So, on the 23rd July 2020 (I know…ages ago), I finally completed something that I had been slowly working towards for a while. I have watched all 92 films that have been awarded the Best Picture prize at the Oscars.
At times, it seemed liked I would never make it. I went backwards from present day and filled in the gaps that I had missed along the way. It started out quite pleasantly, with only a few missteps here and there, but as the films got older and more out of touch (basically anything pre-1970 was a risk), the experiences became longer, duller, and more challenging.
But I finally made it here to the other side and, because of who I am as a person, I am obligated to rank what I saw. If you’ve read any of my previous rankings, just know that this is going to be longer and probably more frenetic. My thoughts are choppy; some I have a lot to talk about, others I’ll briefly bypass them in order to get to the next things. There are a few films that I included on my Top 50 of the 2010’s list, as would be expected, so they’ll be doing double-duty across several of my lists.
This endeavour was both enriching and arduous in terms of my filmic education, and it’s interesting to see how things have changed across the years. With the introduction of colour, visual effects, and all of the enhanced technology that comes with a rapidly developing industry, drastic changes were inevitable. That being said, some of the early movies display a great deal of technical proficiency for being decades old.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the list!
92. Cimarron (1931) dir. Wesley Ruggles
While revered at the time (evidenced by the fact that it scored the biggest prize of the night at the 4th Academy Awards), Cimarron has become of the most infamously horrible selections for the award of all time. Despite my personal distaste towards it, I can see why it garnered enough critical praise to be recognised in such a way, though. It’s grand, the scale of it barely witnessed by audiences of that era. Often times, the mere achievement itself was enough to win over critics and audiences alike. Cimarron has a big narrative problem, and not just due to the exhausting racial caricatures present. Some contextual consideration needs to be taken, but there’s no excuse for the poor sound work, messy scene construction, and mediocre performance from Richard Dix. Screen legend Irene Dunne fairs somewhat better than her co-star, but that’s mostly due to her natural screen presence rather than the depth of her role. When all is said and done, time has not been kind to Cimarron and there is every reason for that circumstance. The worst of the 92 by a substantial margin.
91. Tom Jones (1963) dir. Tony Richardson
I know what you’re thinking. Surely Albert Finney suggestively licking things is enough to gain this a high spot on the list. I understand, but I can’t overlook how empty this movie feels. It can be occasionally fun, mostly due to the irreverence of Finney’s performance. It’s entertaining seeing the titular lothario roam around town capturing the hearts of the women, but the majority of the movie focuses on this, rather than any feasible conflict. By the time the plot does look to resolve itself, any chance at decent pacing or satisfying story progression has been destroyed and you’re sort of just watching a collection of scenes with no real thread or reason for them to be there. Again, I can fully understand why this was such a colossal success in the 60’s, but it’s not something that I can get behind.
90. Driving Miss Daisy (1989) dir. Bruce Beresford
The first of two films on this list to address racial tensions while someone is being driven around. Both are bad, but Driving Miss Daisy remains the worst of them. While Tandy, Freeman, and Aykroyd are giving fine performances (none of them particularly special), the narrative leaves a lot to be desired. The narrative of someone coming to terms with their own prejudices has been tackled a lot throughout cinema history and this isn’t a good example of how to do it. A lot of pathos is awarded to Tandy’s titular character in regards to her discriminatory attitudes and it’s clear where the writers wanted to place the viewpoint from. Freeman’s Hoke is a lot less layered, the man himself doing most of the heavy lifting. The ending becomes cloying and not reflective of the journey taken over the previous 110 minutes. It’s not a very enjoyable viewing experience in terms of craft either, as there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the filmmaking and often feels flat. I don’t know how this prevailed over other heavy hitters in the categories such as Born on the Fourth of July and My Left Foot, but history won’t remember Driving Miss Daisy very favourably.
89. Chariots of Fire (1981) dir. Hugh Hudson
If you don’t concern yourself with movie history, it’s likely that the only thing you know about the movie is Vangelis’ now iconic central theme. If you can’t place it, YouTube it: you’ll know it. (Hint: it’s the song used in the arguably even more iconic scene in Madagascar where Alex chases Marty across the beach in slow motion. You’re welcome). Anyway, the film itself. Largely unremarkable aside from a fascinating performance from Ian Holm and the work of Vangelis, who injects the only energy into this film to be found anywhere. The film is too drawn out and unfocused to sustain any engagement. Even the running scenes should hold much more weight than they actually do. When the main draw of your film fails to impress, there’s not much more you can do to save it.
88. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) dir. Cecil B. DeMille
For a film with that title, you’d expect something better. A circus is a ripe opportunity to mine some decent character work and visuals, but DeMille focuses too much on unnecessary side-plots and uninteresting plot developments. There’s actually a really brilliant scene hidden in this film, where two trapeze artists start to take their stunts to dangerous new heights in a way to compete with each other to prove who should receive the top billing in the show. The sequence is electrifying and comes quite early on and is never matched…not even close. Everything afterwards is a mishmash of doldrums and whiny love triangles. The film does boast a charming Charlton Heston in a leather jacket (hello!), Jimmy Stewart in full clown makeup, and Cornel Wilde as a hunky aerialist. A great cast deserved a lot better than this messy, vacuous showboating.
87. Cavalcade (1933) dir. Frank Lloyd
I’m going to be really honest with you all.
I don’t remember a thing about this movie.
And perhaps that deserves a lower spot on the list, but what I do recall was bad, but not as offensively so as some of the other films on the list. The Noel Coward adaptation leaves a lot to be desired, but also has some fine acting and uses its contextual factors as narrative drivers, which only serves it well. It looked nice enough from what I remember, but that’s really as far as my memory goes. If you want to know more, I would say watch it for yourself but I couldn’t possibly recommend it without guilt.
86. Crash (2005) dir. Paul Haggis
Before I watched Crash, I used to wonder whether it was so maligned due to the fact that it prevailed over Brokeback Mountain (in a move that surprised even Jack Nicholson, who announced the award) which is so dearly beloved in film circles.
Then I watched it and realised that it’s quite bad on its own merit (or lack thereof). The acting is actually pretty good, with Newton, Dillon, Cheadle, and Howard giving notably great performances. I even think Thandie Newton deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance. That being said, good performances cannot save a terrible film. Directed with an ambitious structure that never quite works out the way it should, Crash focuses on the collective rather than the individual which, again, doesn’t benefit the film. Its multi-cultural attitudes towards life and morality are glossy and sentimental, but it papers over these good intentions by making use of racial stereotypes to make very little points about its own plot. It’s one thing to discuss race and tackle the issues through film, but it’s a whole other thing to fail to provide any semblance of viewpoint through these characters. A disappointing movie, for sure, but has just enough going for it to keep it from the very bottom of the list.
85. Around the World in 80 Days (1956) dir. Michael Anderson
Large in scale and gleefully vacant, Around the World in 80 Days promises more ambition than it can provide, squandering an interesting premise with a bloated runtime and very little character development. It’s basically just a cinematic scrapbook of interesting locations, with the characters trying to figure out how to get from one place to another as quickly as possible. Money isn’t an issue and neither is anything else as the movie glosses over the technicalities and just explores locations which are nicely shot and produced, but hold extremely little substance to engage the viewer for any lengthy periods of time. Nice to see Shirley MacLaine though.
84. The Broadway Melody (1929) dir. Harry Beaumont
While not as overbearingly lengthy as some other entries on this list, The Broadway Melody is perhaps the most melodramatic movie to win the Best Picture Oscar. As always, I can imagine exactly why this was a hit with audiences of the time. It’s showy, inherently dramatic enough to attract audiences, and quite well-directed. For me, though, it just doesn’t do what it needs to in order to appeal to my enjoyment of musicals. It’s too focused on weak relationship development rather than the grandstanding of the genre it pertains to. Bessie Love gives a decent Oscar-nominated performance in an attempt to elevate the piece, but it just isn’t enough to make this film work. I think maybe given the calibre of great musicals since then, The Broadway Melody just falls flat in comparison, and it’s difficult to avoid comparison when the genre is something that’s so heavily favoured with the Academy, as you’ll come to see throughout this list.
83. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) dir. Frank Lloyd
In 1935, I image that seeing Charles Laughton and Clark Gable butt heads in an oceanic drama would’ve been the equivalent of a superhero team-up event nowadays. Despite the notable names attached and the impressive visuals, Mutiny on the Bounty couldn’t escape the restrictive trappings of its own historical inaccuracy. Gable and Laughton are good, but the story is never quite satisfying enough to play to their talents. It’s undoubtedly well-made and entertaining, but I suppose it just never appealed to me enough to truly enjoy it. Another case of “if I was watching this in 1935, I’d be blown away” but just doesn’t do anything for me now.
82. Gigi (1958) dir. Vincente Minnelli
I was really excited about this one. A Metrocolor musical stemming from a Minnelli? How could that go wrong? Well, I’ll tell you how. The songs are dull, if not just outright bad, and their misogyny cannot be denied through a modern lens. Gigi has very little agency in a movie about her, and the men (and some of the women) are either highly critical of her or are downright predatory. Louis Jourdan’s natural good looks can’t save this film, and neither can the gorgeous colouring which is stunning throughout, the costuming and production design equally complemented by the sheer power of the colours which are accentuated throughout. The performances aren’t bad either, but a well-produced movie can still have a bad narrative and unmemorable songs. A miss from Minnelli here.
