Oscar Breakdown by Category: Best Picture & Best Director

We’re gonna start from the top and work down. First, let’s begin with an overview of the category itself:

Best Picture is, quite simply, not quite simple. At first, there was no category. In the 1927-1928 awards ceremony, there were two separate categories for “Production.” The first was “Most Outstaning Production.”

Now MOP, was won by Wings, which is widely considered the first Best Picture winner. It was the Mop. How do you go against the Mop?

However, there was a second award, called “Most Unique and Artistic Production.” That went to Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. I love using the subtitle there. For some reason, the MUAP is not as widely recognized as the MOP. I guess MUAP isn’t as sexy. MUAP is something you get when you have a yeast infection. I’m pretty sure it’s part of the story of Hanukkah.

That first ceremony was very telling about Hollywood and what their priorities are – they separated between artistic storytelling and thrilling, “Hollywood” storytelling. Later on this would just be known as the Oscars. The Oscars are that separation. Usually. I don’t think any of us are still sure what Crash was.

The first ceremony only had three nominees for Best Picture. The second had 5. So did the third. In fact, the 5 nominees thing continued all the way until 1931-1932, which was the second to last year where they had double years. The thing about the double years is, since the ceremonies took place the following year from when all the pictures were released, they incorporated it into the calendar. Soon they realized, they can just create their own calendar. Which is why now the 2010 Oscars are being held in 2011 and everyone pretty much understands the concept without them being the 2010-2011 Oscars. The only confusion that ever occurs is people ask if the Oscars also include the films that come out in January and February before the Oscars in 2011. And to that I always say, “Since when does a movie that comes out in January or Febuary ever worthy of an Oscar?” And then I take their lunch money and watch them cry. I’m a very sadistic person sometimes.

Also, as I’ll explain when I get to the specific years, 1927-1933 are years that were very much the industry finding its identity. Sound was invented in ’27, and up to ’33, studios were mostly getting used to the technology, and changing up their ideas of story and storytelling (while also getting into some censorship trouble in the process). By the time 1934 came around, they figured out what would be the standard “Classical Hollywood” format that would continue pretty much until today, which is very much evident in what won Best Picture that year, It Happened One Night.

So, by 1934, the kind of film that would be the “Oscar” film became clear. Though they still hadn’t figured out the whole “number of nominees” thing yet. In 1931-1932, they had 8 nominees for Best Picture. 1932-1933, there were 10. In 1934 & 1935, there were 12. But by 1936, they stuck to 10, and it stayed that way all the way until 1943. Starting from 1944, they stuck to the traditional format of 5, which held all the way to 2009. Now we’re back to 10. I like 10. Naturally there are some stragglers that round out the list, but usually, when there are ten films (and the year is after 1935), most of them are guaranteed to be of some distinguishable quality.

I don’t want to get too much into voting trends and the type of films that win, because that’s what I’ll be doing when I go over each year. So, for now, let’s just list all the Best Picture winners.

