40 Best Picture Nominees That Deserved to Win the Oscar

Every cinephile knows that “What was the best movie of the year?” and “What movie will win Best Picture at the Oscars?” are two entirely different questions. In 2023, the answer for both was arguably the same.

The Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All at Once” — A24’s mind-bending mother-daughter story about life’s unexplainable questions and the lengths we will go for love — won over audiences and critics before taking home Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (for Michelle Yeoh), Best Supporting Actor (for Ke Huy Quan), Best Supporting Actress (for Jamie Lee Curtis), and Best Original Screenplay at the 95th Academy Awards. Still, despite the film’s accolades, it has its critics — and you’re likely to find many a pundit who feels that the top prize ultimately should have gone to Todd Field’s chillier, less crowd-pleasing “Tár” instead.

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As long as there have been award shows, movie fans have been complaining about prizes going to the wrong films. From classic slights like John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley” beating out “Citizen Kane” to more recent grievances like “The Social Network” losing to “The King’s Speech,” Oscar history is littered with what-ifs.

Ranking art is an inherently subjective activity, and it would be ridiculous to expect the Oscars to be able to please everyone. But with almost a century’s worth of data to look at, certain patterns emerge that reveal blindspots in the Academy’s voting tendencies.

Too often, it feels like filmmakers with bold new voices are shunned (or relegated to writing categories) in favor of more traditional fare for older audiences. That often leads to “Oscar bait” movies winning Best Picture before being largely forgotten, while the bolder films that they defeated go on to become classics. Or it can mean that culturally important films lose out to ones easier to market to white audiences, as with Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and Peter Farrelly’s controversial “Green Book.”

Nobody can change the past, but it’s fascinating to look back and speculate what the Academy could — and, in our view, should — have done differently. With the 2024 Oscars ceremony steadily approaching, IndieWire is taking a look at the times the Oscars got it wrong, and what films should have taken home the top prize. Some of these Best Picture pairs are obvious cases where the lesser movie won out; others are difficult decisions that leave you wishing for a hypothetical world where two films could take home the top prize. All are contentious decisions that still have Oscar race watchers debating to this day. Entries are listed in chronological order by Oscar ceremony date. Read on for 40 Best Picture nominees that deserved to win the Academy Award.

Also, the years listed are the years the Academy Awards ceremony, not the year of the film’s release.

With editorial contributions from Zack Sharf and Christian Zilko.

[Editor’s note: This article was initially published in April 2021 and has been updated multiple times since.]

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