81. Slumdog Millionaire (2008) dir. Danny Boyle
I’ll start this one off by saying that Danny Boyle is so hit or miss for me. I love Steve Jobs and Transpotting is great, but when he doesn’t have a story or characters that I’m actively invested in, his filmmaking doesn’t quite convince me. The film itself has been criticised widely for capitalising on a very Western view of India and not taking the subjects at hand as seriously as they perhaps should have. While the concept is interesting for storytelling, I don’t think it quite translated to film as the structure becomes fairly repetitive and predictable. Patel and Pinto are quite good, though I don’t understand the multi-Oscar sweep that year. Sure, a fairly weak year for Best Picture, but any of the others would have sufficed. This one just lacks most of the filmmaking that I would associate with a Best Picture and a Best Director winner.
80. Dances with Wolves (1990) dir. Kevin Costner
This has probably had good intentions but is likely extremely problematic for how it depicts the Natives, though it’s easy to see why Dances with Wolves captured audiences and won the biggest prize the industry had to offer. It’s a gorgeously shot movie and accompanied by John Barry’s excellent score but, for me, the narrative and the story just aren’t enough to hold it together. The performances are good and the technical aspects are operating a high level, but it’s so very long and I just don’t think it needed to be that long. 3 hour films are tricky to pace and this one just didn’t have that elements to it. Costner tried to deliver something remarkable and, in some aspects, delivered. But as an overall film experience? I don’t personally rate it.
79. The Great Ziegfeld (1936) dir. Robert Z. Leonard
This sort of harkens back to my gripes with The Broadway Melody in terms of dated showmanship that doesn’t quite cut it in a contemporary re-evaluation. Even critics of the time thought it too long and overblown. Coming in at just over 3 hours, The Great Ziegfeld isn’t an awful film by any means, it’s just one that means to capitalise on a 30’s audience’s desire for extravagant filmmaking in musical cinema. It gets by on how well the musical sequences are filmed. Luise Rainer was (probably erroneously) awarded her first of two consecutive Best Actress Oscars for her role in the film, despite not actually being in the film for that long. In fact, according to the invaluable film resource, Screen Time Central, Rainer is the fifth-shortest Best Actress winner of all time, ranking second-shortest in terms of percentage of her screen-time. She has some rather ‘baity’ moments which allow her to express emotions that impressed audiences, but I wouldn’t call it an awards-worthy performance. Rainer herself, to me, is sort of a representation of the whole film. Doesn’t do a whole lot, but does the right thing to impress an audience and secure the accolades. Not something I would recommend to anyone not trying to watch all of these.
78. Patton (1970) dir. Franklin J. Schaffner
Patton can’t quite decide whether it wants to revere its central subject or dissect his psyche and understand him. It walks a very wobbly line between the two and thus leaves the film unfocused. Unsurprisingly, it’s also almost 3 hours long and if a film has that runtime and feels unfocused, then you know you’re in for something troubling. George C. Scott just about holds the whole thing together with a very good performance as General Patton but, like several other entries on this list, a great performance isn’t enough to sustain a film that isn’t doing much for you outside of that. I like a good war film, but this just wasn’t that. Nor was it a fascinating character study into a polarising figure. Schaffner handles the scenes solidly, but the material leaves very little to be capitalised upon.
77. Green Book (2018) dir. Peter Farrelly
Ah, remember Green Book? The film that beat out several deserving candidates and caused plenty of controversies along its path to the big prize and, despite everything surrounding it, still managed to come away with the prize? When Julia Roberts announced that, it was almost as if it wasn’t real. After a run of spectacular, groundbreaking Best Picture winners (more to come on that later), Green Book just felt like a real kick in the teeth to film fans everywhere. I’m not going to talk about how it handled its story, because that’s a tired debate and I’m not the most qualified person to discuss how a film tackles racial injustice. Comparing Green Book to Roma or The Favourite even from a filmmaking standpoint is ridiculous. They shouldn’t even be in the same conversation. Farrelly direction is uneven and there’s nothing particularly notable about anything that it’s doing. Mortensen and Ali are entertaining enough as a duo, even though it feels like the former’s performance is a little uninspired and lazy, and the latter has done much better work in a Best Picture Winner (again, to come later). I think Green Book is a bad film, but I don’t outright hate it. If it wasn’t a Best Picture Winner, I’d probably be much kinder to it, but the fact that it’s among such distinguished company means that I have to hold it to a higher standard and be much more critical of it than usual. That’s where it loses out. Ironically enough, I think the only film as weak on a technical level is its counterpart, Driving Miss Daisy. It just didn’t deserve to be on this list. I’d much rather be writing about Roma.
76. Out of Africa (1985) dir. Sydney Pollack
Oh look, another movie that’s over 2.5 hours! I love that for me, except for the fact that I hate that for me. To be fair to it, Out of Africa has some delicious cinematography and one of my favourite Oscar-winning scores, again by master of music John Barry. The music accompanies the sweeping landscapes and gorgeously-lit shots and that is when Out of Africa is at its most palatable. The romance between Karen and Denys is fine, and Redford is as charming as ever, but neither Redford nor Streep are giving a particularly great performance in my opinion. Though that might just be the story’s fault, not allowing them to soar past the limitations of their characters. With first-draft level dialogue and just a lot of problems to overcome, Out of Africa is lovely to look at and listen to, but not as much of a joy to experience. And, in the end, that’s what’s important there. Did I have a good time watching this? The resounding answer is ‘no’.
75. Annie Hall (1977) dir. Some Guy Idk
Don’t you just love how this film was directed by no one? Jokes aside, sometimes it does feel like this was directed by nobody. Just a collection of overwritten scenes wasting the talents of Diane Keaton and making me groan every time a character (mostly Alvy) said something entirely unbearable. The amount of bias in the writing is ridiculous and it just became a film that I didn’t enjoy watching. The writing was, at times, very good, but not good enough to sustain the film. Keaton’s resounding praise (and eventual Oscar) also confounds me because, while she was good, I didn’t think she was Oscar-good. Nor was the direction. Nor was it a Best Picture-worthy film. I’m aware just how beloved this film is and I don’t want to sound like a contrarian for the sake of it here but why? I’ve read reviews and articles by people who love this film and I still just can’t figure out what they’re referring to. It’s like we all watched a different film.
74. Grand Hotel (1932) dir. Edmund Goulding
I usually enjoy films like this: taking a location and making it the setting for an ensemble of different characters to interact and deal with their own lives and secret. See the underrated gem Bad Times at the El Royale for another example of this. Grand Hotel doesn’t quite work as it struggles to balance tones in the right way and can’t rely on Greta Garbo to do all of the heavy lifting for the entire ensemble. It’s perfectly line and there are some nice visual moments scattered throughout, though it doesn’t quite hold up as well as other studio comedies of the era. There’s probably an experience to be had for everyone, personally I just didn’t really enjoy it too much.
73. The King’s Speech (2010) dir. Tom Hooper
The director of Cats has an Academy Award and David Fincher doesn’t. No, I promised myself I wasn’t going to make this whole entry about how much better The Social Network was and why it deserved to win, but it’s hard for me to think about this film in another context. It’s the same problem as with Green Book, I have to judge it now for what it is and what it beat. In terms of defining the decade, The Social Network triumphs every day. But The King’s Speech isn’t a total dud and it’s extremely easy to see why this was eaten up by Academy voters. It’s pure Oscar-bait. The performances are good (dare I say not Oscar-winning) and some of the cinematography is nice if not a little bleak in hue, but it doesn’t really have a lot going for it. The script is derivative and not a little melodramatic, and there’s not enough to sustain interest. I’m baffled to why this received as much love as it did critically, despite being exactly what the awards’ bodies usually love to praise. It’s fine, there’s enough room in the sandbox for everyone to play in.
72. Gandhi (1982) dir. Richard Attenborough
You can’t talk about Gandhi without talking about Kingsley’s central performance. It’s great and deserved much of the acclaim it got. It’s not my personal favourite, but the performance cannot be faulted. This movie is 191 minutes long and definitely needed more a solid ‘plot’ than it actually had. A performance can only carry so much of the film’s weight. The scope is undoubtedly impressive and some of the visuals are really great, but this film to me has a major problem structurally. It jumps around a lot, fills the gaps with a lot of overdrawn nonsense, and ends up not being able to get the viewer to concentrate on the points it really wants to hammer home because by that point so much unnecessary filler has occurred that I simply just didn’t really care anymore about what was happening. The editing and runtime just distract far too much that it never becomes the great film I know is hiding in there somewhere, albeit in a much more truncated form.
71. Oliver! (1968) dir. Carol Reed
Being a fan of musicals but not this particular musical made this a strange watch. The musical numbers are well-conceptualised and the performances are just fine, I’ve never really appreciated the story of Oliver! It doesn’t help that whenever there are multiple children on-screen my entire body starts to convulse until they leave me alone. I don’t even think there’s anything particularly wrong with this one besides my own personal distaste for it, but it definitely isn’t Best Picture calibre. Also…some films I can understand being long, but this for sure did not need to be 153 minutes. Absolutely not. Editing is a wonderful thing!
70. Going My Way (1944) dir. Leo McCarey
Going My Way acts as a well-intentioned, entertaining time capsule but does very little else. It’s a pleasant enough story with some good performances (none of which I would have awarded an Oscar to) but it’s just so defiantly ‘average’ to me that it, for whatever reason, makes it feel worse. It probably should be a little higher on this list considering what’s to come, but it runs the risk of being forgettable which for me is the worst thing a film can be. A bad film I can handle, but one that I barely remember and don’t want to remember, that’s pretty much rock bottom where my film-watching is concerned. Bing Crosby sings the hell of songs and is generally a great presence throughout but this isn’t a film I would recommend or revisit.
