In the 16 years Paula and I have worked together, we’ve been 15 and 0 when picking Best Picture. We know usually going in which film is going to win, and why – and in most cases without seeing the movie. But, hey, we read the news; we both took a lot of film courses, and we’ve both been immersed in Hollywood enough to know that the Best Picture always hinges on three things: acting, story and atmosphere, which can be broken down into music and effects. That’s it. That’s all it takes to win a Best Picture Oscar, folks. From our first pick in the fall of 1994, until our last pick in early December of 2010, we have never lost the Best Picture. =) We’d call it personally a quite phenomenal achievement, worthy of our own Oscar.

So on behalf of the Academy, we’d like to thank everyone for this lovely Oscar. This stands as a testament that two slightly older people still know what works in a movie, and still know what’s GOOD out there!

1995 – “BRAVEHEART” was a shoe-in. This was indeed a killer. We read about “Braveheart” coming out about a year prior, and when we heard it was amazing Mel Gibson at the helm as actor and director, something just told us it couldn’t miss. Don’t look at your perspective now of Mel; you have to go back about 16 or 17 years to see him when he ruled the world. “Braveheart” is a compelling story, based on true events of Sir William Wallace, with brilliant cinematography, a killer theme, great cast, and OUTSTANDING direction of a LOT of people. Whatever you think of him as a person now, it has absolutely nothing to do with the integrity of the film. It was the clear choice. =) Some may argue that Ron Howard‘s “Apollo 13” should have gotten the nod as the more “patriotic” entry, but come on – it’s three guys in space sitting in a can waiting for their demise.


1996 – “THE ENGLISH PATIENT” – Okay, this film deserved it with nine Oscars in total, but our hearts still to this day go out to Ethan and Joel Coen, who should have walked away with Best Picture and Director for “Fargo”. The Academy people were always crazy for long films, and a three-hour, epic eye-slaughter of ambiguity and flashbacks seemed to fit the bill. Yes, Ralph Fiennes was stunning, and the story directed by the late Anthony Minghella is touching and heartfelt, about a nurse caring for a dying burn patient in a monastery – who actually turns out not to be as sweet and pathetic as we are led to believe. Juliette Binoche was dazzling as the nurse listening to probably the most incredible adventure a man could have, and nabbed the Best Supporting Actress for the performance.

To this day, our hearts still go out to the film that should have made a clean sweep. But when you win Best Director, like Minghella did that last year, we didn’t like the odds. You are 75% likely to win the Best Picture if you win the Best Director, as the last 20 years of awards have shown. Still…we thought maybe “Fargo” would pull off an upset. It just didn’t happen. “Fargo” is short and sweet, a masterful mix of cinematography, story and acting. It is about a Minnesota milquetoast, played with brilliance by William H. Macy, a car salesman down on his luck, plotting the kidnapping of his own wife (by dunder-headed kidnappers Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) for a hefty ransom from his cold and unfeeling father-in-law. This simple plan runs into difficulties from the start, cascading into one disaster after another, and as the bodies pile up the laughter just gets louder. The incomparable Frances McDormand won Best Actress as the pregnant police chief trying to follow the clues. It’s probably the most brilliant black comedy of all time. We’ve heard people use hilarious quotes from the movie – and we wince when we hear a wood-chipper. Sorry guys, but your redemption is coming… =)

1997 – “TITANIC” – There’s a joke that someone was sitting in the theatre seeing this movie with his wife, and started to get up from his seat as the ship hit an iceberg. The wife looked up and asked, “Why are you leaving now?!” to which he replied, “Honey, I KNOW how this ends. The boat sinks and everyone dies. Let’s go.”  Those who managed to survive, you REALLY feel sorry for – except for Kathy Bates, who killed as the great unsinkable Molly Brown. =) The Boat Movie, as we will affectionately refer to it as, was GOOD. Don’t get us wrong; not only did it win eleven awards, but we KNEW this was going to win the Best Picture simply because it cost so much MONEY! =) James Cameron HAD to get it back somehow. You don’t just BUILD a complete Titanic (well, maybe 3/4 of the size anyway) and hire all those extras AND actors, and not have a built-in voting block. Seriously!

