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My Year at the Oscars - Academy Award Best Picture Winners Ranked Pt. 3


If you're new to My Year at the Oscars, in 2014 I decided to watch every Best Picture winner in a single year and then rank them.  In part one, I got through the films I had ranked from 87 to 66 and in part two we got up through film #51.  Today, I'm going through the next 15 to get us into the Top 35. 

Let me start out by saying that we’re to the point in the list where I was really impressed by every film for some reason or another, whether it was emotional impact, sheer entertainment value or simply spectacle.  Finding negatives within a lot of these films isn’t easy or really necessary, so the reason something ranked at #49 instead of at #37 now just comes down to which one I thought was the better of the best.  If you’re looking for 50 incredible movies to watch, start here!

Pt. 3: #50 - #36

This part and next week's post will only be 15 movies so that the last week will be a Top 20 post.  Part 4 will be 35 through 21 (Friday 2/12/16) and Part 5 will be the top 20 (Friday 2/19/16). 

#50: In the Heat of the Night

Director: Norman Jewison
Release Date: August 2nd, 1967
Ceremony: 40th
Wins: 5 (Best Picture; Best Actor - Rod Steiger; Best Writing - Adapted Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Sound)
Nominations: 7 (Best Director; Best Sound Editing)
Other Nominees: Bonnie and Clyde; Doctor Dolittle; The Graduate; Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

In the Heat of the Night isn’t just the movie that beat out The Graduate, it is also an engaging and suspenseful murder mystery, chock full of well-paced character development and surprising twists and turns.  "They call me Mister Tibbs!” is one of the most iconic quotes in all of American cinema and it is mostly thus because of a stellar performance from Sydney Poitier.  Poitier wasn’t even nominated however and his co-star, a deserving Rod Steiger, took home the Oscar gold.  While it is famous for its intense portrayal of racism in a small southern town, I was more impressed by the story itself and found myself engrossed in every detail of the case.  It isn’t the best detective film ever made, nor is it the best film on race relations, but it is a great addition to an impressive list of winners. 

#49: Rocky

Director: John G. Avildsen
Release Date: November 21st, 1976 (N.Y.C. Premiere); December 3rd, 1976 (U.S.)
Ceremony: 49th
Wins: 3 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Film Editing)
Nominations: 10 (Best Actor - Sylvester Stallone; Best Actress - Talia Shire; Best Supporting Actor - Burgess Meredith; Best Supporting Actor - Burt Young; Best Original Screenplay; Best Music, Original Song - "Gonna Fly Now"; Best Sound Mixing)
Other Nominees: All the President's Men; Bound for Glory; Network; Taxi Driver

Who knew in 1976 what an American icon Sylvester Stallone would become, between the Rocky franchise, the Rambo films and his own Expendables series.  What we have here is not about his notorious excess or over-the-topness, but instead a subdued and heartfelt performance in one of the best boxing movies ever made.  Sure, in between the Rocky Theme staircase run and the meat freezer punch-out there are forgettable moments, but what makes this so different than Stallone’s future, less Oscar-worthy films is how much of the focus is not on the boxing or the training, but on the character himself and his relationship with an outstanding Talia Shire.  It’s the screenwriting, also done by Stallone, that allows all the actors to shine in this 70’s classic.  

#48: Gigi

Director: Vincente Minnelli
Release Date: May 15th, 1958
Ceremony: 31st
Wins: 9 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score; Best Original Song - "Gigi"; Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design)
Nominations: 9 (ALL WINS)
Other Nominees: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Auntie Mame; Separate Tables; The Defiant Ones

This is considered by some to be the worst winner in the history of the Academy, which is interesting because at the time it was the most winning movie (a record that only stood for a year as Ben-Hur beat it one year later).  I found Gigi to be entertaining, funny and yes, at times creepy, but still a fun musical.  While it doesn’t have the classic songs like My Fair Lady, or  memorable choreography like West Side Story, you’re bound to leave the theater with at least a tune or two in your head.  The acting can be excessive, but the ever charming Maurice Chevalier has a warm smile throughout, even in the song that I’m guessing was still weird in the 50’s, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”.  It is by no means a life changing movie, but if you go in with the right mindset I’m sure you could at least have a good time watching Gigi.  I probably laughed more during this than any other film in this marathon.  It is this high on my list purely because of how much I enjoyed watching its dated insanity and hilarious excess. 

