Monday, February 18, 2013

Oscar Week: Reviews of Every Best Picture Winner

A few years ago, in an amusing little twist of fate, I sat down and watched the final Best Picture winner that I hadn’t seen, which was the first film to ever win the top prize. And in my time of making my way through all of these films, I was privy to many exciting revelations, and a few dozen hours of intense monotony as well. Some of the films below are surprising accomplishments, others do next to nothing for me, while a handful simply speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on all the Best Picture winners, and feel free to share yours in the comments!

Wings dir. by William A. Wellman
The first-ever Best Picture winner is a crowning achievement for its or any era. The legendary place sequences (namely the film’s depiction of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel) are the real scene-stealers. I can’t say I was as invested in the love triangle plot as much as the film’s action set pieces, but Wings is damn solid all the same. A-

The Broadway Melody dir. by Harry Beaumont
Best to get this out of the way early: movie musicals aren’t for me. Or, better said, they are very rarely for me. That isn’t a fault of any particular film, but simply how my tastes are aligned. With that noted, The Broadway Melody (and its many musical numbers) is rather impressive, especially considering when it was made. But, like a handful of the early Best Picture winners, I’ve seen The Broadway Melody once, and that was certainly enough. B

All Quiet on the Western Front dir. by Lewis Milestone
All Quiet on the Western Front is an engrossing film that speaks strongly and definitively about war. The first two thirds of the film portray the politics a soldier must slug through with appropriate angst, but it’s during the film’s final act that it really takes off. An unforgettable war classic. A-

Cimarron dir. by Wesley Ruggles
Cimarron is a well-produced western, ambitious in its extensive narrative, with a fantastic land rush sequence and a few stellar gunfights. It’s worth noting that while I applaud the film’s depiction of fair treatment toward Native Americans, it’s a damn shame that its one black character is a complete caricature. B

Grand Hotel dir. by Edmund Goulding
This film’s perfect opening (in which every main character uses the same hotel room lobby phone) is what stays with me most from Grand Hotel. In addition, the movie’s long, unbroken shots do not go unnoticed, but the further I got into its running time, the less interested I became. Still, with a great cast and a daring climax, Grand Hotel is a worthy and memorable early Best Picture winner. B+

Cavalcade dir. by Frank Lloyd
One of seven sprawling epics to win Best Picture in the ‘30s, Cavalcade is arguably the one that stands out the least. It’s essentially life at the dawn of the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of one London family. Think Forrest Gump, but forgettable and dull. C

It Happened One Night dir. by Frank Capra
One of the best compliments I can give Capra’s It Happened One Night is that, in watching it, it is so clear that it deserves to be one of three movies to ever win the Big Five Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). Its slapstick humor, engaging performances and risqué plot make it a breeze to watch. It’s as good as you’ve probably heard. A

Mutiny on the Bounty dir. by Frank Lloyd
A hugely impressive, swashbuckling epic, Mutiny on the Bounty’s superb production quality (evident in its gorgeous black and white cinematography), as well as its special effects make it a real classic. The acting is superb throughout, and I might even venture that, in Fletcher Christian, Clark Gable delivered the best performance of his career. Surprisingly, this only won one Oscar out of its nominated eight. A

The Great Ziegfeld dir. by Robert Z. Leonard
A three-hour musical epic isn’t something I’m likely to remember all that well. What I do recall from The Great Ziegfeld was how impressed I was with its lavish set pieces and extended musical performances. And if I was impressed, I can’t imagine how audiences in the ‘30s felt. B-

The Life of Emile Zola dir. by William Dieterle
One of the most rewarding biopics of the decade, this retelling of the life of French author Émile Zola more than held my attention. With the great Paul Muni in the lead, and an encouraging script to work off of, The Life of Emile Zola deserves as much attention as any Best Picture winner of the ‘30s. A-

You Can’t Take It With You dir. by Frank Capra
Capra’s film about a boy’s stringent parents frowning upon his relationship with an eccentric young woman is purely Capracorn. So, if you’re a fan of the Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra smiles-and-cries M.O., then this film will certainly work for you. Me? I got a real kick out of Lionel Barrymore hamming it up as the girl’s idealist father; if anything, he makes the movie worth it. B

Gone With the Wind dir by. Victor Fleming
Like many of the films on this list, it’s hard to say something about Gone With the Wind that hasn’t already been said. But here’s my take: I dreaded having to sit down and watch a four hour film that most everyone considers to be a masterpiece. Fearing that failed expectations were inevitable, I planned to split this film up over two nights. Much to my surprise, I finished it in one sitting, and was stunned that it moved along as well as it did. Simply put: Gone With the Wind is, if anything, completely deserving of its hype. A

Rebecca dir. by Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock’s first American film (and only Best Picture winner) is a delightfully tense thriller that genuinely had me guessing until the end. No, it isn’t as accomplished as Hitch’s later films, but few thrillers are. Also, in Rebecca, Joan Fontaine gives one of the best, most criminally ignored female performances in any Hitchcock film. Although the Academy tried to save face by giving her the Oscar next year (for Hitch’s Suspicion), I’m stunned that she didn’t win for this film. A

How Green Was My Valley dir. by John Ford
This John Ford classic gets a bad rap, mostly because it beat Citizen Kane (and The Maltese Falcon) for the Oscar. But all told, How Green Was My Valley is a beautifully crafted tale about a family’s trials and tribulations as life long coal workers. There is no one plot line or story to follow; instead the audience simply lives with this family for an extended period of time. No hidden agendas, no didactic conclusions. Is this film as good as its competition? Nah. But that shouldn’t be reason to ignore it. A

Mrs. Miniver dir. by William Wyler
After writing my Zero Dark Thirty review, I realized that I have a steadfast admiration for movies that attempt to depict real life events so soon after those events actually took place. It doesn’t always merit good results, but my point is Mrs. Miniver gets huge props from me for depicting the harsh realities of surviving World War II, when many people around the world were doing just that. Lead actress Greer Garson (who still holds the record for giving the longest Oscar speech in history) is nothing short of spectacular here. Easily one of Wyler’s most daring films. A-

Casablanca dir. by Michael Curtiz
Casablanca depicts my favorite romance in cinema history. It’s a movie of immeasurable triumph – in acting, writing, directing, and, well, pretty much everything. A classic work of art that I will hold in my heart forever. A+

Going My Way dir. by Leo McCarey
“When I was 18, I thought my father was pretty dumb, after a while when I got to be 21, I was amazed to find out how much he’d learned in three years.”