What happened to “L. A. Confidential“? OMFG! What was the Academy thinking? Curtis Hanson‘s stellar film, based on the novel by James Ellroy, was AMAZING. We’re not all that fond of Russell Crowe, and HE managed to make us love him. Guy Pearce, whom no one had ever heard of (Unless you were in Oz), gave such an amazing performance. James Cromwell was totally black-hearted and evil, and Kevin Spacey put on the smarm throughout, not to mention Kim Bassinger, who can’t act at all, stepped up to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  The movie is a complete, wonderful story of police corruption and Hollywood hey-days of the 1950s, told and shot with such brilliance you’re catching your breath in the riveting climax. “L. A. Confidential” should have won, and it’s probably one of the Academy’s greatest tragedies. “The Boat Movie” won for the special effects and nothing more. There was no acting, no compelling story, nothing but a big black mark in history where man’s hubris became its horror.

Although Leo DiCaprio got to see Kate Winslet naked and draw her.

That was hot.

1998 – “SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE” – We have to admit, we thought Spielberg would run away with “Saving Private Ryan” at first, but more and more, we started reading some incredible reviews of John Madden‘s film, and when the votes really came in, we looked at each other a few weeks before Oscar night and said, “Nah, Spielberg’s won too many times lately…they might let a dark horse take it…”

Sure enough, our money was on the dark-horse “Shakespeare in Love”, a romantic comedy, (and the first to win an Oscar since 1977’s “Annie Hall“) about William Shakespeare trying to get over his writer’s block and create the epic “Romeo and Juliet”. What makes this film so intriguing, touching and funny as hell, is how the character (played beautifully by Joseph Fiennes) puts together his masterpiece by relying on life’s experiences, successes and foibles to help him out. It’s so well-done and ORIGINAL, it just had to take the prize. And when you get a record THIRTEEN nominations, you KNOW you’ve got a prayer. Kudos also to Gwyneth Paltrow‘s star-making Best Actress turn.

One note about 1998’s best picture; we were very ashamed when “The Truman Show” barely got a nod from the Academy. Sure, it got three nominations for Director Peter Weir, Supporting Actor Ed Harris (who was so frigid and cold, you couldn’t help but hate him), and Best Screenplay by Andrew Niccol, but it just didn’t get the kick we expected. “The Truman Show”, about a defeated, suburban man (played VERY convincingly by Jim Carrey) from birth forced to be the world’s reality show, was as dark a horse as any to win the Best Picture that year; maybe the Academy just thought something so eerily realistic and frightening shouldn’t be publicized too much.

Funny how a few years later, CBS brought out “Big Brother

1999 – “AMERICAN BEAUTY” – You know the old saying, “Sure as the sun rises and sets”? In January of 2000, you could have said, “Sure as American Beauty wins Best Picture.” This was so easy to predict; probably one of the few we could say we would have bet our lives on. This movie had it all; a fantastic script, a riveting, tight little story, some of the best acting you will ever see, candid, haunting cinematography – and it hit so damned close to home, you imagine audiences all over the country were shaking their heads afterwards. Sam Mendes‘ frank, funny and sometimes tragic look at a contemporary family swung for the fences when it came to illustrating society, humanity and the inner struggles we all face every day. It is as powerful of a historical epic film as you can get. Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening as the unfortunate Burnhams were the perfect movie-couple.  This was also one of the only years in which we couldn’t think of a BETTER film to win! =)

And before you go shouting “The Sixth Sense!” let us be clear about something. Haley Joel Osment made that film great. You don’t win a Best Picture on one actor – especially not an 8-year-old boy. And if M. Night Shyamalan HAD won the Best Picture? We’d be entirely let down from that day forward. =)

We had to laugh a little at the snubbing of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Magnolia” though. It really wasn’t a bad film at all, and Tom Cruise certainly deserved his nomination for Supporting Actor. It’s possible it was left out because of the strange similarities between it and “American Beauty”, about slice-of-lifers coming to terms with society and the human nature around them.

