As much as I love the Oscars, I find myself almost rarely agreeing with the Academy’s choice for Best Picture. They always pick great films, but not often my favorite films. Below are 9 times they did. What are your favorite Best Picture winners?
A perfect film. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll just point you to when I scratched this off my List of Shame.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Truly an epic of epics. I’ve never been able to watch this film in one sitting, usually napping for a few in between, or watching it over two nights, but that has more to do with my attention span than with the quality of the film. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself. I also can’t stress enough that understanding the issues T.E. Lawrence was dealing with during World War I are more relevant today than ever. Indeed, we still have a lot to learn from the historical Lawrence, and O’Toole’s performance is an excellent introduction.
From World War I to World War II, we come to George C. Scott’s iconic portrayal of Gen. George S. Patton. Focusing on Patton’s time in Europe and North Africa, this is one of the greatest war films ever made. It isn’t quite historically accurate on the man himself, as Scott’s deep gravel is the opposite of Patton’s own high voice. The language was also toned down a bit to avoid an R rating, but what makes this work is Scott’s performance completely welding to Patton’s personality. Although he refused to accept his own Oscar for the role, his remarkable performance anchors the movie, and is bolstered by great filmmaking and a fantastic Jerry Goldsmith score (one of my favorites), that echoes Sousa marches with the melancholy of modern warfare.
The Sting (1973)
Everyone who knows me knows I love a good heist film, especially those that feature a “one last job;” someone out for personal vengeance by doing what they know best. Here is a very modern film set during the climax of the Great Depression, and uses the piano rags of Scott Joplin as the inspiration for it’s lively score. This also features the legendary team of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, giving wonderful performances as usual. To top it all off, it’s a great con movie, and I couldn’t figure out the ending the first time around. (Watch on Netflix Instant!)
Of course one of the all-time great boxing movies, and one of the few truly great films to take place in my hometown of Philadelphia. It is one Kensington man’s dream of “going the distance” against the legendary boxer Apollo Creed. It’s a story of the ultimate underdog’s rise to title contender, and features many iconic scenes, from meat boxing to running up the steps of our art museum. If this film doesn’t make you tear up, you are probably as cold as that meat locker.
Annie Hall (1977)
The rare Best Picture-winning comedy, Annie Hall represents Woody Allen. It’s a darker, more serious counterpart to When Harry Met Sally, as the film shows Alvy and Annie at various points in their lives. This film is a major turning point for Allen, and is more technically adroit than many of his other efforts. What makes the film work most, however, is the combination of the performances and the editing. The performances are raw and captivating, and are given the room to breathe by utilizing many long takes, as well as the full focus of the audience by trimming the film down to the barest essentials of the love story. Oh, and a rare acting performance by the legendary Paul Simon.
You could call this an 18th Century Social Network tale, that is if Eduardo Saverin had murdered Mark Zuckerberg. Like the 2010 nominee, Amadeus is cut from the same cloth of success getting in the way of a friendship of geniuses. Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but Salieri is much more vindictive than Saverin (and much more successful at it). Anyway, this is an exquisitely produced movie, and the set design, music, and costumes alone make this film worth watching. Combined with a great, Oscar-winning performance by F. Murray Abraham, this is a work worthy of the protagonists portrayed within. (Watch on Netflix Instant!)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Another film I only saw recently, this is a perfect thriller. The cast gives great performances all around, and Jodie Foster especially makes the craziness of both Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill believable. All around a stellar, chilling movie, and one that has certainly defined our notion of serial killers as well as entered into our popular culture in it’s own right.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Many people love this film because it is inspirational or “feel-good.” What I love about this film is really the more technical aspects. Yes, I was completely engaged and emotionally moved by the story, but the structure and editing makes this film a unique experience. And a techno-Bollywood soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
Man, I really need to watch The Godfather.
As much as I love the Oscars, the Academy has made some less than desirable choices in Best Picture winners over the years. I can only attest to the award years where I have seen a majority of the films (so, pretty much only the last 20 years), but here is my list so far, of those would-be winners that got away.
1990-Dances with Wolves bested Goodfellas
I don’t care what anyone says, Goodfellas is a frickin’ amazing movie and the fact it didn’t win over a melodrama like Dances with Wolves proves that sometimes the Academy is out of their minds. It’s also a crime that Scorsese didn’t win for Best Director. Everything down to the way the film was shot, edited, written, and acted made me want to watch it again and again. It was a struggle for me to get through Wolves. I guess to the Academy, Goodfellas was the clown, and they weren’t amused.
1995-Braveheart bested Apollo 13
This was a tough one for me because I love both these movies, but I really think Apollo 13 is a better crafted film. Braveheart to me is similar to Wolves in its “epic” nature, and I think the Academy would be wise in diversifying its Best Picture winners. No more epics for awhile!
1997- Titanic bested Good Will Hunting
Like every pre-pubescent teenage girl, I loved Titanic when it first came out. I didn’t see Good Will Hunting until later, and I have to say, I’ve definitely grown up. Again, the Academy goes for the sweeping historical epic that is Titanic, but similar to Cameron’s Avatar, Titanic offers audiences little more than an audio/visual orgy for the senses. Which is to be commended, but is that all it takes to make a movie? Certainly not. Good Will Hunting was an original film with a killer screenplay and fantastic acting. If the film didn’t win for Best Screenplay (Affleck and Damon) or Best Supporting Actor (Williams), I would have been more upset.
1998- Shakespeare in Love bested Saving Private Ryan, Life is Beautiful, and Elizabeth
As many of you probably know, I loath Shakespeare in Love. But what made its win an even bigger punch in the face is the fact that there were three other way better films nominated that year. Saving Private Ryan is considered one of, if not the best war film ever made by many critics. Life is Beautiful is the only foreign film that ever had a snowflake’s change in hell of winning Best Picture in recent years (I’ll accept arguments for Crouching Tiger). And Elizabeth was the film this year’s King’s Speech should have been in order to deter obnoxious film bloggers from being on the Oscar warpath. Probably the biggest mistake the Academy ever made (one exception: waiting 30 years to give Scorsese an Oscar of any kind).
2004- Million Dollar Baby over Sideways
This one was also tough for me. I actually came to this conclusion after a conversation with Ryan. He did not like Million Dollar Baby, I did. But I also love Sideways, and probably a little more. Mostly because it’s so rare to have a comedy nominated for Best Picture, let alone be a contender. And really, this was the Academy’s moment to really honor a fantastic comedy. But, alas, tears beat out chuckles every time.