69. A Man for All Seasons (1966) dir. Fred Zinnemann
A Man for All Seasons has a few standout scenes, particularly anytime Robert Shaw is on screen as Henry VIII, but the whole doesn’t even come close to equalling the sum of its parts. The performers are great, particularly Paul Scofield and the aforementioned Shaw, but it’s all very precise and leaves no room for artistry. Zinnemann arranges his scenes well and the content is good, but it all sort of feels too over-rehearsed and not in the great Fincher-esque way that films can pull that off. A Man for All Seasons instead feels as though things have been put into specific places without much space for anything to breathe. It’s a tight 2-hours and nothing ever feels wasted, but everything is so ‘proper’ that it yields no entertainment or even moments of intrigue. The final 20 minutes are excellent, though.
I think from here on in, there aren’t any ‘bad’ films on the list, everything beyond this is average at worst.
68. The Life of Emile Zola (1937) dir. William Dieterle
The Life of Emile Zola is one of the films to have won the big prize that has the most potential to be excellent but squanders in favour of other focuses. I understand the role censorship and placation could have potentially played in this movie so as not to appear explicitly anti-Nazi in the defence of the Jewish Alfred Dreyfus in the movie, but still the film could have truly done much more in regards to its themes and ideas. The cast are great, Muni and Schildkraut are particularly excellent in their roles, the latter deservedly winning the Supporting Actor Oscar for that year. I just wish the focus was more on the injustices of the army rather than Zola’s inconsistent authorial career. The movie lives and dies on how well it portrays the troubling cover-up at the heart of the story’s conflict and it only does a serviceable job of this. With a much more focused outlook on the matters at hand, Dieterle could have created something very special.
67. The Artist (2011) dir. Michel Hazanavicius
Time, even the nine years since it was embarking on its FYC campaign, has not been kind to The Artist. Whilst critical acclaim was borderline rapturous upon its first screenings, The Artist doesn’t seem to be considered as one of the more notable Best Picture winners, and there’s a reason for that. The 84th Academy Awards are notable to me as being the worst of the 2010s decade. I only thought one film deserving of the top prize and that was The Tree of Life. There were other good films, but nothing that would’ve sat well with me as a Best Picture recipient. The Artist is nearer to the lower end of that bunch, if only for being good but not great. Jean Dujardin is really good and carries the whole film with a presence that evokes the era the film is trying to depict. The score is lovely and some of the visual work really pops. It all just felt a little ‘safe’ in terms of what it was trying to do. There’s enough energy and passion to sustain interest in the film, but there’s nothing that sets it apart from other movies about film and the death of the silent era. It’s uplifting and upbeat, but wasn’t daring enough for me to personally attach to it. There’s lots to love, but mostly falls flat because of its self-imposed limitations.
66. Hamlet (1948) dir. Laurence Olivier
I like Shakespeare a great deal and have seen several cinematic adaptations that have been good, perhaps great, but I think that Olivier’s decision to film a largely theatrical version of the play and place it on the screen does him no favours, particularly regarding his performance which is excellent. His controversial hacking of the material (including 2 hours of content and several key characters) has been the subject of much discussion over the years and I’m afraid I take a cynical view of it. If your film cannot contain the substance of its source material without feeling hollow, you shouldn’t be making it on feel. Olivier’s Hamlet is a touchstone of its kind but also a prime example of knowing your limitations. In terms of the content itself, it’s excellently performed and wonderfully shot with some creative ideas in terms of production design that really contribute toward the overall atmosphere quite well. It’s just a shame the play had to be hacked to pieces in order to end up like that.
65. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) dir. David Lean
I usually find war films without heavy combat scenes to be more interesting than the others, but when your 160+ minute movie revolves around the construction of a bridge and little else, I’m just not going to be invested. The technical craft is marvellous, though, as are the performances. Lean’s direction is tight and the cinematography is gorgeous, but it all amounts to mostly nothing for me by the end. Long runtimes need engaging stories to maintain them, and this one just didn’t do it for me. Though I can see why it’s beloved by some.
64. The French Connection (1971) dir. William Friedkin
The cat-and-mouse aspect to this movie is actually really well-done, but it just feels a little empty outside of the stylish shot compositions and engaging central performance by Gene Hackman. The material isn’t substantial enough to sustain interest and the ending comes about really suddenly too. The final scenes are breathtaking though and there’s lots of tension wrapped up in them, I just wish I cared about it more. Though Gene Hackman is one of those performers who I’d never get tired of watching. He always just roots himself so firmly in all of his roles and it’s a pleasure to see.
63. All The King’s Men (1949) dir. Robert Rossen
All The King’s Men is eerily prescient, focusing completely on a politician who loses control of himself by succumbing to the power he gains which I really wish wasn’t as relatable as it currently is. Rossen presents a very dedicated story with minimal subplots and most of the focus on Crawford’s fantastic portrayal of Willie Stark as well as the great performances around him. This one suffers, for me, by just being a little bland overall. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, it just doesn’t stand out to me as some of the other winners do and it’s not really anything I can pinpoint, just an overall feeling that left me as soon as the film ended. Nothing lingered, nothing provoked thought, it just disappeared and I’m lucky I scribbled down some notes on how I felt during it or else I would’ve had nothing to work with. See Cavalcade.
62. Million Dollar Baby (2004) dir. Clint Eastwood
The second of Clint Eastwood’s Best Picture winners but the weakest of the two easily, Million Dollar Baby suffers from formula problems as well as an overly trite ending that ditches the established tone in favour of easy emotional beats that aren’t really earned throughout. The trio of central performances by Swank, Eastwood, and Freeman are all good-to-great, though I wouldn’t say any of them deserves the Oscars that Swank and Freeman received. Eastwood’s filmmaking isn’t quite up to scratch and it’s one of his twenty-first century films that I didn’t connect with and just thought was a bit safe. Sports movies have the potential to really explore character and theme while using the formula as a backdrop to be tweaked where the story depends on it. Eastwood didn’t do this and settled for a simple story told with enough competence to work, but not enough to really shine. The first two acts are enjoyable enough to make this good, though.
61. Argo (2012) dir. Ben Affleck
I’ll be real with you. The overwhelming praise for Argo confuses me to no end. The 2012 (yes I go by film year, as I SHOULD) Oscar season was the first one I properly followed from early buzz right down to the final Best Picture announcement and I got lost somewhere along the way, wondering how exactly this film had gathered so much traction when it was only okay, overshadowing far better films that deserved the prize that night. Some of those weren’t even nominated (cough The Master cough), but Argo seemed to strike a chord with just about everyone who voted on the major film awards. 2012 is one of the weaker years in the lineup for me, so Argo still ranks in the top half of the nominees in my personal ballot, but its victory makes little sense. The characters are barely there, just conduits for an interesting story that was squandered by a weak script and a lack of personal touch. Also why was Alan Arkin nominated for an Academy Award for this film? Affleck’s direction is actually quite good, though not as good as Gone Baby Gone or The Town. Argo just ticks boxes and strives for little else. The airport scene is very tense, but it shouldn’t be the only thing I really enjoyed about the film. The cast overall is good, but their characters aren’t notable and that only affects the performances they’re trying to deliver.
60. Braveheart (1995) dir. Mel Gibson
I’m not just putting that there for a joke, it really was just unbearably long at times. While it’s solidly directed and Gibson’s central performance isn’t bad at all (even the accent has its moments to shine), Braveheart doesn’t offer enough, very much in the same vein as Dances with Wolves earlier in the decade by the way of being very excruciating in its pacing to subsequently deliver nothing of relative value. There were a few emotional beats that were hit well and the combat scenes are blocked and executed well, but they are few and far between in this movie, the rest of the runtime spent exploring ideas of characters rather than delving into anything that mattered about them. I like most of the Best Picture winners in the 90’s, but Braveheart just fails to achieve the heights it thinks it was going to.
59. Rain Man (1988) dir. Barry Levinson
Pretty good in places, but my enjoyment depended on the emotion and that didn’t really come until the last 10 minutes and by that point I had given up all hoping of really loving it. Charlie is a terrible protagonist, however, and I didn’t enjoy following him for two hours. His relationship with Susanna is nonsensical and her returning to him was wholly unnecessary after how he had treated her. I can’t decide whether Hoffman was good or bad, but definitely not one of my favourite performances from him. Although the ‘learning-to-dance’ scene is really good and very emotional, some of the more ‘comedic’ elements of the film didn’t quite come through. Quite average, really.
58. My Fair Lady (1964) dir. George Cukor
Honestly, this is fairly similar to Gigi just with better technical craft. I thought I’d end up loving this, but it ended up being far too long and far too focused on Rex Harrison’s Professor Henry Higgins for me to get behind. Audrey Hepburn is actually pretty good here, though not one of her best for me. The colouring is nice and the costumes are lavish enough to enjoy, but the narrative turns don’t excite enough to sustain its runtime. I feel like that’s a common complaint of these winners: they’re far too long for what they’re trying to do. I didn’t enjoy a lot of the content and I don’t love Rex Harrison’s performance as much as the Academy did or as other viewers did and still do. It feels like Cukor is lingering so much on the material he deems so brilliant, it’s like he’s giving us all a moment to reflect on each line delivered and bask in its majesty. Nope. Move briskly along, Mr. Cukor.
57. Rocky (1976) dir. John G. Avildsen
While iconic in its right, Rocky suffers from the very weight of its own competition. I haven’t yet seen Bound for Glory, but still with Network, All the President’s Men, and Taxi Driver all being a great deal better than Rocky, this win bothers me more than it probably should. Imagine having All the President’s Men as a Best Picture winner instead. A better place, no? To give Rocky credit where credit is due, it’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. The fight scenes are well-directed, Sylvester and Shire give great performances, and the script is actually sensitively written. The film seems formulaic, but Rocky is arguably one of those films which honed the formula for future movies of the same thread so is that really a flaw? From a contemporary perspective it is, because it instead reads like something we’ve seen before rather than something which feels fresh and exciting. It’s a crowd-pleaser for sure, but not challenging enough compared to the others it was up against.
