The 20 Most Deserving Oscar Winners from the Last 25 Years

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The 20 Most Deserving Oscar Winners from the Last 25 Years

By Dustin Rowles | Seriously Random Lists | February 28, 2014 | Comments ()


You’ll have to trust me on this, but it’s true: The Internet spends 70 percent more time complaining about the Academy Awards than it does in celebrating them. More often than not, the main headline surrounding any Oscar ceremony, or the Oscar nominations, is not who won or was nominated, but which films or actors were overlooked or snubbed. Slights are what drive the bandwidth on the Internet, and in the Academy Awards, there are hundreds of slights from which to choose.

A typical morning-after headline ranges from “How the Oscars got it wrong,” to “How the Oscars no longer matter.” Nobody puts their trust in the process anymore, and why should they? The whole endeavor is ruled by greed, glad-handing, and what drives the best narrative, and that is often evident from the selection of winners and nominees every year.

Still, every once in a while, the Academy will do the unthinkable, and stumble upon a correct choice! Yes, sometimes — though not too often — the Academy gets it right. I took a look back at the last 25 years of Winners and nominees in the five major categories, and compiled a list of the selections the Academy got the most right. That is to say, these wins — like Cate Blanchett’s for Blue Jasmine this year, or Jared Leto’s for Dallas Buyer’s Club — were foregone conclusions. They were so rightfully and overwhelmingly deserving of their Oscars that to deny them would’ve been grounds for imprisonment.

Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor, There Will Be Blood


Tom Hanks for Best Actor, Philadelphia


Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Best Actor, Capote


Hilary Swank for Best Actress, Boys Don’t Cry


Cate Blanchett for Best Supporting Actress in Aviator


Joe Pesci for Best Supporting Actor in Goodfellas


Kevin Spacey for Best Supporting Actor in Usual Suspects


Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor, The Dark Knight


Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor, Inglourious Basterds


Kathy Bates for Best Actress, Misery


Schindler’s List for Best Picture.


Javier Bardem for Best Supporting Actor in No Country for Old Men


Jodie Foster for Best Lead Actress in The Accused


Benicio Del Toro for Best Supporting Actor in Traffic


Susan Sarandon for Best Actress in Dead Man Walking


Anthony Hopkins for Best Actor in the Silence of the Lambs


Charlize Theron for Best Actress, Monster


No Country for Old Men for Best Picture.


Frances McDormand for Best Actress in Fargo


Silence of the Lambs for Best Picture


This is Racist, Right? KFC Commercial Edition | Oscar Nominees' First Notable Roles

Are you following Pajiba on Facebook or Twitter? Every time you do, Bill Murray crashes a wedding.

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • E Robb

    I actually don't know about Bardem in No Country. Any other year, yes, it's a lock. But in 2007 Casey Affleck did just about all the acting in Assassination of Jesse James. He was robbed.

  • Ben

    Man how was Kevin Spacey a 'supporting actor' in The Usual Suspects? He was the main character? If not him then who was?

  • Jezzer

    Are we still pretending that a living Heath Ledger would have won that award? Or that people would be raving over the performance?

  • Temmere

    Ledger is one of the only things in that movie I'm still willing to rave about. If that trilogy had not attracted the caliber of actors it did I think many more people would realize what empty spectacles they all were.

  • RazorShines

    Tom Hanks again in Forrest Gump, Daniel Day-Lewis again for Lincoln, Jamie Foxx in Ray and Scorsese and The Departed for Best Director and Picture

  • Daniel Valentin

    I would add to that list Forrest Whitaker's Best Actor win for The Last King Of Scotland. That was a BLOOD-CHILLING performance, and I don't know why, but Whitaker is STILL a very underrated actor even when he's the best thing about pretty much every movie he's in.

  • Spongebob

    Shawshank redemption is the most deserving movie not to win.

  • Elleinad

    Val Kilmer. Tombstone. Robbed.

  • mzblackwidow

    you're my huckleberry .. oh yes he was robbed.

  • While I was never a fan of Woody Allen's movies and feel no temptation to give them another shot now... nothing changes the fact that everyone in Blue Jasmine acted their asses off. Now that I've seen it, I'll have no trouble cheering loudly for Blanchett if she wins.

  • Alrighty then...

    1989. Born on the Fourth of July. Tom Cruise. Best Actor.

    Yes, even over DDL for My Left Foot (barely).

    I will go another step and say that I would give him the Best Actor Academy Award every year since then as well with that performance.


  • mzblackwidow


  • I don't know about every year SINCE then, but... the years they give it to an overrated douche, yeah, sure, I have no problem with kidnapping it and sending it on a Cruise. Born is one of my favorite movies and his performance - among others - is one of the reasons. Amid all the controversy and Scientology BS, it's easy to forget sometimes that the man can act.

