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Re-picking Best Picture winners from 1985 to today

  • Re-picking Best Picture winners from 1985 to today

    While "there’s no accounting for taste" is a cliché for a reason, when it comes to the Academy voters, there has been a lot of taste accounting done. But as film critic Mick LaSalle explained last year, some of the conventional wisdom around Best Picture prognosticating (epics, war movies, historical dramas, etc.) has changed since the voting process was tweaked in 2009. Before that point, there were five nominees, and the film that got the most votes (which could’ve been as low as 21%) would win—now there can be as many as 10 nominees and voters rank the films from first to last. Before 2009, big dumb movies that employed a lot of people tended to win (Best Picture is voted on by directors and actors, but also set designers, CGI people, etc.). Since 2009, smaller films have done much better, partly because people have strategically voted against front-runners, leading to several upsets (Argo over Lincoln, Spotlight over The Revenant, and Moonlight over La La Land).

    But, even as voters have begun to move toward smaller, more transgressive films (and away from big boring “Oscar” films like Dances with Wolves), they still manage to get it wrong about as much as they get it right. So, we at Stacker decided to do some taste accounting of our own, and to join in on the best part of Oscar season: making the case for who really should have won. By using a Stacker Score that incorporates IMDb ratings and Rotten Tomatoes, we have re-picked the Best Picture for every Academy Awards since 1985. Each year’s real winner is the film with the highest score among the nominees (ties are broken by total number of IMDb votes). So let’s go grab Little Gold Men from the La La Lands of years past and hand them to the films that really should have won the biggest award of them all...  

  • 1985 - Amadeus

    Actual winner: Amadeus

    Repicked Winner: Amadeus (Stacker Score: 89.00; IMDb rating: 8.3; Tomatometer: 95%)

    Other nominees: The Killing Fields (86.00), Places in the Heart (84.50), A Soldier's Story (80.50), A Passage to India (79.50)

    Hollywood’s 1984 was an absolute beast when it came to blockbuster hits. The year in movies gave us The Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, The Terminator, Gremlins, an Indiana Jones and Splash (the original fish-love epic). It also gave us a wonderful, informative, wildly fun epic about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and his rival, Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). This year, Hollywood was winning at the box office, and the Academy was spot on at its awards show too.  

  • 1986 - Witness

    Actual winner: Out of Africa

    Repicked winner: Witness (Stacker Score: 83.00; IMDb rating: 7.4; Tomatometer: 92%)

    Other nominees: The Color Purple (83.00), Kiss of the Spider Woman (81.00), Prizzi's Honor (78.00), Out of Africa (64.50)

    This is where things start to get tricky with re-picking awards. By no means, all other factors aside, should Out of Africa, a mess of a colonial love story starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, have won Best Picture at the 1986 Academy Awards. But director Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie) entered the Awards season seeming like he absolutely should’ve won some Academy Awards already. Witness (a thriller starring Harrison Ford) and The Color Purple (Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Alice Walker novel starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey) are much better films, but it was Pollack’s time to be awarded in the Academy’s eyes. This is another case of right man, wrong movie, which is a classic Oscars issue.  


  • 1987 - A Room with a View

    Actual winner: Platoon

    Repicked winner: A Room with a View (Stacker Score: 87.00; IMDb rating: 7.4; Tomatometer: 100%)

    Other nominees: Hannah and Her Sisters (86.50), Platoon (84.50), Children of a Lesser God (76.50), The Mission (70.00)

    This intellectual, witty and funny adaptation of E.M Forster’s novel could not be less like Oliver Stone’s Vietnam epic, Platoon, which actually won the 1987 Best Picture award. With A Room with a View, director James Ivory (who wrote this year’s Call Me By Your Name) offered his take on the British upper class during the early 20th Century. The result was consistently smart, perfectly acted (with an incredible debut by Helena Bonham Carter) and even pleasant to watch, which no one has ever said about an Oliver Stone film. Another point for Ivory: Unlike Stone, he has never made a four-hour love letter to Vladimir Putin.

  • 1988 - The Last Emperor

    Actual winner: The Last Emperor

    Repicked winner: The Last Emperor (Stacker Score: 85.00; IMDb rating: 7.8; Tomatometer: 92%)

    Other nominees: Broadcast News (85.00), Hope and Glory (84.00), Moonstruck (81.50), Fatal Attraction (73.50)

    The Last Emperor is an epic through and through—a sweeping storyline with grand visuals and, of course, an imposing run-time. But Bernardo Bertolucci’s film, which follows the life of Pu-Yi, from his lavish childhood through the rise of the Red Army in China, is breathtaking enough to look and holds the viewer’s interest throughout. While the case can certainly be made for Albert Brooks’ classic Broadcast News—which actually tied The Last Emperor in its Stacker Score—this is assuredly not one of the great Oscar heists.