#47: West Side Story

Director: Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise
Release Date: October 18th, 1961
Ceremony: 34th
Wins: 10 (11) (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor - George Chakiris; Best Supporting Actress - Rita Moreno; Best Original Score; Best Film Editing; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Art Direction, Set Decoration, Color; Best Sound; HONORARY AWARD: for choreography)
Nominations: 11 (Best Adapted Screenplay)
Other Nominees: Fanny; Judgement at Nuremberg; The Hustler; The Guns of Navarone

There are people who consider West Side Story to be the greatest musical of all and there is no denying it is a classic.  By far, the most deserved award of the entire night was actually an honorary award to Robert Wise (who also won as producer and director) in honor of his “Brilliant Achievements in the Art of Choreography on Film”.  While it suffers from occasional slow spells, for the most part it is filled with inspired choreography, catchy songs and a great retelling of a Shakespeare classic.  If you don’t walk away from this film angrily snapping at people who wrong you, you clearly didn’t understand it.  

#46: Wings

Director: William A. Wellman
Release Date: August 12th, 1927
Ceremony: 1st
Wins: 2 (Best Picture; Best Engineering Effects)
Nominations: 2 (BOTH WINS)
Other Nominees: The Racket; Seventh Heaven

The first ever Best Picture winner lands almost exactly in the middle.  Until The Artist won in 2011, Wings was the only silent film to ever win the big prize.  Incredibly, for something that would seem as if it should be dated beyond belief, this movie was surprisingly engrossing.  Its only other award of the night was for Best Engineering Effects, and when you see the intense dogfights and war sequences, you’ll understand why.  Some of these war plane scenes would honestly hold up in a movie released today.  Even in silence, the blend of action, romance, comedy and drama is perfect for a solid war movie with adequate character development.  While there are definitely changes to the film that would have occurred in the last 88 years to make it more enjoyable, it stands on its own.  

#45: The English Patient

Director: Anthony Minghella
Release Date: November 15th, 1996
Ceremony: 69th
Wins: 9 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actress - Juliette Binoche; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score; Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Art Direction; Best Sound)
Nominations: 12 (Best Actor - Ralph Fiennes; Best Actress - Kristin Scott Thomas; Best Adapted Screenplay)
Other Nominees: Fargo; Jerry Maguire; Secrets & Lies; Shine

Based on Elaine’s description of this movie on the TV comedy Seinfeld, I had expected it to be a bore.  While The English Patient does have its slow moments, I thought it was a great blend of classic romance and technical spectacle.  In terms of storytelling, the usage of multiple timelines was incorporated incredibly well and managed to make even the most predictable moments exciting.  Juliette Binoche gives the very best performance in a long list of incredible actors.  If you’re looking for a pick me up, this is the wrong film to go to, but if you feel like being emotionally traumatized in the best ways possible, you’ll love this movie.

#44: The Artist

Director: Michael Hazanavicius
Release Date: May 15th, 2011 (Cannes Film Festival); October 12th, 2011 (France)
Ceremony: 84th
Wins: 5 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Jean Dujardin; Best Original Score; Best Costume Design)
Nominations: 10 (Best Supporting Actress - Bérénice Bejo; Best Original Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography)
Other Nominees: The Descendants; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; The Help; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; Moneyball; The Tree of Life; War Horse

It was a bold move in 2011 to release a silent film and expect it to be a hit, but that is exactly what happened.  Stylistically reminiscent of many of the films that have won before this one, silent and not, The Artist and all of its intended cheesiness balance oddly well with the pure cleverness throughout.  It is a film that relies on style frequently, with enough substance underneath to tell a compelling story that explores the mentality of someone in a changing world.  The real challenge with this movie was to keep a viewing public used to flashy special effects and clever dialogue presented in Dolby surround interested in a black and white film without words.  This succeeds and goes beyond. 

#43: American Beauty

Director: Sam Mendes
Release Date: September 8th, 1999 (Grauman's Egyptian Theater); September 17th, 1999 (U.S.)
Ceremony: 72nd
Wins: 5 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Kevin Spacey; Best Original Screenplay; Best Cinematography)
Nominations: 8 (Best Actress - Annette Bening; Best Original Score; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: The Cider House Rules; The Green Mile; The Insiders; The Sixth Sense

If you like Kevin Spacey, imagine the epitome of his acting style in a character and you have American Beauty.  With witty and remarkably well-written dialogue and glimmers of a brilliant story, tension fills this pseudo family drama.  At times a comedy, at times a thriller, you will walk the tightrope between being creeped out to giggling right along with the protagonist’s growing insanity.  Each time you think you know where it is headed, you are usually wrong.  Guess there was a reason Sam Mendes was picked to direct Bond.