Perfectly realized lines like that help make Going My Way one of the better Bing Crosby films I’ve seen. Interesting fact: Barry Fitzgerald is the only actor to be nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role, in the same movie, in the same year. He won Supporting Actor, and the Academy revised its rules so an actor can only be nominated in one category for each role. B+

The Lost Weekend dir. by Billy Wilder
The only reason I’ve seen many of the films on this list is simply because they won Best Picture. I knew next to nothing about a lot of them and, without their big wins, they would’ve certainly got unseen by me. Movies like The Lost Weekend made slugging through this list worth it. I had never heard of it, and frankly wasn’t excited to sit through it. Once its first scene concluded, I realized I was in the midst of something daring – something that went all in and broke all the rules, critics and censors be damned. The film is a character study of a desperate alcoholic in peril, and is by far my favorite Billy Wilder film. I’d love to know if the world was ready for The Lost Weekend when it was released. I know I sure as hell wasn’t when I got around to seeing it. A+

The Best Years of Our Lives dir. by William Wyler
When I think of the ‘40s, and how cinematically pleasing they were, my brain immediately shifts to the decade’s impact on film noir. But, really, the ‘40s were just damn solid, for nearly every genre. Wyler’s film about coming home from war is an unflinching examination about love, loss, and the hardships of understanding. Everyone here – Fredric March, Teresa Wright, Murna Loy, and especially Harold Russell – are just perfect. An expansive epic that is purposefully limited in scope, but sprawling in conviction. A

Gentleman’s Agreement dir. by Elia Kazan
Gentleman’s Agreement deserves to be ranked in the same category as The Lost Weekend, which is to say, it’s a film I knew nothing about, but was simply stunned by. The film depicts a journalist (Gregory Peck, delivering probably my personal favorite Peck performance), who goes undercover as a Jew to expose anti-Semitism in New York City. And honestly, I don’t know what’s more shocking: the story that the film chronicles, or the fact that the film was able to even get made. A fierce achievement from Kazan and Co. A

Hamlet dir. by Laurence Olivier
In what may be the definitive Shakespeare film adaptation, Olivier’s Hamlet is an absorbing retelling of a literary masterpiece. But, if I’m being honest, it’s one that failed to hold my full attention throughout. Blame it on taste as opposed to cinematic fault, but if I saw this as a play, with the same actors playing their respective roles, it would’ve held my concentration much better. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the hell out of it, but I’ll have no need to ever see it again. B+

All the King's Men dir. by Robert Rossen
While this is an enjoyable and well-paced film, Brokerick Crawford, who won a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar for playing the infamous Willie Stark, is the real standout here. Additionally, I really enjoyed watching Mercedes McCambridge mix it up as Stark’s assistant. Both her and Crawford really do make this movie. B+

All About Eve dir. by Joseph L. Mankewiecz
Because of its seemingly limitless praise, All About Eve is the kind of movie that may appear impossible to live up to its own hype. Well, thankfully, it does just that, as it is one of the finest depictions of stardom-turned-deceit that I’ve ever seen. It’s delightful in its characters’ dishonesty, and devilish in their obsession. A

An American in Paris dir. by Vincente Minnelli
Fans of musicals will surely be taken aback by Minnelli and Gene Kelly’s staging of so many iconic musical numbers, but, again, like many films of this genre, I can simply do without An American in Paris. There’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with the film itself, it just isn’t for me. B

The Greatest Show On Earth dir. by Cecil B. DeMille
Without this film’s many (many, many) circus performance scenes, there would be nothing working for it. Its backbone is nearly nonexistent, relying instead on lavish sets, impressive props and a slew of exited extras to move the film along. Jimmy Stewart is amusing in full clown makeup, but Charlton Heston’s acting is so forced and over the top, he practically ruins any scene not set in a circus ring. C

From Here to Eternity dir. Fred Zinnemann
Like Gone with the Wind and All About Eve, From Here to Eternity was a film I knew plenty about, but had virtually no interest in actually sitting through. And, also like those two films, Zinnemann’s classic romance completely blew me away. The story is solid and moves along briskly, making the viewer equally interested in two separate romances. The acting is universally remarkable throughout, with Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra, namely, putting in some of their best work. A lot of credit should be given to director Fred Zinnemann for battling the studios, in order for him to keep his original ending. A+

On the Waterfront dir. by Elia Kazan
The title of this post is call Brief Reviews for a reason. Some of the films that have won Best Picture are so solidly embedded in the cinematic landscape, that for me to lend a paragraph of text to its brilliance only feels paltry in comparison to all the praise that has come before. In short, On the Waterfront is a perfect film. Period. A+
Marty dir. by Delbert Mann
At just 94 minutes, Marty is the shortest Best Picture winner in history, but that certainly isn’t meant to take away from its charm. This light-hearted character study develops its titular character gracefully, and boasts a faultless script from the great Paddy Chayefsky. It’s really hard to not fall in love with Marty. A

Around the World in 80 Days dir. by Michael Anderson
I had often heard that Around the World in 80 Days was one of worst Best Picture winners of all time. And when I finally sat down to watch it, I found it hard to disagree. Sure the production value was unparalleled at the time, and the simple plot is rather catchy, but it’s just so, damn, boring. The movie is three hours long and, in my opinion, could easily be half that. Once was enough for me. No need ever again. C-

The Bridge on the River Kwai dir. by David Lean
Sometimes when I watch these older movies, part of the fun for me is attempting to put myself in the audiences’ shoes when the film was released. I cannot imagine how thrilling an adventure this film must have been in the late ‘50s. The fact that its suspense and thrill still holds up today is really saying something. And something that perhaps isn’t mentioned enough: through his Lt. Colonel Nicholson, Alec Guinness delivers one of the great depictions of clouded obsession ever captured on screen. His realization at the end is how actors win Oscars. Madness. Madness. A 