56. Gladiator (2000) dir. Ridley Scott
This is probably one that may cause controversy. Gladiator is a beloved film and one of those Best Picture winners that even people who don’t particularly love film have seen. Everyone knows it and people love it. I just didn’t. It’s well-performed and directed, but you already know what I’m going to say. IT’S TOO LONG. This one has more grounds than something like My Fair Lady because it’s an epic film and needs time to explore the world it’s surrounded by to deliver the experience to the audience. The final thirty minutes are excellent and it’s well set-up with some now iconic cinematography and dialogue, but I didn’t care enough to stay engaged. I feel like I’m repeating myself but these films keep making the same mistakes. If you give me a competent protagonist with some emotional depth and a great performance, I can easily follow a film for it’s entire runtime. Just see The Irishman for a prime example of this…and that’s even longer. Hell, there are several films on this very list that achieve that very thing, and there’s a reason they haven’t been discussed yet. Because they do it well.
55. Mrs Miniver (1942) dir. William Wyler
While the final minutes of this movie are very hard-hitting and quite chilling, the rest of the movie serves as a look at wartime through a charismatic set of characters, a different approach that becomes very encouraging and acts as a morale boost almost. The performances are brilliant here, particularly Greer Garson. This is a movie I feel like I’ll enjoy more upon a rewatch more than I did the first time around, because it is a very simply and pleasant story that I did find myself falling in love with a few times. It just didn’t really strike until the end which I felt was a little too late to be making its big impact. I recommend this one, though.
54. The Departed (2006) dir. Martin Scorsese
I feel like this is where the films start getting better and my choices get more controversial. People love this movie and I too think it’s pretty great, but it’s not quite enough. Scorsese’s best works are done when he takes a concept and dives so deep into it you think he’s never going to emerge from it. The Departed takes an interesting enough premise and doesn’t quite go far enough with it. The cast are pretty great, although Mark Wahlberg’s Oscar nomination does boggle the mind, and the script is competent enough to provide a really decent third act. This is a weird one in that there’s nothing quite wrong with The Departed, but it’s just not top-tier Scorsese for me and not the film he should’ve won his Directing Oscar for. I understand the love and I even share some of it, particularly for Nicholson and the regularly overlooked Vera Farmiga performance. Damon is great and DiCaprio is doing what DiCaprio does. The third act does spiral into something great but, by then, I’ve all but lost interest in the grand scheme of things.
53. Marty (1955) dir. Delbert Mann
I feel like Marty never gets enough love. As you can see, it’s far from my favourite Best Picture winner but what it does is actually quite special. A 90-minute runtime (thank the heavens) with some really great writing from Paddy Chayefsky (no surprises there) and a couple of really committed performances make Marty somewhat of an anomaly in this list. It’s quite a “small” film to have won the big prize. There are no sweeping battle scenes or grand proclamations of war, just an intense little story about a man who wants to find love. Far from being a masterpiece but also a really solid film in its own right, Marty thrives on its lead performance from Ernest Borgnine and a touching script that is a nice way to spend a comforting weekend afternoon. And yes, I prefer it to The Departed. If you think you’re mad at me now, keep reading.
52. No Country for Old Men (2007) dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
Here’s the one that will truly get me cancelled. I’m pretty lukewarm on No Country for Old Men. I don’t think it’s a particularly special film and I don’t think it deserved the Oscar attention it got, aside from Javier Bardem’s chilling performance. I first saw There Will Be Blood when I was first getting into film properly and the Oscars and looked back and was surprised to find that it did not win Best Picture and that this film did instead. So, wanting to see what could possibly have been better than PTA’s masterpiece, I watched No Country for Old Men. Initially, I was impressed but not overwhelmed by how I felt about it. It’s the type of crime thriller that does one thing exceptionally well: a hunt/chase narrative that extends throughout the film and becomes very engrossing at times. To me, that’s all it does. The cast is pretty great, and Bardem did deserve every bit of praise he got for the movie, but the lack of flexibility in the characterisation surprises me a little. It’s almost as though each character is given their personality and has to run with it through the course of the film; there’s very little room for growth as it would affect how the narrative plays out. I’ve seen this movie a few times now and I’m always a little irked by the potential it had. The Coen brothers do a great job with the direction and the script is good in places, but this could’ve been something really special. It was to a lot of people, but that’s not something I see in this film. And before you tell me to rewatch it, I’ve seen it a good four/five times by this point and it never impresses me any more each time.
51. Wings (1927) dir. William A. Wellman
Ah, the film that started it all. The first Best Picture winner. For a film that’s 93 years old, it had no right being as good as it was. Perhaps a part of it was that it was the last winner I watched and there was a huge sense of relief and euphoria when I’d realised I finished my project. Behind that, there’s a great silent film here. The aerial scenes are shockingly good as an achievement in filmmaking from the 1920’s. There are moments in the middle that aren’t centred around the craft of the film that does lose attention a little, but the ending brings you right back into it. Wings is a really, really solid film that does astounding things for its time and truly does deserve the honour of being the film that won the first Best Picture Oscar.
50. The Last Emperor (1987) dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
The Last Emperor is a film that I did not expect to have much time for at all. A long runtime, a complex historical context that I knew very little about, and a widely discredited Best Picture win. That all adds up to dangerous territory for me. Though I stuck with it and thoroughly enjoyed what I saw. The craft of this movie is on another level. The shot compositions, the on-location lighting, the intricacies of the costume and production design, it’s all absolutely stunning and it’s backed up by a beautiful score that runs through the film. Despite the technical prowess, the film is missing a vital emotional core that never quite arrives. There are moments when I thought it would but it never really did. It seemed to focus more on style and ideas rather than emotional and thematic depth. I’d probably watch it again, but I just wish it had more to say as opposed to merely mention. Good film though!
49. The Sound of Music (1965) dir. Robert Wise
Yes this is absolutely too long and a lot of is instilled with a romanticised falsity that threatens to overwhelm the serious context at play throughout the story, but it’s also a sweet, luscious-looking barrage of catchy songs, great performances, and some iconic characters. Julie Andrews leads the charge with her bright, swelling soprano voice and effortless charm that, for me, holds the entire film together. The Sound of Music is an iconic crowd-pleaser, as noted by the abundance of remakes, sing-along specials, and how several of the songs have remained in the movie-musical canon to this day. And it doesn’t hurt to remember that Lady Gaga performance at the Oscars. While it might not be the best film to appear on this list and, yes some of the films below it might technically be better, I’d rather sit with the von Trapp family choir for three hours that spend it with Henry Higgins’ misogyny.
48. Ben-Hur (1959) dir. William Wyler
Sigh. Another epic. Luckily, this one was surprisingly good! Well, not surprisingly as such because Ben-Hur is widely regarded as a classic, but I just didn’t think I’d take to it as much as I did. The story isn’t really something I’d ache to dive into, but William Wyler is incapable of making a misstep so I should’ve been more prepared to enjoy it. Now if the rumoured first cut was genuinely four and a half hours, I think that would’ve turned me away, but I can actually handle the three-and-a-half hour version of this movie. Charlton Heston delivers a spirited performance (and do I even need to say snack?) and the supporting cast are all more than a match for him. Stephen Boyd’s turn as Messala is absolutely my favourite in the film, though Hugh Griffith’s Oscar-winning performance is also pretty good too! The iconic chariot race is absolutely thrilling and it’s a great payoff to the rest of the film, a lot of which is decidedly less exhilarating but still interesting. Wyler’s directorial prowess serves this film brilliantly and makes it a worthwhile watch!
47. Forrest Gump (1994) dir. Robert Zemeckis
Okay. Forrest Gump is a classic in the American film canon, I know. I don’t love this film, though I really, really like it. Tom Hanks, through all his bumbling affectations, is charming and awkwardly charismatic enough to lead the film through its historical journey and its now-memorable quotes. I do find Forrest Gump‘s plot to be a little contrived and more than a lot conveniently crafted, but I can excuse it for how earnest it is. Like Gump, the film presents itself so non-threateningly that it’s hard to actively hate what it’s doing even if Zemeckis occasionally loses his way. Big shout out to Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan who delivers my favourite performance in the film and does some excellent work here. Robin Wright, Mykelti Williamson, and Sally Field also turn in some good work rounding out the cast. While Forrest Gump suffers from its plotting and occasional tonal problems, the overall result is something so cheery and well-intentioned that I have to enjoy it.
46. How Green Was My Valley (1941) dir. John Ford
The only thing that I, and many to this day, knew about this film was that it was the film that was selected for the Best Picture prize over frequent all-time list-topper Citizen Kane. I watched the latter for the first time a few years ago and was immediately enamoured, wondering how something could beat it. When I went into How Green Was My Valley, I had a preconceived notion of what it needed to be in order to “beat” Citizen Kane. What I found was something that didn’t quite do it for me, but it’s still an excellent film in its own right. I think the more I think about it, the less I compare it to Citizen Kane. How Green Was My Valley is a working-class social drama set in a valley (really?) in South Wales and explores class and how a town is affected by its coal-mining industry. It’s a deeply touching drama that is beautifully shot and edited with some lovely performances. There’s a sentimentality to this film that’s perhaps hit or miss with some, but the way Ford wrings out the emotionality in almost every scene is magnificent. I know this will only grow on me in time and I will be rewatching it. Can we stop sleeping on this film now?