#42: Forrest Gump

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Release Date: June 23rd, 1994 (Los Angeles); July 6th, 1995 (U.S.)
Ceremony: 67th
Wins: 6 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Tom Hanks; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Visual Effects)
Nominations: 13 (Best Supporting Actor - Gary Sinise; Best Original Score; Best Sound Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography; Best Makeup)
Other Nominees: Four Weddings and a Funeral; Pulp Fiction; Quiz Show; The Shawshank Redemption

I have mixed feelings about any film that is a relatively straightforward, episodic narrative, but Forrest Gump pulls it off well.  It manages to focus on almost every significant moment in American history over a 30 year period, and does so in such a creative way that it is vastly entertaining.  While it has become over-referenced since its release, even spawning a chain of mediocre seafood restaurants, the film itself is excellent, anchored by one of Tom Hanks’ best performances.  What might be most impressive is that director is able to shift genre so quickly to fit where the protagonist is in his life, directing scenes that would work in a war drama just as well as he directs scenes that belong in a sports comedy.  

#41: From Here to Eternity

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Release Date: August 5th, 1953
Ceremony: 26th
Wins: 8 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor - Frank Sinatra; Best Supporting Actress - Donna Reed; Best Writing - Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Sound, Recording)
Nominations: 13 (Best Actor - Montgomery Clift; Best Actor - Burt Lancaster; Best Actress - Deborah Kerr; Best Dramatic or Comedy Score; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White)
Other Nominees: Julius Caesar; The Robe; Roman Holiday; Shane

"Frank Sinatra wins an Oscar without any help; The From Here to Eternity story”.  In all seriousness, outside of the legends regarding Sinatra getting this film role due to mafia connections and inspiring parts of The Godfather, this is a war-time romance for the ages.  The kissing in the ocean scene, that at the time was risqué and now would maybe bump a film from G to PG, is an iconic scene in American cinema.  The rest of the film may not have quite the same lasting legacy, but the way that all of the characters manage to cross paths throughout is extraordinary, as is the climactic ending scene.  

#40: An American in Paris

Director: Vincente Minnelli
Release Date: November 11th, 1951
Ceremony: 24th
Wins: 6 (Best Picture; Best Writing, Scoring and Screenplay; Best Musical Score; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Art - Set Decoration, Color)
Nominations: 8 (Best Director; Best Film Editing)
Other Nominees: Decision Before Dawn; A Place in the Sun; Quo Vadis; A Streetcar Named Desire

Throughout the years, there have been some straightforward musicals that won along with a couple of more off the wall films that brought in the top prize.  The 15 minute long ballet sequence to close out An American in Paris most certainly puts this one in the latter category.  This movie is filled with humor that is relatable to this day, delivered by occasionally over-the-top yet highly enjoyable characters.  The music may not stick out or be as memorable as some other musicals, but the visual reward, from setpieces to choreography, make the film worth it!

#39: Marty

Director: Delbert Mann
Release Date: April 11th, 1955
Ceremony: 28th
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor - Ernest Borgnine; Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay)
Nominations: 8 (Best Supporting Actor - Joe Mantell; Best Supporting Actress - Betsy Blair; Best Art Direction, Black-and-White; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White)
Other Nominees: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing; Mister Roberts; Picnic; The Rose Tattoo

Marty is the embodiment of Ernest Borgnine: short and charming.  It clocks in as the shortest Oscar winner, yet was one of only two that won both Best Picture and the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival (along with The Lost Weekend).  It isn’t over the top and on the surface may not seem like anything incredibly special, yet it shows its grandeur through the brief moments of wit and humor, and the slew of quippy dialogue delivered expertly by the stellar lead.  The movie likely wouldn’t have worked without him and it might have been forgotten, but it is definitely one worth remembering.  

#38: Titanic

Director: James Cameron
Release Date: November 1st, 1997 (Tokyo); December 19th, 1997 (U.S.)
Ceremony: 70th
Wins: 11 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Film Editing; Best Original Dramatic Score; Best Original Song - "My Heart Will Go On"; Best Art Direction; Best Cinematography; Best Visual Effects; Best Costume Design; Best Sound; Best Sound Editing)
Nominations: 14 (Best Actress - Kate Winslet; Best Supporting Actress - Gloria Stuart; Best Makeup)
Other Nominees: As Good as It Gets; The Full Monty; Good Will Hunting; L.A. Confidential

The main song is sappy and excessive but somehow still beautiful, just like the rest of Titanic.  Yes, there is a lot to criticize about James Cameron’s magnum opus, but there is also a lot to praise.  The suspense and the romance, along with the fantastic visuals and intricate setpieces are why this has become such an iconic film.  Glossing over some of the less than stellar dialogue is easier to do when there is a giant ship actively breaking up around the actors delivering the lines, and certain artistically brilliant decisions, including the usage of the boat’s musicians,  are frequently overlooked.  It is a film that is easy to hate, but I actually found myself enjoying it and if you somehow haven’t seen it (it took my until 2014), it is definitely worth a few hours of your time.  

