82 Years of Oscar, 10 Favorites and 5 Films I Could Have Done Without
So I recently completed one of my life goals: watching every single film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. I would say it took me 24 years, because that’s how old I am and the Academy Awards have been my favorite hobby as long as I can remember. However, it was in the last six weeks or so that I’ve been really hitting the list hard because I realized I only had twenty left and that seemed like a very doable task. All but two of these films are available on DVD. Sadly, one of my Top Ten Winners isn’t. You can, however, get it on VHS and find it on YouTube if you’re wily. It’s been a wonderful experience watching all 82 films. Most are really quite wonderful, others are so-so and a handful I thought were downright boring. My next goal is to watch all of the films that were nominated for Best Picture. There are 474 films that have been nominated and I’ve seen 257 of those films already, which only leaves 217. I’m figuring on some of the earlier films to be a little hard to come by and I also plan on taking a few years to try to complete this goal. I’m sure I’ll write something about that when I do finish it! But now on to my favorite and least favorite Best Picture winners.
So I debated between having a longer list and eventually decided, or rather was persuaded, that a Top Ten list would say more about the kinds of films I love. Thus, I painstakingly slashed my list to my ten favorites. This isn’t a “THESE ARE THE BEST, MOST DESERVING” etc type list. Rather, it’s a personal, “I love these films to pieces” type list. So please, no complaints about what films I didn’t include, because personal taste varies. And so, without any more ado, I give you, in descending order, my ten favorite Best Picture winners.
10. – Marty, 1955 (dir. Delbert Mann)
I first saw this movie many years ago and immediately it became one of my favorite films. Upon rewatching it a few months back, my love for it was re-ignited. It is a real gem of a film, anchored by a truly heartfelt performance from Ernest Borgnine. The film was the second American film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. As of 2010 this film and 1945’s The Lost Weekend are the only two films to win both the Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for Best Picture. Marty was nominated for eight Academy Awards in total, winning four: Best B&W Cinematography, Best B&W Art Direction, Best Supporting Actress Betsy Blair, Best Supporting Actor Joe Mantell, Best Adapted Screenplay Paddy Chayefsky (won), Best Actor Ernest Borgnine (won), Best Director Delbert Mann (won) and Best Picture (won). This film is one of the most romantic films of all time. It’s also an important film that is not as celebrated as I think it should be.
9. Kramer vs. Kramer , 1979 (dir. Robert Benton)
I saw this film for the first time recently and was completely blown away with it. I’d heard a lot about Meryl Streep’s performance, and it was fabulous, but it was Dustin Hoffman who impressed me the most. His performance goes down on my list of the most deserving Oscar winners. The organic character growth he demonstrates throughout the film is just astounding. This is a film about a social issue that isn’t as timely now as it was then – father’s rights – but the film itself feels timeless. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning five: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor Justin Henry (at 8 years old, he is still the youngest person to be nominated for a competitive Oscar), Best Supporting Actress Jane Alexander, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep (won), Best Actor Dustin Hoffman (won), Best Director Robert Benton (won) and Best Picture (won).
8. Grand Hotel, 1932 (dir. Edmund Goulding)
This is such a fun film with an amazing ensemble cast. Though most famous for Garbo’s line, “I want to be alone.” it is filled with witty dialogue and entertaining characters. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but if I had to I’d go with Lionel Barrymore’s Otto Kringelein. As someone who had mostly only known Barrymore as the villainous Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life, it’s a real delight to see him play such a whimsical role. The film’s only Academy Award nomination, and thus only win, was the top prize: Best Picture.
7. Wings, 1927 (dir. William A. Wellman)
Wings was the very first winner of Best Picture and the only silent film to win the award. It’s also one of the most thrilling, romantic, exciting and heartfelt films I’ve ever seen. I’d never seen Clara Bow in a film before and was astonished to discover what a marvelous actress she was. She has got to have some of the most expressive eyes of all time! The film is one of the few WWI films I’ve ever seen and contains some revolutionary aerial photography and aerial battle scenes. It also has maybe one of my favorite endings in cinematic history. The film was nominated and won two Academy Awards: Best Engineering Effects and Best Picture. Sadly, this film is not available on DVD and as far as I can tell there’s no plan to release it anytime soon. You can help get it released on DVD, however, by voting for it here on TCM.com. If you still have a VCR, there are VHS copies readily available all over the internet (I have one!) and you can also watch the film in its entirety on YouTube (just do a quick search, you’ll find it).