Gigi dir. by Vincente Minnelli
This fluffy musical, about a young, aimless girl who catches the eye of a proper gentleman, is exactly what you’d expect it to be. Which, from my perspective, is a breezy film that’s as weightless as air. Props, though, for it being one of the very few films to win every Oscar it was nominated for. B-

Ben-Hur dir. by William Wyler
I touched on this before, but Charlton Heston’s acting has never really worked for me. I understand that he was the big, brooding alpha male when movie audiences were in need of one, but his grandiose interpretation of nearly every character he ever played something I find off putting. Now, despite my aversion to Heston’s technique, Ben-Hur is, and always will be, a phenomenal achievement of cinema. Its famed chariot race has stood the test of time and remains one of film’s most thrilling sequences. Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed the rest of the film more, if I didn’t have to listen to Heston garble on for three and a half hours. B+

The Apartment dir. by Billy Wilder
Another audacious Wilder feat, The Apartment contains by far my favorite Lemmon/Wilder collaboration, and boasts one of cinema’s best female characters in Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik. This is the type of classic film that you can watch at most anytime – it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and it will make you appreciate. A+

West Side Story dir. by Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise
And here we have it, a Best Picture-winning musical that I absolutely adore. West Side Story is the kind of movie that gets everything right – catchy musical numbers, iconic songs, solid acting, and flawless direction – I just love the hell out of its whimsical world. A-

Lawrence of Arabia dir. by David Lean
Another perfect film that, due to purposeful space limitations, I don’t really have much to add to. One thing that always sticks out in my mind: on the DVD special features for this movie Steven Spielberg remembers the first time he saw Lawrence of Arabia, and how indifferent he was to it. But months later, he realized it was a masterpiece, and has remained one of his favorite films of all time. Now, this didn’t happen to me with Lawrence; I loved it right away. But I love it when movies take months to sneak up on you. That’s a great, great feeling. A+

Tom Jones dir. by Tony Richardson
This adventure/comedy romp equates to a gentle breeze. Albert Finney is a lot of fun here, and the film’s constant breaking of the fourth wall plays well with its overall goofy disposition, but I can’t say I recall anything particularly noteworthy about it. C+

My Fair Lady dir. by George Cukor
By now, you might be as bored reading about my aversion to musicals, as I am in actually writing about them. Is My Fair Lady entertaining? Sure. Are the costumes, musical numbers and extravagant set decorations well done? Of course. It’s just not for me. Although, Rex Harrison does kind of kill it here, while Audrey Hepburn is, just, well… let’s move on. B-

The Sound of Music dir. by Robert Wise
I’m not sure how I can justify my appreciation for The Sound of Music more than the other musicals on this list, but, for whatever reason, I enjoy this movie wholeheartedly. I appreciate its dramatic backdrop and the seriousness it lends to its material. It feels authentic, looks gorgeous, and remains wholly memorable. A-

A Man for All Seasons dir. by Fred Zinnermann
Of the many Fred Zinnermann films I’ve seen, A Man for All Seasons has to be the dullest. While Paul Scofield plays Sir Thomas More with undeniable power, I honestly cannot recall a single thing about the film aside from his performance. I know Oscar voters probably weren’t ready to give the big award to something as daring as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (which was nominated this year), but seriously, when was the last time you heard anyone talk about A Man for All Seasons? C

In the Heat of the Night dir. Norman Jewison
The with Hays Code very recently replaced by the MPAA, studios were just starting to get a little more freedom to flush out some angst on screen. When it was released, In the Heat of the Night spoke of our time, candidly commenting on race relations in America. The horrifying part? Watch it now, and it’s obvious that not a whole hell of a lot has changed. Goddamn shame. A

Oliver! dir. by Carol Reed
I’ve long since considered Oliver! to be the Academy’s final cry for hope. It was holding on to that good old-fashioned Hollywood. That feel-good film that made you smile and leave the theater with a little pep in your step. I’m not a fan of the movie, personally, but no matter how you look at it, Oliver! was the Academy’s last chance to retain The Old Way. From here on out, things would never be the same. C+

Midnight Cowboy dir. by John Schlesinger
With the Hays Code long gone and the MPAA in full command, filmmakers were finally released from their restrains, and told to run loose, with studio backing, no less. Midnight Cowboy was one of the first out of the gate, and the fact that it’s as grim and gut wrenching as it’s ever been really says something about how it was received back in the day. I simply cannot believe a movie about a bisexual street hustler and his pathetic con man friend was regarded so well when it was released. I suppose that shows you how remarkable the film really is. A+

Patton dir. by Franklin J. Schaffner
No, it’s certainly not as audacious as Midnight Cowboy (was anything at the time?), but Schaffner’s epic retelling of the most famous General in U.S. history is nothing short of thrilling. As the man himself, George C. Scott gives what must be one the finest performances of a real person in the history of film. Dude is Patton. B+

The French Connection dir. by William Friedkin
It’s really amusing to hear Friedkin talk about The French Connection now. On his director’s commentary, he talks casually about how they were making it up as they went. For the iconic car chase, they didn’t have any permits, they didn’t block the streets, they just shot the fuckin’ with Gene Hackman doing most of this own driving. Reckless? Perhaps. Masterful filmmaking? You bet your ass. I can watch The French Connection anytime, any day. It’s endlessly entertaining. A+

The Godfather dir. by Francis Ford Coppola
People, people – it’s… The Godfather. Ya dig? A+

The Sting dir. by George Roy Hill
The Sting doesn’t really get enough credit. Because Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s prior collaboration dominates must of the play (and because 1973 was a damn fine year for cinema), The Sting often gets overlooked in the discussion of great classic films. Point is, the film is as conniving today as it was then, which is a grand compliment. A

The Godfather Part II dir. by Francis Ford Coppola
Every few years, I sit down and watch all of The Godfather films. Right in a row – one, two, three (although I’ve become accustomed to skipping Part III). I used to watch intently and beg to discover which is better, Part I or Part II. Better? Hell, I don’t know. I suppose the original carries more weight, but the fact that it’s so hard to say, really speaks highly for both films. A+

