Now that we know who came out victorious at the 82nd annual Academy Awards, I thought it was a perfect time to make the list of the best and worst Oscar winners of the decade per category. It wasn’t hard coming up with them since the Academy tends to reward lesss-than-worhty features all time, which makes it easier for the good ones to stick out.
In each category I’ve listed what I think are the best and the worst choices the Academy made, and a reason why they are on the list. I skipped the Documentary and the short categories and I have not seen enough to make a judgement.
Without further ado, here are my pick for the best and worst Oscar winners of the decade.
Best: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Worst: A Beautiful Mind
Like I said in the Lord of the Rings entry in my top 10 of the decade, I believe that the trilogy as a whole is the greatest cinematic achievement of the decade. The academy decided to award it until the last entry of the saga was released, and I was so happy to see it win, especially since the Academy didn’t really like fantasy movies.
The victory that perplexed the most most in this category was A Beautiful Mind’s. How can such a bland movie win the year that Moulin Rouge! (the best movie of the decade), Gosford Park, and Fellowship of the Ring were nominated. Thankfully since then the Academy went to give the BP award to unusual choices (not always the best, but unusual).
Best: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Worst: Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind
I thought about putting Peter Jackson in as the best winner, but I think that the direction in The Return of the King was the weakest (still very good though). Looking over the list of winners, the one that truly stands out for me is this year’s winner. Bigelow managed to make such an intense and tight war movie on such a low budget, and I rooted for her since I saw the movie in theaters.
In 2001 Robert Altman, David Lynch, Peter Jackson, and Ridley Scott were nominated for Best Director Oscars. And yet Ron Howard managed to win. Like the movie, his work is nothing special. He relied too much on the script, and there was nothing visually exciting about it, which is a shame when movies about people seeing things can be great visual experiences.
Best: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Worst: Sean Penn, Milk and Mystic River
Day-Lewis’ performance just puts almost every other nominee this decade to shame. It is simply the best male performance of the decade and one of the best of all time. This not something I can say about both of Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performances. How he won in 2003 when Bill Murray was nominated for Lost in Translation and Johnny Depp got his first nom for Pirates of the Caribbean is beyond me. And in 2008, his performance was good, but there were two better nominees that year: Richard Jenkins in The Visitor and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, who gave the performance of the year.
Best: Charlize Theron, Monster
Worst: Kate Winslet, The Reader
For the Best Oscar winner spot, it came down to Theron and Cotillard for La Vie en Rose. Both performances featured gorgeous actress not only changing their appearance, but also giving their everything into their role. In the end Theron won because her character had much more background for Theron to work with, and she never faltered in delivering a great performance
As for the worst, I thought about giving it to Reese Witherspoon. But then I thought that if I was able to bypass Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock on the grounds that they will never win another Oscar, why not her. So that only left Kate Winslet for The Reader. Her performance here is average, and I’m not talking about average for her, but average in the whole spectrum of acting. She was going to win an Oscar that year, but she won it for the wrong movie. She will no doubt win a couple more Oscars, and when people look back and see that she won for The Reader they will say “She won for this?”
Best Supporting Actor
Best: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Worst: Tim Robbins, Mystic River
I won’t say any more about Ledger’s performance, but it is truly the best one to win in the Supporting Actor category. As for Tim Robbins, it was a good performance, but it just wan’t Oscar-worthy and it is one of the few that still have me scratching my head.
Best Supporting Actress
Best: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Worst: Reneé Zellweger, Cold Mountain
Looking at the winners for this category, most of them are performance that blew me away. However, all the 2007 nominees, with the exception of Ruby Dee, did just that. I was hoping that Cate Blanchett would win, but I can’t complain when Tilda Swinton is now an Oscar-winner. Her performance in the film may not be quite up to the standards of her previous work, or anything that she has done since, but it is still an incredible performance.
Zellweger’s performance in Cold Mountain is not that bad, but it is the kind of victory where they just want to award a popular and likable actress. But it is still one of the most embarrassing wins of the decade.