6. Rocky, 1976 (dir. John G. Avildsen)
Say what you will about the film’s (many) sequels and of the other equally great films that it beat out (1976 was a good year for film!), Rocky is an amazing film. It’s a romance and a sports film and a slice-of-life and inspirational and just so many other things. I used to love it as a child, but re-watching it twice within the last few months really made me notice just how perfectly done this film really is. The American Film Institute ranked the film on several of its 100 Years…100 Movies lists: AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies – #78, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – # 57, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Cheers – #4, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes – #80: “Yo, Adrian!”, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains Heroes – #7: Rocky Balboa, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Thrills – #52, AFI’s 10 Top 10: Sports #2, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Songs #58 “Gonna Fly Now“. In 2006 Sylvester Stallone’s original screenplay for Rocky was selected for the Writers Guild of America Award as the 78th best screenplay of all time and the film itself was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Rocky was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning three: Best Original Song, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor Burgess Meredith, Best Supporting Actor Burt Young, Best Actress Talia Shire, Best Actor Sylvester Stallone, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing (won), Best Director John G. Avildsen (won), Best Picture (won).
5. West Side Story, 1961(dir. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins)
This film has been a favorite of mine since I was a little girl. It’s the first musical I truly fell in love with and has been my favorite musical ever since. I honestly can’t remember life before seeing this film. I’ve seen it countless times and even though I know very well how it ends, part of me always hopes maybe it’ll end differently and then when it doesn’t I always cry. In 1997 the film was selected by United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It also was on several of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies – #41, AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #51 AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions #3, AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs –“Somewhere” #20, “America” #35, – “Tonight” #59, AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals #2. The film also holds the record for most Academy Award wins for a musical. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning ten: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound (won), Best Color Art Direction (won), Best Color Cinematography (won), Best Color Costume Design (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Supporting Actor George Chakiris (won), Best Supporting Actress Rita Moreno (won), Best Director Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise (won) and Best Picture (won).
4. The Godfather, 1972 (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
I spent far too many years not watching The Godfather films. I’m not sure why exactly. I think it might have had to do with how hyped they were and I was afraid they wouldn’t live up. Could I have been more wrong? The first two films firmly deserve their place amongst the great masterpieces of the film world, the third film should not have been made (though, I do love me some young Andy Garcia). I decided I could only include one of these films in this list and went with the first film. Why? Because it has James Caan. I really found Caan’s Sonny to be the most interesting character in the entire saga and – this may be controversial – I think he gives the best performance out of the three films. That’s saying a lot, considering the first two films are filled with some of the greatest actors in film history. It’s just a pity Caan is often so overlooked. The Godfather was added to the National Film Registry in 1990 and its sequel was added in 1993. The film was also on several of AFI’s 100 years…100 Movies lists: AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies – #3, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #2, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Thrills – #11, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes: “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” – #2, AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores – #5, AFI’s 10 Top 10 – #1 gangster film. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning three: Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (Withdrawn, ineligible: reused Fortunella score), Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor James Caan, Best Supporting Actor Robert Duvall, Best Supporting Actor Al Pacino, Best Director Francis Ford Coppola, Best Actor Marlon Brando (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won) and Best Picture (won).
3. Casablanca, 1943 (dir. Michael Curtiz)
How does one even begin to talk about Casablanca? I’ve heard this film’s screenplay called “perfect” on many occasions and I must say I agree. It is just so wonderfully well written. Add to that Curtiz’s exquisite direction and a cast filled with some of the greatest actors and actresses of their or any generation and you’ve got what could arguably be called a perfect film. I’m not sure when I first saw this film, but I know that I fell in love with it when I did. I had the luck to actually see it in theaters once when I lived in Berkeley and it really was one of the greatest cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Does anyone not like this film? If you don’t like it, I’m not sure I want to know you. The film was one of the very first films selected to be preserved by the National Film Registry. It too was on many of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies lists: AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies – #2, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #3, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Thrills – #37, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Passions – #1, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains – Rick Blaine (hero) #4, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Songs “As Time Goes By” – #2, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes “Here’s looking at you, kid.” #5, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” #20, “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” #28, “Round up the usual suspects.” #32, “We’ll always have Paris.” #43 and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” #67 (it had more quotes on the list than any other film), AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Cheers – #32. In 2006 the film’s screenplay was chosen by the Writer’s Guild of America as the greatest screenplay of all time. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning three: Best B&W Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Score, Best Supporting Actor Claude Rains, Best Actor Humphrey Bogart, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Director Michael Curtiz (won), Best Picture (won).
