To get you in the mood for this Sunday's 86th Annual Academy Awards, we have LN's longtime movie critic, Debbie Baldwin, comparing notes with Brandon LaMew, a local film connoisseur who's been ranked No. 15 among Netflix's top film reviewers worldwide. Their assignment? Give us their ranking of the best movies that have been awarded the Academy's Best Picture award.
By Debbie Baldwin
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: These are not my top 10 favorite movies of all time. I like them—I like them a lot. But the Academy narrowed the field considerably. Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas and The Shawshank Redemption are not in the running. Taxi Driver lost to Rocky, and Witness lost to Out of Africa, so those are not options, either. On a positive note, neither is Citizen Kane: How Green Was My Valley won that year, saving me the embarrassment of admitting I find the Orson Welles masterpiece boring. There are a lot of films that deserve to be with this group of Oscar winners, and a few in the club that shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that this year, one more undeserving submission will be joining them. On the bright side, most Academy Award-winning films deserve the statue.
This is my top 10 list. I base the selections on one criterion: If I’m getting ready to go to bed and I see that a movie is starting, would I stay up and watch it? (Obviously this method is dated, but you get the idea.) There are perhaps some shocking omissions, but this is my list:
1. The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather is the greatest movie in the history of movies.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Jack Nicholson carried the film and launched his career as the unbalanced Randle McMurphy skewing sanity in an Oregon mental hospital. This film is one of three films that has won Oscar’s ‘big five’ (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay). The other two are It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs.
3. The Sting (1973)
Redford, Newman, the nose tap. We all know the danger of walking the tightrope between comedy and suspense. The Sting must be the reason so many filmmakers take the risk.
4. Patton (1970)
George C. Scott famously refused the Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of General George S. Patton. He vehemently hated the idea of competing against other actors. Brando then did it two years later, refusing his Best Actor statue for The Godfather, though for different reasons. Yeah, Scott and Brando were that good.
5. Chariots of Fire (1981)
I can still remember watching the broadcast as a kid and seeing this huge Oscar upset. Chariots beat out the heavily favored epic, Reds, and mirrored the film itself with the sentimental victory.
6. Shindler’s List (1993)
For a while there in the ‘80s, I had this image of Steven Spielberg going to bed at night and muttering to himself, What the hell do I have to do? He already had several Oscar-worthy films to his credit, but no statue. In 1993, he figured it out with this brilliant story of one small good deed amidst unbearable evil.
7. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I’m absolutely convinced this film would have joined The Silence of the Lambs, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and It Happened One Night in that elusive ‘big five’ club had Russell Crowe not been going through a rough patch in his personal life. A couple of run-ins—tantrums, really—and the Best Actor Oscar went to Denzel Washington for Training Day; while Ron Howard’s heartwarming story of Princeton mathematician John Nash won every other award of the five, due in large part to Crowe. It was a glaring mistake, but the Academy is nothing if not in the moment.
8. The King’s Speech (2010)
It suddenly strikes me how similar this film is to the one directly above it. Both deal with commanding but fragile men, and the stoic beauties by their sides. Both are about a complex character facing a daunting obstacle—in this case, reluctant King George VI’s crippling stammer. And at their core, both movies are love stories.
9. It Happened One Night (1934)
A tabloid reporter finds himself on a bus with a runaway heiress and extorts her into an exclusive? Why on earth this movie hasn’t been a candidate for a remake is beyond me. Perhaps it’s impossible to portray a likeable version of either character. Rob Reiner retooled the premise for the 1985 teen classic, The Sure Thing, with spectacular results.
10. Annie Hall (1977)
Really, the 10th spot was a free for all. On a rainy, stay-in-bed day, it would be Ordinary People. On a timeless, classic Sunday afternoon, Casablanca or Rebecca. Alone on a Friday night? The Silence of the Lambs. Today; however, was a quirky, chilly, girl-in-a-derby-and-necktie kind of day. In many ways, this is the quintessential Woody Allen film. It perfectly balances his neurotic comedy with a more profound glimpse at human interaction.
