Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Favorite Best Picture winners

As I looked through the long list of past honorees, it hit me that in recent years we've rewarded some real dogs with the Best Picture crown. Movies I just didn't like much at all.

In 2006, that will definitely not be the case, for though I would have picked different flicks for the final five, they're all worthy contenders. Here, today, are my 10 favorite Best Picture winners of all time. Note, I didn't say best, just the ones I can watch over and over again.

1943: Casablanca
There's a reason this flick ends up on the top of the AFI list and almost everywhere else. It's just remarkable storytelling done with style, and if you don't think people are still trying to imitate it, just check out what Steven Soderbergh tried to accomplish this year with "The Good German."

1949: All the King's Men
This remains my favorite American political film, and out of respect for it I just stayed miles away from the 2006 remake. Broderick Crawford is simply menacing with his take on the populist demagogue Willie Stark, and he also won a well-deserved Academy Award for his work here.

1954: On the Waterfront
Watching the contortions Hollywood went through a few years back to honor Elia Kazan would have been a painful spectacle (and it still kind of was) if this director and movie weren't simply so great. It was a real breakthrough for Marlon Brando and just an all-around entertaining labor flick.

1961: West Side Story
With its rather corny '50s version of street gangs, this take on "Romeo and Juliet" should have faded from memory long ago, but it's just so good that it keeps surviving in my mind. Jerome Robbins achieved a singular film coup by bringing this from stage to screen and not losing a beat.

1965: Sound of Music
I make no secret of how much I like musicals, both on stage and screen, and this was one we used to watch every year when I was growing up. Next to The Muppet Movie, it's probably the movie soundtrack I can stil most easily sing along with, and Julie Andrews is just charming as Maria.

1972: The Godfather
Looking through the '70s, I could have just picked the entire decade to make up this list. The Godfather is the cream of the crop, but Midnight Cowboy and The Sting were another two that almost made the cut.

1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
This remains one the best book-to-screen adaptations I've ever seen. Nicholson pushes right to the brink of being a caricature before just pulling back to deliver a pitch-perfect performance as Randell Patrick McMurphy, and Brad Dourif is even better as Billy Bibitt.

1976: Rocky
Watching the early parts of "Rocky Balboa" this year, when Rocky was hosting in his restaurant, was just a solid reminder that Sylvester Stallone could once write and act in truly great movies. He spent three decades actively trying to make us forget that, so "Rocky Balboa" was definitely one of my most pleasant surprises of 2006.

1977: Annie Hall
Watching the stuff they turn out now, it's often also easy to forget that Woody Allen and Diane Keaton used to be so charming, especially together. I still prefer "Manhattan" to "Annie Hall," but they're both romantic comedies that always make me smile.

1984: Amadeus
What in the world ever happened to Tom Hulce? He was great in this tale about Mozart, but F. Murray Abraham was even better as the slimy Salieri. Just the definition of creepy, and thoroughly fun to watch.

There you have it. Please feel free to add your favorites, and to tell me if I'm just a yarnhead with any of these picks.


jeremy said...

I like most best picture winners on some level. Your choices are great. I will say that 1974's best picture win was a gift for Coppola. The Godfather part 2 is a great film, but is nowhere near the level of Polanski's Chinatown. (Plus, Art Carney's win that year was also a gift.)
Two movies that make me cringe when I see a list of winners:
Kramer vs. Kramer
Ordinary People
(Actually, you can add Crash to that list.)
They're just like afterschool specials with really big budgets and well-above average acting.

Chris said...

I'll never argue with Sound of Music, but over the years West Side Story started to become a bit stale for me. As a personal choice I'd replace it with Oliver.

Besides that, love the list and agree - the past 20 years have only thrown in a small handful of Best Pictures I'd watch more than once. As far as other greats, I'd toss in The Apartment and Lawrence of Arabia - they keep me rivited every time I see them on television.

Reel Fanatic said...

Those are all great suggestions ... I'm definitely with you on "Crash," Jeremy ... It was just a big dud to me, and a real mistake by the Academy

Dianna said...

Casablanca, On the Waterfront, West Side Story, The Godfather, ROCKY!! You picked some real winners here! I'm with you!

Mercurie said...