2. Gone With The Wind, 1939 (dir. Victor Fleming)
Much like with West Side Story, I don’t remember life without Gone With The Wind. I must have been very, very young when I first saw this film and I do know it’s the film that made me fall in love with cinema. It’s about as grand as you can get when it comes to Old Hollywood and it is just as wonderful today as ever. Vivien Leigh’s performance as Scarlett O’Hara is still one of the most revered performances of all time. Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler remains one of the most iconic men in cinematic history. Personally, I will always love Leslie Howard in this film, even if Ashley Wilkes is a bit of a wet blanket. Olivia de Havilland, Butterfly McQueen, Hattie McDaniel – all created characters that have endured over the years and are forever embedded in our collective cultural conscience. The film, like Casablanca, was one of the first films to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It was on eight of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies lists: AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies – #4, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #6, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Passions – #2, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”- #1, “After all, tomorrow is another day” #31, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” #59, AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores – #2, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Cheers – #43, AFI’s 10 Top 10 – #4 Epic film. Gone With The Wind was the first film to win more than five Academy Awards. It was nominated for thirteen competitive awards, winning eight, as well as two non-competitive awards, one technical (R.D. Musgrave – For pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment in the production), one honorary (William Cameron Menzies For outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production): Best Special Effects, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actress Olivia de Havilland, Best Actor Clark Gable, Best Art Direction (won), Best Color Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Actress Vivien Leigh (won), Best Supporting Actress Hattie McDaniel (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Director Victor Fleming (won) and Best Picture (won). For most of my life Gone With The Wind was my favorite movie. As it is, it remains on the #2 spot on my Top Ten Favorite Films of All-Time list. It moved down from the #1 spot about four or five years ago when I fell in the love with the next film on this list.
1. The English Patient, 1996 (dir. Anthony Minghella)
My love for both Gone With The Wind and this film have nothing to do with them being Best Picture winners. It’s just a coincidence that my two favorite films of all time also happen to be Best Picture winners. I first saw The English Patient when I was in middle school and I liked it, but it didn’t make that big of an impression on me. However, when I was in college I borrowed it from a friend because I was on a Ralph Fiennes kick and felt it deserved a re-watch. I believe I watched it four times in a 72-hour period. I then immediately bought my own copy and have watched it countless times since then. It was so much better than I had remembered. It’s just such a beautiful film, filled with passionate performances all around. I’m of the opinion that it is Ralph Fiennes’ best performance. He is so intense in it. Every time he’s on the screen he dominates it. There’s so much going on with this performance, I can’t accurately write it all down without dedicating an entire post just to it. But really, the whole cast is also wonderful. I’ve read the book, too. I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect book-to-film adaptation, because the film is very different from the book. I’d go so far as to say the film is better than the book. That’s not to say that the book isn’t good. It is. I quite enjoyed it. I just think Anthony Minghella, who wrote and directed the film, took a good story and made it great. The film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, winning nine: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor Ralph Fiennes, Best Actress Kristin Scott Thomas, Best Sound (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Supporting Actress Juliette Binoche (won), Best Director Anthony Minghella (won) and Best Picture (won). I can’t really put into words how much I love this film. I haven’t tried, actually, because I’m not sure I can do the film justice. That and I could probably fill up an entire book with everything I love about this film. Just watch it.
Which brings me to the Best Picture winners that I really did not enjoy. Mostly, these are films that I think either have not aged well or were downright boring. I can see why they won Best Picture and for the most part they’re all well made, well acted films. But for me, the worst thing a film can be is boring. Even if the film is lush and beautiful, if it’s boring, it’s failed.