#37: Slumdog Millionaire

Director: Danny Boyle
Release Date: August 30th, 2008 (Telluride Film Festival); January 9th, 2009 (U.K.)
Ceremony: 81st
Wins: 8 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score; Best Original Song - "Jai Ho"; Best Cinematography; Best Sound Mixing)
Nominations: 10 (Best Original Song - "O...Saya"; Best Sound Editing)
Other Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Frost/Nixon; Milk; The Reader

While this film’s legacy may ultimately be the ending dance sequence, everything leading up to that is alternately entertaining, heartbreaking and suspenseful.  Slumdog Millionaire combines numerous storytelling elements, from flashback narratives to an extended timeline, in order to tell a surprisingly  simply story.  It’s a tale of relationships and characters, and telling their stories through the questions on a gameshow and subsequent police interview all leading to the timelines intersecting makes for a very fascinating film.  This simple yet complex story is told with the aid of amazing technical achievement, from editing to cinematography, and is one of the best paced films to ever win the award.  Plus, the reward (or punishment depending on your tastes) of "Jai Ho” is ever imminent.

#36: Platoon

Director: Oliver Stone
Release Date: December 19th, 1986 (Limited Release); February 6th, 1987 (U.S.)
Ceremony: 59th
Wins: 4 (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Film Editing; Best Sound)
Nominations: 8 (Best Supporting Actor - Tom Berenger; Best Supporting Actor - Willem Dafoe; Best Original Screenplay; Best Cinematography)
Other Nominees: Children of a Lesser God; Hannah and Her Sisters; The Mission; A Room with a View

Platoon focuses on a war within a war, making for one of the finer examples of a war film that has won the big prize.  While it could have been mostly about the Vietnam War itself, much of the film comes down to the internal war between the two lieutenants.  Yes, Oliver Stone’s heavy handedness is still present to some extent, but since the film is in part based on his experience in Vietnam, it makes the movie feel more genuine.  It is at times intense and violent and at other times surreal and heartfelt, giving it a great balance all the way up to the now famous conclusion.  Whether you're a fan of war films or not, this one is definitely worth a watch!  

Part 4 (#35-21) will be coming next Friday, 2/12/16

List so far:
87 - The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
86 - Cimarron (1931)
85 - The Broadway Melody (1929)
84 - Dances With Wolves (1990)
83 - Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
82 - Cavalcade (1934)
81 - Crash (2005)
80 - Out of Africa (1985)
79 - The Lost Weekend (1945)
78 - How Green Was My Valley (1941)
77 - Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
76 - Ordinary People (1980)
75 - Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
74 - Terms of Endearment (1983)
73 - The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
72 - A Man for All Seasons (1966)
71 - The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
70 - Braveheart (1995)
69 - Going My Way (1944)
68 - Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
67 - Oliver! (1968)
66 - Million Dollar Baby (2004)
65 - Chariots of Fire (1981)
64 - Hamlet (1948)
63 - 12 Years A Slave (2013)
62 - The Last Emperor (1987)
61 - Mrs. Miniver (1942)
60 - Tom Jones (1963)
59 - Rain Man (1988)
58 - The King's Speech (2010)
57 - Chicago (2002)
56 - Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
55 - All the King's Men (1949)
54 - A Beautiful Mind (2001)
53 - Midnight Cowboy (1969)
52 - Ben-Hur (1959)
51 - Shakespeare in Love (1998)
50. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
49. Rocky (1976)
48. Gigi (1958)
47. West Side Story (1961)
46. Wings (1927)
45. The English Patient (1996)
44. The Artist (2011)
43. American Beauty (1999)
42. Forrest Gump (1994)
41. From Here to Eternity (1953)
40. An American in Paris (1951)
39. Marty (1955)
38. Titanic (1997)
37. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
36. Platoon (1986)


  1. I said so elsewhere, but I totally agree on Wings. Not a top tier contender, but for an almost 90-year-old film, I was completely captivated at how so much of it stands up. Plus, Clara Bow can tell a whole story with just her eyes. Unreal watching her in action.


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