "Inglourious Basterds," "A Serious Man"

Sure: "The Hurt Locker," "Avatar," "An Education," "Precious," "Up in the Air"

Meh: "District 9"

No: "The Blind Side"

Throwing out the two pandemic-era winners ("Nomadland" and "CODA"), "The Hurt Locker" is the Oscars’ lowest-grossing best picture winner. And it hasn't exactly caught a second wave of appreciation since then.

8. 2012: The Ben Affleck snub year

Absolutely: "Amour"

Sure: "Argo," "Django Unchained," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty"

Meh: "Life of Pi"

No: "Les Misérables"

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing a song of angry Ben?

It is the voices of the voters

Who will not be fooled again!

7. 2010: The "I can't believe the Fincher film didn't win" year

Absolutely: "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3"

Sure: "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "True Grit," "Winter's Bone," "Up in the Air"

Meh: "The King's Speech," "127 Hours"

Pixar has cranked out so many unnecessary sequels in the last decade that it's easy to forget the lovely, satisfying way the "Toy Story" trilogy ended. But then they had to go and make a fourth film. Let's pretend they didn't.

6. 2015: The year "Mad Max" won six Oscars but not picture or director

Absolutely: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Sure: "Spotlight," "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Room"

Iñárritu? Again? Whyyyyyyyyyyy??

5. 2016: The "This is not a joke, 'Moonlight' has won best picture" year

Absolutely: "La La Land," "Moonlight"

Sure: "Arrival," "Fences," "Hacksaw Ridge," "Hell or High Water," "Hidden Figures," "Lion," "Manchester by the Sea"

Warren Beatty: “I opened the envelope and it said Emma Stone … I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

4. 2019: The "Parasite" makes history year

Absolutely: "Parasite," "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood"

Sure: "1917," "The Irishman," "Little Women," "Marriage Story," "Ford v Ferrari"

No: "Joker"

Hell no: "Jojo Rabbit"

It'd be higher if not for the movie in which Hitler says, “Correctamundo!”

3. 2017: The year Greta Gerwig actually got nominated for director

Absolutely: "Get Out," "Lady Bird," "The Phantom Thread"

Sure: "The Shape of Water," "Call Me by Your Name," "Dunkirk," "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Meh: "The Post," "Darkest Hour"

Great, deep year, also one that I think will puzzle movie lovers years from now. In "The Shape of Water," the Creature from the Black Lagoon gets the girl and eats a cat. It works, but its esteem has diminished, not the case for "Get Out," "Lady Bird" and "Phantom Thread."

2. 2013: The year when "Her" predicted the future

Absolutely: "Gravity," "Her," "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Sure: "12 Years a Slave," "Nebraska," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Philomena"

Meh: "American Hustle"

See, I do like Sandra Bullock.

1. 2023: The year "Barbenheimer" ruled

Absolutely: "Oppenheimer," "The Zone of Interest," "Past Lives"

Sure: "Killers of the Flower Moon," "Poor Things," "Anatomy of a Fall," "Barbie," "The Holdovers," "American Fiction"

Meh: "Maestro"

Yes, this is, in fact, the finest group of best picture nominees we've had since the academy expanded the category in 2009. (Unless it's 2013. They're pretty close.)

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.