Jeff Mitchell’s 10 favorite Oscar winners over 10 years (2007-2016)

What do the stock market, a wild roller coaster ride and mood swings from a long ago ex have in common?  They come packaged with significant highs and lows, and quite frankly, we should include the Academy Awards as another example.   


The lows – naturally - appear as Oscar snubs of our favorite movies, filmmakers, writers, actors, and actresses who see their “rightful” trophies fall into the hands of others.  I certainly remember my share of Oscar snub-gripes while watching the Academy Awards over the past few decades. 


Rather than focus on the negatives, let’s flip the script (pardon the pun) and reflect on joyous Oscar wins.  Choosing just one award per year, here are my favorite Oscar winners over the last 10 years and feel free to disagree.  Some of my highs could be your corresponding lows.   


10. “Inside Job”, Best Documentary (2011) – The 2008 financial collapse stunned a nation (and the world) and left many of us to ask, “What just happened?”  Director Chris Ferguson crawls into the gilded cracks of flawed regulations and devious schemes that crushed worldwide financial markets and explains them into clear, logical and easily-understandable concepts. Just don’t watch this documentary on a full stomach.


9. “The Artist”, Best Picture (2012) – Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius chooses timeless themes and wraps them into a beautifully-filmed picture which – nicely complimented with an instrumental soundtrack – is almost entirely without a spoken word.   This black and white movie transports us back to movie era not entirely forgotten, dusts off its magic and offers one of the most unique cinematic experiences in recent memory.


8. Spike Jones (“Her”), Best Original Screenplay (2014) – With just about everyone we know (including us) becoming more reliant and occupied by cell phones, Jones elevates this human/machine relationship to the next level.  A romantic one.  In his constantly surprising picture, Jones scribes a believable, futuristic connection with a broken-hearted loner (Joaquin Phoenix) and his phone’s operating system (Scarlett Johansson), and the results leave an emotional mark that even Siri cannot quite define.


7. Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”), Best Supporting Actress (2015) – Writer/director Richard Linklater filmed his movie – in an extraordinary stroke of genius – over a 12-year period that features a boy’s (Ellar Coltrane) mental, emotional and physical growth from child to adult.  Arquette plays Mason’s (Coltrane) mom and successfully and organically conveys how a parent’s successes and mistakes can impact a child’s internal makeup.  Her character – flaws and all - anchors this extraordinary cinematic achievement.    


6. “Spotlight”, Best Picture (2016) – Led by an outstanding ensemble cast, director/co-writer Tom McCarthy reveals a wholly compelling account of a tenacious group of Boston Globe reporters who uncover a widespread Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal.  The picture – with a whip-smart script – opens up a world of exemplary journalistic practices to the audience, reinforces the importance of the media as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy and leaves us hanging on every single word. 


5. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (“Falling Slowly” from “Once”), Best Original Song (2008) – This small Irish musical packs the biggest heart!  A struggling musician (Hansard) meets a young mom (Irglova) on Dublin’s Grafton Street, they form a friendship – with much deeper feelings – and make a record.  This charming, gentle picture invites us to root for these two underdogs, and the catchy soundtrack is led by its signature track, the beautiful and haunting duet, “Falling Slowly”. 


4. Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”), Best Director (2007) – As of 2006, one of the biggest oversights in Oscar history was Martin Scorsese’s glaring resume hole: zero Best Director Oscars.  That all changed in 2007, when the Academy presented a well-deserved, long overdue and satisfying Oscar to Scorsese for his unpredictable Boston police/Irish gang drama featuring an all-star cast, including Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg, to name a few.


3. Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”), Best Supporting Actor (2009) – Christian Bale may play the signature star in this DC superhero movie, but Ledger utterly mesmerizes and steals every scene in which he appears with a visionary portrayal of Batman’s greatest villain, Joker. Ledger pulls some slices from past Jokers but introduces dangerous, mentally unstable elements which escalate the character’s psychopathic tendencies never seen before on the big screen.  Ledger’s posthumous Oscar win celebrated his overwhelming heaps of talent, while leaving the viewing audience distraught over his future work that will never be.


2. Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”), Best Supporting Actor (2010) – Speaking of villains, Waltz masterfully plays a diabolical, unrelenting Nazi, Col. Hans Landa, during the German occupation of France in WWII.  Director Quentin Tarantino’s picture winds through a twisted array of intricate, dialogue-driven set pieces, and Waltz’s Landa perfectly fits with his mastery of several languages and without any chinks in his sinister, cerebral armor.  Any slight glimpses of a reasonable individual are quickly dashed with a menacing look or dreadful words over bites of strudel or in between gulps of milk, respectively.  An unforgettable performance!


1. “Searching for Sugar Man”, Best Documentary (2013) – Director Malik Bendjelloul travels back to the early 1970s and chronicles the truly remarkable career of Sixto Rodriguez.  A Detroit singer/songwriter with a Bob Dylanesque style, Rodriguez probably sold just over a handful of records in the U.S. but unexpectedly made life-changing impacts on the other side of the globe. The film contains two absolutely implausible twists, which I will refrain from revealing here.  Just find this movie and enjoy one of the most absorbing documentaries that you will ever see. Trust me.


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.