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest dir. by Miloš Forman
I’ve long considered One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest one of the most daring films ever made. Point in fact, I haven’t a clue how the hell Forman was able to pull it off. It’s just so unsettling. Amusing bit of trivia: Foreman always had several cameras rolling at once, which meant that the actors never knew when they were being filmed, and, as a result, were forced to always stay in character. The authenticity paid off, as Cuckoo’s Nest will forever remain as an unparalleled look into an American mental institution. A+

Rocky dir. by John G. Avildsen
My guess as to why the Academy votes the way it does is no better than anyone else’s, but I honestly think that after dishing out the top prize to a handful of risqué pictures, the voters were ready to award the feel-good underdog. And, in the case of Rocky, I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that. No, Rocky isn’t my first (or fifth) pick as the best film of 1976, but its win proved precisely what the film itself was trying to encapsulate: no matter who you are or where you’re from, you can always have a shot. Rocky took a shot, and it won. Fair enough. B+

Annie Hall dir. Woody Allen
Arguably the most talked about Best Picture winner ever, in regards to its upsetting Star Wars for the prize, I feel it’s a shame that Oscar politics often take away from the brilliance of Annie Hall. It isn’t my favorite Woody Allen film, but Annie Hall really is the Woody Allen film. And, considering how taken I am with Allen’s films, I mean that to be a compliment of the highest order. A

The Deer Hunter dir. by Michael Cimino
By deduction, The Deer Hunter is my favorite Best Picture-winning film of all time. It’s the only film on this list that is in my Top 5 movies of all time, and that is for many, many reasons. Remember what I said about Spielberg’s reaction to Lawrence of Arabia? That is precisely what happened to me with The Deer Hunter. I was young the first time I saw it (hell, maybe too young), but when it was over, I respected its vision, but didn’t think much about it. A few months later, someone randomly asked me what I thought of it, and I instinctually called it a masterpiece. Which was not how I remembered it. I watched it immediately, and was informed that my instincts were indeed accurate. A+

Kramer vs. Kramer dir. by Robert Benton
This devastating depiction of divorce and parenting is as honest as ever. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep deliver career-best roles, and little Justin Henry simply shines as the young boy inadvertently stuck in the middle of this parents’ strife. The scene where Hoffman disrupts a holiday party for an impromptu job interview is one of the most desperately sincere moments I’ve ever seen. Breaks my heart and builds me up, all at the same time. A

Ordinary People dir. by Robert Redford
For me, of the most impressive things about Ordinary People has nothing whatsoever to do with the film itself. The fact that a Hollywood heartthrob was able to completely switch gears and step behind the camera so assuredly is something I respect immensely. Robert Redford assembled a fantastic crop of talent and delivered a gut wrenching tale of a family fallen from grief. It’s certainly no Raging Bull, but, then again, very few films are. A

Chariots of Fire dir. by Hugh Hudson
In terms of the Oscars, I believe Chariots of Fire to be the antithesis of Midnight Cowboy. When voters were ready to take a turn for the dark via Midnight Cowboy and several of the Best Picture-winning films after, they casually retreated to more sentimental come Chariots. But, in hindsight, that wasn’t necessarily a reflection of voting, but rather, of the films being released. In terms of American cinema, I consider the ‘80s to be a rather weak decade. There are a handful of classics, no doubt, but of the films that got the most attention at the time, like Chariots of Fire, few have stayed with me. C-

Gandhi dir. by Sir Richard Attenborough
Now, after that brief tirade on cinematic sentiment, I complete contradict myself by dishing praise for this remarkable biopic. Attenborough’s film rests almost entirely on the man who plays the titular peacekeeper, and damn if Ben Kingsley doesn’t just nail it. The man becomes Gandhi right before our very eyes, and it is simply mesmerizing to watch. Plucked from the stage to star in the film, Gandhi is perhaps best known for displaying the efforts of a genius actor, more than ready to forever imprint his talent onto the world of film. A-

Terms of Endearment dir. James L. Brooks
My favorite part about Terms of Endearment is its seamless editing. More so than its perfect acting, witty script, and thankfully restrained direction, Terms of Endearment is masterful at showing the passing of time, and what that can do to relationships. Given the Academy’s penchant for awarding massive epics during this time period, I’m amazed Terms of Endearment was able to beat The Right Stuff, but hell, more power to it. A-

Amadeus dir. by Miloš Forman
Like Gone with the Wind, All About Eve, From Here to Eternity, and many others, Amadeus was a film I purposefully put off, fearing complete indifference. And, also like those films, Amadeus wildly surpassed my expectations, and lived up to its hype. It’s the finest Best Picture epic of its time; more than deserving of its accolades. A

Out of Africa dir. by Sydney Pollack
Here’s what I remember from Out of Africa: Redford doing his Redford thing (compliment), Streep doing her Streep thing (compliment), my attention being more than held throughout (compliment), and, when it was over, knowing that I’d never have any reason to see it again. B

Platoon dir. by Oliver Stone
I think Platoon may be the most honest war film ever made. Written and directed by a guy who had been there, the film never attempts artifice, and never begs for your appreciation. It simply asks that you watch and think. This is the way it went down. This is what they had to go through. For better or worse, in all its shame and glory, Platoon is Vietnam. A+

The Last Emperor dir. by Bernado Bertolucci
Perhaps the most unBertolucci film Bertolucci ever made, The Last Emperor is a long-winded epic that uses a jumbled narrative to help justify its vast passage of time. The actors who depict the last Emperor of China at various stages in his life are all fantastic, and the film is impressive in its scope, but this is a long one to sit through. B+

Rain Man dir. by Barry Levinson
Rain Man is best defined by the Dustin Hoffman’s go for broke lead role. Hoffman has noted several times that, while shooting, he begged Levinson to replace him (Hoffman’s go-to suggestion was Richard Dreyfuss). Thankfully, Levinson stuck to his guns, and Hoffman delivers a performance of such exceptional grace, and fear, and love, and shielded genius. If anything, he makes Rain Man worth it. A-