  • Robert Sanchez III

    I think Joe Pesci's best performance was in Raging Bull.

  • Kenny G.

    You are so right...and why wasn't DeNiro mentioned for his win for Raging Bull? That was a well deserved win, in my book!

  • Sean

    Perhaps it didn't need to be mentioned? No one would argue against that performance.

  • Sean

    That pic of Frances McDormand makes me smile. Painful smile that will not leave my face.

  • Lloyd_The_Bartender

    holy shit . that pic of Kathy Bates still gives me the creeps.
    Goddamn she was good in that.


  • LL

    Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose was the most deserving in 2008. No one may have known the film at the time, but later having watched it... Oh, the feels. The transformation! The emotion! It's a soul stabbing performance.

  • "No Country for Old Men."

    Michael Clayton was the best movie of that and any other year, dammit.

  • Jamie

    I liked inglourious basterds and Waltz's performance is fun but i wouldnt say it was definitely worthy of best supporting actor. there seems to be a trend of best actor going to the serious roles and best supporting going to the fun ones. However much i like Jennifer Lawrence, if she beats Lupita Nyong'o i will cry.

  • Sean

    I think even Lawrence would be upset if she won. Not like she won't win 10 or 11 of the things over the next few decades. She can not win this one.

  • chanohack

    Yeah, not like she didn't win one last year. I am obsessed with Jennifer, but solidly rooting for Lupita. (However, if Jennifer wins, I'm not going to like, mute her speech or whatever, I'll be yelling EVERYONE SHUT UP MY GIRLFRIEND IS TALKING ON THE TEEVEE.)

  • stella

    Dude if lupita nyong'o looses ill riot

  • Whistler

    Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Sold... he didn't win? THOSE BASTARDS!!!

  • mzblackwidow

    has Oldman ever won?

  • CaliCheeseSucks

    He's only been nominated that one time. Unbelievable.

  • mzblackwidow

    unbelievable is putting it mildly

  • CaliCheeseSucks

    He's been one of my favorites since Prick Up Your Ears, which I snuck into when I was fourteen. He and Molina were both robbed of nominations for that one.

  • laylaness

    Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Jesus, he was fantastic as Capote.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Charlize Theron in Monster, heavens yes. I think it's one of the best performances ever put on film and I am NEVER watching that movie again.

  • mzblackwidow

    I hated that movie, hated it ! She must have been great because she convinced me to turn it off and never think of it again.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Eh, I love me some Cate Blanchett, but her performance in The Aviator might be the last natural I've ever seen her.

    Fun fact: Anthony Hopkins was on screen for less than 20 minutes for that *lead* actor win.

  • mzblackwidow

    just shows what he did with the character doesn't it :D In a relatively short time he became Hannibal forever. (I adore the show Hannibal and Mads Mikkelsen's performance, but he is not THE Dr Lector in my mind. It's not a conscious thought and it is not a criticism, he is a superbly acted cannibalistic serial killer psychiatrist but he isn't the character from Harris' book. He just can't be cuz Hannibal looks like Anthony Hopkins LOL)

  • Arran

    Yeah, she was entertaining in The Aviator, but it seemed more like a "we better give her an Oscar or she'll be mad at us" award to me.

  • mzblackwidow

    "we better give her an Oscar or she'll be mad at us"

    Cate is not one of those actors. She simply goes about playing her role and giving it her all. Her all is almost always perfect imo. Definitely NOT one to overact, she acts just enough :)
    Having said all this, I only watched 1/2 hour of the Aviator and turned it off because I was bored shitless. VERY unusual for me as I love Leo and love Cate .. I don't even think I saw her in the part I yawned through. So I am not saying she deserved or didn't deserve that win - I wouldn't know. I do know she deserved it for Elizabeth and other roles since. Despite all the Allen shitstorm, Blue Jasmine is a wonderful movie and she owned it, so I will be cheering for her this weekend.

  • kirbyjay

    OK. I must admit to something I said I would never do. I watched a Woody Allen movie. ARRRRRRRGGGGHHHH I'M GOING TO HELLLL!!
    But I had to see CB in that role. SHE was fantastic. The movie itself sucked. Typical WA pseudo intellectual crapola.

  • mzblackwidow

    never seen the attraction of Woody Allen movies myself, and I know if Cate had not been in this one I would never have seen - nor missed - it. I did find it enjoyable though, even aside from the central role. Not realistic, or outstanding, or anything like that. Just - entertaining. Good enough for white noise behind Cate's performance.

