1990 saw the re-introduction of an interesting phenomenon – the split between the critics and the major awards groups. It had happened before. In 1975 and 76, Nashville and All the President’s Men had both won Best Picture from three different critics groups, only to lose the Golden Globe, Directors Guild and the Oscar for Best Picture (to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Rocky). Until 1990, the only other film to manage three Best Picture wins from the major critics groups was Terms of Endearment, which won the Oscar. Then the trend came in with a vengeance.Three times in the 90’s a film basically swept the major critics groups – first GoodFellas in 1990, then Pulp Fiction in 1994 and finally L.A. Confidential in 1997. The six major critics groups handed out 15 Best Picture awards, 17 Best Director awards and 11 Best Screenplay awards to these three films combined. Yet, in the end, it was Dances with Wolves, Forrest Gump and Titanic which won the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, Best Picture and Director at the Globes and Best Picture and Director at the Oscars. The critics knew what they wanted and clearly it wasn’t what the Academy wanted.

This wasn’t repeated in 2004, because even though Sideways won four Best Pictures and all 6 Best Screenplays from the critics, the major awards groups were split. The Aviator won the Golden Globe for Best Picture and won the Producers Guild, but Sideways also won Best Picture (Comedy), and Million Dollar Baby went on to win the DGA, Best Director at the Globes and the Oscars, and finally, Best Picture at the Oscars.

And now of course, we come to this year.  The Hurt Locker won 5 of the 6 critics awards and it won the BFCA.  But then it lost at the Globes to Avatar in both Picture and Director.  But it bounced back, winning WGA, DGA, PGA and BAFTA.  Thanks to larger amounts of points available, in my consensus Best Picture which measures across the awards groups, whether it wins or not, it has the second most points ever behind Schindler’s List.  As a percentage of total points it would still be behind GoodFellas and L.A. Confidential, but only because of the extra nominees for the PGA and Oscars.  At this point, if it is loses, there is, sadly, only one film to compare it to.  Because since the Producers Guild Award started in 1989, only film has won both the PGA and BAFTA and failed to win Best Picture at the Oscars.  So if somehow anything else but Hurt Locker wins tomorrow night, it is the new Brokeback Mountain.

We also saw some very impressive award numbers in this stretch. Titanic and Return of the King both tied Ben-Hur‘s record 11 wins, with Titanic getting a record tying 14 nominations and Return of the King becoming the most impressive sweep, although neither of them ended up with as many points as the great films of the 50’s due to a lack of any acting Oscars.

1993 saw the most dominating film in awards history: Schindler’s List. It not only won Best Picture from all 6 major critics groups (the first film to ever do that though L.A. Confidential would later do it), but also the Producers Guild, the BAFTA, the Golden Globe, the DGA and the Oscar. Everyone pretty much agreed that it was the best film of the year.

We’ve also started to see bigger numbers of nominations. From 1970 to 1989, no film received more than 11 nominations. Since then 10 films have done it (1 with 14, five with 13, four with 12). And in 1997, we saw the Oscars dominated by the Best Picture nominees (all 5 of them won at least 1 Oscar and 18 of the 20 feature film Oscars went to Best Picture nominees – everything except Makeup and Foreign Film). In 1998 and 2002 the five Picture nominees combined for 45 nominations each year, the second most since the number of nominees was reduced to five in 1944 (the most was the 48 combined in 1964).

However, we have also started to see fewer nominations. Three times in this era (1994, 1999, 2005), the five nominees only combined for 7 Oscars, the worst since 1944. And in 2006, the nominees combined for only 26 nominations, an all-time low. From 2005 to 2007 no nominee had more than 8 nominations, something not seen since the late 40’s (also, from 2004-2007 none of the Best Picture winners won Best Picture at the Golden Globes, something that had never happened before).

Best Year: 2002 – This was the first year when all five nominees earned ****. When your weakest nominee wins Best Picture and its still better than 70% of the nominees in history, that’s a great year. 2007 deserves recognition for being the only other year to have all 5 films reach the **** pinnacle.

Worst Year: 1995 – Yes, they nominated the best film of the year, but they screwed it by not giving it a Best Director nomination. Two of the films were simply good, not great. And it was the worst choice for Best Picture in 66 years.

Most Surprising Snub: The Dark Knight. Well, lots of films contend for this one. Dreamgirls was such a shocker that I wrote my first article for AwardsDaily for it (sadly, it does not seem to exist on line anymore). Other films in that article include Thelma and Louise, The Age of Innocence, Amistad, The Truman Show and Almost Famous. Dreamgirls remains the only film to get the most nominations in a single year and not be nominated for Best Picture. But this year should have been a lock for Dark Knight. It had widespread critical acclaim, was far and away the biggest hit of the “locks” and the guilds agreed on the 5 films to a degree that they never have before (the PGA, the DGA, the WGA, the Editors, the ADG all nominated those five), yet somehow, in the end, The Reader slipped in instead.

