Awards Season

84th Academy Awards: Best Picture

Nominees include The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life and War Horse


This category is the only one in which every member of the Academy is eligible to nominate and vote on the final ballot.

It is the final award given out during the ceremony and since 1951, is collected by the film’s producers.

At the 1st Academy Awards there was no ‘Best Picture’ award, but instead it was split between ‘Outstanding Production’ (won by Wings) and Artistic Quality (won by Sunrise).

It was the following year that the Academy instituted Best Production and decided to honour Wings, which is the reason it is  is often listed as the winner of the first Best Picture award.

From 1944 until 2008, the Academy the Academy nominated five films for Best Picture until they expanded it to ten films from 2009-10.

This year saw more changes to the category when it was announced that the number of nominees would vary between five and ten films, provided that the film earned 5% of first-place votes during the nomination process.

Part of the reason for these changes was anxiety about declining ratings of the ceremony, which is actually a big deal because that’s where the Academy make most of their money but whether these changes have made any difference is an open question.

With that in mind, here are this year’s Best Picture nominees and their listed producers.

THE ARTIST – Thomas Langmann

Back in May the idea of a silent, black and white French film winning Best Picture seemed highly unlikely. But Harvey Weinstein returned to the Oscar game last year with a vengeance and returned to the kind of feelgood ‘underdog’ period film of his Miramax days.

It also happens to be brilliantly made and utterly delightful. Against all odds, since early September it has been the unlikely frontrunner.

THE DESCENDANTS – Jim Burke, Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne

For a long time it seemed the closest rival to The Artist, Alexander Payne’s bittersweet comedy-drama. Despite only one Best Picture winner (Slumdog Millionaire) Fox Searchlight have a formiddable awards machine.

With an acclaimed premiere at Telluride, it seemed they had a strong contender for Best Picture, but the momentum of The Artist has proved irresistible for voters.


Uber-producer Scott Rudin was screened two films late in the awards season game and this adaptation  of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel got a critical hammering. Why then was it nominated for Best Picture?

I’m guessing that it moved some Academy voters before the negative reviews came out and Max Von Sydow’s character has become a kind of avatar for older viewers as they try to process the genuine horrors of 9/11.

THE HELP – Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Baranathan

The sleeper hit of the summer obviously appealed to the tastes of certain Academy members. Despite the lingering controversy over its depiction of race, it could still see two actresses (Viola Davis and Octavia) pick up awards.

This is the kind of film which benefitted enormously from being released over the summer when it stood out against more commercial fare. With the log jam of Autumn and Winter, will awards contenders be tempted to follow its example?

HUGO – Graham King and Martin Scorsese

It has the most nominations (11), but Hugo’s best shot is in the technical categories. Scorsese’s 3D love letter to cinema has many intriguing parallels with The Artist, but it was caught up in the Thanksgiving weekend crush and faltered at the box office.

However, it may come to be seen as an important film in years to come as the high priest of celluloid (Scorsese) uses the latest digital tools (ARRI Alexa camera on a Cameron-Pace 3D rig) to craft a tribute to the medium we love.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum

When Woody Allen’s latest film was heralded at Cannes it seemed like it was a case of Fracophile love for the director. But this really was a delightful return to form, if not quite the career heights of the late 1970s and 80s.

Given his prodiguous and patchy output over the last decade (when some of his films have failed to secure UK theatrical distribution) it was a welcome return to the kind of smart fantasy/comedy of Zelig (1983) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985).

MONEYBALL – Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, and Brad Pitt

When Sony gradually realised how this movie was playing  given this a big push all season and it is a remarkable film pulled out of the ashes of a previously cancelled production. In any other year Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller would be strong contenders.

But whilst the filmmaking is impeccable, the subtle themes and execution probably meant it didn’t satisfy Academy voters looking for a more triumphalist sports movie. In the same way Billy Beane’s theories had a major influence on baseball, hopefully it can inspire other major studios to take more chances.

THE TREE OF LIFE – Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill, and Bill Pohlad

Possibly the greatest film of the bunch, it divided audiences (but not critics) who were freaked out by the ambition and the little matter of a creation sequence, which actually makes perfect sense in the context of the film. The old guard of the Academy really came through for Malick here just by nominating this film, showing the respect and awe he inspires in voters. It won’t win but the fact that this film even got made in 2011 is a miracle.

WAR HORSE – Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy

As soon as this went into production in 2010 it was an immediate contender for this year. The pedigree of Spielberg, the high calibre of his regular collaborators, period setting and the emotional vibes all seemed tailor made for the Academy.

But it doesn’t always work out and despite the strong box office this didn’t garner many heavyweight nominations and the lack of a Best Director nod was noticeable.

Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Picture at Wikipedia