In case you didn’t know, the Oscars are this Sunday and the Dames are….well, we’re actually ready to say goodbye to 2018 once and for all. The Oscars ceremony this year has been nothing short of a clusterfuck, from the nominees themselves to what will be shown, not shown, and definitely shown during the television broadcast. Last year we did a top five honoring our favorite Oscar wins in any category and this year we decided to narrow that down by listing our favorite films that took home the coveted prize for Best Picture. Leave your Best Picture favorites in the comments!
This was hard for me because I never actively root for what ends up winning Best Picture. Most of the movies I love are
bridesmaids nominees, but not actual winners. So I had an initial list of thirteen that I fairly quickly pared down to the five below. These are movies I’ve watched countless times since, and while several of them are heavily flawed, I love them nonetheless.
It Happened One Night (1934)
It Happened One Night is one of the de facto screwball comedies that numerous films have homaged since. It tells the story of an heiress (Claudette Colbert) who goes on an adventure with a reporter (Clark Gable). Like any good rom-com the two start out hating each other only to fall madly in love – though I’ll always believe Colbert gets the better end of that deal. The movie is hilarious and it’s actually amazing that it won the Best Picture Award at all because it feels so out of place compared to what wins nowadays. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it, if only for the mock argument the two conjure up. Clark Gable screaming, “Quit bawlin’!” always makes me chuckle.
All About Eve (1950)
All About Eve is a catty, at times very inside look at the Broadway (nee Hollywood) scene, and if there’s one thing we know about the Oscars it’s that they love to reward movies about themselves. Bette Davis has never been better, but the true scene stealer is the quietly manipulative Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington. The first single white female, Baxter is innocently lovely, but hides a dark, greedy heart. And you can never go wrong with a script penned by the legendary Joseph Mankiewicz.
The Sound of Music (1965)
I had at least four different musicals on my shortlist. What can I say? I love musicals as much as Hollywood loved giving them Oscars. Though that’s not to say I love all musicals equally. All the ones that won in the ’50s are utterly terrible – yes, I stand by that statement. Then The Sound of Music rolled around and musicals were amazing again. I know this movie is hokey, but dammit I’d twirl on that mountaintop with Julie Andrews too! And never forget the amazing Eleanor Parker as the true queen of that movie. Baroness Schrader is living her best life.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump is a movie that’s HEAVILY problematic. I could write an essay on everything wrong with this movie, from its mishandling(ish) of disability, to the problems it has with race and the white savior trope. And don’t even get me started on everything related to Robin Wright’s Jenny. But, that being said, Forrest Gump will always hold a special place in my heart. I added the -ish above because, for better or worse, it was the first movie I ever saw that had someone in a wheelchair. As an adult, I do understand where Gary Sinise’s Lieutenant Dan is coming from, despite the fact he falls into so many disabled tropes. It holds a special place for me, and I’m sure in 1994 it was a lot of people’s first glimpse at disability too.
It’s the big daddy of them all (at the time) and it will never cease to amaze me the backlash Titanic has developed since 1997. I absolutely love this movie, to this day. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me mourn. For me it’s the purest embodiment of attempting to get back to the romances of the ’40s. James Cameron’s lost his goddamn mind since, but we’ll always have Titanic!
I love the Oscars. I have watched nearly every broadcast since age 11, and started seeing as many nominees as I could back in college. It’s kind of awesome to write for an awards site now, even when having to watch certain powers that be trying their best to screw it all up. I’ve seen many of the Best Picture winners, although I still have a little way to go to finish all 91. But I definitely have some favorites among the ones I’ve seen. Unlike Kristen, narrowing this list down was actually kind of tough, but that’s the game, isn’t it?
The Sound of Music (1965)
I’ve probably seen this Best Picture winner more than any other. I know every word of every song and am 100% going to travel to Austria just to stay in the Von Trapp house that is now a hotel. Julie Andrews is divine. Christopher Plummer is dreamy. And Baroness Schrader is the best ousted would-be step-mom ever.
Schindler’s List (1993)
This may not be a popular opinion among my co-hosts, but Schindler’s List is the best film ever to win Best Picture. It is certainly the most emotionally devastating one. Every aspect of this film stands out. From the performances to the cinematography, to the score. This may not be one you’d want to re-watch a bunch of times, but even one viewing makes an impact.
Literally every time this is on TV, I stop to watch, no matter what point in the movie they’re at. I hate that James Cameron made it, because I don’t want to love his movie as much as I do. But it’s got romance and intrigue and tragedy and truly spectacular visual effects and costumes. Plus, that score! That song! Everything about it is magical.