  • CaliCheeseSucks

    I bloody loathed Blue Jasmine. Performances aside (while I like Cate, she wouldn't be my pick for Best Actress), the entire storyline involving Peter Sarsgaard's character was ridiculous. He's going to Vienna for a diplomatic assignment and planning to use it as the basis for a congressional run when he returns (um, interesting approach) and, in spite of his carefully laid plans, never once bothers to Google (or do a background check on) his girlfriend before planning to propose? It was just completely unbelievable; sorry Woody, it's 2014, you can't pretend the Internet doesn't exist* and that people - with far fewer reasons to exercise caution than Sarsgaard's character - don't reflexively run names of potential life partners.

    *I nearly forgot the laughable conceit that Jasmine would have no familiarity with operating a computer.

  • LD

    She never seems natural. She is a stage actress but that kind of acting is always over the top in film, which is why I don't get why everyone is going crazy after her.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Mm, I disagree; I really like most of her film performances. This one stood out for me. I don't find her too big or mannered in most performances. Her Kate seemed almost a caricature to me.

    She certainly *is* a fantastic stage actress too though.

  • WerewolfgangAmadeusMozart

    I must say, this list's lack of Unforgiven is . . . difficult to reconcile with.

  • Socket Tume

    Silence of the Lambs has to be one of the most overrated movies ever.

  • mzblackwidow

    that is honestly the first time I have heard that particular idiocy spoken/typed - ever.

  • duckandcover

    No, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony is.

  • AudioSuede

    It's as close to the perfect crime thriller as you can get.

  • StabMasterArson

    Silence of the Lambs is obviously a classic, but I still side with Roger Ebert in the belief that JFK was the best movie made in 1991 and should have won best picture.

  • iamahammerheadshark

    I actually think SotL holds up better than JFK on recent viewing, but it's personal preference. Both are excellent and it's not like most years when something just awful wins over great films.

  • Jackson Smith

    JFK would've had my vote that year.

  • kirbyjay

    I remember being mesmerized listening to Donald Sutherland talking to Kevin Costner on that bench.

  • Jackson Smith

    As much as I'm gonna miss Hoffman, he should've lost to Heath Ledger. Also, I would've given There Will Be Blood the Oscar over No Country for Old Men.

  • I found There Will Be Blood tremendously disappointing. And I prefer Daniel Day Lewis's performance in Gangs of New York, although I hate everything else about that movie.

  • Gigi Agius

    Not sure that No Country For Old Men for Best Picture was so clear cut. I thought it deserved the Oscar but I remember arguing with a friend for days because she thought that There Will Be Blood was superior.

  • mzblackwidow

    and I still totally confuse these 2 movies - only thing I'm sure of is that I found them both very boring.

  • Guest


  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I feel like Cate Blanchett's performance in The Aviator was fine...but compared with the work she didn't win for (Elizabeth), it was no great shakes. I thought Sophie Okonedo was better.
    And I wanted Michael Shannon to win the year Ledger took home the award, but of course, that Oscar was a forgone conclusion.

  • Michelle

    Sigh. Christoph Waltz was perfection in Inglourious Basterds.

  • That's a bingo!

  • Judge_Snyder

    It's like he was developed in a lab to deliver Tarantino's dialogue.

  • Dumily

    Swinton in "Michael Clayton". Anyone who could steal that movie away from Tom Wilkinson deserves all of the awards.

  • prince_of_montagu

    Mo'Nique for BSA in Precious.

    Probably the most "yeah, you better give her that fucking award" performances i've seen in recent years.

  • We're really going there with Aviator? Over Natalie Portman in Closer and Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda? Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Okonedo KILLED IT in that movie! I was disappointed, but not surprised she won.
    Like giving an academy award to Judi Dench for 10 minutes of screen time, the award was for the actress - not the performance.

  • mzblackwidow

    Sophie Okonedo was wonderful in Hotel Rwanda for sure, but I loved her much more in the Secret Life of Bees. I cried and cried ... sniff. Gawd I love that movie.

  • jthomas666

    1. Anjelica Huston (the Grifters) should have won over Kathy Bates. Bates was good, Huston was better.

    2. Would have preferred Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire) over del Toro, but that one's close.

    3. Your pic of Joe Pesci is from Casino, not Goodfellas..

  • jeannebean

    You are incorrect. That picture is, indeed, from Goodfellas. The lovely and toothsome Ray Liotta was not in Casino.

  • jthomas666

    They changed the pic following my post. The original pic was this:

  • kirbyjay

    Yeah, that would be Casino because Billy Batts was dead as a doornail in Goodfellas. Sorry.