  • 1989 - Rain Man

    Actual winner: Rain Man

    Repicked winner: Rain Man (Stacker Score: 84.50; IMDb rating: 8.0; Tomatometer: 89%)

    Other nominees: Dangerous Liaisons (84.50), Mississippi Burning (83.50), Working Girl (76.00), The Accidental Tourist (74.00)

    While all the Dangerous Liaisons-hive may argue (I see you out there, still shipping Malkovich/Pfeiffer), Rain Man rightfully won Best Picture in 1989. Director Barry Levinson’s film tells the story of a handsome jerk (Tom Cruise) who takes his estranged autistic brother (who also happens to be a savant) on a cross-country road-trip to try to get a piece of their father’s fortune. It is fast-paced, fun and heartbreaking at times. Tom Cruise is at absolute peak Cruise, and manages to make you hate, root against, root for, and then love him as the movie’s protagonist.    

  • 1990 - My Left Foot

    Actual winner: Driving Miss Daisy

    Repicked winner: My Left Foot (Stacker Score: 88.00; IMDb rating: 7.9; Tomatometer: 97%)

    Other nominees: Dead Poets Society (83.50), Born on the Fourth of July (81.00), Field of Dreams (80.50), Driving Miss Daisy (78.00)

    Driving Miss Daisy is perfect Academy catnip. Two great actors—Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy—investigating a relationship over many, many years. But, then again, My Left Foot, the story of a difficult man with cerebral palsy who becomes an accomplished writer/painter using only his left foot, also checks a lot of Oscar voter boxes. The absolutely astounding performance by Daniel Day-Lewis turns a biopic we’ve seen before into something else entirely. Though Kevin Costner playing catch with his dad in Field of Dreams is a scene for the ages, My Left Foot deserved the Oscar this year.

  • 1991 - Goodfellas

    Actual winner: Dances with Wolves

    Repicked winner: Goodfellas (Stacker Score: 91.00; IMDb rating: 8.7; Tomatometer: 95%)

    Other nominees: Awakenings (83.00), Dances with Wolves (81.00), Ghost (72.00), The Godfather: Part III (71.50)

    Decisions like the one the Academy made in 1991 are why lists like this exist. At no point during Dances with Wolves—Kevin Costner’s bloated epic about a Union soldier assigned to Sioux land in South Dakota who falls for the Native American culture—does a character explain the optimal way to slice garlic. The film never gets close to the propulsive fun that runs through the entirety (at least until the helicopters show up) of Martin Scorsese's gangster masterpiece. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and every other gangster movie bitplayer are perfect in this film. No one has ever said, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be Kevin Costner with a bad mustache….”  

  • 1992 - The Silence of the Lambs

    Actual winner: The Silence of the Lambs

    Repicked winner: The Silence of the Lambs (Stacker Score: 90.50; IMDb rating: 8.6; Tomatometer: 95%)

    Other nominees: JFK (82.00), Bugsy (76.50), Beauty and the Beast (75.50), The Prince of Tides (70.00)

    In many ways, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs never should have won an Oscar—horror movies don’t win Oscars, and February releases rarely receive awards. And yet, buoyed by legendary performances by Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, and up against a truly terrible slate of films, the murderous classic swept the Big 4 (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director). The only real controversy of the 1992 Awards is if Hopkins really deserved Best Actor when he was only seen on screen for 16 minutes. Winning a Little Golden Man for under 20 minutes of work? The knighted thespian is nothing if not efficient.

  • 1993 - Unforgiven

    Actual winner: Unforgiven

    Repicked winner: Unforgiven (Stacker Score: 89.00; IMDb rating: 8.2; Tomatometer: 96%)

    Other nominees: Howards End (86.00), The Crying Game (85.00), Scent of a Woman (84.00), A Few Good Men (79.00)

    Clint Eastwood’s magnificent Western manages to strip the genre of its varnish to create a brutal and beautiful film about the rough reality of the Wild West. Eastwood, Gene Hackman, and Morgan Freeman are all fantastic (Hackman won Best Supporting Actor and Eastwood Best Director). In the worst case of right man, wrong movie, Al Pacino won Best Actor over Eastwood, Denzel Washington, and Robert Downey Jr. The only downside of this masterpiece is that it means Eastwood can keep directing films forever—it’s frightening to imagine what comes next after The 15:17 to Paris. 

  • 1994 - Schindler's List

    Actual winner: Schindler’s List

    Repicked winner: Schindler's List (Stacker Score: 93.00; IMDb rating: 8.9; Tomatometer: 97%)

    Other nominees: The Remains of the Day (88.00), In the Name of the Father (87.50), The Fugitive (87.00), The Piano (83.00)

    There was no question that Schindler’s List would win the Oscar this year. The heartbreaking yet humanity-affirming tale of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a greedy German businessman who eventually risks his life to save his Jewish workers from the Nazis was expertly directed by Steven Spielberg and populated with fantastic performances from Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and, of course, Neeson. And looking back, it’s clear that the story remains important today. Neeson has become everybody’s favorite Vengeful Action Dad, but hopefully, he has the opportunity to give another performance like this one.

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