Do We Know What a Best Picture Winner Looks Like Anymore?
We all have an idea of what an "Oscar-winning film" is supposed to look like, but after last Sunday's awards show, it may be time to throw the old paradigm out the window. The Hurt Locker is only the latest Best Picture winner to flout the conventions of what kind of film takes home the top prize; in fact, it closed out a decade that was full of such wins. Here are six Best Picture winners of recent vintage that prove there's no such thing as a typical Oscar movie anymore:
2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Guess how many fantasy films have ever won Best Picture? None before Return of the King (and much to Avatar's chagrin, none since). The final Lord of the Rings installment couldn't have been up against a more traditional Best Picture film in 2003 -- Mystic River, a Clint Eastwood-directed drama with an Oscar-winning performance by Sean Penn -- and yet it pulled out the victory anyway. In fact, it tied the record for the most Academy Awards ever won by a film, with 11 victories.
Brokeback Mountain had been heavily tipped to win the Best Picture trophy in 2005, and it picked up so many of the precursor awards (hitting the trifecta of DGA, WGA, and PGA wins) that it was thought unbeatable. Sure, Brokeback's gay themes would have broken new ground if it had won the Academy's top prize, but in ever other respect, it was a conventional Oscar film: a period drama with Oscar-nominated performances, a director who would win the Oscar that year, and critical unanimity. The comparatively polarizing Crash instead proved that a little movie can be released in the spring and pick up only a few precursor awards, yet still sneak in and grab the Best Picture Oscar.
2006: The Departed
After making so many ambitious, weighty films About Something yet coming home empty-handed from the Oscars, The Departed was intended to be a simple diversion for Martin Scorsese -- nothing more, nothing less. "Talk to Academy members...it is not a movie that they seem to feel is prestigious," pundit David Poland said that awards season. "The truth is, if you listen to members, you don't even get the feel that the film is a lock to be nominated. I think it will be... I think it will be #2 or #3 for a lot of people. But the winner? No." Somehow, though, this unlikely crime drama overcame the usual debits (too violent, too modern, too genre) to win Best Picture in addition to the eventually ordained Best Director Oscar for Scorsese.
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