Rank ‘Em: Academy Award Best Picture Winners

#50: In the Heat of the Night (1967)

1967 was a fascinating year for the Oscars. Just look at those nominees. Two New Hollywood films, two socially conscious Civil Rights-type films, and one Big Hollywood mega-musical. There’s even a book charting the shift to New Hollywood using these five films as the basis. It’s not surprising that Oscar ultimately chose one of the two Sidney Poitier-starring films, allowing themselves to feel socially progressive without actually choosing either of the films from directors who would soon shake the cages of Hollywood. In the Heat of the Night is a good film, pairing Poitier as a black federal investigator with Rod Steiger as a racist Southern sheriff to solve a race-driven case. It’s well-done, but a bit on the nose.

Did it deserve to win? Not really
Other nominees: Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
My favorite film that year: Bonnie and Clyde

#49: The Sound of Music (1965)

Most people I know either love The Sound of Music to bits or think it’s incredibly sentimental and mawkish. I’m somewhere in the middle. I grew up watching the Von Trapp family (my mom was in the first category above), and I do enjoy the film, but it’s way too gorram long for what it needs to be, and it is a bit too much at times, especially in the somewhat unbelievable romance between Maria and the Captain. That said, the early scenes with Maria and the children are rather delightful, and I always enjoy seeing Eleanor Parker, even in such a thankless role as the Baroness Von Schrader.

Did it deserve to win? Sure
Other nominees: Darling, Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns
My favorite film that year: Pierrot le fou

#48: The Hurt Locker (2009)

Or, the little indie war film that could come out of nowhere and sweep the Academy Award right off Avatar‘s plate. As you probably know, I’m no fan of Avatar, so I was fine with that, but I still don’t fully understand its win. It’s a solid little contemplative war film, but that’s about it. Jeremy Renner is good, the sense of numbness and frustration is good, the action scenes when they happen are good. But nothing’s great.

Did it deserve to win? Not really
Other nominees: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
My favorite film that year: Inglourious Basterds

#47: Rain Man (1988)

A confident, egotistical man with a definite Type A personality ends up having to travel cross-country with his autistic brother. Could be either a mawkish lesson film or a ridiculous comedy with that description; Rain Man is closer to the former, with a young Tom Cruise being schooled in the art of being a human being by Dustin Hoffman as the savant, but it doesn’t go too far into maudlin territory, remaining a very watchable and well-done film.

Did it deserve to win? Sure
Other nominees: The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, Working Girl
My favorite film that year: Die Hard

#46: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

A film almost tailor-made for the Oscars, with its story of an underprivileged boy given the opportunity to go on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire who somehow knows all the answers thanks to his storied experiences as a kid in the slums. Kids, romance, crime, action, violence, drama, comedy, beating-the-odds, it’s all here, and yet the film doesn’t really come across as overly manipulative. It is calculating, of course, but by and large, it works better than it should, thanks to Danny Boyle’s exuberant direction and the casting of the kids.

Did it deserve to win? Maybe
Other nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader
My favorite film that year: Revolutionary Road

#45: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

This is going to seem a surprisingly low placement for this film to a lot of people, I think. Pretty much everyone I know loves this movie and loves Nicholson in it. I still don’t really get the whole Nicholson thing (I like him in Chinatown and Easy Rider and not much else – maybe Batman), and that probably affected my enjoyment of this movie quite a lot. I thought it was good, well-made, and had some interesting things going on, but it wasn’t quite great for me. So here it stands, almost exactly in the middle of my list.

Did it deserve to win? Maybe
Other nominees: Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville
My favorite film that year: Nashville

#44: Tom Jones (1963)

An adaptation of one of the earliest English-language novels ever written, Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones (1749). The story is a picaresque adventure, following the titular bastard foundling as he’s taken in by rural gentry and grows up in the English countryside. It’s largely comic, and where the book playfully draws on earlier styles of literature, the film shows a high level of self-awareness, throwing in silent film sections and often breaking the fourth wall. The film is a fun comedy, and a lot more delightful than costume films often are, but it’s pretty slight overall.

