A decade of Academy Awards

With the 83rd Annual Academy Awards airing on Sunday, 27 February, Weekender is looking back at some of the best pictures and performances over the past 10 years.

The best film of the year didn’t always win an Oscar, and the performances that changed cinema weren’t always recognised at the time.

So we’d like to point out what films and character portrayals have resonated over the years.

2000

Gladiator took home the award for Best Picture, and although it was a wonderful film, two others stood out.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an epic story and one that was beautifully filmed and acted. With each passing year, it gets better and stands out more vividly as the year’s top picture.

Also, Traffic did a large part in changing the way films were shot and cast. Films made in the following years used it as a model to pack their independent-minded pictures full of stars, though still on small budgets. Producers persuaded big names to join smaller films all in the promise of working with Hollywood’s best talent.

2000 also saw some of the most interesting characters to ever grace the screen.

Benecio Del Toro won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Javier Rodriguez in Traffic. It’s a quiet, nuanced performance that showed the world one of the best talents around.

Ellen Burstyn made a dramatic comeback in her role as Sara Goldfarb in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream, playing a pill-popping mother of a heroin addict.

Julia Roberts won Best Actress for her portrayal of real-life hero Erin Brokovich. It’s the role she was born to play.

And audiences were introduced to Goldie Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson, a star in the making, with her performance as Penny Lane in Almost Famous. She’s been on a winning streak since.

2001

A pretty poor year as far as awards go: 2001 gave us only two major standouts in the Best Picture and Best Actor categories.

A Beautiful Mind was the overrated film that won Best Picture, but Moulin Rouge was arguably the year’s best. Baz Luhrman broke ground visually and conceptually by using fast speeds and erratic camera work, and having a period piece use pop songs from today.

For better or for worse, Moulin Rouge reintroduced musicals into pop culture. Quite simply, there’s never been a movie like it before or since.

On another note from the same year, the performance that stands out as the most controversial and most riveting was Denzel Washington as Alonzo in Training Day.

Some would argue that he won the Oscar in 2001 based on past performances. But it’s undeniable that his characterisation of a rogue, drunk, high, bullying undercover cop who thinks he’s above the law is top rate. He nailed it, and it goes down as one of the best movie villain roles in recent history.

2002

Oscar voters got caught up in the success of Chicago, but The Pianist was by far the best film of the year.

Roman Polanski created the best movie of his remarkable career, crafting a sad tale of a world-renowned pianist trying to survive the Holocaust. Adrien Brody gave his breakout performance as the lead, portraying real-life Wladyslaw Szpilman in a gentle, subtle performance.

The other nominees for Best Actor were quite impressive as well. Nicolas Cage gave a funny yet pathetic performance as Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, written by cinema whiz Charlie Kaufman.

Chris Cooper played John Laroche in the film, another great performance that gave him the statue for Best Supporting Actor.

Christopher Walken played the heartbreaking role of Frank Abagnale, father to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can.

But the most memorable performance of the year was Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York. He exploded back onto the scene after five years of seclusion and gave us a brutal, vengeful, but ultimately fair character in a look at New York from a forgotten time.

2003

The Academy got it right when they gave 11 Oscars to Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, the climax in the billion-dollar trilogy.

Almost the exact opposite of that movie, though, was the sweet, nearly brittle and near perfect film, Lost In Translation, directed by Sofia Coppola. She deliverd a quiet film about a young, lonely woman (Scarlett Johansson) in Tokyo who shares a moment in suspended time with Bill Murray’s character, an actor in town on a commercial shoot.

In this same year, Johnny Depp shipped into theatres as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. It was an unforgettable role, and an interesting jump into mainstream, blockbuster Disney fare for the otherwise extremely indie Depp.

But the performance that remains one of the top female character depictions ever is Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster. Theron gives the standout performance of the decade as a real-life serial killer who falls in love with another woman. She gained weight, became virtually unrecognisable, and completely immersed herself in the role that earned her the Oscar for Best Actress.

2004

After people saw Sideways in 2004, they suddenly because wine lovers and connoisseurs. It didn’t win Best Picture (Million Dollar Baby did, which, while really good, was not life-changing). It’s rare that one independent film causes that much change in the popular culture, but if any movie did in this decade, it was Sideways.

The film also brought back in the spotlight the character actor Thomas Haden Church in a nominated performance that was hilarious and unforgiving.

The real winner this year was the impossibly brilliant performance by Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray. He inhabited the role in ways that left audiences wondering where the performance ended and the real person began. He took home the Best Actor statue for the role in a vote that was quite possibly unanimous.

2005

The Oscar voters got it wrong this year. Crash was not the best picture of the year. It shouldn’t have even been nominated.

The best film of the year was Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, a tender and tragic film about two gay cowboys falling in love. The film is just so heartbreaking that it’s almost impossible to watch. Also, it talks about a subject that is still quite controversial – homosexual relationships. Heath Ledger gave one of his career’s best performances as Ennis Del Mar, a man in denial about who he really is. His rage is bottled up until his heart is finally broken.