I'd have to include Casablanca on my list of favourite Best Picture winners as well. I'd also have to include It Happened One Night, My Fair Lady, and The Apartment. Curiously, while I love musicals (I've seen just about every Gene Kelly movie ever made), I never have cared too much for The Sound of Music or West Side Story.

Lori said...

You picked a lot of my faves as well. Off the top of my head I'd have to add LOTR: Return of the King, Gladiator, Silence of the Lambs and Braveheart. I never get tired of watching any of those.

Annie in Austin said...

Just a note on that whatever happened to remark....
When we saw "Stranger than Fiction", the identity of a workplace counselor was nagging me - it was a nice performance and the voice was so familiar but I couldn't name him. When the credits rolled it was Tom Hulce. Maybe he's not starring, but he's still acting.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the head's up on Hulce, Annie .. I knew he had to be acting in some capacity, but I never would have placed him in Stranger than Fiction .. I'll have to keep an eye out for him when I watch it again on DVD

brucio said...

the great lost gem of oscar winner is "a man for all seasons" - blew me away

Christopher55 said...

Besides the ones that ones that have already been named, I'd add Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with Gable and Laughton, Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992), and a guilty pleasure Shakespeare in Love (1998).

Still can't bring myself to watch Crash (absolutely no interst). I'm still wondering how Driving Miss Daisy and The English Patient won anything and L.A. Confidential lost to Titanic ... boo.

Reel Fanatic said...

Crash is just abysmal in my opinion, Christopher, but there are at least two that rank even lower on my list ... "Driving Miss Daisy," like you mentioned, and "Forrest Gump," which I've watched in its entirety twice but still just can't understand how it won any awards at all

Linda said...

Great list, such good films! When I looked at the list of Best Picture winners, there are only a handful I don't care for. In addtiion to your list, some of my favorites are The Godfather, Crash, An American in Paris, All About Eve and Chicago.

OKonheim said...

That's an admirable list, but since for the most part the best picture winners are pretty good films, it's hard to say you just liked 10 or 12 films. I personally love From Here to Eternity, You Can't Take it With You, The Apartment and The Grand Hotel and I think the academy recently got it right with Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind.

I think that Woody Allen's movie are all about equal in quality and that Annie Hall just came around at the right time. It won because it was new and unprecedented, but if you jumbled the chronological order of Woody Allen's films so that Annie Hall might have been released after Hannah and Her Sisters or Sweet and Lowdown and 20 others, noone would notice the difference and Annie Hall would just be considered another Woody Allen picture. In other words, I don't believe Annie Hall sticks out in retrospect but that's just me.

I have no idea why Kramer vs Kramer won either.

I think West Side Story has a certain magnetism to it that's like nothing else you've ever seen. American in Paris is pretty charming, I think.

Oh yeah, and Bridge on the River Kwai.

I'm at sophomorecritic.blogspot.com.
Come visit my site, and i'd be honored if you would vote in my 6th film nominee poll, link to my site, or comment on anything else

Reel Fanatic said...

You're probably right about Annie Hall, Okonheim, but even if Woody's best films are a bit interchangable, they still hold a timeless charm for me ... Thanks for stopping by, and I will definitely check out your poll

Raj said...

Throughout the 70's there are so many great not only best piture winners but nominees too. Those are tough choices.

Id it is said...

Sound of Music is undoubtedly is one movie that transcends just about all barriers of age, ethnicities, and whatever else divides us.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm with you there, id it is .. I've become much more cynical as I've gotten older, but that's one that still just gets me every time, and I still watch it once a year

Damian said...

In my mind Schindler's List was not only the best picture of 1993 but one of the best pictures of any year.

Reel Fanatic said...

You're right about that, Damian .. it was one of the twenty or so pics I had on the list before I whittled it down to 10

Emma said...

Wonderful idea to accentuate the positives of Oscar! :)

I adore Amadeus. I'm one of the few who think Hulce was better than Abraham, though.

And On the Waterfront is my 2nd favourite film of all time! Brando's performance was one of the things that got me loving cinema.

Reel Fanatic said...

It's always good to see you here, Emma ... I'm glad you weren't put off my rather snarky comment about Renee Zellweger on your site!

Jack said...

My fav's are Bridge on the River Kwai, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia and the Sting. The 70's were a great time, but the Late 50s early 60's were awesome too!

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