The funniest part of the night had to be Robin Williams singing the Oscar-nominated song “Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut“. While acid-tripping Trey Parker and Matt Stone looked on in pink and green dresses, the comedian/actor took great strides in hiding the word “fuck” throughout. No point it was one of the reasons this was the first Oscar show to get a PG-14 rating. =)


2000 – “GLADIATOR” – As the end of the world came and went, and we limped into 2001, we had to admit that 2000 was a VERY boring year. Maybe a bunch of film houses thought 1999 was indeed it, and shut down production, who knows? Anyway, three other films rose to the top, in our opinion: “Traffic“, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“, and “Erin Brockovitch“. Amazingly enough, all three joined “Gladiator” on the Best Picture stage. Not surprisingly, they didn’t have a chance in Hell of claiming the prize. “Gladiator” was just too good. It’s one of the few movies we saw BEFORE Oscar night; we were that excited.

Two words describe Gladiator – visually stunning. The battle scenes alone are enough to keep your heart racing, and the historically accurate depictions of the Roman Empire are spellbinding. Russell Crowe as Maximus dominates the screen, but you’re so busy watching the fighting to really care that he’s nothing more than a sad family man.  Joaquin Phoenix showed the world he could measure up to his long-dead brother River too. Director Ridley Scott, who last graced us with a powerhouse in “Thelma and Louise” in 1991, started the new millennium with a bang.

We thought “Erin Brockovitch” directed by Steven Soderbergh stood a chance for a while, especially given the stunning performances of then-Oscar-winner Julia Roberts and Nominee for supporting Albert Finney. But Gladiator was just too powerful to miss the mark. =)

2001 – “A BEAUTIFUL MIND” – Ron Howard missed the mark in 1995 with “Apollo 13”, but after a few more misses, he was back in the driver’s seat. This was another no-doubter for us. “A Beautiful Mind” is a stunning example of what can happen when Howard is allowed to do a psychological drama; he directs it to perfection. This film also marked the first time a lead actor had appeared in two Best Picture wins back to back. Russell Crowe won for “Gladiator” the year before, and was back up in 2002 for this one. But Jennifer Connelly pulled off one of the most memorable performances ever, and when she won, you knew it was all over but the counting of votes. =) This dark, sometimes terrifying journey into the mind of an anti-social mathematician was the toast of Hollywood, and it was nominated for eight awards, snagging four of them. =)

We can hear the Lord of the Rings fans still moaning. 13 Oscar nominations; everyone must have thought Peter Jackson‘s epic fantasy was a must-win. Sadly, the Academy had, and still honestly has, an affliction against fantasy films. Although the best-selling J.R.R. Tolkien series would eventually get the light shone upon it, most of America must have been thinking “WTF?!”

One more note: The 2001 Best Picture Nominations were probably the most widespread in genres ever. “A Beautiful Mind”, “Moulin Rouge” (a Parisian musical), “Lord of the Rings” (epic fantasy), “Gosford Park“, (a British murder mystery), and “In the Bedroom“, an overlooked family drama about tragedy and consequences.

If you haven’t seen “In the Bedroom” yet, give it a try. Tom Wilkerson, who should have won for Best Actor but fell to Denzel Washington for “Training Day“, is phenomenal and Sissy Spacek, who ALSO should have won the Oscar for her role but lost to Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball“, playing his wife, is heart-breaking and brittle in the face of the tragedy in losing their only son. It is a haunting tale of small-town life, ruined by a senseless murder – and the ultimate redemption that we find ourselves questioning long after the curtains are drawn.