45. The English Patient (1996) dir. Anthony Minghella
Oh, would you look at that? Another perhaps controversial opinion but I really liked The English Patient. Of course, it’s Oscar bait at its very finest and longer and more indulgent than it needs to be but I thought it was great! The score, the visuals, the great editing between timelines. Not to mention the endearing performances (Juliette Binoche stays winning) from the entire cast. Admittedly I preferred the final act to the first two and was worried about the dual timelines becoming overdone and dull towards the end but the finale really brought it home for me. There’s an interesting exploration of memory of internalised guilt running throughout the film how the story unravels only doubles down on the pain of both. It’s a tragic film and one that perhaps isn’t at intriguing on the surface but only becomes so much more once you dive in. I will defend this film, though I definitely understand how some could think it dull or bloated. It’s one of the winners I’m actually excited to rewatch!
44. You Can’t Take it With You (1938) dir. Frank Capra
Reading the premise of this film didn’t amount to much for me, but it was only when watching it that I realised just how charming it is. It’s completely innocuous and, even though the times have perhaps moved on from such a concoction of farce and whimsy, there’s a lot of fun to be had with the comedy. Jimmy Stewart’s endearing pick-up lines and the memorable dance sequence immediately spring to mind and will probably always be there, but the family angle of the film is also just a lot of fun to watch. Lionel Barrymore is a hoot. Nowadays, this might seem like an odd choice for a Best Picture award considering the handful of ‘serious’ films we’ve had in the last decade or so, but You Can’t Take it With You charmed 30’s audiences and became successful in its own right off the back of the play it was adapted from. A delightful film.
43. An American in Paris (1951) dir. Vincente Minnelli
Decidedly the better of the two Best Picture winners Minnelli offered in his career, An American in Paris is a lot of what I was expecting from Gigi but never quite delivered on. Featuring strong performances in both acting and dance from Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, the film soars on the height of its musical performances and the closing number is absolutely phenomenal. I think I still expected even more from this film as the story can become quite laboured and it feels like the plot is only there to support the dancing rather than the musical elements supporting and complementing the plot itself. Sure, this film might pale in comparison to more gritty dramas like A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire (both of which competed for the award that year, and both of which I would’ve voted for over this), but its strengths are plentiful with a personal all-timer ending to top it off. I refuse to believe that Gene Kelly was a human being.
42. A Beautiful Mind (2001) dir. Ron Howard
If this was a list of “Top 10 Most Oscar-Bait Films to Win Best Picture” (honestly not a bad idea for a future list), A Beautiful Mind would be up there contending to win. Featuring a group of acclaimed actors, one who secured his third consecutive Best Actor nomination after winning the year before, in a film that is simultaneously a deep relationship movie, a biopic, and a movie about a mental health issue. Prying nothing but great performances all round from its cast, A Beautiful Mind struggles to outdo a formula, but succeeds in its dramatic intentions. The script is pretty great, James Horner’s score is utterly wonderful, and it was shot by Roger Deakins…need I say more? I understand the criticisms against this movie and I even agree with some, but I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and don’t think its limitations count against it in a huge way. It’s enjoyable, interesting, and well-performed. I will never get tired of seeing Jennifer Connelly act.
41. Terms of Endearment (1983) dir. James L. Brooks
I’ll preface this by saying that I have no idea why Jack Nicholson won an Academy Award for this film. Perhaps a nomination at best, but winning? His performance here pales in comparison to his other award-winning turns and doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. That being said, Terms of Endearment is extremely my thing and I was not disappointed. It’s heartfelt family drama featuring two wonderful performances by Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger but it’s surprisingly funny at times, too. It also verges into melodrama territory a few times which is also something I adore. Winger puts her all into this performance, but it is indeed MacLaine who comes out on top in perhaps the film’s most iconic moment. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, I do recommend it. The writing is great, with some surprisingly lean direction. Not one that I could watch over and over again due to how emotional it is, but a few revisits now and then wouldn’t go amiss.
40. The Sting (1973) dir. George Roy Hill
Robert Redford and Paul Newman wearing expensive-looking suits and being suave for two hours…yeah that hits the spot. The Sting is a devious, clever sort of film that uses anachronism to evoke a familiar yet distant sense of era as two grifters plot to con a mob boss. The genre and its implications immediately inject the film with a blatant distrust for everyone as you find yourself trying to watch closely in order to work out the tricks before they land. The ending doesn’t quite fulfil my expectations, though in all fairness I think they might have been set way too high by the episode of Community that’s inspired by this film. A rewatch might sort that problem out, but it’s an enjoyable movie that’s very well-made and an entertaining ride from start to finish.
39. In the Heat of the Night (1967) dir. Norman Jewison
Any other film like this would beat its audience to death with the theme of racism, lamenting at how Sidney Poitier teaches white people how to be less racist. While In the Heat of the Night has moments like that, it’s a testament to how good the script is that it’s not all it’s about. There’s a solid detective movie here, one that is astutely plotted and brilliantly performed by both Poitier and Steiger. The script is economical and knows its strengths; any time Tibbs and Gillespie are squaring off against each other. That’s where a lot of the conflict comes from and that’s where the entertainment comes from. I don’t think many could manage Steiger’s vigorous gum-chewing quite like him, or Poitier’s steely-eyed judgement that’s all wrapped up in patience running thin. It’s masterful, though I think this movie suffers from being too tight. Each beat is rushing to get to the next and, while it’s entertaining, it loses a natural flow that would’ve been nice to see here. Still a really great film that I can only see getting better and better each time.
38. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) dir. Miloš Forman
Being only the second film to win the “Big Five” Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay), I expected much more from this movie. It’s the first of the three ‘big five’ winners to appear on this list for a reason. While the premise is intriguing, it struggles to balance its tones in a satisfying way for me. Forman’s mixture of sardonic humour and intense drama clashed more often than not. Jack Nicholson is excellent, Louise Fletcher is also great (and underused, underdeveloped, and also a supporting actress fight me), and Brad Dourif too gives a stunning performance. The rapport between the characters is interesting to witness as it unfolds and the script has a lot of great moments. I just expected more, particularly for Nurse Ratched, who was horrific but not nearly as monstrous as she’s made out to be. I’m not sure whether that’s Fletcher’s performance or the character on the page to blame for that. I appreciated the quiet dignity, though. Has a lot of stunning moments, but just doesn’t land as a whole as well as I thought it would.
37. Unforgiven (1992) dir. Clint Eastwood
The first and best of Clint Eastwood’s Best Picture winners. Unlike Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven is a tight, suspenseful thrill-ride with characters who are massively interesting to follow with great performances to boot. Proficiently made and very well-shot, Unforgiven is a Western that explores regret, how to reconcile with your past, and what to do when that past comes calling once more. The writing and performances are excellent, but Unforgiven contains too little story to sustain even the two hour runtime without lagging a bit in the middle. The beginning and end are thoroughly entertaining though, and Hackman is a pleasure to watch.
36. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) dir. Elia Kazan
Obviously aged pretty poorly and has a somewhat misguided execution, but I found myself really engaged in what it was trying to be. For the 1940s, this is quite an astute treatise on prejudice and understanding the plight of minorities. I loved the script and the performances a lot. Peck is surprisingly weak here, I thought he was fairly one-note compared to the gravitas he brings to his more iconic roles. Dorothy Maguire has a lot of balance to her performance which helps to investigate her character’s true nature. Celeste Holm absolutely nailed this one and her Oscar win is delightful to me. Anne Revere makes the most of her screen-time, and isn’t John Garfield just an absolute dream?
35. Titanic (1997) dir. James Cameron
Some of you might laugh at this and some of you might agree. Honestly, Titanic is one of the most divisive Best Picture winners to exist. It’s definitely too long and focuses on parts it perhaps shouldn’t, but Cameron’s epic is huge in scale and boasts some outstanding technical work. PLUS, My Heart Will Go On is one of the best vocals ever recorded and Miss Celine Dion did not have to go that hard, but she did it for us. Winslet and DiCaprio are charming together, plus Kathy Bates is usually always a bonus! The score is gorgeous too, there’s just a lot to love with this movie. The script and length however? Could’ve used work. Still very enjoyable and emotional.
34. Platoon (1986) dir. Oliver Stone
We know I love a war film, so when one comes along that feels rooted in personal experience and honesty. It doesn’t have a lot of the heroic nationalism that runs rampant around a lot of war films, it just focuses on the hellish nature of war itself and how it can change in an instant. It features a slew of great performances, especially Dafoe and Berenger, and a smart directorial hand from Stone. There are a number of memorable sequences in this thing and it’s exciting from start to finish. It’s quite cut and dry, really, a great anti-war film experience that explores exactly what a war film should, also delving into the relationship between people and the nature around them, particularly in a war-torn atmosphere. I do love this one.
33. Shakespeare in Love (1998) dir. John Madden
I’m sure a lot of you were expecting this much earlier on in the list, but I’ll come clean: I absolutely adore this movie. I went into it expecting to really dislike it, but I was very pleasantly surprised when I came out of it feeling satisfied, fulfilled, and surprised that this movie is met with such apathy nowadays. It’s entertaining, telling its own love story through the context of Shakespeare’s most familiar love stories with a whole host of fun performances. I don’t subscribe to Judi Dench winning an Oscar for her role in this movie, but I don’t complain about Paltrow. I also think Joseph Fiennes really should have been nominated for his work. Shakespeare in Love is such a cool take on retelling Shakespeare stories while keeping the contexts intact, and it runs a surprising balance of heartfelt and comedic. I feel like this one of my controversy placements, but I don’t regret anything!
32. Midnight Cowboy (1969) dir. John Schlesinger
I feel like this movie is only as high up as it is because of John Schlesinger. Sure, the performances by Voight and Hoffman are quite good, but it’s the strength of the direction that caught me off guard. It feels surprisingly risqué for a Best Picture winner, but I appreciate it. Schlesinger handles the themes with such a dreamlike vigour and never shies away from the reality of any given situation, which is commendable when so much could have been watered down for audience appeal. It’s got one hell of an ending which packs a serious punch if you’ve been invested in the film up until that point. One that I’ll be very excited to rewatch when the time comes.
