Of course, even winning Best Picture has never been a guaranteed measure of quality. Looking at just the past few years, there's been plenty of "busts" including Crash, Shakespeare in Love, Argo, The Artist, and The Hurt Locker. Going back even further, Rocky somehow beat Taxi Driver, Network, and All the President's Men, while Star Wars lost to Annie Hall, and Raging Bull lost to Ordinary People. For whatever the reason (politics, money, trends, public opinion), the Academy often rallies around a movie with a particular contemporary gimmick which fails to stand out against the test of the time. Even looking at some of the all time great movies, many failed to win the award despite outliving their victor (i.e. Citizen Kane, It's a Wonderful Life, High Noon, The Ten Commandments, etc.).
On the flip side, sometimes there's simply too many good performances to just pick one. Looking at tonight's "Best Actor" category, you could easily make the case that all five deserve some share of the top prize. In 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird missed a Best Picture win because Lawrence of Arabia came out the same year, and in 1993 Liam Neeson's Oskar Schindler failed to pick up Best Actor as Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia. I used to think (or at least wish) that the Oscars were an ultimate, unbiased, timeless standard, but as it turns out, they're really only great at picking nominees. To really appreciate the best of the year, you have to see everything.
For what's it's worth, here are my rankings for this year's Best Picture:
3. American Sniper
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
6. The Imitation Game
8. The Theory of Everything
If all goes well, this could be the first time I'm legitimately excited about the Best Picture winner since Return of the King won all the awards way back in 2003.