2002 – “CHICAGO” – When we read about “Chicago” being planned as a movie, we both looked at each other and went “Alright!!” This movie actually started life as a Bob Fosse stage play at the 46th Street Theatre in New York City in 1975. The show ran for 936 performances and a revival started in 1996 which is still going on today. Thirteen Oscar nominations for Rob Marshall’s masterpiece didn’t really surprise us one bit. The slightly true-to-life story, based on the 1924 murder trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, centers around dancers Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly (played by Renee Zellwegger and Catherine Zeta-Jones) in the 1920s. But it was Roxie’s consistent psychological breakdowns into music and fantasy that set the stage.

What is so wonderful about this motion picture is that the music, the songs, the choreography, everything meshed so beautifully around a 1920s backdrop, telling a great story about the attempts of two murderous starlets trying to save their lives by staying in the face of the media.  As brilliant as it is timeless, “Chicago” earned the award. We were so excited to see them win Best Picture.

Best Director, of course, went to Roman Polanski‘s masterful account of a WW2 piano player in “The Pianist“, bu the dark horse for Best Picture that year was a toss-up: Would the Academy give epic-fantasy another try with “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers“, or would Martin Scorcese’s “Gangs of New York” claim the fame?

Nope. =)

“Chicago” also set one other record: It would become the eleventh and last best film nomination in a row for Weinstein and friends at Miramax; something no other production studio has done before or since. =)

2003 – “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING” – Finally! The mother lode at last. We had to admit, we were on our seats over this one, but we honestly had nothing to worry about. Had the Academy turned Peter Jackson down a third time, every geek, nerd, spaz, sci-fi and fantasy nut would have driven personally to Hollywood and set it on fire. That was our thinking when the nominations came out in January of 2004. One thing we DIDN’T think would happen – that the movie would garner every single Oscar it was nominated for – all eleven of them, and the biggest clean sweep in Hollywood history. The last one was most deservedly the best; the movie picked up nearly $1.4 billion worldwide.

One of our favorite moments was when a crying Annie Lennox, once of the dazzling 80s band, the Eurythmics, took the stage with partners Fran Walsh and Howard Shore to accept the Best Song Award with “Into the West” – yes, another win for “The Lord”. =)

This was another one of those “life-staking” choices. There was no way, no way in Hell, Peter Jackson was going home empty-handed. =)


2004 – “MILLION DOLLAR BABY” – This one nearly threw us off, and we were arguing back and forth for a few days. I kept saying, “It’s Clint Eastwood‘s, he’s got it…” and Paula was steering towards “The Aviator“, and Martin Scorcese finally catching a break. In the end, we decided maybe it was Eastwood’s year (given that he just missed with “Mystic River” the year before) – and wouldn’t you know it, bazinga! (with fond thoughts of Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory“) Eastwood’s incredible tear-jerker about a down-and-out boxer training a waitress for battle in the ring was as poignant as it was epic. It brought out the triumphs and tragedies of boxing, and no movie ever had taken us inside girl-fighting quite like this one. “Million Dollar Baby” took home four Oscars, including awards for Morgan Freeman for Supporting and Hillary Swank for Best Actress.

Sad to say, “The Aviator” just didn’t score all its points with us. We liked the movie, but we didn’t LOVE it. Our main grief? It was just too damned long, and the psychological aspects, the whole regression of Howard Hughes‘ persona and his descent into near-madness just took away too much from the fact the man was brilliant. Scorcese dwelt too much on what we already knew. =( Another choice, “Finding Neverland” had a shot too, but mainly for one reason: No, not Johnny Depp. We’re talking about the adorable Freddie Highmore, whom in these writers’ professional opinions, is the Hollywood find of the millennium. If his upbringing remains true and normal, he is indeed a high caliber actor with a lifetime of awards ahead of him. Enough said. =)

2005 – “CRASH” – There aren’t too many times we’re taken aback by the Academy’s picks, but this one had us, well, shaking our heads a little bit. Before they announced Best Picture, Ang Lee had just won Best Director for “Brokeback Mountain“, and the odds were looking pretty good he’d get the subsequent Best Picture and make it a clean sweep. But then it occurred to us; all “Brokeback Mountain” had received to that point was Best Score and Best Screenplay Adaptation. How can that muster a Best Picture? We feared an upset was about to occur, and we looked at the contenders once more:  “Capote,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Munich“, and “Crash”.