Did it deserve to win? Maybe
Other nominees: America America, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, Lilies of the Field
My favorite film that year: The Birds

#43: Chicago (2002)

Here’s a perhaps surprisingly high placement, though it’s still shy of half-way up. Everyone I know seems to hate this movie. And I understand some of the reasons why – Renee Zellweger is on the annoying side, Richard Gere can’t really sing, and even if you like musicals, the numbers here are not shot or edited well by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, I still like the story here enough, with its satire on the media of entertainment, and I like the general narrative style enough, with the jumping back and forth between reality and fantasy, and I like the songs enough, and I like Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, and Catherine Zeta-Jones enough that I come out on the positive side overall, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Did it deserve to win? Not really
Other nominees: Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist
My favorite film that year: Adaptation.

#42: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

This one is an interesting case, because I generally like prisoner of war films fairly well (The Great Escape, Grand Illusion), and this one is really highly regarded, yet I’m not really a huge fan of it. Even weirder, the part I usually like in POW films (the escape attempts) is my least favorite part here. The plot with Alec Guinness as the British commander expecting special treatment for his officers from the Japanese and then doing his damnedest to build a good bridge for the enemy is quite intriguing. The plot with William Holden escaping and then leading a commando unit to blow up the bridge is super-boring. Ah well.

Did it deserve to win? Sure
Other nominees: Peyton Place, Sayonara, 12 Angry Men, Witness for the Prosecution
My favorite film that year: Nights of Cabiria

#41: My Fair Lady (1964)

I sometimes give My Fair Lady a hard time because it’s an example of the overblown, over-produced musicals that studios made a TON of in the 1960s (and that I don’t tend to like as much as musicals from earlier eras), but I should lay off. Aside from the fact that they should’ve let Julie Andrews reprise her role in the Broadway play (not that Audrey Hepburn is bad or anything; just saying), this is a pretty solid film. A little overlong, perhaps, but Rex Harrison is great in his signature role as caustic language professor Henry Higgins, and the Lerner & Loewe songs are classics.

Did it deserve to win? Maybe
Other nominees: Becket, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Mary Poppins, Zorba the Greek
My favorite film that year: Band of Outsiders

#40: Mrs. Miniver (1942)

One of the most stalwart entries in the “WWII homefront” subgenre, with Greer Garson as the titular matriarch of a British family living through the lead-up to WWII, the Dunkirk evacuation, and the Blitz. Released soon after the US entered the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the film is credited with galvanizing support for the war effort. For the remainder of the war, director Wyler served as a major in the Air Force, shooting war documentaries, often flying over enemy territory himself to get the footage. Mrs. Miniver is definitely a movie of its time, and it’s propagandistic to some degree, but it works as drama as well. It also marks probably the best team-up of Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, who would be teamed in some eight movies together.

Did it deserve to win? Sure
Other nominees: 49th Parallel, Kings Row, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Pied Piper, The Pride of the Yankees, Random Harvest, The Talk of the Town, Wake Island, Yankee Doodle Dandy
My favorite film that year: To Be or Not to Be

#39: Gladiator (2000)

It’s become popular in some blogger circles to hate on Gladiator, but I just can’t do it. Sure, it’s got its corny moments (running your hands through wheat fields looks pretty, but is almost an insta-cliche), but the action, the battles, the intrigue, it’s all as solid here as in any sword and sandal movie, and with better pacing and more brutality to keep it from dragging the way a lot of the older entries in the genre tend to do. There were better films in 2000, certainly, but this one holds up just fine.

Did it deserve to win? Not really
Other nominees: Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic
My favorite film that year: O Brother Where Art Thou?

#38: Hamlet (1948)

Laurence Olivier is probably best remembered now for his many largely successful attempts to bring Shakespeare to the screen, and Hamlet is probably his most successful. With moody cinematography and a brooding characterization, Olivier’s Hamlet dabbles in Gothic drama and skirts the edges of Expressionism, skewing a little older than Shakespeare’s but still providing a commanding and nearly definitive screen version of the play. It is also the first non-American-produced film to win Best Picture, which caused something of an uproar at the time.

