Ten Years of Oscar Glory: The Best Picture Winners and Their Enduring Cultural Footprint

The past decade of Oscar-winning films offers a panoramic view of our times’ shifting cultural, social, and artistic landscapes. These films, diverse in their narratives, are united by their undying commitment to storytelling, mirroring society’s evolving priorities, anxieties, and aspirations. This retrospective journey through Oscar’s Best Pictures from 2012 to 2022 not only honours cinematic excellence but also unravels the threads that connect each film to the larger fabric of global discourse.

The Evolution of Storytelling Techniques:

Before delving into the specifics of each winner, we need to acknowledge the undeniable change in how stories are being told. This decade we’ve seen an evolution in filmmaking techniques—from the continuous shot illusion in “Birdman” to the genre-blending brilliance of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” These storytelling innovations have pushed cinematic boundaries, enticing audiences to both theatres and streaming platforms, demonstrating that storytelling is not just about the tale, but also how it’s spun. For those keen to stay updated, there’s an outstanding movie review blog for that, offering fantastic insights into the latest and greatest cinematic experiences around.

2012 Winner: Argo

A movie poster with a red strip and a person's faceDescription automatically generated

A tension-filled drama starring and directed by Ben Affleck, “Argo” took home the Best Picture Oscar of the decade we’re looking at. This film recounted an infamous historical event—the covert operation to rescue six Americans during the U.S. hostage crisis in Tehran. It served as a meta-commentary on geopolitical strife, shedding light on the thin line between fiction and reality through its depiction of the CIA’s creation of a fake film project as part of their rescue plan. 

In a broader sense, the film also symbolised America’s grappling with its own historical events, representing a growing interest in films that dive into real-life political narratives. It also highlighted the potent influence of filmmaking as a tool of diplomacy and subterfuge, underscoring the intersection of entertainment and politics that has been so evident in recent years.

2013 Winner: 12 Years a Slave

A person running with a white shirtDescription automatically generated

This profound and brutal portrayal of slavery in America, starring the amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor and directed by Steve McQueen, told the harrowing tale of Solomon Northup’s life in bondage. More than just a recounting of historical events, the film provoked an intense cultural conversation about racial injustice and the enduring scars of slavery. 

It premiered during the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, which certainly amplified its impact. This film’s triumph underscored society’s ongoing reckoning with racial history, systemic racism, and inequality, highlighting the importance of unflinching storytelling in promoting such essential conversations.

2014 Winner: Birdman

A movie poster with a birdDescription automatically generated

“Birdman” swooped into the limelight in 2014. Starring Michael Keaton and directed by Alejandro Iñárritu, this movie provided an inventive meta-commentary on fame, ego, and artistic integrity set against the backstage drama in a Broadway theatre. Its innovative cinematography, designed to give the illusion of a single continuous take, added a unique touch that captivated audiences and critics alike. 

The movie’s victory also reflected society’s fascination with celebrity culture and its constant struggle to balance artistic integrity with commercial success. It served as an introspective study of the entertainment industry’s internal workings, providing a unique critique of the pressure and vanity that comes with fame.

2015 Winner: Spotlight

A group of people in an officeDescription automatically generated

This film provided a compelling account of the Boston Globe’s investigation into child abuse within the Catholic Church, taking home the Best Picture accolade for its efforts. It presented a meticulously researched narrative that underscored the crucial role of investigative journalism in holding powerful institutions accountable. 

This recognition at the Oscars also highlighted public concerns about institutional transparency and the fight against systemic abuse. “Spotlight” truly served as a powerful testament to the impact of relentless journalism, emphasising the significance of truth-telling in a society striving for justice.

2016 Winner: Moonlight

A person with a half faceDescription automatically generated

Shining the brightest in 2016, “Moonlight” presented a tender and heartfelt exploration of a young, gay African-American man’s journey to self-discovery. The film, directed by Barry Jenkins and starring Mahershala Ali and Ashton Sanders, navigated the complex intersections of identity, sexuality, and race. Its victory at the Oscars signalled a monumental shift in Hollywood towards narratives centred on underrepresented communities, as well as contributing to a more inclusive cinematic landscape.