Did Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s Oscar for Best Actor have enough of a drive? “Good Night and Good Luck” hadn’t fared too well that night either, and there was no way Spielberg’s “Munich” was going to win. We looked at each other, eyes wide. “CRASH?!” It had already won Best Original Screenplay and Editing, and Matt Dillon WAS up for Best Supporting. Quick as a shot, we changed our vote just before the envelope was opened.

Director Paul Haggis‘ independent dark horse win shot the lights out at Kodak Theatre. No one could have seen this coming – but it deserves the nod. “Crash” is a taut, explosive drama about racial tensions in L.A., flaring from a car accident and then cascading downwards from there, interlocking the lives of several different kinds of people.  We get several honest, deep-seeded viewpoints of what it’s like to observe minorities in this country. You don’t just WATCH “Crash”; you FEEL “Crash”. =) Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the marketing for “Crash” was incredible. Almost everyone involved in motion pictures reportedly received a pre-release DVD.

See? You too can win a Best Picture, if you get enough people in films watching it. =)

2006 – “THE DEPARTED” – Ahh, the sweet smell of vindication. Martin Scorcese for the win! Yes! Woo! We were pulling for him the whole night, and somehow we knew he had it in the bag and sewn up this time. His incredible movie is about a pair of Irishmen in Boston, an undercover cop (played perfectly by Leonardo DiCaprio), and a mob informant, (played with equal caliber by Matt Damon) trying to keep both of their covers. It is as gritty as it gets, and extremely violent, the way Scorcese likes it. Jack Nicholson is memorizing and truly haunting as crime boss Frank Costello, (playing the real-life James “Whitey” Bulger) who’s at the end of his career, and watching the world and ultimate justice cave in around him. It is a pure masterpiece, one of Martin’s best in a long, long time. After SIX Best Picture nominations, he did it. =) We were so happy for him.

This was also the year we noticed actor Jackie Earle Haley again for the first time in probably decades. Todd Field, who brought us the stunning and brilliant film “In The Bedroom”, managed to give some new brilliance to a late-comer with his movie “Little Children“. Jackie plays one of the most horrifying, disturbing people known to society; a crazed pedophile – and he does it with such realism and actions, we were pleased to see him at least get the nomination for Supporting Actor. He was STILL the best thing in “The Watchmen“. =)

2007 – “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN” – Awestruck. One man made this movie just absolutely sensational, and that was Javier Bardem. To our knowledge, there has not been a more frightening villain ever to grace the screen. Some may argue the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in “the Dark Knight” tops him, but Javier didn’t have anything more than a bad haircut.(which was actually his idea!).  Joel and Ethan Coen made a sweep of their own, winning Best Director(s) and Best Picture for this masterpiece about a rugged hunter (played with perfection by Josh Brolin) who stumbles upon a massacre in the deserted fields of 1980’s West Texas.

For the rest of the movie, he is chased and tormented by evil hitman Anton Chigurh, (Bardem, who deservedly won Best Supporting) who has no qualms about…well, anything. He kills simply on the flip of a coin, and it is this fearsome, loathsome creature of destruction that you really focus on the most. Of note, his weapon of choice: a ridiculously-crafted, and yet highly effective air rifle, complete with a silencer. In the end, he is of course defeated, at least psychologically, due to the courage of one woman (played by Kelly McDonald), the hunter’s wife. Tommy Lee Jones, as the aged sheriff just trying to make sense of all the violence and mayhem, keeps you shaking your head and enjoying a brief chuckle or two.

