2012 - Argo
Ben Affleck's third directing gig, following critically-acclaimed films Gone Baby Gone and The Town, was 2012's Argo, which told a relatively fictionalized account of the Canadian Caper during the Iran Hostage Crisis in the late 1970s.
Also starring Affleck - alongside Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and more - the became an astounding critical and commercial success. It won three Academy Awards from out of seven nominations, including Best Picture, although was controversial for lacking a Best Director nomination for Affleck.
2013 - Gravity
Alfonso Cuarón followed up his success with movies such as Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by directing what is considered one of the most visually-stunning space films ever made: Gravity. Based on an original script from himself and his son, Jonás Cuarón, critics called the film "an eerie, tense sci-fi thriller that's masterfully directed and visually stunning."
Thanks to the critical praise and the presence of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, Gravity became an enormous box office success, grossing $723.2 million worldwide against an estimated production budget of merely $100 million. Despite the low cost, the film's effects were so impressive one reporter was convinced that Cuarón actually filmed the movie in space.
2014 - Boyhood
Richard Linklater followed up 2013's Before Midnight, the third installment in his Before trilogy, with the coming-of-age film, Boyhood, starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke. The movie charts the childhood of a Texan child from six years old to eighteen, exploring the ebbs and flows of his life in a divorced home. Aside from the story, what makes Boyhood so special is that Linklater did something that was considered inconceivable: film a movie in real-time over the course of almost a decade.
That behind-the-scenes factor is part of why it was so praised when it finally released to the general public in 2014, earning it overwhelmingly positive reviews and several major awards.
2015 - Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller's iconic Mad Max franchise laid dormant ever since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, starring Mel Gibson as the titular character, hit theaters in 1985. The acclaimed filmmaker managed to successfully reboot the franchise thirty years later, however, with the fourth installment in the series, Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa.
The movie achieved unanimous critical acclaim - with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus citing the film's "exhilarating action" and "surprising amount of narrative heft" - and did better than a reboot of a cult hit had any right to do at the box office. To cap off its success, the film became a major awards frontrunner, winning the most Oscars of that year. Not bad from a highly troubled production.
2016 - Moonlight
Barry Jenkins' Moonlight was one of the most-talked-about movies in 2016, and rightfully so. The film, starring Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali, released to overwhelming critical praise, with everything, from script to performances to direction, getting top marks from critics.
The film ended up winning the Oscar for Best Picture (after a rather spectacular mix-up with La La Land, of course), marking out a bunch of firsts: it was the first time the award had gone to a film with an all-black cast or one with an LGBT subject matter.
2017 - Get Out
Jordan Peele took the industry by surprise in 2017 with his directorial debut, Get Out, starring Daniel Kaluuya as a black man lured into a trap by his white girlfriend. The horror film released in a politically-charged climate that not-so-subtly addressed present-day social issues in a wildly entertaining way, seeing it hit with all corners of the audience.
It was, in no uncertain terms, an astounding critical and commercial success, grossing $254.3 million against an estimated production budget of $4.5 million and going on to be nominated for multiple awards. Only time will tell, though, if it ends up being nominated for Best Picture, let alone taking the top prize.