Most Surprising Win: There are actually two answers here. On one level of course the answer is Crash, which still stuns me and which I wrote an article about here. Brokeback had dominated the awards like no film since Schindler. It had won almost every Best Picture (except the SAG Ensemble, which they loudly proclaim is not a Best Picture award). Yet, in the end, Crash had the Oscar.

On the other hand, the answer is also Braveheart. Once the nominations were announced that year, it was obvious that Braveheart would win because its two major contenders (Sense and Sensibility, Apollo 13) had failed to get Best Director nominations and the other two nominees were a foreign film (Il Postino) and a kids film (Babe). But prior to the actual nominations, did anyone think Braveheart would win? (Or that Babe would get nominated over Leaving Las Vegas?). After all, Braveheart is the only film to fail to get nominated by the Producers Guild since they started their awards in 1989 to go on to win Best Picture. It didn’t win a single critics award and didn’t win the Golden Globe or the DGA. It didn’t even get nominated by the BAFTA’s. Braveheart and Crash are the only two films since 1948 to fail to win either the Golden Globe or the DGA and still win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Grades (90-09 only): Winners: B+ / Nominees: A- / Seen: 100%

Grades (alltime): Winners: B / Nominees: B / Seen: 99.37%

1990 AA: Dances with Wolves (#2)

  • GoodFellas (#1)
  • The Godfather Part III (#22)
  • Ghost (#42)
  • Awakenings (#43)

me: GoodFellas

  • Dances with Wolves
  • Miller’s Crossing
  • The Grifters
  • Presumed Innocent

1991 AA: Silence of the Lambs (#1)

  • JFK (#2)
  • Beauty and the Beast (#4)
  • Bugsy (#9)
  • The Prince of Tides (#30)

me: Silence of the Lambs

  • JFK
  • The Fisher King
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Boyz N the Hood

note:  The three sweeps since 1934 all failed to get nominated for any acting Oscars.  On the other hand, the three sweeps of the big 5: It Happened One Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs all failed to win any technical nominations.

1992 AA: Unforgiven (#1)

  • The Crying Game (#2)
  • Howards End (#5)
  • A Few Good Men (#12)
  • Scent of a Woman (#83)

me: Unforgiven

  • The Crying Game
  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • The Player
  • Howards End

1993 AA: Schindler’s List (#1)

  • In the Name of the Father (#3)
  • The Remains of the Day (#9)
  • The Piano (#18)
  • The Fugitive (#23)

me: Schindler’s List

  • The Age of Innocence
  • In the Name of the Father
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • A Perfect World

1994 AA: Forrest Gump (#34)

  • Pulp Fiction (#2)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (#3)
  • Quiz Show (#5)
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral (#6)

me: Ed Wood

  • Pulp Fiction
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Heavenly Creatures
  • Quiz Show

note:  This started the stretch of 6 times in 12 years where I think they picked the worst of the five (though with Chicago that’s still a pretty good choice).  In the first 62 years of the award I thought they picked the worst choice only 5 times.

1995 AA: Braveheart (#86)

  • Sense and Sensibility (#1)
  • Il Postino (#5)
  • Apollo 13 (#19)
  • Babe (#20)

me: Sense and Sensibility

  • The Usual Suspects
  • Richard III
  • 12 Monkeys
  • Il Postino

note:  The first Best Picture winner since 1952 to fail to get any acting nominations and not sweep all its other nominations.

1996 AA: The English Patient (#3)

  • Fargo (#4)
  • Jerry Maguire (#8)
  • Secrets and Lies (#15)
  • Shine (#39)

me: Lone Star

  • Trainspotting
  • The English Patient
  • Fargo
  • Hamlet

1997 AA: Titanic (#42)

  • L.A. Confidential (#1)
  • Good Will Hunting (#8)
  • The Full Monty (#13)
  • As Good as It Gets (#15)

me: L.A. Confidential

  • The Ice Storm
  • The Sweet Hereafter
  • Jackie Brown
  • Boogie Nights

note:  Titanic becomes the first Best Picture winner without a Screenplay nomination since 1965.  It is the first Best Picture winner made from an Original Screenplay to not get a nomination since 1929.