Driving Miss Daisy dir. by Bruce Beresford
Driving Miss Daisy is one of those films American kids are shown in 8th grade civics class, you know, to teach us youngsters about opposition, and friendship and the notion of love conquering all. I’m not trying to put the movie down, but I’ve never viewed it as more than a school lesson. B-

Dances With Wolves dir. by Kevin Costner
While I’ve made a few references to my surprise that this film beat that film for the Oscar, these reviews are not a reflection of the win themselves. The film is all that matters. That’s particularly important to note here, because my distaste for Dances with Wolves has nothing to do with the fact that it beat Goodfellas for Best Picture. I think Dances with Wolves is long, aimless, boring, and so on. I cannot possibly foresee a reason that I’ll ever have the need to watch this movie again. C-

The Silence of the Lambs dir. by Jonathan Demme
The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect thriller. It’s always smart, always engaging, violent when it needs to be, horrifying when appropriate – just… solid. It’s always a blast to show this to people who have never seen it. You get sucked into its eerie world all over again, and pray that everything’s going to be all right. Which it is, for some. A+

Unforgiven dir. by Clint Eastwood
The most iconic revisionist western ever made, it’s as if Clint Eastwood finally said enough. With Unforgiven, he bucked his canned cowboy persona, and let it all fly, delivering an unflinching film about the corrupt west. Eastwood’s most critically and commercially success remains just that: an unadulterated success. A+

Schindler’s List dir. by Steven Spielberg
I’ve been thinking a lot about Schindler’s List since writing my piece on Ralph Fiennes a few weeks ago. I want to bring myself to watch it again, but I don’t know if I’m ready yet. It’s a perfect film of unwavering candor; one that dares you to look, and makes it impossible to turn away. A film of massive scope, and obvious personal triumph. But not one that will ever be easy. A+

Forrest Gump dir. by Robert Zemeckis
Forrest Gump has turned into as popular a cultural landmark as many of the events it depicts, and I suppose that’s fair. While I don’t like it nearly as much as many others, I’m still completely enamored with its tender disposition. If anything, this movie has a damn big heart. Too much for some, possibly, but well intentioned all the same. A-

Braveheart dir. by Mel Gibson
So, if my nearly absolute aversion to musicals didn’t throw you enough before, then get ready to disagree on some of the epic Best Picture winners coming up. Look, in all honestly, I can appreciate Braveheart, and the motivations of its director, but I’ve given this movie a number of chances over the years, and it continues to do nothing for me. Oh well. C

The English Patient dir. by Anthony Minghalla
Before we dive into a handful of films that completely unfazed me, let’s pause with this fantastic interlude of love lost and hope regained. The English Patient is a glorious retelling of the life and death of Count László Almásy, who let a crazy little thing called love blind his better judgment. Gracefully cutting back and forth in time, depicting its characters as then uncorrupt and now tainted, I can think of nothing to not appreciate with this film. A-

Titanic dir. by James Cameron
I was damn eager to rewatch Titanic when it was released in theaters last year. I wanted to see if the effects were as spectacular as I remembered, and the acting and script were as poor as ever. Well, despite some truly distracting post-conversion 3D, my recollection of the film was rather spot on. It is amazing to see how far the respective talents of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have come, though. C-

Shakespeare in Love dir. by John Madden
I’ve always thought Shakespeare in Love was an average film propelled to lavish success at the hands of its determined producers. It’s never done the slightest thing for me. C-

American Beauty dir. by Sam Mendes
I first saw American Beauty at a very impressionable age, and I remember being unfamiliarly taken with it. I hadn’t seen a recent American film quite like it, and I was excited to see what, if any, impact it would have over American independent film. And boy, did it ever. A
Gladiator dir. by Ridley Scott
Gladiator is yet another contemporary Best Picture winner that I’ve revisited a number of times, in an effort to find some sort of appreciation for it. The battle sequences (both on the field and inside the coliseum) are a revelation, no argument there. But I can do without most all the rest. C

A Beautiful Mind dir. by Ron Howard
A Beautiful Mind was a film I wanted to like. A little dismayed by all of the acclaim Russell Crowe received for Gladiator, I was hoping that a film more restrained in scope would better live up to my tastes. Simply put: it did then, but it doesn’t now. A Beautiful Mind certainly isn’t a bad film, but, as its running time slugs on, I do find it increasingly tedious and dull. C+

Chicago dir. by Rob Marshall
Chicago was kind of ingenious in the way it recalled the musical genre at its peak. It seemed to be a film everyone loved when it came out, but once the sugar high faded, what were we left with? Me personally? Earnest indifference. B-

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King dir. by Peter Jackson
Fans of this blog may know that The Lord of the Rings films don’t do it for me. Never have. Never will. C-

Million Dollar Baby dir. by Clint Eastwood
My recent Clint Eastwood write-up motivated me to revisit Million Dollar Baby, in which I discovered that my limitless appreciation for it hadn’t wavered in the slightest. I love its solemn mood, its muted tone, and its overall gentle touch (laced with some appropriate bite). A devastating little beast of a film that I’ll hold in my heart forever. A+

Crash dir. by Paul Haggis
In what may be the most love-come-to-hate film of our time, Paul Haggis’ Crash won audiences over when it was first released. With its hard hitting stance on racism, and its honest portrayal of how we treat each other when we’re at our worst, the movie melted people’s hearts, and asked us to Wake Up. Now, it seems like most everyone enjoys pointing out the film’s faults more than anything else. Can you blame them? B

The Departed dir. by Martin Scorsese
Scorsese’s first film to win Best Picture is a glorious throwback to the best that Scorsese has to offer. The Departed is fast, furious, and damn near perfect. As an exercise in most all cinematic aspects (acting, editing, screenwriter, and so on) it stands as a great lesson on what to do, and what to do right. A

No Country for Old Men dir. by Joel and Ethan Coen
This dead serious Coen crime drama is one of my favorite contemporary American thrillers. With its gorgeous visual appeal, perfect acting and patient execution, the movie is a slow cooker just waiting to explode. If you’re a fan of this movie, I urge you to read Cormac McCarthy’s source novel. No Country is by far the most literally book-to-movie adaptation I’ve ever seen. A+