  • kirbyjay

    It's from Goodfellas. Ray Liotta was not in Casino.
    Joe Pesci always plays Joe Pesci, so if he got an Oscar for playing Joe Pesci, it was deserved.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    The Grifters deserves a rewatch now that I'm adult...

  • Mrs. Julien

    You should buy a bag of oranges as a thematic snack!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Healthy! (...and I don't remember the movie well enough to get it. More reason to rewatch.)

  • Ryan Ambrose

    Yet I'm still bitter due to Sean Penn winning best actor over Mickey Rourke giving the performance of a lifetime in The Wrestler.

  • AudioSuede

    Come on, he was AMAZING in Milk. That movie should have won Best Picture ten times before Slumdog ever saw a glimpse of gold on the far horizon.

  • kirbyjay

    I will preface my remarks with "I don't like Sean Penn. I think he is an asshole and at times highly over rated as an actor, because he is busy being Sean Penn" BUT Sean Penn as Harvey Milk was on the money. I actually forgot it was him, and that, to me, is what makes an Oscar worthy performance. I think Nicolas Cage was great in Leaving Las Vegas but I think SP should have won for Dead Man Walking. Instead they give him an Oscar for Mystic River as a consolation prize. But the Oscar for Milk was deserved.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Thank you for proving Dustin's point.

  • Damn my job for letting you get there first. Or, cheers to you.

  • Jackson Smith

    Rourke was winning everything right up until he said on some red carpet that he was going to have a match at WrestleMania. All of a sudden he went off a cliff, lol, visions of the Oscar being used as a foreign object dancing through the Academy's head. Agreed, Rourke should've won.

  • kirbyjay

    I honestly don't think anyone in Hollywood would ever consider giving Rourke an Oscar. The fact that he was even nominated points to the superb performance he gave and that was his reward.

  • Dumily

    See also Meryl Streep over Viola Davis, "Shakespeare in Love" over "Saving Private Ryan", Gwyneth Paltrow over . . . I don't know, is there a broom we can be- wig and give an Oscar to?

  • Dumily

    And I forgot to add the mother of all bad award winners: Julia Roberts over Ellen Motherfucking Burstyn. Jesus.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I weep for my celebrity lookalike.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    That's an awesome lookalike to have. Do you see it or is it just what you've been told?

    I'm told Geena Davis, and I think people are nuts (not that she's unattractive, but I don't look like her).

  • Mrs. Julien

    It's Mr. J's call. When I was young I got (and LOVED to get) Belinda Carlisle. I was a generically pretty fair person.

    ETA: and Marcia Cross and Nicole Kidman for a while there because I'm kind of bitchy looking.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Those are all pretty wonderful!
    I was told I looked like Samara from The Ring the one and only time I dyed my hair black...Since dark hair/pale = horror creature.

  • chanohack

    My pale sister recently dyed her hair veryblack and my little cousins tell her she reminds them of Batman. She is pleased.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    She should be! Batman is awesome! Apparently I looked like a drowned child, bent on evil, which...less awesome.

  • megaera

    I think that actually makes it more awesome.

  • kirbyjay

    An old friend always said I reminded him of Jaclyn Smith. GAWD I loved him. Of course, every one else laughed.
    and no, I never saw it.

  • Dumily

    Please tell me you mean Ellen Burstyn.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I do. Mr. Julien is kind of annoying about it.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Gwyneth over Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth, which was just such a badass performance (Cate's).

  • Bananaranma

    I love Shakespeare in Love but being a lit major helps. It is peppered with in jokes. Who to play Ned Alleyn, a pompous, self-absorbed diva? Ben Affleck at his Armageddon peak. The violence loving kid who ratted them out? John Webster who would later write some of the most blood-soaked works of the Elizabethan stage.

  • jthomas666

    Heh. When I saw SiL in the theater, I was the only one in the audience who laughed when Webster introduced himself. And I was laughing HARD.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I was a lit major too, and I do love the Tom Stoppard script, but that doesn't take away from a dull performance by Paltrow, bizarre stunt casting of her boyfriend (whether he was an arrogant prick or not), and in my mind some fairly spotty direction.

    I think I'd like to see it remade, same script, maybe even same costumes, and a qualified cast.

  • Dumily

    If there were a god, Cate would have won. But I would rather no one have gotten it than give it to Gwynie.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I rewatched part of Shakespeare in Love a few years ago and I'm here to is just not that good of a movie. It did make me admire Harvey Weinstein's marketing ability.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Lies. Fantastic movie, Gwyneth not withstanding (I don't think her performance in it is bad, either)

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    The only Oscar worthy part of that movie for me (beyond costuming) was Geoffrey Rush.
    I mean British Ben Affleck? Ooof.

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