2017 Winner: The Shape of Water

A person and person underwaterDescription automatically generated

In 2017, Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fantasy “The Shape of Water” enchanted the Academy Awards. The film spun an unconventional love story between a mute janitor and an amphibious creature, against the backdrop of Cold War-era America. Its win echoed the cultural mood of the time, exploring themes of otherness, tolerance, and the transcendent nature of love. It served as a tribute to those on the margins of society and provided the affirmation that love, indeed, knows no boundaries—be they language, species, or societal norms.

2018 Winner: Green Book

A movie poster of two men in a carDescription automatically generated

Taking home the top honour in 2018, “Green Book” depicted an unlikely yet beautiful friendship that bridged racial divides during the era of American segregation. Through the lens of a road trip across the racially tense Southern United States, the film illuminated the daily realities of racial prejudice. Its victory underscored the ongoing dialogue surrounding racial equality and the importance of understanding and allyship in overcoming systemic prejudices. Paired with the powerful performances of both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, it truly stood out as one of the greatest films in recent years, if not the greatest.

2019 Winner: Parasite

This riveting South Korean class warfare thriller directed by Bong Joon Ho, made history as the first non-English language film to win Best Picture. The film’s win signalled a groundbreaking moment for international cinema, breaking down the barriers of language and culture. “Parasite” cleverly portrayed the widening gap between the rich and the poor, thus touching upon global socio-economic disparities. Its triumph at the Oscars showcased the universal appeal of well-crafted stories, irrespective of their country of origin.

2020 Winner: Nomadland

A person sitting in a chair outside with clothes from a lineDescription automatically generated

Directed by Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland” offers a poignant exploration of life on the road, following a woman who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West. This cinematic gem delved into the human cost of economic downturns and the concept of true minimalist living. 

Through an outstanding performance by Frances McDormand, the movie brought attention to a section of the population often overlooked—the itinerant older Americans living out of their vans, seeking work where they can find it. The film’s triumph at the Oscars was a stark reminder of the forgotten faces of capitalism, reflecting the growing discourse around economic disparity and alternative ways of living.

2021 Winner: CODA

A group of people sitting in the back of a truckDescription automatically generated

The coming-of-age drama “CODA”, directed by Sian Heder, took home the Best Picture award at the 2021 Oscars. The film follows the life of Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), parents who are portrayed by the wonderful Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur. She finds herself torn between her love for her family and her dream of pursuing a music career. Its win at the Academy Awards marked a significant milestone for Deaf representation in mainstream cinema, bringing another often-sidelined community into the spotlight. 

“CODA” was also notable for its authentic casting, with Deaf actors playing Deaf characters, amplifying its cultural impact and reinforcing the growing emphasis on representation and authenticity in contemporary storytelling. At its heart, the film’s victory symbolised the triumph of universal narratives that transcend barriers of sound and silence, focusing on the themes of family, dreams, and the power of communication.

2022 Winner: Everything Everywhere All at Once 

Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, this remarkable film weaves together an extraordinary tapestry of genres, including absurdist fiction, comedy, drama, science fiction, fantasy, martial arts, immigrant narrative and animation. The film presents the story of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese-American immigrant, who while being audited by the IRS, discovers she must connect with alternate versions of herself to prevent the destruction of the multiverse. 

Its groundbreaking storytelling approach, coupled with its poignant portrayal of immigrant experiences and a unique approach to the multiverse concept, led to its critical and commercial success. The victory of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” at the Oscars underlined the film industry’s recent openness to innovative narratives and genre-defying stories, showcasing that originality and inventiveness hold strong in modern filmmaking.

In Summary
The diversity of the past decade’s Best Picture winners is emblematic of a world in flux, where cinema has become a crucial touchstone for introspection and dialogue. From historical dramas to boundary-pushing artistry, the Oscars have celebrated not only filmmaking prowess but also the spirit of each year.

As we anticipate what the next decade of cinema will bring and each excellent article about movies dissects the themes and stories on display, one can’t help but feel optimistic about cinema’s role in bridging the current divisions, challenging norms, and continually surprising us with the magic of storytelling.

Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

Related Articles

Back to top button