Slumdog Millionaire dir. by Danny Boyle
I imagined Slumdog Millionaire to have more staying power than it has. Like a handful of the recent winners, the film spends most of its time breaking you down, and its final 10 minutes building you up, leaving you with a great sense of triumph. I think the movie can be a lot of fun, but I honestly can’t say I like it as much as I once did, which is something I’m realizing just this instant. Interesting. B+

The Hurt Locker dir. by Kathryn Bigelow
The best war film in years is unlike any war film I’ve ever seen. By avoiding politics, war rooms, and, you know, a plot, The Hurt Locker is instead a marvelous character study of war as a drug. My stepbrother has just recently finished a tour in the armed forces, much of which was spent in Afghanistan. He’s told me that when you’re there, you’re there. And it isn’t smart to take yourself out, mentally or otherwise. And when you’re home, part of you is still there, whether you like it or not. I think The Hurt Locker encapsulates that magically. A

The King’s Speech dir. by Tom Hooper
From the moment I saw The King’s Speech, I knew two things: that it was a great period drama that deserved top placement on HBO’s original programming, and that it would win the Oscar for Best Picture. I love the acting throughout – from Colin Firth’s starring role, to Guy Pearce’s criminally underused King Edward – but I’ll never appreciate it as much as many others do. Good, not great. B-

The Artist dir. by Michel Hazanavicius
Like so many of the films that have competed for this race, I knew The Artist was going to win Best Picture months before I saw it. Which isn’t meant to take away from the film itself. It is, in essence, the perfect Oscar movie – a throwback to the time of silent understanding, destroyed by sound. Considering everything it had working against it, I remain in awe of what The Artist was able to accomplish. B+ 

I’ll add a brief review of Ben Affleck’s intense thriller after the big show on Sunday. Or, maybe of something else…


  1. Yes, I am bookmarking this page for forever.
    Lots I agree with (A Beautiful Fucking Mind sucksssss), lots I don't agree with ( Titanic :( ) and wayyyyy more I don't have any idea about.

    Great post :)

    1. Ha, nice! That's really awesome to hear, actually :)

      Sorry I'm not the biggest Titanic fan, I just can't do it. But oh so many can, so it's all good!

  2. I worked my way through all the BP winners a long time ago, and I think you have a pretty good handle on it. Even if you're too nice to Cavalcade. Far, far too nice.

    1. Nice man, glad to hear that. Dude, I saw Cavalcade once like seven years ago, and that's about all I can remember from it. It is pretty much a wash though, isn't it?

  3. wow what a massive, impressive post Alex! I really enjoyed reading your quick thoughts on some of these films, especially some of the older ones, but I can't comment on them all. So I'll just say that I agree on probably.... 85% of your scores, and that it's nice to see someone not swoon over Braveheart, kinda takes the pressure off me. You see, I'm probably the last person on earth who hasn't watched it, and everyone is so intense about it, always going like "you HAVE to see it". Yet I look at Mel Gibson screaming in a ridiculous wig and costume and I think... naaah.

    1. Thanks so much, Sofia!

      Hey, 85%... I'll take those odds! Yes, definitely count me as a person not urging you to see Braveheart. I'm perhaps in the minority, but that one does nothing for me.

      Thanks so much for reading!

  4. Epic post. Good work.

    It's interesting to see how the Academy's tastes evolve over time. It's always sobering to remember the films that missed out and those that have fallen from grace since their win (for the record, I never liked CRASH).

    1. Thanks man! I agree, one of the best parts about writing this was seeing the shifts within the Academy. From playing it safe, to taking risks, to safe, to risk... very interesting.

      Crash: It's so funny that, when that film came out, it was my favorite film of the year. Now... not a chance.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  5. The earliest Best Picture winner I saw is It Happened One Night and... I love it. I need to re-watch it though.

    I think some of the Best Picture winners in that list are good but some are just terrible. Driving Miss Daisy over a bunch of way better films. Fuck that! Gladiator over Traffic? FUCK YOU! A Beautiful Mind over Mulholland Dr. and Gosford Park? FUCK YOU OPIE!!!

    If I ever make it as a filmmaker... I'll be one of those who don't show up.

    1. It Happened One Night is great, completely deserving of its praise.

      I'll be the first to admit that I may like a film less, if it beat a movie that was so clearly better. All of your examples are spot on to me.

      That'd be hilarious if you pulled a George C. Scott and just said, "Nah, fuck that, I'm not going, I have better things to do like scratch my ass."

    2. Or what about Woody Allen who decided to play the flute the year Annie Hall won the Oscar?

      No, I'd probably either in the editing room editing another film or doing work on a DVD release while having the Oscars be televised nearby just so I can see who of my actors and collaborators win awards. I would be cheering for them from afar.

    3. Allen's is hysterical. Man just doesn't care. And hey, if you're busy making another film, then that's a pretty damn good problem to have.

  6. I've actually always wanted to go through all of the major oscar winning films as well. While not all of them are great I do think it's a good way to get a brief grasp on American cinema and films that made a huge impression when they were first released. It's a shame you're not really a big fan of The Lord of the Rings movies. It may be that you're alot older than me but I first saw those films at a very impressionable age and they really kickstarted my love for movies. Have you gone through all the Best foreign film oscar winners? If you have you should go make a post about them next.

    1. I agree: not a lot of these movies are good, but they do paint an accurate and vast picture of American cinema.

      Your age comment made me laugh. I was... 16 when the first LOtR came out, so I suppose I was impressionable as well. My distaste for that movie goes back to the "read the book, appreciate the movie" argument. Technically, the films are fantastic. But story and plot wise, they've never been able to hold my attention. People say if I read the books, I'd like the movies, which is a horribly weak justification in my opinion. But, you know, oh well.

      I would LOVE to crush out all the Foreign Film winners, but some of them are very hard to find. Maybe some day...

  7. I agree with many (thank you for giving Ordinary People the praise it deserves!) and disagree with a few (I'm a LotR fan). If I could change two, they would be:

    Grand Hotel: A--All but forgotten, and marvelously done.

    Gigi: C- --Kind of morally ugly and a weird pedophile vibe.

    1. Ordinary People is SO good.

      You've made me want to watch Grand Hotel again. Hopefully soon.