31. The Lost Weekend (1945) dir. Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder, man. A master of storytelling and that’s abundantly clear here in his noir about alcoholism and regret, The Lost Weekend. At first, this film felt like one of those Best Picture winners that I was just going to have to sit through in order to complete this little project, but oh no I was so wrong. The Lost Weekend is one of the better winners for me; perfectly crafted, beautifully and sharply acted by an Oscar-winning Ray Milland, and as effective a film about alcoholism as you’ll ever see. The way the third act progresses is one of the things that I honestly still think about months down the line as it’s gripping, charged with emotion, and so memorable. I feel like this is one a lot of people still haven’t seen, so I’d highly recommend it.
30. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) dir. Lewis Milestone
You’ll have to work in order to convince me that a group of filmmakers didn’t go back in time with their equipment and foresight to make this movie because it’s so ridiculously ahead of its time that I’m still at a loss to think that this film is 90 years old. What????? All Quiet on the Western Front is gorgeously constructed, unflinching in its ugliness of portraying its themes, all the while being so impressively and boldly anti-war that it just becomes more enjoyable to watch. It seems like the likely catalyst for a lot of films of a similar ilk and what a film to draw from. Hard to watch but also so impressive that it makes you want to watch and watch again! This honestly could move higher on further watches.
29. American Beauty (1999) dir. Sam Mendes
A lot of the films on this list have seen time play a major impact in the way they are parsed and discussed in today’s film climate. American Beauty is perhaps the most recent example on this list of how reception to a film can be so different from what it was 21 years ago. Obviously this in part due to its lead actor, who will not be named on this blog. Watching this movie with all the information is more than a little yucky and I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t affect the viewing experience because it certainly does. That being said, American Beauty is a lot more than just its lead. There’s a whole ensemble of people doing career-best work, including Annette Bening who gives a wonderful performance. Alan Ball’s no-holds-barred script explores its characters in such a satisfying way and weaves through some odd tonal changes with relative ease, something a lesser writer would struggle to do. Mendes’ screen debut is a heavy hitter and very smart with what it wants to say about life, sex, and existentialism. An entertaining experience despite a broadening cultural divide between the film and its audience in 2020.
28. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) dir. David Lean
I think just about everyone knows about the cinematography in this movie by now and it’s for a good reason. Legend Freddie Young’s luscious shots and use of perspective are famous in film circles and, while perhaps Lawrence of Arabia‘s biggest strength, it’s by no means its only strength. You should already know what I’m about to say. This movie is almost 4 hours long. Is it thoroughly entertaining across every second of its runtime? Absolutely not. Does it do enough to keep me interested until the end? Yes, yes it does. Whether it’s looking at the beauty of the landscapes or Peter O’Toole’s brilliant performance, there’s something about Lawrence of Arabia that just works and does the job its supposed to. Could it be shorter? Oh for sure, but for once the extensive runtime didn’t bloat the experience for me, by the end of the four hours I was surprised that I’d enjoyed the film so much and it didn’t really feel like four hours by the end. The praise of Lawrence of Arabia speaks for itself, really.
27. Kramer vs Kramer (1979). dir Robert Benton
I specifically chose an image that evokes 2019’s Marriage Story so you’d immediately understand why I love Kramer vs Kramer. There’s a similarity there, but the films aren’t identical. There’s a much heavier focus on the custody decision and the gender roles that are inherently discussed within that idea. Hoffman, Streep, and Alexander are all excellent and there’s a beyond-his-years child performance from Justin Henry, who was Oscar-nominated alongside the other three acting titans. Benton’s script is grounded and subtly brings out a lot of different issues in the film without beating the audience over the head with them. Kramer vs Kramer is honest, astute, and entertaining in a way that doesn’t distract from the emotion. Plus, it’s a Best Picture winners that’s less than 2 hours long. Who can complain about that?
26. The Deer Hunter (1978) dir. Michael Cimino
Let’s travel back a year from Kramer to another Meryl Streep supporting actress nomination to Michael Cimino’s classic The Deer Hunter. Now I’ve researched and written about this movie a lot, mostly for an academic essay in university so everything has just come flooding back to me. Cimino made one of the most interesting war films of all-time and really doubles down on the psychological trauma in quite an unusual way. There’s subtext buried in everything the characters do and the way they behave that brings out exactly how they’ve been affected by war. There’s a lot of preamble in this movie, including the longest wedding scene in the history of cinema, but once the second half sweeps you off your feet, you realise how much these characters have been affected by their experiences compared to how we knew them previously. It takes its time and the results are stunning. Great performances all round, one of my favourite Robert De Niro roles and a worthy Best Picture winner!
25. From Here to Eternity (1953) dir. Fred Zinnemann
Fred Zinnemann’s second (and by far his best) Best Picture-winning film, From Here to Eternity is a film I deeply loved upon first viewing and cannot wait to slot it in for another watch. You’ll know the image above I’m sure, it’s a classic. From Here to Eternity is certainly not the only war film to win Best Picture, but it’s notable for swerving between war, romance, and drama, boasting an impressive cast of performances and a truly great story. I honestly don’t know what to say about this film, I just really loved it. The characters all feel lived-in by the actors which makes the romances more believable (plus Burt Lancaster in tiny wet shorts doesn’t do anyone any harm) and deepens interest in them. Usually a film like this wouldn’t have done enough to capture my interest, never mind my adoration, but From Here to Eternity is so sensitively written and directed that it goes beyond my expectations and creates a portrait of the soldiers and the women in their lives.
24. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. Jonathan Demme
I can never really make my mind up about this film. While I know it’s absolutely fantastic, I don’t know if it’s worthy of being any higher on this list or not. It’s superbly acted by everyone and Demme does some career-best work on this, but I’m just not in love with the story and plot choices and I think it dampens my enjoyment somewhat. The actual writing itself is good but it’s where the story goes in the third act that just doesn’t quite hit the same mark as the rest of the film. More Anthony Hopkins would have also been nice, but then again he does make the most of every single second of screen time that he has to make a lasting impression on the film and the audience. The third film and most recent film to win the ‘Big Five’ Oscars and I can’t complain with any of them. I just wished I love the ending more.
23. West Side Story (1961) dir. Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise
Look okay, West Side Story absolutely slaps. And if it wasn’t for the other ridiculously good films on this list, it’d definitely be higher because I love this film. I love the way the colours complement each other and the stupendous dance choreography. Rita Moreno gives an absolutely towering performance and all the songs are so much fun. Honestly there’s not a lot that I don’t love about West Side Story, aside from perhaps the level of Wood and Beymer’s performances; they don’t quite reach the heights of the cast surrounding them although they do a fine job. I think that if the tension that’s rampant in the film matched the quality of the musical numbers, this would have been Top 10 easy. Bring on Rachel Zegler, that’s all I’m saying.
22. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) dir. Peter Jackson
Were you expecting Top 10? Not such. I’m a moderate Lord of the Rings fan, I don’t watch the films every year or anything but I do enjoy the trilogy quite a bit. Does the series peak with The Two Towers? Yes, it’s the best in the trilogy. Still, Return of the King is a more than great conclusion to this epic trilogy. Jackson handles the movies solidly, though I think my qualms come with (yes you guessed it) just how long it takes to conclude the film. I think from what I remember it’s about 50 minutes of just trying to find a sufficient way to just end the film and it could’ve been done in a far more succinct way than it does. Jackson seems to want to showboat a little longer before the trilogy concludes when we’ve already been sitting there for 200 minutes (if you’re doing extended which I always think you should) already. Just end the film already!!!
21. Ordinary People (1980) dir. Robert Redford
If a film has terrific acting, I’m much more likely to enjoy it. Ordinary People has a handful of legendary performances. Timothy Hutton, Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, and Judd Hirsch are absolutely excellent here. I’m going to ignore the fact that Timothy Hutton won a SUPPORTING acting Oscar because I’m honestly just glad that his performance was recognised for the pure genius that it is. Ordinary People is a beautiful showcase of grief, guilt, and depression with a lovely script to accompany the dynamite acting. It’s very much my type of film and I’m aware that not a lot of people would have it up this high. I adore this movie and cannot wait to revisit.
20. Chicago (2002) dir. Rob Marshall
Yes, Chicago absolutely bangs. It’s extremely well-cast, the musical direction is excellent, particularly Cell Block Tango which is more than likely the moment that viewers knew that it was going to succeed as an adaptation. Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and John C. Reilly all give wonderful performances that take their characters to new heights. Zellweger’s Funny Honey is a particular highlight. Side note: do you ever think about the fact that Rob Marshall was planning to cast Toni Collette and how that would’ve turned out? I mean I love Zellweger in this film probably more than most people but it’s Toni Collette and I can’t help but be curious. But I digress; Chicago is more than deserving for the crown of Best Picture and it’ll certainly be remembered throughout the history of movie-musical canon.
19. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) dir. William Wyler
Notice William Wyler’s name popping up again? Yeah, the man is pretty much a god to me at this point. The Best Years of our Lives is a stunning movie and although there have been too many movies about soldiers adjusting to life after wartime, this one is one of the standouts. There are so many compelling moments here and the emphasis on character work is so pleasing to see in the 40’s. Greatly performed by Fredric March and Harold Russell in particular, The Best Years of Our Lives causes you to reflect on what might have been the best years for these characters. Is life any better now that they’re home, struggling to adjust to their old lives after what the war put them through? This movie asks that question and explores the answer in a beautifully-written way. This is one of those I could watch yearly. Just an excellent film.