1998 AA: Shakespeare in Love (#2)

  • Saving Private Ryan (#3)
  • The Thin Red Line (#10)
  • Elizabeth (#24)
  • Life is Beautiful (#37)

me: Out of Sight

  • Shakespeare in Love
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Gods and Monsters

note:  The first year of Dreamworks vs. Miramax that would come to rule the Oscars for several years.

1999 AA: American Beauty (#1)

  • The Sixth Sense (#10)
  • The Insider (#11)
  • The Cider House Rules (#28)
  • The Green Mile (#79)

me: American Beauty

  • The End of the Affair
  • Magnolia
  • Three Kings
  • Eyes Wide Shut

2000 AA: Gladiator (#26)

  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (#1)
  • Traffic (#2)
  • Erin Brockovich (#41)
  • Chocolat (#43)

me: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

  • Traffic
  • Almost Famous
  • Oh Brother, Where Art Thou
  • Wonder Boys

note:  Gladiator is the first Best Picture winner to fail to win either Director or Screenplay since 1949.  Chicago would repeat the trick two years later.

2001 AA: A Beautiful Mind (#50)

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (#1)
  • Moulin Rouge! (#2)
  • In the Bedroom (#4)
  • Gosford Park (#6)

me: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

  • Moulin Rouge!
  • Amelie
  • In the Bedroom
  • Memento

2002 AA: Chicago (#8)

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (#1)
  • Gangs of New York (#2)
  • The Pianist (#4)
  • The Hours (#6)

me: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

  • Gangs of New York
  • Spirited Away
  • The Pianist
  • Minority Report

2003 AA: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (#1)

  • Mystic River (#2)
  • Lost in Translation (#3)
  • Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (#6)
  • Seabiscuit (#44)

me: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

  • Mystic River
  • Lost in Translation
  • In America
  • City of God

2004 AA: Million Dollar Baby (#5)

  • The Aviator (#1)
  • Sideways (#4)
  • Finding Neverland (#15)
  • Ray (#25)

me: The Aviator

  • A Very Long Engagement
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Sideways
  • Million Dollar Baby

2005 AA: Crash (#40)

  • Munich (#1)
  • Brokeback Mountain (#2)
  • Good Night and Good Luck (#4)
  • Capote (#23)

me: Munich

  • Brokeback Mountain
  • King Kong
  • Good Night and Good Luck
  • A History of Violence

2006 AA: The Departed (#1)

  • The Queen (#5)
  • Letters from Iwo Jima (#21)
  • Babel (#31)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (#43)

me: The Departed

  • Children of Men
  • The Fountain
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • The Queen

note:  The Departed becomes Jack Nicholson’s third Best Picture winner and 10th nominee.

2007 AA: No Country for Old Men (#1)

  • Atonement (#2)
  • There Will Be Blood (#3)
  • Michael Clayton (#7)
  • Juno (#10)

me: No Country for Old Men

  • Atonement
  • Across the Universe
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

2008 AA: Slumdog Millionaire (#1)

  • Milk (#2)
  • The Reader (#8)
  • Frost/Nixon (#10)
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (#24)

me: Slumdog Millionaire

  • Milk
  • The Dark Knight
  • Wall-E
  • Revolutionary Road

note:  With her starring role in Benjamin Button, Cate Blanchett does what no one has done since the seventies and appears in 6 Best Picture nominees: The Lord of the Rings, The Aviator, Babel and Benjamin Button.

2009 AA:

  • Inglourious Basterds (#1)
  • The Hurt Locker (#2)
  • A Serious Man (#3)
  • An Education (#4)
  • Up in the Air (#5)
  • District 9 (#6)
  • Up (#7)
  • Precious (#10)
  • Avatar (#23)
  • The Blind Side (#51)

me:  Inglourious Basterds

  • The Hurt Locker
  • A Serious Man
  • An Education
  • Up in the Air
  • District 9
  • Up
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Sin Nombre
  • Precious

note:  So there it is.  Inglourious Basterds is my #1 film and Hurt Locker is my #2.  But unlike the last time my #2 won the Oscar when my #1 was also nominated, to me the difference is much smaller in quality between these two than there was between GoodFellas and Dances with Wolves.  The most similar is 1977 where Annie Hall beat Star Wars and I’m okay with that.  There really hasn’t ever been a year since I’ve been watching where my top film is nominated and I expect it to lose and I’m okay with it.  If Avatar wins, that’s another story.  To me that’s like Forrest Gump and Titanic winning.

Honorary Mentions:

  • 1991: Europa, Europa
  • 2000: Thirteen Days
  • 2001: Gosford Park
  • 2002: The Hours
  • 2002: Talk to Her (it was that good a year)
  • 2005: Pride and Prejudice