In honor of this Sunday’s Oscar Ceremony, my top 10 list for the week will have to do with the Academy. The Academy gets it wrong A LOT (I’ll get into that another time) but every once in a while, they get it right. Here is a list of the best films to take home the best picture prize:
1) The Godfather- The Academy had the chance to give Citizen Kane an Oscar, but passed. Luckily they didn’t let The Godfather go home empty handed. This brilliant and timeless mob epic was daring and violent for its time and still is today. It also deservedly took home statues for Brando and the screenplay, but strangely Coppola’s direction was passed over. Any which way, this is one of the few winning films that will be revered forever and influence the way films are made today.
2) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- What makes this movie work so well is its mixture of comedy and brutal tragedy. Both blended together make this the kind of uplifting film that lifts the spirits and inspires rather than inspire tears from sappiness. It has everything a film needs from great acting, to writing to directing it’s got it all. A truly incredible American drama.
3) American Beauty- Many may call me crazy for mentioning this film in the same breathe as many of these films. In fact, some would rather mention it with The Greatest Show on Earth as one of the worst films to win. I disagree. Because it stays with you. Like Cuckoo’s Nest it provides that rare and impossible mix of comedy and tragedy. It’s also just so daring and doesn’t seem to care whom it may offend. Some accuse of being non subtle, but others don’t see it’s subtle message lying behind it of how despite each characters’ mistakes, there is some feeling you feel at the end that you just have to forgive all of them after getting such a full understanding of the lives they lead. Few films make us feel these incredibly complex emotions.
4) On the Waterfront- “I coulda been a contender” states Terry Malloy (Brando). And this film certainly was, and deservingly so. This drama about a failed boxer (Brando) now working on the docks must come to the decision of whether to defend his wicked union bosses or do the right thing: stand up and rat them out. Coming out in 1954 it won 8 Oscars. Each well deserved. Brando’s performance will never be forgotten as time goes by. Every other performance is great as well, not a single actor is wasted. Still strikingly relevant, On the Waterfront is a devastating tale of betrayal and rebellion.
5) Annie Hall- Rarely is it that a comedy does so well at the Oscars. This year, they’ve done right by mentioning Juno (but unfortunately, totally snubbing Knocked Up and Superbad). However, in the past 30 years the only pure comedy to pick up the statue is Annie Hall. This is Woody Allen’s comic masterpiece, a genius piece of cinema about a neurotic New Yorker’s (Allen) turbulent relationship with a waspy singer (Keaton) and how he comes to terms with himself and his mistakes. The laughs are still as painful and true today. Star Wars might have been up for the award as well, but why have Obi Wan when you can listen to Alvy Singer?
6) The Godfather II- Still unrivaled as the greatest sequel of all time. This was the only film to win best picture along with its counterpart. It’s not as good (then again, what is as good as the original) but it comes pretty damn close. This time, we get to see Pacino in his most understated psychotic role as well as a masterful De Niro performance as young Vito that nearly rivals Brando’s performance in the first film. Although fellow nominee Chinatown was better, this film still packs an emotional punch that most sequels lack.
7) Amadeus- Milos Foreman (Cuckoo’s Nest) gets on the list, again! Here, it’s for by far the best film to win best picture in the 80s. It is the most exciting and inventive period piece I’ve ever seen. It looks historically accurate yet feels young and hip (especially those purple wigs). It’s revenge and jealousy story is odd and original but it truly questions the motives of these two actions. Tom Hulce is fun as the giggling Mozart but F. Murray Abrams’ cold-hearted composer Salieri is the stuff of history.
8) Schindler’s List- It took Steven Speilberg nearly two decades to finally pick up a statue. But this was no sympathy vote, this was a truly deserving win. Speilberg did a beautiful thing for the world and the Jewish community in making this film. It truly informs us of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust while uplifitng the audience with the portrayal of one man who found the kindness in his heart to help save thousands of people he thought nothing of. It brings out the absolute worst in humans but then shows the absolute greatest thing a person could do as well. It’s a film that purely, is impossible to dismiss.
9) The Silence of the Lambs- This is the only horror film ever to win a best picture statue. And it is by far, one of the best films of the genre. It doesn’t get scares from relentless gore like most films do but good old fashioned scares arising from terrifying characters. Jodie Foster is one of the great powerful female film protagonists on film while Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter rivals Norman Bates in creepiness. The film is fast-paced, the mystery is suspenseful, acting/writing/directing is superior, and most importantly: it’s really scary.
10) Casablanca- I debated what should fill this last spot. There are many worthy contenders but in the end, it would’ve been impossible to exclude this one. Why? Because it’s simply a classic, and simply timeless. I get teary eyed just thinking about it, and that’s a rare feat. Few love stories end the way this one does and are still as effective today as they were 60 years ago. As time goes by, we will never forget Rick’s (Bogart) sacrifice and we will always have Casablanca.
Runner Up: Midnight Cowboy, Unforgiven, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Million Dollar Baby, The Departed, The Deer Hunter
What are your favorite best picture winners? Gimme some of your thoughts