The Academy Award grand prize winners of the last 10 years have ranged from the expected (LOTR: Return of the King), to the favored (Chicago), to the completely surprising (Crash?). We take a look back at those films anointed the Oscar for Best Picture from 2000 to 2009.
The epic Roman sword-fest, starring Russell Crowe in his Oscar-winning performance, deservedly stood out as the favorite, beating the likes of Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, anyway) and Erin Brockovich. The only other real competition was the drug-trade saga Traffic, whose visionary Steven Sodebergh took home the Best Director prize in a rare split of Best Picture/Best Director.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
As expected, director Ron Howard and his film, A Beautiful Mind, took the top honors that year, besting other nominees Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Moulin Rouge. Although criticized for taking liberties with the real-life story of the brilliant but mentally unstable mathematician John Nash, played with relish by Russell Crowe, the film covered all the bases in the Academy's eyes -- a period piece, sweeping love story and overcoming great obstacles to succeed.
Although many Oscar prognosticators thought this might finally be Martin Scorsese's year to win with his powerful Gangs of New York, they were wrong. Instead, the musical trend Moulin Rouge started the previous year came to a head when Chicago won the Oscar for Best Picture, the first time a musical has won that honor since Oliver! in 1968. The other nominees were The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Pianist. In a move reminiscent of 2000, they also gave the Oscar to The Pianist director Roman Polanski instead of Chicago's Rob Marshall.
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
As if ANYONE had any doubts, The Lord of the Rings finally got its due this year. The Return of the King, the final and most affecting in the LOTR trilogy, swept the awards, winning in every single category it was nominated in, 11 Oscars in all. Really, the other Best Pic nominees paled in comparison, including Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River and Seabiscuit.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Martin Scorsese had another shot at the gold with The Aviator, but the Academy members showed all their love for their darling Clint Eastwood, whose boxing film Million Dollar Baby won the Oscar, as did Eastwood for director, Hilary Swank for Best Actress and Morgan Freeman for Best Supporting Actor. Others in the Best Pic field included Finding Neverland, Ray and Sideways.
The heart-wrenching, gay-themed love story Brokeback Mountain had all the right buzz and accolades going into the Academy Awards, but a strong last-minute marketing push placed the L.A.-based ensemble drama Crash fresh in the Academy voters' minds (Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck. and Munich didn’t even factor in). In fact, the Academy totally messed with our heads when they awarded Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee the Oscar and then a half hour later gave the Best Pic to Crash. It was definitely a “Psych!” moment.
The Departed (2006)
The Best Picture nominees in 2006 were all strong competitors: The Departed, Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen. But after two failed attempts in the last three years, it was finally Martin Scorsese's turn with Departed, earning him his career Oscar as Best Director and a Best Picture win. Is it his best film of all time (hello, Goodfellas!)? Probably not, but it is close enough.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The next year was another really good one for movies, and all five Best Picture nominees -- No Country for Old Men, Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton and There Will Be Blood -- could have easily won the prize. The Cormac McCarthy adaptation emerged victorious, however, giving brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, who had previously only won an Oscar for their screenplay Fargo, their moment in the spotlight. Javier Bardem, too, got his just deserves, winning Best Supporting Actor for his turn as the truly cold-blooded assassin Anton Chigurh.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
It had been about four years running in which nary a big blockbuster graced the Best Picture list, so many believed The Dark Knight might deservedly get a nod. No go. Instead, the Best Picture nods went to Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader. Ho-hum. Maybe not as inspiring as the last few years, Slumdog's the simple tale of love in the face of adversity prevailed.
The Hurt Locker (2009)
The decision to expand the Best Picture list to 10 nominees was made to give more films a chance to compete, but it may have backfired overall since the Academy voters felt there were TOO many choices. Out of 10, only three films were in serious contention -- The Hurt Locker, Avatar and Inglourious Basterds. Amid hot debate over whether effects marvel and box office juggernaut Avatar should beat Hurt Locker’s well-crafted, teeth-clenching war action and superb acting, Hurt Locker ended up with the edge. The other nominees were Up, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, A Serious Man, Precious and Up in the Air. Guess we’ll see what happens in 2010!