18. It Happened One Night (1934) dir. Frank Capra
If you’re a fan of rom-coms with fast-paced, witty dialogue that charts the course of a relationship (not over one night funnily enough), you have It Happened One Night to thank for that. The first ‘Big Five’ Oscar winner, it’s thought of somewhat as the ‘original rom-com’ because it has the essence of something far ahead of its time and feels like the kind of film you might see today. And it’s 86 years old! Through the natural talent and chemistry of Oscar-winners Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night is just a lot of fun, packed with charming pick-up lines and witty banter. I’m so glad this is a Best Picture winner, even though it’s the type of film that would seldom win Best Picture today, it doesn’t feel serious enough. But as a relic of the 30’s in film and how far film has come, it’s absolutely tremendous.
17. The Hurt Locker (2009) dir. Kathryn Bigelow
It took 82 Academy Award ceremonies to finally award the Best Director Oscar to a woman. There were undoubtedly scores of women who deserved the Oscar prior to this, but Kathryn Bigelow’s Picture/Director win for The Hurt Locker is thoroughly deserved. It’s a tense, riveting experience that benefits from the filmmaking stylings and talent of everyone involved. Bigelow’s direction is so tonally and atmospherically perfect for this movie (and the subsequent thematically-linked movies she would go on to make). If there’s one thing Bigelow does better than a LOT of other directors, it’s building tension and seeing it payoff in a satisfying way. FULL props to Miss Bigelow for this achievement in directing. It also features a career-best performance from Jeremy Renner, one that is full of rage and emotion but with a brilliant knack of pulling back in quiet moments that allows the inner turmoil to be fully explored. Also I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t give a shout-out to an unsung hero in this film, Brian Geraghty, whose vulnerable performance is always so overlooked. The documentary-style cinematography from Barry Ackroyd was a bold choice to take for this move, as were the abundance of hand-held shots. But when you’re shooting and the framing the frenetic energy of war, Ackroyd proves to be right, as his informal frames and shots capture everything through a seemingly ordinary lens, painting these soldiers as real as any another person so that their more inaccessible struggles, such as defusing bombs and looking out for insurgents, become emotionally-charged, tense moments that make the spine tingle. Yes, I had quite a bit say about how good this film is, because we’re getting into the Top 15 soon and these are all just world-class films and deserve attention.
16. The Apartment (1960) dir. Billy Wilder
Oh I love The Apartment. So much so that I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s a terrific premise, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are absolutely excellent here, and the script is one of the best ever put to film. There’s so much more to unpack, like the way the smallest details are whizzed by due to the pacing of the script, but Lemmon and MacLaine are able to shift their expression so minutely that they can react to that information while not disrupting the flow of the dialogue. Billy Wilder is a master of cinema, we all know this, and The Apartment is one of his absolute best offerings. It’s hilarious yet also deeply sad and profound at the same time, has such an effervescent personality as a film which is rare to see, and has one of my all-time favourite endings. I love when comedies win Best Picture and are actually good (no that doesn’t mean you, Green Book) because the power of The Apartment is undeniable. A New Year’s tradition like no other.
15. On the Waterfront (1954) dir. Elia Kazan
On the Waterfront lives and breathes through the central performance of Marlon Brando. I could talk about this thing all day long with so much passion that it would become tiring. There’s so much depth to his performance, the undercurrent of rage and bitterness surging forward, mixing together with his dreams and ideas when he meets Edie and things get even more complicated. Brando juggles everything perfectly and he delivers one of the greatest dramatic performances of all time. The rest of the cast is also excellent with heavy-hitters like Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, and Karl Malden delivering exceptional work. If it was around in the 50’s, this would’ve been ripe for a SAG Ensemble award and it’s one of the best that I can think of. Elia Kazan is also doing some god-tier work here, coupled with Boris Kaufman’s stellar cinematography, and provides a series of intensely-felt locations and movements to really accompany the powerful emotions stirred up by the script and the performances. An incredible film.
14. Rebecca (1940) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
If you’re a fan of the 2020 version, I apologise in advance. I don’t claim it. Hitchcock’s only Best Picture win, Rebecca is a classic piece of filmmaking. It’s chilling, deeply complex, and manages to tell a really great story in a really great way. Rebecca isn’t really about the protagonist, because there’s a reason that the film isn’t named after anyone actually present in the story and instead after its deceased enigma. The story is really about the effect she has on those around her, just so happening to affect the 2nd Mrs DeWinter. It’s an interesting way of telling the story of the impact death has on people, disguising the themes throughout the central relationship. Brilliant work as usual from Hitchcock with some truly beautiful cinematography and production design sweeping throughout.
13. Schindler’s List (1993) dir. Steven Spielberg
Okay this might be higher if not for how incredibly depressed this makes me feel. I know that might not be justification, but I have to consider overall impact of a film. It’s 3 hours of bleak content, albeit impressively made and acted, but it just drains me every single time and means that I can only watch it every few years if I’m brave enough that day. Spielberg uses every inch of his talent to make this film and it comes out as one of the most impressive films I’ve ever seen. Spielberg’s masterpiece in my opinion, it’s just way too bleak to have much passion for. Obviously it’s an important film but I can’t find myself imbuing so much passion into talking about it as it’s just so draining. Beautifully shot, scored, and written, Schindler’s List is one of those films that will live on in its legacy.
12. Birdman (2014) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
One of the more inspired choices for Best Picture, the Academy really broke boundaries by choosing Birdman. I actively love this pick, over the more ‘Academy’ option in Boyhood (which I also love), Birdman is a simulated one-take, fourth-wall breaking Brechtian comedy. The script is great, boosted by an assortment of staggering performances from the entire cast. Michael Keaton does career-best work here, Emma Stone is dynamite, and Edward Norton is perfectly cast in a very unstable role. Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough also do great work in their roles. Birdman has an addictive energy as the camera glides around New York with Riggan on an adventure for greatness and self-discovery. It’s just a great film, one that both leans into the cynicism of its protagonist but also subverts that through the characters around him. It’s a great concept that’s wonderfully executed and results in a fantastic movie and one of my favourite Best Picture winners.
11. Gone with the Wind (1939) dir. Victor Fleming
I know there’s been myriad conversation about this one and its pro-Confederacy roots while displaying an apologist stance towards slave-owners and the racism of the Deep South. It’s highly problematic and deserves to be judged accordingly. Through the contexts of its release, Gone with the Wind is a monster of a film at almost 4 hours, and its sweeping cinematography was certainly quite ahead of its time. The performances are excellent, and there are a handful of iconic moments. There’s no surprise that this broke as many records as it did, it’s such an obvious pick for the Academy to latch onto and, while it hasn’t at all aged well thematically and narratively, the technical craft has lived on and has a great deal of merit. For that alone it has to be this high on the list.
10. The Shape of Water (2017) dir. Guillermo del Toro
In terms of picking a favourite ‘win’, The Shape of Water might just take the cake. 2017 was a notable year for Best Picture race, with masterful films lining up to compete. On the night, the frontrunner seemed like it was going to be Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as it had picked up a slew of precursors and dominated the conversation for a while. So when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty returned to the Oscars stage, after what can only be described as the most jaw-dropping Oscars moments in recent memory, and announced that The Shape of Water had won Best Picture, I was thrilled. The fact that something so idiosyncratic and bold could win the big prize was inspiring. And it definitely deserved it. The Shape of Water is a beautifully told story with del Toro’s signature lavish production design, Desplat’s ethereal score, and a collection of fantastic performances from the cast. Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins give such delightful turns in this film, it makes me want to be friends with them even more than I already did. With creative creature work, committed attention to themes, and poetry in every shot, The Shape of Water combines romance and fantasy in a way that is so endearing that sometimes you just don’t care that this woman turned her life upside down and risked death to have carnal relations with a…fish? You just go with it, because Hawkins is so adept at showing her emotions, you fully believe that she’s in love with the creature. And it makes for a pretty special film.
9. 12 Years a Slave (2013) dir. Steve McQueen
I’m so glad this won over Gravity. I think Gravity is a great film, but rarely have I been so struck by a film than with 12 Years a Slave. It’s brutal filmmaking from McQueen but every second of it feels vital, the messages held within it feel perhaps even more relevant now, and this is an incredibly well-cast movie. Ejiofor deserved the Oscar for this, Nyong’o rightfully won hers, and Michael Fassbender has never been so scary. It’s beautifully written, confidently directed, and the big moments hit so hard that you forget to breathe. I won’t ruin it in case you haven’t seen it, but the moment with the tree…it’s filmmaking that hurts but it’s so well-done that it’s easier to revisit. It’s so interesting and refreshing that McQueen doesn’t try to educate his audience about slavery, he’s just telling a story about a haunting topic that we all know is bad. Or at least most of us do. He presents the story, lingers on those chilling moments for maximum impact and lets the story do the work. It doesn’t deal in huge grandstanding, it doesn’t manipulate its audience, 12 Years a Slave depicts a harrowing story in a proficient way. Chiwetel baby, I’m gonna get you that Oscar one day.
8. Spotlight (2015) dir. Tom McCarthy
I don’t think I can sum up Spotlight any better than I did in my Best of the Decade post, so in the interest of full disclosure I’m literally just ripping it straight from there: If you haven’t seen the Best Picture winning Spotlight yet, allow me to tell you why you should. Look at the incredibly talented actors on that picture above. Now imagine them performing a flawless script that is patiently, tenderly directed and edited with some truly exquisite dialogue that studies an interesting yet controversial topic about sexual assault in the Catholic Church. Picture Mark Ruffalo as a tamer version of Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac. Picture Rachel McAdams using her immense range to become both a hardcore journalist and a support network for the survivors. Hear Howard Shore’s beautiful piano-led score as the truth about what happened is exposed by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. Spotlight is a very important movie that using Josh Singer’s powerful screenplay to highlight the necessity of dedicated investigate journalism. It’s a wonderful movie with a gut-punch of an ending that never fails to shake me to my very core. A worthy Best Picture winner that unfortunately will probably always have thematic and societal relevance.