Best Picture Winner

1927-1928 – Wings (Sunrise)
1928-1929 – The Broadway Melody
1930-1931 – All Quiet on the Western Front
1929-1930 – Cimarron
1931-1932 – Grand Hotel
1932-1933 – Cavalcade
1934 – It Happened One Night
1935 – Mutiny on the Bounty
1936 – The Great Ziegfeld
1937 – The Life of Emile Zola
1938 – You Can’t Take It With You
1939 – Gone with the Wind
1940 – Rebecca
1941 – How Green Was My Valley
1942 – Mrs. Miniver
1943 – Casablanca
1944 – Going My Way
1945 – The Lost Weekend
1946 – The Best Years of Our Lives
1947 – Gentleman’s Agreement
1948 – Hamlet
1949 – All the King’s Men
1950 – All About Eve
1951 – An American in Paris
1952 – The Greatest Show on Earth
1953 – From Here to Eternity
1954 – On the Waterfront
1955 – Marty
1956 – Around the World in 80 Days
1957 – The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958 – Gigi
1959 – Ben-Hur
1960 – The Apartment
1961 – West Side Story
1962 – Lawrence of Arabia
1963 – Tom Jones
1964 – My Fair Lady
1965 – The Sound of Music
1966 – A Man for All Seasons
1967 – In the Heat of the Night
1968 – Oliver!
1969 – Midnight Cowboy
1970 – Patton
1971 – The French Connection
1972 – The Godfather
1973 – The Sting
1974 – The Godfather Part II
1975 – One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1976 – Rocky
1977 – Annie Hall
1978 – The Deer Hunter
1979 – Kramer vs. Kramer
1980 – Ordinary People
1981 – Chariots of Fire
1982 – Gandhi
1983 – Terms of Endearment
1984 – Amadeus
1985 – Out of Africa
1986 – Platoon
1987 – The Last Emperor
1988 – Rain Man
1989 – Driving Miss Daisy
1990 – Dances with Wolves
1991 – The Silence of the Lambs
1992 – Unforgiven
1993 – Schindler’s List
1994 – Forrest Gump
1995 – Braveheart
1996 – The English Patient
1997 – Titanic
1998 – Shakespeare in Love
1999 – American Beauty
2000 – Gladiator
2001 – A Beautiful Mind
2002 – Chicago
2003 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 – Million Dollar Baby
2005 – Crash
2006 – The Departed
2007 – No Country For Old Men
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2009 – The Hurt Locker

So, that’s all the history we have behind us. Let’s look at this year’s nominees:

Best Picture

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)

The Fighter (Paramount)

Inception (Warner Bros.)

The Kids are All Right (Focus Features)

The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company)

127 Hours (Fox Searchlight)

The Social Network (Sony Pictures)

Toy Story 3 (Disney)

True Grit (Paramount)

Winter’s Bone (Roadside Attractions)

If I had to rank them in the order in which they would likely win Best Picture, I’d do it like this (backwards):

10. The Kids are All Right — I disliked this movie, and it would be my #10. You might say this is bias, but based on the amount of nominations Winter’s Bone got besides this, it automatically goes higher. This film is way too light to win this award. Plus, it’s not very good. It’s Brokeback Mountain syndrome all over again — just because they treat being gay as normal makes everyone think it’s high art. It’s not. I’m happy for the movie and all, but let’s not pretend this isn’t a product of there being ten nominations. Part of it is bias, but most of it is just, this film really has no shot at winning. People liked it, sure, but when you see how strong the rest of this list is, you can’t in good conscience rank this higher than 8th, maybe 7th.

9. 127 Hours — I almost put Winter’s Bone here, but since Danny Boyle won Best Picture already and this is a very polarizing film, I say this is where it should be. I personally liked the film, but didn’t love it. I loved some of the shots in it, hated some others. That digital really takes me out of it. Like the shots you know were clearly shot by a camera I can buy in the store for $70. That, to me, looks like shit. I don’t want to see something the Mexican kids in Signs could have shot, I want a film. Roger Deakins don’t play that shit. I’m also not 100% sold on Franco’s performance. I thought he was good, but not worth nominating for Actor. So, that’s that. That said, it’s a solid flick. Check it out. You’ll be cringing when he cuts the arm off.

8. Winter’s Bone — I know they loved it and all, but it’s not going any higher than this. Sorry. It’s a Sundance movie. And Sundance movies are rarely contenders for Best Picture. They just aren’t. Even Little Miss Sunshine was 4th or 5th choice that year, and that was a really weak year. So, I know they love it, but it’s not any higher than this. I liked the movie, but it shouldn’t be higher than this.

7. Inception — This is about right. It’s only about the 7th or 8th best movie of the year. It’s a great film, but a Best Picture it is not. I have detailed this many times, so I won’t say it again. But, the reason this goes here (and probably even lower/higher on this list, in actuality), is because Nolan didn’t get in for Best Director. That makes me think Winter’s Bone has more love than this has. It won’t get any kind of votes it needs to make a dent.

6. Black Swan — This and # 5 are toss ups. People loved them, but I feel enough people didn’t to keep them around middle of the pack. We know they won’t win, even though we’d be happy if they did, but they’ll have to settle for acting awards instead. Ultimately, with the nomination, and other awards they’re both likely to get, we’ll be happy with where they ended up in the Oscars. One of those, “we can’t pick them all” nominees.