Did it deserve to win? Sure
Other nominees: Johnny Belinda, The Red Shoes, The Snake Pit, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
My favorite film that year: The Red Shoes

#37: You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

Frank Capra’s second Best Picture win was for this film, sandwiched in between Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and not quite as good as either of those films, if you ask me. Still, it’s a solid family comedy, with lovers James Stewart and Jean Arthur dealing with the inevitable culture clash between his straight-laced family of businessmen and bankers and her free-spirited, nearly bohemian clan. It’s a piece of socioeconomic fluff that fit perfectly with the just-out-of-the-depression time period, but does seem a little on the corny side now, despite my resistance to devaluing Capra’s very fine work as Capracorn. Still, any chance to watch this set of actors (not only Stewart and Arthur, but also Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold, Spring Byington, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and a very young Ann Miller) do their thing is all right with me.

Did it deserve to win? Maybe
Other nominees: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters, Grand Illusion, Jezebel, Pygmalion, Test Pilot
My favorite film that year: The Adventures of Robin Hood

#36: From Here to Eternity (1953)

This film is mostly associated in film buff consciousness with the censor-defying scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling around in the surf, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s a war film with almost no war, only the battles between a bunch of hard-headed military men stationed at Pearl Harbor in the months leading up to the Japanese attack. It’s a quite good film, mostly resting on the strength of the several solid performances, including Supporting Oscar wins for Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed.

Did it deserve to win? Sure
Other nominees: Julius Caesar, The Robe, Roman Holiday, Shane
My favorite film that year: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

#35: Ben-Hur (1959)

The film that won the record for most Academy Award wins until Titanic overtook it, and still one of the most impressive sword and sandal films ever made. The story of prominent Israelite Judah Ben-Hur and his capture and slavery at the hands of the Romans is well-known, but it’s the Charlton Heston’s never-give-up glower and determination that shine through. Oh, right, and the chariot race. Also that. For personal reasons, I enjoy seeing the intersections of Ben-Hur’s story with the story of Christ (in fact, the silent version of the film is entitled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ to play up that connection). It’s overlong, but that’s how epics should be, really.

Did it deserve to win? Maybe
Other nominees: Anatomy of a Murder, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Nun’s Story, Room at the Top
My favorite film that year: The 400 Blows

#34: The English Patient (1996)

This film’s title has become almost synonymous with the idea of really long, boring films that win the Academy Award. And yes, it’s very long. But I actually like this film quite a bit. Part of it is my fascination with desert scenery (I think it’s absolutely gorgeous, and the only other film that can match this in terms of breathtaking desert cinematography is Lawrence of Arabia – more on that later), and part of is I really like the subplot with Juliette Binoche, who is delightful, and Naveen Andrews. Granted, that means the whole chunk of film with Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas isn’t my favorite, but it’s still not bad, and I still like the film overall.

Did it deserve to win? Not really
Other nominees: Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine
My favorite film that year: Fargo

#33: Gigi (1958)

To be honest, I quite disliked this film the first time I saw it. Mostly I was too young and sheltered and very confused about what exact relationship Gigi was supposed to have with Gaston. Older, wiser, and more jaded, the film works a lot better for me, thanks to Vincente Minnelli’s flamboyant use of color and widescreen and some great Lerner & Loewe songs. They’re well-known for their “soliloquy” songs, of which Henry Higgins’ in My Fair Lady are the most famous, but I almost prefer the use of “Gaston’s Soliloquy” here – perhaps again because Minnelli’s style of shooting it is much more visually arresting than Cukor’s in My Fair Lady. The sophisticated melodrama was one of Minnelli’s specialties when he wasn’t doing musicals, and here they’re merged quite enjoyable together.

Did it deserve to win? Not really
Other nominees: Auntie Mame, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones, Separate Tables
My favorite film that year: Vertigo

#32: How Green Was My Valley (1941)

This film gets a lot of flack almost purely because it beat out Citizen Kane for Best Picture. And granted, Citizen Kane is the better film. But that doesn’t mean How Green Was My Valley is a bad one. I mean, John Ford didn’t really make bad films. This one follows a mining family in Ireland living on the brink of poverty. It’s not happy stuff, but the film intersperses moments of brightness and inspiring determination in between the gloomy bits, and in a slightly less competitive year, this could’ve easily been a solid winner. It probably won in part because The Grapes of Wrath (also a better movie) didn’t win the year before; the Academy does stuff like that from time to time. Even so, this film deserves to be viewed on its own, and it stands up quite well when it is.