The Coens last graced the Oscar stage in 1997 with “Fargo”, but failed to take the big prize that year, so this was a good win for them. It certainly solidified them again as the directors who KNOW characters. Their films haunt us and amaze us because of the characters being portrayed, and they have a way of bringing out the best, and the worst, in every one of them. We have deeply respected the Coens ever since “Blood Simple” in 1984, and they never cease to impress us.

One snub we thought should have been un-snubbed: “SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET“. Without question, we thought this would at least get a Best Picture nod at least, but the Academy apparently turned their heads away from the violence and gore set to music in 19th Century London. Tim Burton‘s masterpiece, based on the Broadway hit musical, starred Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman. It SHOULD have received more consideration. The songs were very well done, the story is actually quite engrossing, and there are scenes that will stick with you forever. The way Tim made the film, in a bleak, dark and drab shading, (not unlike his work on “Sleepy Hollow“, another classic) REALLY captures the grim, dank and depraved essence of London in the late 1800s.

2008 – “SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” – We called this night the Year of Bollywood. But you know what? It was in the bag. There wasn’t a critic in the world that wasn’t talking about this gem by Director Danny Boyle, who had stunned us in the past with such films as “Trainspotting“, “28 Days Later“, and the black comedy “Shallow Grave“. This movie centers around a young man (Dev Patel) forced to explain his amazing win in India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” to suspicious officials accusing him of cheating. Through flashbacks from childhood to his adult life, we watch how this man was indeed able to use his memories, and trigger answers to the questions. As you can imagine, this man’s life had not been very easy, which makes his winning so much more triumphant. We both agreed this was one of our shoe-ins, and we think the whole world knew it too. =)

We also had to bow our heads a little as Heath Ledger’s family came up to accept his posthumous honor for Best Supporting Actor as the cruel, hypnotic Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”. It was a very sad moment, and again one we knew was coming. There was no way Ledger was losing; he was just too damned good. Hollywood lost a legend in the making, no doubt about it. =(

2009 – “THE HURT LOCKER” – When one of the producers for this movie apparently contacted the Academy and begged them not to vote for a “$500 million film”, it must have set off quite a few flares. This sleeper at the box-office (only about $40 million in U.S. domestic) about an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team in the middle of the punishing Iraq War sent shock waves around the world. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (ex-wife of kingpin James Cameron) “The Hurt Locker” brought the true grit, horror and destruction of the war, psychologically and visually. The screenplay by Mark Boal, who was an actual journalist following a bomb squad in Iraq, won Best Screenplay.

The whole night we were praying it wouldn’t be “AVATAR“. As visually stunning as the movie was, come on! The story is about as original as toast! I joked once to Paula this was nothing more than a souped-up “FERNGULLY“. Well, it was! It didn’t have the caliber to make it as a Best Picture. But still, there was heavy competition. This marked the first year TEN movies would be considered for the grand prize. Besides “Ferngully: Revamped” and “The Hurt Locker”, there was “The Blind Side,” “District 9,” “An Education,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” “A Serious Man,” “Up,” and “Up in the Air“. So for “The Hurt Locker” to beat them all, and rather soundly, was quite a feat. We were extremely happy for Kathryn, not just because she beat the ex, but because she became the first female director to win the Best Director title. Sofia Coppola made it to the brink with “Lost in Translation” in 2003.

And that’s it.
15 movies.
15 great years of memories.
2010’s winners are around the corner, and we just know you’re waiting for our picks, right? How can we lose? =)

We’ll talk about that more in our next blog…

Peace to our readers, and keep watching movies! =)

Paul and Paula
(and the cats, who don’t watch movies much. They prefer “The First 48” and “Crime 360“. Silly things. >^^<)