5. The Fighter — Ditto #5, except, more so with this one, as it’s possibly going to get 2 acting wins instead of 1.

4. Toy Story 3 — This goes here purely because everyone will be voting this high. This will get 1-5 votes almost exclusively. It won’t get enough 1s to win, but it will get a lot of high votes because everyone thinks highly of the film. And everyone else has differing opinions on the others. So, this automatically goes here. Maybe 3, but I think that whole animated stigma pushes this down a bit. Glass ceiling sort of thing.

3. True Grit — This is your dark horse for Best Picture, ladies, gentlemen and that, thing over there. Do not be surprised if this somehow even pulls out an upset. It probably won’t, though I’ll be rooting for it to. I might even say that this is turning out to be the film I liked second best this year, which would put it ahead of every other film on this list. But, with that whole preferential balloting thing, I don’t think this gets enough #1 votes to win. This is more the Inglourious Basterds of this year — getting a lot of 2s and 3s and missing out on the win. Oh well. Still, this is definitely 3rd choice.

2. The Social Network — Despite the sweeps beforehand, this is still not the favorite to win. The PGA went with King’s Speech. So, until we find out what SAG has to say on the matter (since BAFTA will not be picking this), and whatever else has to announce, this stays right here. Right now, these two are neck and neck, but the PGA kept King’s Speech right in the race. If it went the other way, then I’d be willing to admit this is #1. But these are the Oscars, people. Just because they’re picking better these last five years to make up for Crash does not mean they still won’t take the bait when it’s in front of them. This film will not be, if it wins, an example of a precedent set, it will be the precedent. If it wins, then we say in future years that films like this can upset the King’s and Queen‘s of the world. Until this wins, it’s standard business as usual.

1. The King’s Speech — Until otherwise noted, this is still the favorite to win Best Picture. I don’t care about all the Social Network sweeps — I don’t even care that I’d be voting Social Network over this — when you get right down to it, this is the Academy’s speed. Even though Social Network is ridiculously favorited, remember, so were the Patriots in that Super Bowl 3 years ago. It is still to be considered an upset if it loses. Therefore, I’m going to leave this right here, and pray for an upset.

Best Director

There isn’t as much to say about Best Director, at least, not as much as there is to say about Best Picture. The first Best Director Oscar was presented as Best Director, Dramatic and Best Director, Comedy – much like the Globes do with their pictures. What’s interesting about that is, there were only 5 total nominees that year. The Best Director, Comedy category had only 2 nominees. I wonder if that would have been easy to guess.

I guess the only thing to point out here is how often Best Picture and Best Director match up:

Best Director (Red = Matched Best Picture)