      Gigi: I actually forgot about that vibe, but you're so damn right.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. Stunning post! According to your ratings, 2000s is the weakest decade, and 2012s might be even weaker. Films in general is in decline, so are Oscar Best Pictures.

    1. Thanks David! Man, I didn't even realize that, per my ratings, the 2000s are the weakest decade. Makes sense to me. Bummer though, real bummer.

  9. Alex - You totally amaze and inspire me with your endless creativity, patience and writing skillz. This post is a huge achievement and your writing style had me laughing and adding more movies to my growing list of "must watch films." I am intrigued by your love/hate relationship with musicals. Also, I really like your theory about feel-good movies winning every few years.

    Finishing your post, I was struck by a strange empty feeling that so many iconic unforgettable films are NOT on this list while things like "Shakespeare in Love," "Gladiator" and "Chicago" are on the list. Whether right or wrong, it just struck me as odd and a little sad.

    Thanks again for taking the time to watch and review these films.

    1. Aww thanks Julie! That was really kind of you to say. There are ALWAYS more movies to watch, aren't there?

      Musicals just... (sigh), they're just not my bag. Unless they are. Which I guess is weird. Ha.

      And I agree, in recent years, I think a lot of truly excellent films are being overlooked. Not just in winning, but in even being nominated. I find a lot of the recent winners to be very average, but that's the way it goes!

  10. I'll not get into Slumdog or LOTR. We have done that almost to death but I was little surprised to see so many As. Even though these are Best Picture Winners, I didn't expect that.

    I am closing in on 60 out of 85. The thing is I think I have seen everything that I had any idea about. Most of the remaining 25+ movies are the ones I only knew because they are Best Picture Winners. Not a dash against them, since I really don't know much but I wouldn't say I have any particular interest in watching them except to be able to say 'I have seen all the BPs'. It helps to have some guide to go through them. At least I can disperse good ones with occasional not so good ones. So, Thanks for that !!

    1. Yes, let's let the Slumdog and LOtR battles lie. Ha. Honestly, I myself was surprised to see so many As, but I was really hard on myself in grading these. The grades are definitely how I feel about these films at this given moment.

      I remember being where you are about 4 years ago, and I just said, "Ah, to hell with it, I'll watch 'em all." And the only benefit is that, yes, you can say you have seen all the Best Pic winners. A lot of those films are mediocre at best. Happy to help guide, though!

  11. Wow what an amazing work! But it does puzzle me a little how you don't mind the English Patient and don't like Braveheart or Titanic. I thought first one was painfully dull, too sentimental and forgettable while the other two were very well directed and the love stories in them were actually moving and emotionally affecting. But it may just be my fondness of epics, they just don't make them like that anymore :(

    Shame you don't like the Lord of the Rings. I think RotK theatrical cut is the weakest in the trilogy, the director's cut for me deserved all the Oscars - plus one I'd give to Mortensen, but theatrical cut had pretty terrible editing in many scenes.

    1. Thanks! One of the main differences for me, in terms of The English Patient vs. Braveheart/Titanic, is the acting. I think the acting in The English Patient is universally splendid, while the acting in the other two is laughably bad. But again, as always, that's just my opinion.

      Interesting to hear that a fan of the LOtR movies considers one of the theatrical cuts to be pretty weak. Those flicks simply aren't for me, and I highly doubt I'll ever take the time to slug through the director's cuts. But hell, who knows.

  12. Wow, what an endeavor man. I'm up to about 33 out of 85, the most I've seen in are in the 70's and 90's. The two decades, it seems, in which the best picture winners are emblematic of their respective decades. My favorite decade the 60's is really poorly represented; however, I think because the impact of all the French New Wave, Fellini, Kurosawa and of course Bergman and Kubrick (Seriously look at the runs just these two guys had in the 60's) hadn't yet been completely felt. They would however change the face of cinema forever and for the better, their influence is all represented in your favorite decade.

    1. The '60s really are poorly represented by the Oscar Best Picture winners. It's as if they were afraid to embrace the brilliance that was going on overseas. Which, quite honestly, they still haven't really done, in terms of the Best Picture prize. Either way, lot of gems on this list, but a lot of duds too.

  13. Excellent collection of reviews, really interesting read.

  14. This is an epic post! I'll give it a closer read when I have more time.

    I'm not a fan of Braveheart, Titanic, A Beautiful Mind, or Dances with Wolves either. I really tried to ignore Braveheart's gratuitous historical inaccuracy, but I still couldn't feel any love for it. Same with A Beautiful Mind, which took huge liberties both with John Nash and the whole concept of schizophrenia. I tried to put all that aside, and still ... meh.

    Love your high ratings for Deer Hunter, Cuckoo's Nest, No Country for Old Men, Ordinary People, and many others. Aside from my abiding love for LoTR, and my love of sci-fi/fantasy in general, we seem to have strikingly similar tastes.

    1. Thanks! Glad you like it.

      I had no idea our tastes aligned so much in regards to Braveheart, Titanic, and so on. I've given them plenty of fair chances, and just nothing.

      I think it's so cool how we love so many of the same films. Hope I didn't break your heart with LOTR!

    2. Ha ha! I'm not the kind of person who minds if people disagree with my opinions. I'd be disappointed if that didn't happen -- it would get boring.

      As an aside, I was a big magic/fantasy fan as a kid, and a lot of it stuck. Case in point: my love for Harry Potter (I mean the books ... though the movies are O.K.) And it's cool that it's an interest my husband and I share, since we're very different in terms of our opinions and movie tastes. We're still 13-year-old nerds at heart.

    3. Aw that's so cute! Hard to lose the love for things we held so dear as kids.

  15. My God. A massive undertaking, post-wise and viewing-wise. I'm impressed.

    So many places I could agree, so many places I could disagree, so I'll just say......I can't describe how happy I am to find someone else who doesn't care for the "Lord of the Rings" movies. I really, really don't like those movies.

    1. Thanks man!

      Shit, wherever we agree and/or disagree, if we can come together on LOTR, I think we'll be all right. Rock n roll.

  16. Best. Post. Ever. I love so many of the films you do, and I didn't know you liked Mutiny on the Bounty, West Side Story, and Amadeus. Dig those films too.