The Godfather (1972)
The first time I saw The Godfather, it was on a big screen. That shouldn’t be a prerequisite for enjoying a classic film, but it certainly helps the experience. Francis Ford Coppola combines a mafia story, a thriller, and a family drama into one engrossing film. What more can I say? The Godfather is a film everyone has an opinion about, and I love it.
Rain Man (1988)
You thought I wasn’t going to include my man’s Oscar-winning movie? Rain Man is one that is sometimes dismissed as being a lighter winner, but it really isn’t. This was one of the first films to really explore and explain autism in a way that takes the fear and misunderstanding out of it. But even more than that, it dives into the challenges of getting to know and care for someone we don’t understand and aren’t sure how to communicate with. Hoffman’s performance is good, but Cruise is the unsung hero of this film, with a character arc that feels real.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1929)
OK, yes, technically this one did not win Best Picture – that distinction goes to Wings – but it did win Best Unique and Artistic Picture, the only time that category was awarded. So I’m going to call it a Best Picture winner because it deserved it. F.W. Murnau’s gorgeous late-silent film is about a couple trying to rekindle their relationship in the wake of adultery and attempted murder. It’s a beautiful, lyrical film with an odd plot, playing at once as a tragedy and a comedy, and is still a marvelous piece of art nearly a hundred years later.
You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
You Can’t Take It With You is my favorite Frank Capra film, but I always forget that it actually got the Best Picture win in 1938. It deserved it, to be sure—a charming, somewhat anti-capitalist story about trying to have some fun in life, even if it doesn’t make you rich, with fantastic performances from a talented cast (including a very young Ann Miller, doing her best to dance badly). It’s also a reminder that the Academy has been happy to reward genre films in the past; in fact, a quick look at the other nominees from that year, which included The Adventures of Robin Hood and Pygmalion, reminds us that the Academy wasn’t always quite so stodgy and predictable.
Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar for Best Director, though he was nominated several times. The only one of his films to win a Best Picture Oscar was his first American feature, Rebecca (amazingly, another Hitchcock film, Foreign Correspondent, was also nominated for Best Picture that year). Rebecca definitely deserved the accolade—it’s a great adaptation of the novel, and strikes that perfect Hitchcockian balance of horror, humor, and strong performances from a group of great actors. Now if only they’d given Hitch his due…
All About Eve (1950)
All About Eve is one of the few ubiquitous classics that is just as good as everyone says it is. It is also part of the grand tradition of Hollywood rewarding films about how terrible everything to do with show business is. All About Eve is a delightful, vicious story about delightful, vicious people coming close to eating each other alive. Bette Davis has never been snarkier, and George Sanders just oozes his peculiar brand of nastiness. But All About Eve is a more multi-layered film than it’s sometimes given credit for, with a degree of subtlety in its script and performances that elevates over the more lurid inside-showbiz stories.
The Shape of Water (2017)
I’m including this because it’s such a delightfully weird Best Picture winner and (briefly) gave me hope that the Oscars might do something interesting for a change. The Shape of Water is simply a beautiful fable, a revitalization of fantasy as art, and a reminder that cinema can still surprise. It deserves all the respect.
The 1940 Alfred Hitchcock classic earned a staggering 11 Academy Award nominations and took home a depressing two in the year of its release. However, it won where it counted, being recognized as the Best Picture of the year. The honor is richly deserved, but it’s a shame the film didn’t win more Oscars that year.
In today’s film climate Marty stands as a bit of an under-remembered gem. The 1955 drama hit at a somewhat tenuous time, showing Hollywood coming to grips with the rise of television. The small independent movie feels like a TV program of the era, but the rich character development in the romantic drama shows why it earned 8 Academy Award nominations. Marty eventually took home 4, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.
West Side Story (1961)
West Side Story…you either love it or you hate it. The musical earned a staggering 10 Academy Awards on 11 nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. While it struggles a bit through a contemporary lens with its depiction of race (most notably the casting of Natalie Wood), it is a powerful and well-constructed musical.
Woman of the Year (1942)
This is probably the smallest film on this list and the most recent discovery of mine. Woman of the Year stands as the earliest of the many movies teaming Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The unconventional romantic comedy features both at their best and is a real work of art in its ability to turn the gender expectations of the 1940s on their heads. Woman of the Year earned 2 Academy Award nominations with the (later) blacklisted Ring Lardner Jr. taking home the film’s only award for his work on the script.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
I’ve had a love affair with Sunset Boulevard for years, after admittedly watching the film before I truly understood it. Billy Wilder’s dark and well-constructed takedown of Hollywood and the film industry earned 11 Academy Award nominations. Surprisingly, it only took home 3, the most notable going to Billy Wilder for his work on the screenplay.