By Brandon LaMew
While it would seem safe to assume that a top 10 list of Oscar’s Best Picture winners would represent the greatest films of all time, that is not quite the case. The problem with ranking Academy Award-winning films is that, most of the time, the best picture of the year does not get voted Best Picture by members of the Academy. Let’s take a look one recent example:
In 2007, No Country for Old Men was given the honor, but There Will Be Blood clearly was the best film of the year. Not only that, it is one the finest films ever made. Since its ‘07 release, There Will Be Blood has been steadily climbing the top-films-of-all-time lists. In 2012, Sight & Sound—the prestigious British film magazine—asked an international group of film professionals to vote for their greatest films of all time. There Will Be Blood placed No. 72 in the Directors’ Top 100 Poll and 179 in the Critics’ Top 250 Poll, while No Country for Old Men did not make the cut on either list. Now, on to my rankings …
1. The Godfather (1972)
With The Godfather, Marlon Brando cemented his legacy with his portrayal of The Don, Al Pacino became an international icon, and Francis Ford Coppola became a household name. The film has aged gracefully, thanks to Gordon Willis’ exquisite use of light and color, and Nino Rota’s hauntingly beautiful score. The Godfather is the greatest film ever made—a perfect film if there ever was one.
2. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Everyone expected The Godfather Part II to be good—but not this good. Not only did Coppola and company craft the greatest sequel of all time, they managed to make a film that had many critics holding it in higher regard than the original. It is easy to forget that, prior to The Godfather Part II, sequels were rare in films. For better or worse, this is the one that ignited the trend. It succeeds on all levels even without Brando’s participation, and Robert De Niro proved the naysayers wrong with his mesmerizing turn as the young Vito Corleone.
3. The French Connection (1971)
New Hollywood was born. Gone were static shots and stale sets of old. Taking cues from the French New Wave, director William Friedkin took his kinetic cameras to the streets, capturing the grit of New York like never before. A true watershed film, The French Connection’s influence cannot be overstated. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider were catapulted to instant stardom, and Friedkin became one of the youngest to ever win the Oscar for Best Director.
4. On the Waterfront (1954)
Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan: one of the greatest actor/director partnerships of all time. The duo also collaborated on the masterful A Streetcar Named Desire. On the Waterfront swept the Oscars in 1955, taking home eight awards, including Best Black & White Cinematography by the inimitable Boris Kaufman. On the Waterfront will never cease to be ‘a contender.’
5. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Epic. Merriam-Webster could use any single frame from the film to illustrate that word in the dictionary and no one would object. Its size and scale are astounding to this day. Clocking in at 222 minutes, Lawrence still is the longest film to ever win Best Picture.
6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Nurse Ratched. Surely, writer Ken Kesey had the word wretched in mind when he penned her name. Louise Fletcher took home the Best Actress award for her portrayal of the detestable nurse, which stands as one of best screen villains of all time. A stellar supporting cast, including a young Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, played a major role in netting Best Actor for Jack Nicholson in this heartbreaking masterwork by Milos Forman.
7. Rocky (1976)
Still the definitive underdog story, Rocky mirrored Sylvester Stallone’s own life. It is real, comes from the heart, and you can see it in everything on screen. Bill Conti’s uplifting score is no less popular today than it was in ’76. Even the normally restrained Academy stood and cheered when the film was first screened.
8. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Two words: Russian roulette. Out of all the legendary scenes in film history, this grueling scene remains the most visceral, intense and harrowingly realistic. Robert De Niro’s rage explodes off the screen. The conviction of both his and Christopher Walken’s acting is remarkable. Modern audiences often complain that the film is slow, but there is real character development at work here—a process that is largely lost in the current era of quick cuts and constant explosions. The Deer Hunter may be difficult and depressing, but it is a journey well worth taking. The Academy agreed and bestowed it five awards.
9. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Well, Clarice - have the lambs stopped screaming? It is unlikely that audiences will ever stop screaming. Hannibal Lecter. The pit and the poodle. Buffalo Bill’s dance. The Silence of the Lambs gave viewers endless chills and took five Oscars for the effort – which laid waste to the theory that a horror film could never win Best Picture.
10. Annie Hall (1977)
Some critics posit that Woody Allen makes the same movie over and over again, and I cannot say that I totally disagree. But, this is the greatest work amongst the similitude of his oeuvre. Annie Hall is the ace of spades in Allen’s hand while all his other films merely are kings and queens: same suit, higher value. Allen’s talents as a screenwriter have never been in doubt, as he holds the record for Best Screenplay nominations at 14.
The 2014 Best Picture nominees are:
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years A Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
The 86th Annual Academy Awards airs live on ABC on Sunday, March 2, at 6 p.m., St. Louis time.