    Again, great stuff. This is a post I'll revisit a lot. :)

    1. Ha, thanks dude! I didn't really know how much I liked a lot of these films either, until I actually sat down and wrote this thing. Some diamonds in the rough up there, no doubt.

      Come back anytime, my friend. Any. Time.

  17. I was actually recommended The Lost Weekend by Al Pacino.

    He was doing a one-night onstage interview in my city, and during the Q&A I managed ask him what film--that he hadn't taken part in--had affected him the most. He said that when he was about 5 his dad took him to see The Lost Weekend, and although he had no idea what it meant, he was quite taken with it.

    He used to pretend to tear through his cupboards looking for alcohol like Milland did, so much so that the next time his parents had friends over for dinner, they asked Pacino to "do The Lost Weekend for us!" He would oblige, and everyone would have a great laugh, but Pacino said the whole time he was thinking, "Dunno why you're laughing, this is fucking serious!"

    I doubt his five-year-old self dropped the f-bomb like the elder Pacino did, but it was still really touching. To think that even that young, even not knowing what it all means, a child can be affected by a film's power.

    1. Wow. Just... wow. What a great story. I had no idea Pacino loved that movie so much, and that is such a GREAT question for you to ask him. Man, I wish I could've been there to see him tell that story.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing that. Really. Made my day.

  18. Awesome, awesome post, man! I can only imagine how long this took to put together, but I had a great time reading it. Added a few of these to my queue, including Gentleman's Agreement, which sounds especially intriguing given its time period. Hadn't even heard of that one.

    1. Thanks man! Gentleman's Agreement was actually the second to last Best Pic winner I watched. Had no idea what it was about, and I had no interest in it. But it really is a fantastic film. And yeah, considering when it was made... wow.

  19. Wow, this is amazing, I love it! You actually watched all Best Picture winners? you are a walking enciclopedia Alex :) great job!

    1. Aww thanks D, that's so nice of you to say! I actually finished watching them years ago, but have just been putting off writing this post. Seemed like an appropriate time!

      Thanks for reading :)

  20. Wow - you have seen all the Best Picture winners. I am so jealous!!! I have no willpower to see Gladiator, especially after your grade! Page bookmarked!

    1. Willpower, that is a great word to use when watching some of these films. I respect the fact that they won, but man, I found some of them so so dull.

      Thanks for reading Alex!

  21. Thanks so much for posting all of these! You’ve inspired me to watch all of the Best Picture winner films, and fortunately, I’ve been able to find them all on Blockbuster @Home. It’s a service that I get through DISH, and they have everything from You Can’t Take It With You to Lawrence of Arabia, and all of the more recent winners as well. One of my friends I work with at DISH told me that they have the largest collection of movies, and I’m realizing that they truly do. What I like the most is that I can take my time watching each movie so I don’t have to worry about due dates, and my bank account won’t suffer from late fees.

    1. Thank YOU so much for reading. Glad you've found a platform that allows you to watch all of Best Picture winners. That's pretty impressive that they have ALL of them.

  22. Bookmarking this page! Well done for seeing every BP winner - I still have so many left to see haha.

    1. Nice! There are definitely a lot of them... have fun sluggin' on through!

  23. I stumbled onto your blog by accident and I have to say, you've just helped me compile a giant list of movies to re-watch/watch!

    The thing is, your blog really caused me to question my love for 'Titanic' because that was the first romance movie I watched and I fell in LOVE with the time period, the costumes, the backdrop...everything about the aristocracy and history fascinated me so much I think I willed myself into loving the actual screenplay and acting. My rating of 'Titanic' fell from an A to a B just by reading that little blurb you gave LOL

    I'm also such a huge Old Hollywood movie fan. Seriously, I think 'Giant' is one of my all time favorites and I still can't forget the character of Norma Desmond because of the lovely Gloria Swanson. I really think 'Some Like It Hot' should get the recognition as one of the best, if not the best, comedies around. Love it.

    And I've always loved Vivian Leigh in 'A Streetcar Named Desire'...always felt so sorry for her at the end. Perfect film to get you to think without being ridiculously, over-the-top cheesy.

    The one thing that always bothered me was 'Shakespeare's In Love' win. So undeserved. Ugh. Cute little comedy/drama thing but Oscar worthy? Not really (at least in comparison to the other films).

    It makes me so sad how movies in the 21st century are just sloppy/dull/cliche/etc. compared to those golden hey-days of Hollywood. I mean, some I really did enjoy like 'Million Dollar Baby', 'Public Enemies' (Johnny Depp so should've gotten SOME recognition as his role of John Dillinger), 'Inglorious Bastards' (I LOVE this movie and Quentin Tarantino in general) but do they really compare to 'Silence of the Lambs', 'Pulp Fiction', and 'Gone With the Wind'? No. No. No.

    I seriously love your site, keep at it!

    1. Wow, thank you so much for this comment. It seriously made my week.

      I feel kind of bad for making you appreciate Titanic less haha. But that's pretty cool that my little write up could make you examine it in a different way.

      I share your disappointment with the state of most movies made today. There are always some good ones every year, but the majority of them are just plain garbage. The good news is that filmmakers are speaking out about the flawed studio system now more than ever. I'm really hoping that will evoke at least some change in the system.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Very kind of you!

  24. 1993 must be the most fucked up year in Oscar history. First Spielberg film to win, two british films nominated to Oscar, none of these won something, one New Zealand film nominated and one great, great action film The Fugitive. Emma Thompson Holly Hunter were nominated two times. Really insane.
    When I was just a kid I loved The Fugitive and I heard that the Schindler’s List won the Oscar for the Best film I said ''fuck Schindler’s List I didn't earned it''. Then I watched it and it remains one of the best film I ever saw in my life and my favorite Spielberg film. And don't, I don't like E.T. very much.

    1. Yeah that was a pretty insane year. The Best Supporting Actor category from that year is nuts. Ton of solid performances.

  25. "Charlton Heston’s acting has never really worked for me". Me neither, but what do you think about him in Touch of Evil?

    1. Probably my favorite performance of his. He always played the same guy, you know?