This same year, two other performances stood out as just terrific. Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reece Witherspoon as June Carter in Walk The Line. They each are right on the mark with their characters, but their chemistry onstage while singing and off stage while arguing is nothing short of amazing.

However, Philip Seymour Hoffman won Best Actor award for his stunning portrayal of Truman Capote in Capote. He looks and sounds like Capote, and he brings a careful stoicism to the role that probably no other actor could. It’s the highlight of a wonderful career.

2006

Finally, after almost 40 years of filmmaking, Martin Scorsese was awarded Best Director for what was also the Best Picture of the year, The Departed. A carefully crafted, punchy cop film, The Departed was based on the Hong Kong picture Infernal Affairs. Scorsese featured an all-star cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen to make one of the slickest films in years.

In this same year, Forest Whitaker played Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland, a performance that I like to call the Tazmanian Devil – he just tornados into scenes, wreaks havoc, then tears away leaving a path of destruction. It’s one of the most impressive acting jobs out of any Hollywood actor.

2007

The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men brought us the wonderful performance of Javier Bardem, who played villain Anton Chigurh. But the film shouldn’t have won Best Picture. Rather, There Will Be Blood should have won; it was easily the most powerful film of the year, perfectly executed by director Paul Thomas Anderson. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Daniel Plainview, a relentlessly greedy oil man in the years after America’s Civil War. The film takes a tough look at the faults of unregulated capitalism, and the negative effects of outright greed.

That same year brought us two standout female performances that couldn’t be further apart in style and scope.

Marion Cotillard played Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, a role that catapulted her into crossover international fame. Ellen Page played the smart-mouthed Juno MacGuff in Juno, a performance that set her career on fire.

2008

It’s hard to argue that anything was better than Slumdog Millionaire, but Gus Van Sant’s Milk makes a strong case, with a stellar performance by Sean Penn, who won Best Actor for his portrayal of gay rights activist Harvey Milk,

Milk was a poignant picture about a struggling minority trying to live the American dream.

Slumdog was just a sliver better, I guess, and ended up with the well-deserved golden statue. The irony is that Sean Penn beat out Mickey Rourke, who played Randy “The Ram” in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, another great picture. Rourke’s performance would have won in any other year.

To round out the year of the actor, Penelope Cruz gave a loose and easy performance as Maria Elena in Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. She played the perfect balance of crazy and in love, more like reality than fiction.

On a rather sad note, Heath Ledger died of an overdose shortly after giving the most flamboyant and chaotic (and Best Supporting Actor Academy Award-winning) performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. With an already impressive body of work in his young career (he was 28 when he died), Ledger was destined to become one of Hollywood’s great ones.

2009

The awards returned to the format of 10 nominees for Best Picture, which means that more films were recognised as the year’s best.

The Hurt Locker won Best Picture after a tricky Oscar campaign that pitted it against the biggest film of all-time in a seemingly two-horse race.

James Cameron’s Avatar was a better picture, and more importantly, it moved motion pictures forward with its unprecedented technology.

Disney/Pixar’s Up was also better – the heart-wrenching animated story about an elderly man who keeps his promise to his late wife.

Up In The Air, directed by Jason Reitman, was also a better picture than The Hurt Locker.

But the Academy really missed the true best picture of the year, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, the alternate-world version of World War II and satisfying Jewish revenge on Hitler and the Nazis.

Tarantino created his masterpiece, the best and most complete film of his career, which is saying something after Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill movies wowed audiences with their creativity and uniqueness. Christoph Waltz plays Hans Landa, a colonel in the SS, in one of the richest and most giddy performances in decades.

The same Academy Award season finally landed a statue in the hands of the great Jeff Bridges for his portrayal of Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, a performance that young actors should study.

2010

The King’s Speech will win, if only because of its unwavering optimism. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better pictures.

Inception was as inventive as it was crisp, a pitch-perfect picture about dreams within dreams and stealing and planting ideas. Director Christopher Nolan was at his best.

Darren Aronofsky directed Black Swan, another one of the year’s best, in which Natalie Portman gives one of those performances that pushes the reset button. With her portrayal of the broken and psychotic ballet dancer Nina Sayers, she literally changes the criteria of what it means to be the best actress of the year.

Christian Bale gives a gritty performance as Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, the movie about boxing great Mickey Ward as Ward’s drug addict/trainer brother.

But the movie that everyone will talk about for years to come is the Social Network. Not only is it perfectly crafted by writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher, but the performances are sublimely faultless in every way. All of the young actors (even Justin Timberlake) give complete performances.

The film’s supporting player, Andrew Garfield, went on to play Peter Parker and Spider-Man in the relaunch of that series, and Armie Hammer (who played both Winklevoss twins) went on to work with Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar.

The Social Network is about the world as we know it now, and it will serve as a slice of history when we look back on it. Social media will only change over time, but one thing is almost certain – it will continue to define us. The Social Network knows this, and explained it so skillfully, that it sits at the top of the Oscar list and goes down as one of the best movies of the decade.