Five Film Favorites: Best Picture Winners

It’s cold outside and, yes, we’re in the midst of the awards season. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the nominees for Best Picture later this month. The Academy started handing out the awards first for 1927’s product. “Wings” won the first Best Picture award. Last year “The Hurt Locker” took the prize.

As we know the Best Picture Oscar usually goes to very popular movies, which made a lot of money for their producers. But that doesn’t mean what’s accepted as popular is always mediocre, or even predictable.

This week my list of five favorites is of movies that have won that award. And, even though the Academy has gone to nominating 10 films instead of just five, I’m sticking to tradition.

To some extent, my list goes to show that the Best Picture award has occasionally gone to somewhat offbeat movies that no one would have expected to have been contenders when they were being produced. Yet, upon their release their excellence just bowled over that year’s competition. (Both stills are from “Casablanca.”)

“Casablanca” (1942): Directed by Michael Curtiz; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains

“Midnight Cowboy” (1969): Directed by John Schlesinger, Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Brenda Vaccaro

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975): Directed by Milos Forman; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito

“On the Waterfront” (1954): Directed by Elia Kazan; Cast: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint

“Unforgiven” (1992): Directed by Clint Eastwood; Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

Maybe soon I’ll put together a list of favorites that didn’t win, but I think they ought to have.

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1 Response to Five Film Favorites: Best Picture Winners

  1. anubhavbist says:

    I can’t argue with Casablanca. Its an American masterpiece and worthy of it’s best picture win. I love One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest but it wasn’t the best of the 5 films nominated that year. 1975 was just such a strong year and had I had a vote, I would have chosen Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, my favorite of the great director. The fact that Jaws, Nashville, and Dog Day Afternoon were on the ballot, it’s hard to defend giving the Oscar to Dog Day Afternoon. But nonetheless a great film that has aged very well and one that I would consider up there with the best films to win the award. I believe Milos Forman’s second Oscar winner, Amadeus, was a stronger film and my personal choice as the best film to win the best film Oscar. Let me give you my list and just to make things interesting, I won’t duplicate any of yours:

    My List:
    1. Amadeus (1984) – dir. Milos Forman
    – One of the greatest films ever and one that would get a little more recognition had it not been in the 80s (a decade that included some of the weakest winners). It was also not only better than the other 4 films that were nominated, but the competition isn’t even close. Now had the Academy nominated better films from 1984 to make it more of a competition (maybe Cassavetes’ Love Streams or Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America), it would have been a little bit more interesting.
    2. The Godfather (1972)/The Godfather II (1974) – dir. Francis Ford Coppola
    Its probably cheating to have two film occupy one spot but I’m going to do it any ways. The Godfather was such a great film and easily the best film nominated in 1972 and the best American film that year. I would say the “best” but there were too many better foreign films, including The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Solaris and Cries and Whispers (a film that was actually nominated for best picture the next year). The Godfather II was, in my opinion, better than the first. Sadly I don’t think it was even the strongest American film that year; I would have actually taken Coppola’s other nominated film of that year, the Conversation, and Polanski’s Chinatown over it. Then to think of the other great film that didn’t even get nominated: F for Fake and Woman Under the Influence. Cinema was just so strong in the 70s.
    3. No Country for Old Men (2007) – dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
    Is it too early to select a film this recent? Maybe but its hard to argue with No County. 2007 was a great year for films that included There Will Be Blood, Zodiac, 4 months 3 weeks 2 days, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, etc. While I wont say that No Country was better than all of those, I love the film too much to ignore it. This is as good of a film as the Coens have ever made.
    4. Silence of the Lambs (1991) – dir. Johnathan Demme
    My favorite of the winners from the 90s and one that I think gets overlooked when people talk about Oscar winners. Its also the only horror film to win the award, which is a crime. It’s also the only time Demme has been nominated which is also a crime.
    5. The Deer Hunter (1978) – dir. Michael Cimino
    Sometimes I feel like Cimino’s film doesn’t get enough credit. It’s a powerful film and one I’ve found myself defending a lot. It’s been labeled as ‘overrated” so often that I think its actually become underrated (if that makes sense). But I love every aspect of this film: the acting is incredible, the direction is superb, and it’s well written. It was also one of the last great films of New Hollywood, released a year before Apocalypse Now (usually viewed as the last masterpiece of the decade and the movement).

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