Wednesday, September 12, 2012

10 Most Game Changing Best Picture Winners


A lot of good movies win the Best Picture Oscar. As do a lot of bad ones. And instead on harping on the best and crappiest of the lot, I thought it’d be fun to highlight 10 films that bucked the trend with their Best Picture wins and, perhaps, paved way for movies similar to them.

I think Schindler’s List is a perfect film, but it certainly didn’t change the Oscar game by winning an award everyone knew it was going to win anyway. Point is, this isn’t a list of the best films that have won the top prize, but rather the ones that broke the most barriers, for better or worse.


(Titles link to respective Oscar speeches.)
I honestly have no idea how Billy Wilder got The Lost Weekend made, let alone took it all the way to a Best Picture win. The film (which, for the record, is a masterpiece of American cinema, and, for my money, the finest film Wilder ever directed) tells the story of a hopeless, conniving alcoholic going on an epic binge. It’s the downfall scene from Shame, except tamer and spread over an hour and 40 minutes.

It also proved that Best Picture winners didn’t have to be needlessly sentimental. They could convey pain, and them some.

Marty (1955) 
Marty was clear evidence that the film that took the Academy’s highest honor didn’t have to be dead serious, overtly funny, painlessly long, or impressively epic. Rather, they could just be a simple story about a simple guy who falls into simple love.

The Apartment, Annie Hall, hell, even Driving Miss Daisy should all give credit to Marty.

This one kind of goes without saying. In fact, much like The Lost Weekend, I’m still stunned Norman Jewison was able to get a film in which, among other things, a black man slaps a white man, released in the late ‘60s. He did, and it secured Oscar glory. Well deserved Oscar glory, that is.

It’s important to note that In the Heat of the Night broke multiple barriers; its Best Picture win not nearly being the chief most important one.

Midnight Cowboy (1969) 
In late 1968, Jack Valenti banished the Hays Code from controlling film ratings and fought for the MPAA to take over. The next year, an X-rated movie won the Best Picture Oscar for the first time.

I’m a rather outspoken critic against the MPAA, but there are times when it is necessary (and appropriate) to relent. Had the MPAA never taken control of film ratings, Midnight Cowboy would’ve never won Best Picture (or, quite frankly, have been made). This film’s big Oscar win is arguably the most significant in the Academy’s history. It paved the way for the geniuses that would denominate the ‘70s. We’re still reaping the benefits of this one.

Can you name me another sequel that has won Best Picture after its predecessor had pulled off the same feat?

That’s reason enough to include it here. But the fact that the film broke all the damn rules and still pulled it out just cements its inclusion.

The Deer Hunter was by no means the first war film to win Best Picture, but it was the first to win for depicting a war as unpopular as Vietnam.

More so than any other film I’ve ever scene, The Deer Hunter captures the true hell of war. It doesn't glamorize the soldier or romanticize the battle, it shows that if you go to war, you come home fucked up. If you come home at all.

The Deer Hunter is one of my top five films of all time, which, incidentally, makes it my favorite Best Picture winning film. This didn’t change the game so much as it completely rewrite it.

If The Silence of the Lambs proved anything, it's that you didn’t have to break the bank with giant landscapes and epic stories to nab the top prize. Creating an entertaining, amusing, scarier than hell contemporary thriller was enough to get you there.

Now, granted, the next seven films that won Best Picture were all period piece epics, but The Silence of the Lambs opened the door for smaller (worthy) films in a way that many would be thankful for later.

American Beauty (1999) 
The crop of flicks produced in the year 1999 was game changing enough, and the fact that so many of them were made independently from major movie studios only cemented the fact that indies were here to stay.

American Beauty was a $15 million dollar ass kicker that fused the notions of strict comedy and heavy drama together seamlessly. I often see this film on lists of the Worst Best Picture Winners of All Time, which I really do not understand. But any way you look at it, it’s impossible to deny the indie stamp American Beauty has left on the Best Picture Oscar.

Crash (2005) 
A few Best Picture winners had proved what Crash solidified – you don’t have to be the best, you just have to be. Rocky, Dances with Wolves, Shakespeare in Love and countless others demonstrated that even if you are up against far superior films, critical acclaim and public opinion can be outweighed by the powers that be.