5. Out of Africa, 1985 (dir. Sydney Pollack)
This movie. Yes, it’s lush. Yes, it has beautiful costumes. Yes, Meryl Streep is a wonderful actress (that’s an understatement). But, no, I did not enjoy this movie. I found it incredibly boring. It’s longer than it needs to be, it’s self-indulgent at times and it’s filled with the most despicable characters. It also feels very 80s, even if it is a period piece. It just did not age well at all. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning seven: Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, Best Actress Meryl Streep, Best Original Score (won), Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Director Sydney Pollack (won) and Best Picture (won).
4. Gigi, 1958 (dir. Vincente Minnelli)
A musical should not be boring. This film is so boring. I stayed up until 3 in the morning watching this film on TCM a few months back and it was so not wroth it. Again, this film has great production value. Its costumes are gorgeous and its sets are amazing. But that doesn’t make up for poor pacing and, once again, despicable characters. Sometimes a film will have characters that are horrible people, but will somehow make you care about the characters regardless. That is not the case here, and I don’t think it’s just a cultural thing. I think it’s a poor script thing. The film was nominated for and won nine Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Score for a Musical, Best Original Song, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director Vincente Minnelli and Best Picture.
3. Chariots of Fire, 1981 (dir. Hugh Hudson)
This is one of the few films that I actually fell asleep while watching. Fell asleep. It was the middle of the afternoon and I wasn’t even sleepy. I did, however, rewind it and watch what I missed. I almost wish I hadn’t. The performances aren’t half bad and the score really is amazing. But the pacing. Just, wow. I think this film is perhaps the worst paced film of all time. Or at the very least, the worst paced film I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the best thing about this film is its name; its title is way too cool for how boring a film it is. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning four: Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor Ian Holm, Best Director Hugh Hudson, Best Costume Design (won), Original Music Score (won), Best Original Screenplay (won) and Best Picture (won).
2. Oliver!, 1968 (dir. Carol Reed)
Like I said about Gigi, a musical should not be boring. I didn’t think I could dislike a musical more than I disliked Gigi and then I saw Oliver!. The thing that’s so bad about Oliver! is that it doesn’t even have good production value going for it. The colors are just so muted and blah. I understand that perhaps this was done to set the tone of Victorian, at the height of the industrial revolution, but I just feel there must have been a way to achieve that aesthetic without being so blah. I enjoyed Oliver Reed in this film, but he could read the phonebook and I’d probably enjoy it. Maybe I’d enjoy it more if I were more familiar with the story, but I think a film should be able to stand on its own and this film just does not do that. The film was nominated for eleven competitive Academy Award, plus one Honorary award (Onna White for her outstanding choreography achievement), winning five: Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor Jack Wild, Best Actor Ron Moody, Best Original Score (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Sound (won), Best Director Carol Reed (won) and Best Picture (won).
1. How Green Was My Valley, 1941 (dir. John Ford)
I cannot even fully express how boring this film is. This is the kind of film that makes people not like classic films. Also it beat Citizen Kane, aka the film most often cited as the greatest film ever made. This is perhaps the biggest Oscar tragedy in the Awards’ history. Let’s also discuss how this film was made when at least a few films each year were made in color, so you’d think the studio would make a film called How GREEN Was My Valley in color, right? I have no idea why it wasn’t, I can just say maybe it would have been better, or at least a little prettier, if it were. But really, when the best thing about a film is little Roddy McDowell’s cute face, you’ve got some problems. I mean, I understand that it’s a film about a struggling working class family, and yes the dynamic between the characters was great, but it didn’t do much to get me to really care about any of the characters. Usually I enjoy John Ford’s films, but this was really a big giant miss for me. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five: Best Sound Recording, Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actress Sara Allgood, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best B&W Cinematography (won), Best B&W Art Direction-Interior Decoration (won), Best Supporting Actor Donald Crisp (won), Best Director John Ford (won), Best Picture (won).
Posted on October 30, 2010, in the Academy Awards, Top List and tagged Casablanca, Chariots of Fire, Gigi, Gone With The Wind, Grand Hotel, How Green Was My Valley, Kramer vs. Kramer, Marty, Oliver!, Out of Africa, Rocky, the Academy Awards, The English Patient, The Godfather, The Oscars, West Side Story, Wings. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.