Best Original Screenplay
Best: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine has one of the best screenplays of all time. It is thoroughly original and very creative. Milk is the complete opposite. It is a formulaic bio-pic that brings nothing new to the table. And is it really original?
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Worst: Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire
Much like the movie winning best picture, LOTR’s win here was just to reward the trilogy as a whole. Peter Jackson and Co. did an exceptional job of adapting three novels that, to me, are extremely boring, but with a great story in the center. Geofrey Fletcher’s work in Precious is not bad, but it is very meh and did nothing new to the original story.
Best Animated Feature
Worst: Happy Feet
WALL-E is one of the most ambitious animated movies of all time, and it delivered. Happy Feet is cute and I would have agreed with its win were it not for the puzzling third act.
Best Foreign Language Film
Best: The Lives of Others
At first I was made that The Lives of Others beat Pan’s Labyrinth, but then I saw it. It is as good a piece of filmmaking as Pan’s and it is anchored by a great lead performance. Departures, on the other had, is not a well-produced movie with with a very simple plot.
Best: Memoirs of a Geisha
Worst: Slumdog Millionaire
Memoirs of a Geisha, despite its story-telling flaws is one of the most beautiful American movies of the decade, and the cinematography is the main reason why. The cinematography in Slumdog was nothing special and there were much better nominees that year.
Best Art Direction
Best: Moulin Rouge!
Baz Luhrman let all of his budget show on screen, and that resulted in awe inspiring sets in Moulin Rouge! Chicago didn’t have bad art direction, but I’m not a an of the whole “looks like a stage musical” look in film.
Best Costume Design
Best: Memoirs of a Geisha
Worst: The Young Victoria
Colleen Atwood definitely did her research and designed some of of the most beautiful costumes I’ve ever seen. Even if you don’t like the movie, you can’t argue that the costumes are not to die for. Meanwhile, Sandy Powell put out some of the laziest period costumes in recent history.
Best: The Bourne Ultimatum
A lot of cuts does not mean good editing, but this is the case in The Bourne Ultimatum. Some of the shots are about one second long, yet the editor managed to make it all flow so perfectly and make it feel like it is not as long as its running time. Crash’s editing is good, but not Oscar-worthy.
Best Original Score
Best: Atonement by Dario Marianelli
Worst: Slumdog Millionaire bt A.R. Rahman and Babel by Gustavo Santoalalla
Dario Marianelli’s score is very creative and the “Elegy for Dunkirk” track is one of the most haunting of the decade. Meanwhile, Slumdog didn’t really have a score, it was just a bunch of songs and techno sounds. The Babel score showed that you can win an Oscar by plagiarizing.
Best Original Song
Best: “Falling Slowly” from Once
Worst: “Al otro lado del rio” from The Motorcycle Diaries
“Falling Slowly” is one of my favorite songs of the decade and plays in a pivotal part of the movie. “Al otro lado del rio” has crap lyrics and does nothing for the movie.
Best: Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Despite the quality of the movie The Grinch has great makeup. Some might say that it is the best thing about the movie. What was Frida awarded for? For giving Salma Hayek a unibrow and a mustache?
Best Sound Editing
Best: The Incredibles
Worst: Pearl Harbor
The sound design in The Incredibles is very inventive and one of the best sound editing jobs Pixar has ever done. Pearl Harbor’s is nothing new and won because of how loud it was.
Best Sound Mixing
Best: The Hurt Locker
Worst: Slumdog Millionaire
The sound mixing team in The Hurt Locker were able to mix the sound effects and the score so that they have a full effect without never being too intrusive. Slumdog Millionaire won here just because it was a movie people liked and the seemed to just vote for it in every category it was nominated for.
Best Visual Effects
Worst: The Golden Compass
Avatar is the most obvious one, so I won’t talk about it anymore. However, The Golden Compass did not deserve to win here. The VFX are fine, but when compared to those in the third Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers they look like they would have been state-of-the-art in the 90s. I’m sure that the only reason it won was because the other two split votes.
There you have it. What are your pick for the best and worst Oscar winner? Have your say in the comments.