1927-1928 (Dramatic) Frank Borzage, Seventh Heaven
1927-1928 (Comedic) Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights
1928-1929 – Frank Lloyd, The Divine Lady
1929-1930 – Lewis Milestone, All Quiet on the Western Front
1930-1931 – Norman Taurog, Skippy
1931-1932 – Frank Borzage, Bad Girl
1932-1933 – Frank Lloyd, Cavalcade
1934 – Frank Capra, It Happened One Night
1935 – John Ford, The Informer
1936 – Frank Capra, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
1937 – Leo McCarey, The Awful Truth
1938 – Frank Capra, You Can’t Take It With You
1939 – Victor Fleming, Gone with the Wind
1940 – John Ford, The Grapes of Wrath
1941 – John Ford, How Green Was My Valley
1942 – William Wyler, Mrs. Miniver
1943 – Michael Curtiz, Casablanca
1944 – Leo McCarey, Going My Way
1945 – Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend
1946 – William Wyler, The Best Years of Our Lives
1947 – Elia Kazan, Gentleman’s Agreement
1948 – John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1949 – Joseph L. Mankiewicz, A Letter to Three Wives
1950 – Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve
1951 – George Stevens, A Place in the Sun
1952 – John Ford, The Quiet Man
1953 – Fred Zinnemann, From Here to Eternity
1954 – Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront
1955 – Delbert Mann, Marty
1956 – George Stevens, Giant
1957 – David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958 – Vincente Minnelli, Gigi
1959 – William Wyler, Ben-Hur
1960 – Billy Wilder, The Apartment
1961 – Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins, West Side Story
1962 – David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia
1963 – Tony Richardson, Tom Jones
1964 – George Cukor, My Fair Lady
1965 – Robert Wise, The Sound of Music
1966 – Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons
1967 – Mike Nichols, The Graduate
1968 – Carol Reed, Oliver!
1969 – John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy
1970 – Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton
1971 – William Friedkin, The French Connection
1972 – Bob Fosse, Cabaret
1973 – George Roy Hill, The Sting
1974 – Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II
1975 – Miloš Forman, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1976 – John G. Avildsen, Rocky
1977 – Woody Allen, Annie Hall
1978 – Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter
1979 – Robert Benton, Kramer vs. Kramer
1980 – Robert Redford, Ordinary People
1981 – Warren Beatty, Reds
1982 – Richard Attenborough, Gandhi
1983 – James L. Brooks, Terms of Endearment
1984 – Miloš Forman, Amadeus
1985 – Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa
1986 – Oliver Stone, Platoon
1987 – Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emeperor
1988 – Barry Levinson, Rain Man
1989 – Oliver Stone, Born on the Fourth of July
1990 – Kevin Costner, Dances with Wovles
1991 – Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs
1992 – Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven
1993 – Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List
1994 – Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump
1995 – Mel Gibson, Braveheart
1996 – Anthony Minghella, The English Patient
1997 – James Cameron, Titanic
1998 – Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan
1999 – Sam Mendes, American Beauty
2000 – Steven Soderbergh, Traffic
2001 – Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind
2002 – Roman Polanski, The Pianist
2003 – Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 – Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
2005 – Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
2006 – Martin Scorsese, The Departed
2007 – Joel & Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
2008 – Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
2009 – Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

That’s a lot of matches. This year is going to be interesting, because, depending on what wins Best Picture, there’s very likely to be a split. Let’s look at this year’s nominees (ranked, again):

1. David Fincher — The man is a clear favorite. Almost a lock to win. The DGA will prove that fact. People could sweep King’s Speech, but that would be about a 10% chance. I don’t think it’ll sweep. It’ll likely win a lot. The only thing keeping this from being a split year or a match year is whether or not Social Network wins Best Picture. I don’t think anyone would be upset with him winning, just because Hooper did the most average job with King’s Speech.

2. Tom Hooper — I hate to say it, but in order of likely to win, he goes second. Purely because of love for the film. Look up at that list. Sometimes they just match out of habit. I’d argue that since he’s the weakest of the category and the Academy has gotten better about that recently (usually the person who does win is either someone beloved or the film was actually worth the pairing, in most people’s eyes), he’s almost certainly not going to win this. But, stranger things have happened.

3. 4. David O. Russell — I know a lot of people loved his direction here, and the DGA nomination means to me he’s one of the favorites to win. He won’t win, but the nomination means a lot of people have him #1. (Edit: He’s definitely 4th. He’s a fairly young guy, first nomination. They’ll definitely vote Coens over him. Overall. The nomination is definitely the win here.)

4. 3. Joel & Ethan Coen — I know they should go higher just because of how much people love them, but they just won in 2007, and I’d say that Fincher is long overdue for this. So I think Fincher is just now about to attain that status that they’re on. They could surprise, but they’re — actually, you know what — I’m wrong. They are 3rd choice. Younger guys usually are the ones that have to wait.

5. Darren Aronofsky — I know people think otherwise, but he really is last choice here. The most original directors are always the most polarizing and least likely to win. To that, I give you Martin Scorsese. That alone means Aronofsky won’t win. He keeps making enough films like this, though, and he will one day. But, for now, it’s just an inclusion nomination. He’ll get as many #5 votes as he will #1 votes. (Not that they vote like that, but you get what I’m saying.) They’ll award him when they award Natalie (which will also be making up for not awarding Mickey).


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