Best Picture #76: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

Much like The Godfather, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was foundational to me as a burgeoning cinephile, but having not seen any of them since my teens, I was fairly apprehensive of revisiting them, afraid they may have diminished in power and not overly enthusiastic about the nearly twelve-hour runtime of the extended editions despite my now frequent watching of ten-hour films for fun. In a way, I was right to be wary of them. The power of epic sword fights and heroic deeds will probably never be so great as it was to a teenage boy. Still, they have an undeniable grandeur that’s easy to get swept away in. The battles may be overlong but the sweeping vistas are no less beautiful. I may care less about the glory the characters attained now but the appeal of the little guys who just want to drink and smoke and eat, getting caught up in the wider world is greater than ever. It should come as no surprise that the twelve hours went by so quickly since they’ve always held the ability to catch non-cinephiles in the wake of their awesomeness, but it still bears repeating that there are few other movies that can whisk away the time so efficiently. When I last watched the series, I had yet to live any of my life and they provided an escape to one of adventure and excitement. Now, I’ve seen the world and more of life than I ever needed to and they provide an escape through their familiarity, seeing those images burned into my young mind, and sighing, “well, I’m back”.

The Real Best Picture:

The day may come when The Return of the King didn’t deserve to win Best Picture, but that day is not today. Plus it was a fairly weak year and more of a recognition of the trilogy as a whole so it’s a solid choice for a win.

Best Picture Winners

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