3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Ang Lee helped kick-start a mini-Wuxia (“martial heroes”) revival with this highly theatrical martial arts epic, a trend continued by directors like Zhang Yimou in the years that followed. The ambitious staging, the rich production design and the lush cinematography are handsomely appointed, and the cast impart their characters with real humanity behind all the high melodrama.
Sharing more in common with opera than most action films, this is a story of forbidden love. What it means to be a true warrior is stretched over the largest canvas possible and crafted to within an inch of its life, sweeping you along like the most beautiful of dreams.
Chow Yun-Fat, Ziyi Zhang and especially Michelle Yeoh are sublime, and for all the film’s flowery dialogue say so much more with their physicality in some of the most stunning duels in movie history.
Gladiator won this year because we were well overdue a lavish, sword and sandals epic revival.
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2. Amour (2012)
Michael Haneke’s devastating elderly caregiver drama is a tough sit, but it’s as beautiful and unsentimental as anyone who has been through similar experiences with family or loved ones could hope for, a film that refuses to take narrative shortcuts or to sugar-coat how rapidly your later years can decline no matter how well you take care of yourself.
Palme d’Or and Best International Feature winner, in addition to the oldest Best Actress nominee at the Oscars for Emmanuelle Riva, this rips your heart out time and time again despite rarely leaving a single location.
In the hands of talented veteran performers, Anne (Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are one of the all-time great romantic film couples; unconditionally affectionate, passionate musicians and lovers of the arts still enjoying life in their 80s, and it is only cruel chance that makes it so one has to helplessly watch the other’s decline when Anne suffers a severe and debilitating stroke.
Argo won because a movie where filmmakers are the heroes in a historical context makes a connection with voters, seemingly over anything more profound.
1. Parasite (2019)
After nine decades and over 500 nominations, in 2020 South Korea became the first country without English as its first language to take home Best Picture (still no acting nominations though, but baby steps). Bong Joon-ho’s class struggle fable about a poor family infiltrating a rich one is as funny as it is dark, as angry at the real world as it is metaphorical.
Rarely do you see such universal agreement between critics, fellow filmmakers and general audiences that the right film won at the Oscars. When your most prominent detractor is an ignorant Donald Trump, you know you’re hitting the right buttons. And the cast, led by the endlessly versatile Song Kang-ho, are all given their moments to shine.
Director Bong made it doubly certain that the Academy were, if not changed, then at least were feeling very guilty about past oversights towards international films, Parasite winning both Best Picture and International Feature in the same year, seemingly vindicating Bong’s speech about overcoming the barrier of subtitles.
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Who’s to say if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will continue its excruciatingly slow evolution, whether acclaimed films from around the world will start to be considered more than an after thought for their top prize in the next few years. How many of the list above do you think should have come out on top? We’re going with most of them.