The Six Types of Best Pictures

The Academy are suckers.  Suckers for what, you ask?  Depends on the decade.

I’ve rounded up every Best Picture winner and lumped them into six categories:  The Mid- Life Crises, The Good Times,  The Oddballs, Epic History, Romances and Bummers.

30’s & 40’s: The Mid- Life Crises 

Although Hollywood was still young,  America had coming- of- age woes.  World wars had Hollywood questioning man’s mortality. 

1931/1932 – “Grand Hotel”- An aging baron gets feisty at a Berlin hotel between wars.

1932/1933 – “Cavalcade”

1934 – “It Happened One Night”

1935 – “Mutiny on the Bounty” – The second of many adaptations, Mutiny on the Bounty focuses on a power struggle between the young Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) and the weathered Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton).

1936 – “The Great Ziegfeld”– The biopic of the man  who created Ziegfeld’s Follies.  Doesn’t every middle- aged fella fancy himself a Great? 

1937 – “The Life of Emile Zola”– Ah, when writers write about writers.  The Life of Emile Zola is a political thriller, but it gets on the Mid Life Crisis list for being called “The Life Of” someone.  

1938 – “You Can’t Take It with You” – In- laws learn you can’t take it with you- rules to live by.

1939 – “Gone with the Wind”

1940 – “Rebecca”- A young woman marries a widower and unravels his shady past.  Aren’t new wives a hallmark of mid- life crises?

1941 – “How Green Was My Valley”

1942 – “Mrs. Miniver”- Mrs. Miniver copes with war with grace and dignity.

1943 – “Casablanca”- Confusion and inner strife color this time- tested masterpiece about American expats in Africa.

1944 – “Going My Way”

1945 – “The Lost Weekend”- An alcoholic drinks away a weekend.

1946 – “The Best Years of Our Lives”- Nothing says “life crisis” louder than returning veterans.

1947 – “Gentleman’s Agreement”

1948 – “Hamlet”

1949 – “All the Kings Men”

1950 – “All About Eve”– A “mid”- life crisis from a woman’s perspective.  Bette Davis plays one of the most celebrated female characters of all time.

50’s & 60’s:  The Good Times (musicals and comedies)

Hollywood shed its wartime woes with a plethora of lively musicals.

1951 – “An American in Paris”- Gene Kelly sings and dances in Paris.

1952 – “The Greatest Show on Earth”- About Barnum & Bailey’s circus.

1953 – “From Here to Eternity”

1954 – “On the Waterfront”

1955 – “Marty”

1956 – “Around the World in 80 Days”- Adapted from Jules Verne’s tale about hot air balloon racing.

1957 – “The Bridge on the River Kwai”

1958 – “Gigi”- Saucy Gigi dates a Parisian playboy.

1959 – “Ben-Hur”

1960 – “The Apartment”

1961 – “West Side Story”– Steven Sondheim’s Romeo and Juliet update did everything at once.  One of the most uncontested Best Pictures.

1962 – “Lawrence of Arabia”

1963 – “Tom Jones”- Albert Finney’s Tom Jones embarks on swashbuckling adventures.

1964 – “My Fair Lady” – Lerner & Lowe’s adaptation of “Pygmalion” also has some of the greatest costumes of all time.

1965 – “The Sound of Music”– You just can’t get more musical than The Sound of Music.  Julie Andrew’s problematic nun becomes mother to an Austrian family.

1966 – “A Man for All Seasons”

1967 – “In the Heat of the Night”

1968 – “Oliver!”- Sometimes considered the worst Best Picture ever, Oliver musicalizes Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”.

1970’s:  The Oddballs

Race, sex, and war weighed on the American conscience.  Oscar reacted by awarding a bunch of character dramas about wackos.  

1969 – “Midnight Cowboy”-John Voigt and Dustin Hoffman play a gigilo and a bum, respectively.

1970 – “Patton”- A biopic about the eccentric WWII General George S. Patton, staring the uncanny (and unhinged) George C. Scott.

1971 – “The French Connection”

1972 – “The Godfather”- The Academy loved Francis Ford Coppola’s Mafia epic so much, they awarded it twice.  Those Coreleones were an odd bunch.

1973 – “The Sting”

1974 – “The Godfather Part II”

1975 – “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”- Literally about inmates at a funny farm, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest introduced America to a whole slew of characters with sociopolitical baggage.

1976 – “Rocky” – Sylvester Stallone’s underdog story stole Oscar’s heart.

1977 – “Annie Hall”– In 1977, the year we first travelled to a galaxy far far away, Oscar only had eyes for neurotic nerd Woody Allen  and his female counterpart.

1978 – “The Deer Hunter”-Vietnam vets deal with PTSD, and the Vietnam War is officially not cool.

1979 – “Kramer vs. Kramer”– A couple of narcissistic adults battle for custody of their kid.

