It’s that time of year again: The summer blockbusters are behind us, and suddenly the cinemas are packed with serious, impressive films jockeying for position in the awards races. A fresh batch of Oscar and Golden Globe contenders is just around the corner, which means if there’s a film that’s going to define 2016, we probably haven’t quite seen it yet.
But around this time of year, it’s always fun to put the award season films in perspective by looking back at some previous heavyweights from recent years, and how well we remember them. So without further ado, here are some of our picks for the most enduring classics of our current century so far.
The first Best Picture winner of the 21st century is still looked at by many as one of the best. A stirring drama in which Russell Crowe asserted himself as one of Hollywood’s very best talents and the Roman Empire was brought to life like never before, Gladiator has proven to have lasting appeal.
In part, that’s because it set the tone for what’s become a decade and a half of “epics” involving the ancient world. From Troy to 300, Clash Of The Titans to Immortals, and even the Starz series Spartacus, “sword and sandals” films have been a constant presence. But none have been quite as strong as Gladiator, which still stands above the rest. Gladiator also has a more active gaming presence online, where so many action films extend beyond the screen. This list of different games and features at various mainstream casino sites shows that a Gladiator-themed slot arcade is still out there. Given that a lot of similar games concern the latest heroes from Marvel and DC or iconic franchises such as Star Trek and the like, this is a strong indication of just how popular Gladiator still is.
The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
It’s hard to put yourself back in 2003 and recognize how strange it was to see The Return Of The King win Best Picture. Fantasy epics just aren’t the types of films that we expect to see rewarded at the Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and elsewhere. There were also strong competitors. Other nominees in 2003 included Lost In Translation, Mystic River, Seabiscuit, and Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World, which starred Crowe at the tail end of his incredible early-2000s hot streak. But it was Peter Jackson’s sensational Lord Of The Rings finale that took home the hardware.
For a film that relied heavily on special effects and visual ambition, this one has proven to be remarkably durable. It still looks like a brand new, cutting edge project more than a decade later, and that’s saying something. Also, as with Gladiator, The Return Of The King was a trendsetter, influencing war epics for years and still producing games. While it’s not directly based on The Return Of The King, this game came out just last year and quite clearly draws inspiration from Jackson’s trilogy, even with fresh Tolkien material having hit the cinemas in recent years.
The Departed (2006)
It’s difficult to find a serious film lover who won’t count The Departed among the most impressive Best Picture winners of the century so far. Indeed, this ranking placed it third in a list of winners from 2005-2015, and if anything that felt a little bit too low. What the ranking gets right, however, is noting that this is probably the most entertaining Best Picture winner in recent memory.
That’s not to say Best Picture winners aren’t any fun, but often they’re either very serious, overtly artistic, or both. The Departed, while deadly serious and representative of a triumphant artistic achievement, was simply more accessible. In some ways a traditional mob movie and in other ways something completely new, this was a true Martin Scorsese classic featuring starring roles from a host of A-list stars. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg were all as good as they’ve ever been.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Finally there’s Slumdog Millionaire, which was mentioned in the ranking previously noted as perhaps the only recent Best Picture winner to give The Departed a run for its money in the entertainment category. A wildly imaginative tale of an Indian boy who wins a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game show by recalling his own remarkable life and quest for love, it was adored by all kinds of different fans.
More than simply entertaining us (and surprising us for that matter), however, Slumdog Millionaire arguably enhanced our desire for cinema-based tourism. That is to say there seems to have been an increased interest in seeing films that are designed as much to show off different parts of the world as to tell stories. Films like Eat Pray Love and Life Of Pi come to mind, for instance, as projects that celebrated different corners of the world and of nature in general. Slumdog Millionaire helped to set the tone for countless projects in this regard.
Now, the question remains: Will we see anything so impactful in the next few months?