Crash is by far the most drastic example of this. It’s win baffled damn near everyone, from the man who presented the Oscar to the people who accepted it. But make no mistake: Crash’s win changed the Oscar landscape indefinitely. It proved that anything can win. Period.

The Artist (2011) 
Was The Artist my favorite film from last year? No, not at all. In fact, it didn’t even grace my Top 15 of the year. No matter, its win proved that openness isn’t dead. You can make a black and white silent film starring no one anyone has heard of, and still come out on top.

Director Michel Hazanavicius fought tirelessly to get this film made, and you have to respect him for sticking to his vision. In my opinion, The Artist was certainly up against far better films, but when it won, I was upset in the slightest. There’s nothing wrong in proving the underdog right. 

36 comments:

  1. I remember the Oscar year with American Beauty being such an extremely tough race...there were SO many great films to choose from. And it blows my mind that this film could ever fall on a "worst" anything list. Really?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know right?! But I see it listed as one of the least deserving Best Pic winners all the time. Don't agree at all. But oh well.

      1999 was just a goddamn great year for movies.

      Delete
  2. Cool list. Love what you said about Silence of the Lambs. That film is ahmazing and I'm glad it won.
    I really have to get cracking on some of these...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Yeah that Silence of the Lambs win was big. The fact that it won the Top 5 was damn near unheard of.

      Delete
  3. Interesting list man, I would definitely put 'The Hurt Locker' somewhere here. It was a movie that was made for 15 million, barely made profit at the US Box Office, and had to go up against the double whammy of James Cameron and his blue-money-making-furry baby 'Avatar'. I think It goes without saying that years from now Oscar voters will be proud of the choices they made, with both best director and picture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was definitely close to putting The Hurt Locker on here, for all the reasons you mentioned. Proved that the little guy can trump the giant. Love that movie.

      Delete
  4. Being the classic film person that I am, I would've put The Best Years of Our Lives on here. That was one of the first films to display soldiers returning from the war.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was another one that was close to making the cut. Really fantastic movie. Every actor in that is perfect.

      Delete
  5. Nice list, I still haven't seen the first 2 but I'll get around to it.

    In The Heat of the Night was definitely a game changer. So much so that Norman Jewison went on to make "A Soldier's Story".....which is THE SAME GODDAMN MOVIE! Of course, it got another Best Picture nomination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, yeah that pretty much is the same damn flick. I kinda hate when directors do that, unless they do it well, of course haha.

      I cannot recommend The Lost Weekend highly enough. A perfect film.

      Delete
  6. I've watched American Beauty the other night, and I'm still coming off the high it put me on. It was so freaking good! There was so many layers to it; it's definitely one of those films you have to watch some 2-3 times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh was that the first time you had seen it? Yeah, that movie creeps in and stays. Love the hell out of it.

      Delete
  7. Oh I agree about Crash. To this day it's one of the most shameful things Academy did, if this won over Brokeback pretty much anything can happen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! That's exactly what I meant. Did it deserve to win? Fuck no. But it did, and that means anything can.

      Delete
  8. Love your take on a Best Picture top 10 list. They're all memorable game-changers, so its a great list. I wouldn't even consider The Lost Weekend as one of Wilder's top 5, but now I want to give it another look.

    Oh, I would add Grand Hotel as an honorable mention. It might not be as game changing as these picks, but it went 1/1 at the Oscars, winning Best Picture and nothing else. While no other film has done that, it proves it is possible for the films with few nominations to win.

    The Deer Hunter is in your top 5? I've been meaning to rewatch it for ages. Might dig into that and 25th Hour this weekend. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh man, The Lost Weekend is THE Wilder film, in my opinion. I know you live and die by The Apartment (which is awesome), but The Lost Weekend is it for me.

      Grand Hotel is an inspired choice, and for a cool reason.

      DId you get a chance to catch 25th Hour and The Deer Hunter over the weekend? Two of my absolute faves.

      Delete
    2. I did manage to rewatch 25th Hour, and you're right: masterpiece. Don't know if it can dethrone Do the Right Thing as Spike's best, but it's at least his second best. Brilliant performances, and that score is one of my favorites in recent years.

      Planning to rewatch The Deer Hunter later this week.

      Delete
    3. Nice man. Yeah, Do the Right Thing is absolutely perfect. No argument here. Have you seen Malcolm X?