Did it deserve to win? Maybe
Other nominees: Blossoms in the Dust, Citizen Kane, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, One Foot in Heaven, Sergeant York, Suspicion
My favorite film that year: The Lady Eve

#31: The Lost Weekend (1945)

There are other Billy Wilder films I like much more than this one, but I can still remember my thought when I first saw this film – “wow, Billy Wilder can do every genre, even hard-hitting alcoholism drama, and make it immensely entertaining.” And I still hold to that. Ray Milland is a writer who’d do almost anything to fuel his alcoholism, and the film narrates one weekend where he does just about everything to get a drink. It’s harrowing to some degree (probably less so now than in 1945), but also has a noirish style to it to liven it up. And the DT hallucination scene is fresh in my memory even now, years after I watched the film.

Did it deserve to win? Sure
Other nominees: Anchors Aweigh, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Mildred Pierce, Spellbound
My favorite film that year: Mildred Pierce

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Kurt Halfyard
Admin

MONSTER POST!

Andrew James
Admin

This has got to be the largest post ever for RowThree. By quite a long shot I have to imagine.

It’s four pages long! I didn’t even know this site did that. Was that automatic Jandy or did you set that up?

Marina Antunes
Admin

I was just thinking that this is EPIC. I’m not sure where to start but GWTW would definitely be higher up on my list mind you, I haven’t seen all of these titles (though surprising myself, I’ve seen about 80%) but GWTW is one of my all time favourites πŸ™‚

Ross Miller
Member

Holy crap Jandy! Epic post indeed! That must have taken you ages.

Only ones that that stood out as contentious for me are Crash (sorry, I LOVE that film) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest being so low.

trackback

[…] on that at some point. Anyway. The whole post, with all 72 Best Picture winners I’ve seen, is here on Row Three. Here’s just a sampling of films culled from throughout the […]

Mythical Monkey
Guest

Love the “Yes, Sure, maybe, no” way of rating the films — a choice of awards look so final and decisive but some years it’s really a case of well, I guess this one rather than that one.

You won’t get any arguments from me re: Crash or Shakespeare in Love — the former just made me mad, while I’ve thought the latter was sublime from the moment I first saw it in a theater to the last time I saw it on DVD.

Jonathan
Guest

Holy. Freaking. Moly.

toro913
Guest

I saw Gigi very recently and found it to be by far the worst Oscar Best Picture winner I’ve seen so far (Crash is 2nd). I have no issues with musical, if there are a few decent songs or some good dance sequences I can usually give them a pass. This lacks all of that, but it does have some lavish design (Andrew will love the pagentry). Leslie Caron is as cute as a button, so there’s that.

David Brook
Admin

That’s mightily impressive Jandy. As with many others, I’d have Cuckoo’s Nest much higher. I agree on Crash though, I didn’t hate the film, but I didn’t particularly like it either.

My disagreements though: Slumdog Millionaire – that’s probably my least favourite of the list (I haven’t seen many of the pre-70’s films to be honest). I’ve always thought The Departed was overrated too. I thought Shakespeare in Love was nice enough, but not amazing.

Also, how good a year was 1974/5?! Godfather Part II, The Conversation and Chinatown are all top ten/twenty material for me.

Gerry
Guest

Forrest Gump heartwarming?

You seem to be missing the fact that it’s about a little girl who gets abused by her father and as a result spends most of the rest of her life compulsively seeking out men to abuse her.

When she comes to terms with her abuse she discovers she has AIDs and dies.

Forrest Gump is an entertaining and great film, totally, in my opinion, deserving of it’s best picture oscar.

Andrew James
Admin

+1

Gerry
Guest

Fair enough.

Forrest, while perhaps not understanding the psychology of the situation, recognised that the abuse had a major effect on Robin Wrights character and had her fathers house bulldozed, seeming sad and angry while this was happening.