1980 – “Ordinary People” – The punch line?  Ordinary people are nuts.

80’s & 90’s:  Epic History

The  80’s and 90’s gave us adventure in far- off places and times.  These Best Pictures reflected globalization.

1981 – “Chariots of Fire”- The waning British Empire manifests itself in two London boys training for the 1924 Olympics.

1982 – “Gandhi”– It’s about Ghandi, the Indian philosopher and pacifist.

1983 – “Terms of Endearment”

1984 – “Amadeus”– This eccentric film presents a caricature of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Enlightenment- era Vienna.

1985 – “Out of Africa”–  Watch Meryl Streep and Robert Redford have a romantic African safari in the 1930’s.

1986 – “Platoon” – By 1986, it was officially OK to talk about how fucked up the Vietnam War was.

1987 – “The Last Emperor”– The true story of the Last Emperor of China and the clash between China’s traditional culture and emerging political identity.

1988 – “Rain Man”– Tom Cruise and his autistic brother (Dustin Hoffman) drive a BMW across America.  It’s an Oddball with a global soundtrack.  This movie has the Best Soundtrack Ever, courtesy of Hans Zimmer.

1989 – “Driving Miss Daisy”- The mild- mannered tale of a rich white lady and her black chauffeur.

1990 – “Dances With Wolves”– Credit Kevin Costner for kicking off the big- budget historical epic trend.  Writer/ director/ producer Costner cast himself as Lieutenant Dunbar, a recovering Civil War soldier living with Lakota Native Americans.  The movie itself made history for re-creating a buffalo hunt.

1991 – “The Silence of the Lambs”

1992 – “Unforgiven”– Clint Eastwood’s grim Western about gunfighters who avenge a disfigured prostitute continued exploring a darker side of the psyche.

1993 – “Schindler’s List”– The story of a factory owner who saves his workers from  Nazi concentration camps.  Surely you saw this in history class?

1994- 1999:  The Romances

Hollywood (and America) wanted some love.  We got Forrest and Jenny, Jack and Rose, Gwyneth Paltrow and William Shakespeare, plus the most iconic Valentine’s Day imagery of all time.

1994 – “Forrest Gump”– The sweetest, most innocent, and most universal of all Best Picture winners.  Forrest Gump covers every major American historical event in the last half of the 20th century through the eyes of autistic Forrest.  This movie is the PG thesis of 20th century America.

1995 – “Braveheart”– Mel Gibson follows in Kevin Costner’s footsteps in this mother- of- all- medieval war movies.  William Wallace paints his face blue and fights for Scotland’s freedom.

1996 – “The English Patient”– Anthony Minghella’s period piece summons 80’s style Epic History vibes.  The English Patient follows an Italian woman and an Englishman as they work through their love lives in the African theater of World War II.

1997 – “Titanic”– Enough said.

1998 – “Shakespeare in Love”– This goofy comedy of errors has everything: adventure, drama, romance, suspense, horror, comedy, and love.

1999 – “American Beauty” – Truly belongs in the mid- life crisis category, but can you shake the image of Mena Suvari covered in roses?

The 2000’s:

There’s no trend here, but all the films fall into a category.  

2000 – “Gladiator”- Epic history.

2001 – “A Beautiful Mind”- Oddball.

2002 – “Chicago”- Good times.

2003 – “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”- The king of anomalies, Return of the King marks the ONLY fantasy or science fiction film to win Best Picture.  It swept the 2003 Oscars, winning in all 11 nominated categories.


Today:  The Bummers

Time will tell the tone for the last 10 years of filmmaking, but I label these The Bummers.  In the last 10 years, America struggled with our national identity and The Academy awarded a bunch of really depressing movies.  

2004 – “Million Dollar Baby”– A dying woman fulfills her dream of boxing.

2005 – “Crash”– America is racist and afraid.

2006 – “The Departed”– AKA Martin Scorcese’s guilt Oscar.  This Best Picture/ Best Director win felt obligatory.  The remake of a Korean film about cops and moles did not represent the director’s best work.

2007 – “No Country for Old Men”– The Coen Brother’s “WTF?” film had something to do with drugs and the Texas/Mexico border.

2008 – “Slumdog Millionaire”- Good Times/ Bummer

2009 – “The Hurt Locker”– Director Catherine Bigelow beats her visionary ex-husband, James Cameron (“Avatar”) with this Iraq war drama about dismantling bombs.

2010 – “The King’s Speech”

2011 – “The Artist”

2012 – “Argo”– Remember the Iran Hostage Crisis?  These clowns made it out alive.

2013- “12 Years A Slave”– A free violin virtuoso gets sold back into slavery and spends 12 years trying to escape.  Even though this film featured powerful performances from black actors, it reeks of Brad Pitt.

2014- “Birdman”– Cue the obligatory Mid- Life Crisis film of the Decade.  These things just don’t go away.


Agree? Disagree?  Leave a comment!


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