      Wow.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, I love Malcolm X. I guess it'd be #3.

      Delete
  9. Great list, I imagine most of these films wouldnt be as shocking to my modern eyes however.

    Oh and in response to the godfather II question:
    How many awards did Lord of the Rings get? I could never keep track.
    But I agree, it is very rare.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not necessarily saying the films themselves are shocking (there isn't anything remotely shocking about Marty, for example) but there wins were, and are (to me), very shocking.

      Not really sure what you mean about the LOTR wins. The third one won Best Pic, but neither of the first two did. Godfather II is the only sequel to win Best Pic after its predecessor had. Ya dig?

      Delete
  10. Terrific list, and you did an excellent job of defending each choice. The Deer Hunter is a great film, though brutal. I recently saw it for the second time after many years. I am surprised that American Beauty made it on anyone's "Worst Of" list, but I'll admit it took a second viewing for me to see what a terrific movie it is. Being interested in addiction, naturally, I've been planning to watch The Lost Weekend for ages. For some reason, I've never gotten around to it. Maybe I'll go ahead and move it to the top of my Netflix queue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks!

      I'm always surprised when American Beauty is called one of the worst Best Pics ever. So lame.

      Okay, if you are interested in addiction, then you will be mesmerized by The Lost Weekend. Definitely throw that to the top of your queue.

      Delete
  11. Splendid list,Alex.Oscar needs more game-changing best pictures.

    In 2005,if Broken Back Mountain has won,it would be more game-changing,but Oscar did not get the balls.

    Another game-changing Best Picture I can think of is No Country for Old Men,it's very rare for Oscar to give it to a picture made in such Elite POV,definitely beyond average audience's understandings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks man!

      I agree, had Brokeback won, it would've been as game-changing (if not more) than Crash's win. No Country's win was epic, no doubt. I think after the absurdity of Crash's win, the Academy started to get edgier with its Best Pic wins. The Departed is violent as shit, No Country is very artsy, Slumdog is mostly non English, The Hurt Locker is bold.... and now they're back on a sentimentality kick. Oh well!

      Delete
  12. Speaking of American Beauty while i don't remember it well i do know my dad really didn't like it. In fact, it kind of put him off Sam Mendez because he thought Sam wrote it.

    Anyways there are some here i need to watch and others i saw a while ago and don't remember well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool man. I highly recommend most of the movies on this list. American Beauty is a great one.

      Delete
  13. At this point I don't consider the Oscars any more relevant than the Grammys. They're just...wrong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep. Yet still, I am undeniably drawn to them. Sigh.

      Although I think last year's was the first year I totally tuned out though. After Streep won I was like, "This show is an embarrassment."

      Delete
  14. People didn't like American Beauty!?! It's in my Top 10 ever. Awesome list, I've actually seen most of these for once, will be good to catch up on the other game changers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, isn't that crazy? But some people really do hate on that flick. Weird. Glad you like the list!

      Delete
  15. I would also put "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" up there because I believe it's the only fantasy film to win Best Picture (and like "The Godfather Part II" was also a sequel). This is a really interesting list and I'm intrigued to see what route the Oscars will go down this year. Will it be another "sentimental" win or something a little more hard edged? It's still up in the air at this point.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get where you're coming from in picking that one, but man, I detest all of the LOTR movies. I can appreciate that people like them, but they just aren't for me.

      Here's to hoping the Academy shakes things up this year!

      Delete
  16. I thought all your points were well made, except for Crash. It seems to come down to "I didn't like this" therefore it's win in unjustifiable. I'm not disagreeing on whether it should have won or not, but with the reason for its inclusion.

    People have been hating the Best Picture winner much further back than 2005. You could just have easily replaced Crash with Ordinary People, Around the World in 80 Days, or The Broadway Melody as movies where people just go "huh?" and that can be used to say that they showed anything can win.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose it comes down to the fact that I have hardened proof that Crash was a major "huh" winner the moment it won, whereas Ordinary People, 80 Days and Melody are only "huh" winners to me in hindsight. I honestly have no clue if those films winning provoked WTF reactions at the time in which they won.

      Crash, however, I know for certain.

      Delete
    2. Also, I do like Crash, just not nearly as much as any of the other films it was up against. I'd give it a B-. Not half bad. Sho'nuff.

      Delete