Gerry
Guest

Appreciation of film, like any other art form, is subjective Kurt. I thought Contact was garbage.

You’re right Jandy, the Forrest bits were heartwarming, e.g. his first winning run on the football field was rousing and emotionally affected me (as well as making me laugh). I just wouldn’t call the film as a whole heartwarming, because of poor Robin Wrights character.

Engaging the audience emotionally is the goal of most good screenwriters and Forrest Gump emotionally engaged me big time.

I really enjoyed your article, and your pro Hitchcock bias Jandy.

What do you think of Billy Wilder?

Andrew James
Admin

While I agree with Kurt that Contact is awesome, I think Gump is pretty great too. Hating on that movie just proves you’re an asshole.

πŸ˜‰

David Brook
Admin

I think Contact is underrated, but I don’t think it’s amazing. It starts very well, but the ending gets very sentimental with her father and everything. That opening shot is phenomenal though even though it’s been ripped off since.

Derek Armstrong
Guest

I got a tingle down my spine when I arrived at #1 and saw what it was. I just watched All About Eve for the second time about three weeks ago, and my oh my, is that a great film.

I also love your unabashed appreciation of such films as Braveheart and Titanic.

I am making my way through the best picture winners myself. I believe my total is somewhere in the 50s. I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet on it for several years now, but I seem to be knocking off only one or two movies a year. I guess that’s what happens when there’s so much else to see and you have a young child.

I would love to steal this idea for my own blog, but a) there’s no way I’m going to do all that work, and b) it’s your idea, you did it very well, and probably no one else needs to repeat it. πŸ™‚

Stevee
Guest

Wow. What a post. Maybe when I’m like, 97 and have seen every film in the Academy’s existence I might do one just like it.

No seriously, good job. And fine choice for #1, too! Brilliant movie. Although in terms of my choice, I’d put Schindler’s List at #1. After all, it is my second favourite movie of all-time.

Nat Almirall
Guest

Wow. Damn. Expletive that has yet to be invented. Well done! Glad to see you young’ns appreciating All Quiet on the Western Front and The Thin Man. Likewise I applaud your ballsiness (ovariness?) in putting No Country so high up.

I do think you vastly underrate Patton, which, aside from Scott’s amazing performance, the iconic opening scene, and the score, is a surprisingly gorgeous film.

You also need to see A Man for All Seasons and Rocky, stat. Rocky may seem like an overly “guy” film, but, as my sister wonderfully observed, it has a much bigger appeal.

And Tom Jones! is, to me, the best comedy ever filmed. I can’t stand Henry Fielding’s writing, but I think Richardson’s direction is incredibly creative, from the opening silent sequence (and switch to silence at certain points) to the use of stills to trick photography to breaking the fourth wall (“Did you see her take fifty pounds from my pocket?!?”) some 15 years before it became fashionable.

Of course everyone’s going to quibble with your choices, but, above all, kudos to you for making this list. I may intensely disagree with a lot of your selections, but this is awesome.

Nat Almirall
Guest

And Night of the Hunter wins 1955.

David
Guest

What a list!!

I did a much simpler version on my blog,and we have one thing in common,our favorites are always different from the choices of the Academy.

SJHoneywell
Guest

Impressive list. I know I haven’t seen this many winners. By my count, there’s close to 500 films that have been nominated for Best Picture. I’ve seen about 40%.

By rough count, I’ve seen 50 of these.

Of course, my order would be very different. West Side Story would be nowhere near my top 10, for instance. Neither would It Happened One Night, mainly because I agree with you on The Thin Man.

trackback

[…] Rank β€˜Em: Academy Award Best Picture WinnersΒ –Β Row Three […]

trackback

[…] I just got finished defending How Green Was My Valley‘s Oscar win a week or so ago in my Oscars Rank ‘Em post, and here’s Kristen Thompson doing the same thing, only far more eloquently and in greater […]

ruth
Guest

I haven’t seen so many of these but since I just saw All About Eve for the first time last week, I could see it being on the top 10 at least. No qualms that you put it as #1 though, it’s certainly a masterpiece. I’ll be seeing Sunset Boulevard soon!

wpDiscuz