7. The Godfather: Part II (1974) dir. Francis Ford Coppola
While some consider this to be superior to the first film, you’ll notice by the entries on this list that I do not. I think it’s a more than worthy sequel and it elevates a lot of the elements provided in the first film. The performances are on another level: Pacino is riveting to watch, Duvall gets some great stuff, De Niro more than capably takes over from Brando, and Diane Keaton is possibly the unsung hero in terms of the cast. Coppola crafts a far more ambitious sequel with the dual timelines weaving in between each other to tell a complex story about a complex family. It’s still a masterful piece of cinema even if I prefer the first one. Still have to yet to foray into the controversial world of the final film in the trilogy, but I may be doing that soon. I know there’s not a lot here about a 7th place film, but the magic comes from watching the film, and understanding how it progresses the story posed by the first one. There’s a great deal to love here and it’s iconic for a very good reason. And that score!
6. All About Eve (1950) dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Iconic. Iconic. Iconic. All About Eve is one of cinema’s greatest offerings with one of the cinema’s greatest casts. Bette Davis leads the charge as the indomitable Margo Channing, where she uses her meteoric talent to bring a great deal of gravitas, complexity, and empathy to Margo that might not have translated. That’s not to say that the script is lacking in any way because it really, really isn’t. The script weaves through the story, with an undeniable wit and pathos throughout, allowing every member of the talented cast to flex their muscles with the beautifully written dialogue. Anne Baxter is so brilliant as Eve Harrington, Margo’s antithesis who grows into becoming something of her equal. The supporting cast including an Oscar-winning George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, Gary Merrill, and Hugh Marlowe. All of them excellent placed within the film and do great jobs with their characters. All About Eve is iconic for a lot of reasons, Bette Davis only being one of them, but it’s excellently-shot, lavish in its design which allows it to capitalise on the great script and towering performances.
5. Amadeus (1984) dir. Miloš Forman
Amadeus was something I hadn’t seen up until this year when I committed to watching all of these. I’d heard good things about it, but saw the runtime and doubted everything. I was about 5 minutes into Amadeus and knew it was going to be one of the best films I’ve ever seen. And I was so right. It’s extraordinarily well-paced so there’s always something interesting happened, whether it’s a gorgeously shot sequence of F. Murray Abraham giving an all-timer performance. He’s absolutely incredible here in both sections of the movie, the present and the past parts. It’s a career-defining performances and one of the best I’ve ever seen. Tom Hulce is also pretty outstanding as Mozart himself, through all of his eccentricities he brings a startling amount of nuance to the character that makes the third act notation sequence one of the best in the film and one of the best scenes to feature on this whole list. This is Miloš Forman’s real masterpiece and a film I hope is remembered throughout history for what it is…a masterpiece.
4. Casablanca (1942) dir. Michael Curtiz
Casablanca is a classic for a reason. It’s lasted so long in film circles for a reason. Casablanca is one of the best films ever made and I don’t even think that’s a subjective opinion anymore, it’s just fact. It’s an epic romance, a tense drama, and it’s also quite funny in places at the beginning. The ending is iconic and tragic and also one of the most heart-stopping sequences ever put to film. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are transcendent in their roles here, looking absolutely beautiful running around in their little hats and spouting off beautiful dialogue in beautifully composed shots. You get the pattern here, everything is beautiful. The costuming, production design, and the swelling music all contribute to something truly, truly special. If you haven’t seen Casablanca by now, get on it. It truly is just a classic.
3. Moonlight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins
This has to be one of the best Best Picture Winners of all time, simply for what it invited, for what it became. Despite the controversy of how it won, it became a symbol for the future of representation within cinema. Oh yeah and it’s also a perfect film. That’s becoming a trend with my Top 10, but Moonlight is everything you want in a film. It’s exquisitely written, gorgeously shot, and scored to perfection. Jenkins’ vision to cast three separate actors as Chiron and depict his life from childhood to adulthood in three acts was truly inspired as a directorial choice and man he did cast them well. Alex Hibbert really captures the quiet intensity of young Chiron (or Little). You can tell he’s always thinking, always feeling every way too hard. Chiron is a highly internal character, he doesn’t get as many lines as your typical protagonist would. But Jenkins ensures that he doesn’t even need them. Ashton Sanders takes on teenage Chiron and does it fantastically. He’s a little more confident, a little more aware of the world around him now and he knows exactly what to expect from it. It’s now we’re definitively introduced to his struggle with his sexuality, encapsulated with a wonderfully effective scene on the beach with Jharrel Jerome that is so tenderly written and directed that it speaks volumes without actually doing a whole lot. Jenkins makes the most of every moment of this second part, helping the viewer to adjust to Chiron before it switches in the third iteration and Trevante Rhodes steps into the role. Rhodes is fantastic, taking on board idiosyncrasies from the other two actors whilst adding a maturity to his own performance, showing that Chiron has learned and is his own man, finally. You don’t get much better supporting performances than those of Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, whose impacts are largely felt even if we’re mostly with Chiron. Ali possesses a quiet strength which imbues his character Juan with so much unspoken backstory it’s scary how good Ali is in the movie. Harris plays somewhat against type here as Paula, Chiron’s drug-addicted mother. It’s a fierce, scary performance as Harris somehow shows the love she has for her son while also accepting the mistakes she made parenting him. It’s beautiful, beautiful work. But I would expect nothing less from a flawless movie such as this one. As much as I adore La La Land, I’m beyond happy that this movie won Best Picture because it’s so special and makes a lot of people feel seen in a way that a lot of movies just don’t do lately. Moonlight is one for the ages.
2. Parasite (2019) dir. Bong Joon-ho
Oh to be back anticipating Jane Fonda opening the envelope and taking the most iconic pause in history before reading the word “Parasite“. It was the highlight of 2020 and such a euphoric moment for cinema. Parasite is a history-making film in many respects. It was the first ever South Korean film to receive recognition at the Oscars, one of three films to have won both the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Picture. It’s the first non-English language film to have won Best Picture, and that’s not for nothing. Parasite is a spellbinding movie in many regards. Bong Joon-ho provides one of the most capable, controlled directorial efforts on this list, the writing is sharp and thematic, the pacing is delicious, the ensemble is pitch-perfect (AND SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR OSCARS!!!), the score is hypnotic, the iconic production design is so effective and speaks for itself, I could go on and on about everything I love in this movie but I’ve already done that before and this post is already stupidly long. One of the best third-act twists in cinema, gripping tension building, and a masterful direction make Parasite one for the ages. 2019 was a fairly good year and had a lot of great films, but Parasite is the one that sticks out, it was a cultural reset you might say. is this recency bias? Perhaps, but Parasite is a masterpiece no matter how you slice it. I’m hoping that the success of Parasite will lend itself to the the future of film and the Oscars hopefully avoiding repeats of some of the lesser Best Picture winners on this list…
1. The Godfather (1972) dir. Francis Ford Coppola
This had to happen right? This had to be the top of the list. The Godfather is one of the only films I would call truly perfect. Sure, Moonlight and Parasite too, but The Godfather is brimming with iconography for a reason. Marlon Brando’s cotton balls at his audition, “I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse”, the horse…The Godfather speaks to the sheer undeniable quality of filmmaking in the 70’s, which I do think is the best decade for film in my experience. Coppola’s masterpiece, The Godfather transcends its source material and has become of the most highly-regarded films of all time, a standard in the mafia movie world, and overall just one of the most recognisable films even by people who aren’t interested in film. I’m wondering just how many films on this list are so widely known that everyone would know at least something about them. Things that come to mind are Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List etc, but The Godfather seems to tower over all of them, still so impeccably made after almost 50 years of advancement in the film industry. Marlon Brando’s performance does speak for itself, it’s iconic. Al Pacino is as fresh-faced and spirited as ever. James Caan, Diane Keaton, Sterling Hayden, Richard Castellano, John Cazale, Robert Duvall, they all give terrific performances and contribute to one of the all time great screen ensembles. So maybe I prefer Parasite on a personal level, but objectively The Godfather slips past it and reigns supreme on this list and as a perfect film. And that score, god it’s so good. Anyway, there you have it. The Godfather made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse and fought its way to the top spot on this list.
This certainly wasn’t easy to put together (there’s a reason it took me 5 months to post this), I deliberated on a lot of things and this is how it turned out. I will not apologise for No Country For Old Men, I know that’s the one people are gonna be most annoyed about, but it is what it is. These may change with rewatches, but I want this here as a sort of time capsule to see how things evolve. I wonder where the next Best Picture winner will fall in this list…
If you read all of this and are still here…I give you my sincere gratitude. Seriously, this took me a long time but might take longer for someone to actually read. So thank you if you’re here. If you gave up and skimmed to the end, thank you even still for reading and checking it out.
So yeah that’s it. I hate you, Academy.
If you want to fight, please do so respectfully in the comments or on Twitter as always.
Hopefully no other post will be this long.
Take care of yourselves and stay safe!!
4 responses to “Every Oscar Best Picture Winner – Ranked”
I am genuinely in awe of this Jamie
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I love you for this, thank you!!!!!!
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also “okay, West Side Story absolutely slaps” in a proper review is all I’ve ever wanted
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I think you were too kind to Out of Africa. That movie is colonial fantasy slog, not even Meryl and Redford can save it from its many flaws. I prefer Godfather Part II to Part I, but to each their own.
I wrote a post about oscar snubs of the past and though you might be into it, let me know what you think if you check it out: https://prettyandwittyandbright.wordpress.com/2021/03/16/oscars-snubs-of-the-past-part-deux/