Hey gang! It’s Andy Larson, back again for another one of these monthly battles for GotS bragging rights by delivering a series of top 10 lists on a variety of different topics. Of course, given that the Oscars are only in a few days, we thought a great topic for this month’s battle would be the “Top Winners of the Oscar for Best Picture”.
Wow! Was this list ever hard to put together! The reason you ask? It’s because there are so many wonderful films that have won this prestigious award that to just list the Top 10 was insanely difficult! As witnessed by my Insomnia Cult Movie Theater articles as well, I’m somewhat of a classic film buff, so many of these Best Pictures I have specifically went out of my way to watch in hopes of expanding my own creativity as an artist and general human being. So I actually had tons and tons of Best Pictures I’ve seen over the years to pick from, and therefore I could have easily made a Top 20 or even Top 30 list.
As a result, I will say that many of the more recent Best Picture winners had to be unfortunately cut for this all time best Top 10 list. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy movies like The Departed, Argo, The Hurt Locker, Green Book, 12 Years a Slave, Million Dollar Baby, The King’s Speech, and others from the past 2 decades. However, compared to some of these all time classics that have become so well known that they have entered the public lexicon in such a profound way, these more recent movies still have a long way to go before they reach the level of these others that in fact made my list.
Still though, there are a couple entries on this list from the 90s and later so it’s not as if this entire group are solely from the classic movie camp. However, it’s important to note especially for the young folks out there, that making a point to watch classic Best Picture winners over the years has enriched my life greatly. There’s a reason many of these won this award and are considered so important to film making in general. You owe it to yourself that if you haven’t seen some of the movies on my list below, that you make some time to do it in future. You won’t regret it!
10.) It Happened One Night
Ladies and Gentlemen! The original Rom Com in all of it’s glory!
Directed by the legendary Frank Capra (who did Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life btw) and starring the magnificent talent of Clark Gable in the leading man role, this set the gold standard for all “Meet Cute” opposites attract movies that would become a major revenue stream for not only Hollywood but Television as well. Would you have Sam & Diane from Cheers without this movie? Or Han Solo & Leia? Or even Jim Halpert and Pam Beesley? Not likely.
This was the textbook for putting together a guy and a gal in screwball situations and watching their love and on screen chemistry sizzle as the antics ensue. From the Hitchhiking scene to the sharing of the pajamas and one room cabinet with privacy blanket, this movie is chocked full of moments that were later ripped off by other movies and such because they are were so wonderful.
No wonder this is one of only 3 movies in Oscar history to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Another one happens to be Silence of the Lambs…which I know I’m going to get grief for not including on this list…
The Clint Eastwood western.
Still one of my favorite sub genres of movies out there. Whether it’s the Outlaw Josie Wales, or Hang ‘Em High, Pale Rider, or a Fistful of Dollars, for pure entertainment value, there’s nothing better than seeing ol’ Clint mount up, ride into town, and deliver some frontier style justice.
And with Unforgiven, you definitely get a book end style closing to so many of the characters that starred in these earlier films. Sure the character in this one is called William Munny, but he could have easily been named Josie Wales, Jed Cooper, or Blondie based on the fact that it’s more of the Eastwood archetype that we are dealing with. An archetype that as we’ll see in this film may not be the recognized representative of the law, as that belongs to the cutthroat Gene Hackman character of Little Bill.
However what is archetype does represent is a higher moral authority than just the laws of man. More like a thunderbolt, or an act of God, Munny dishes out righteous fury on those that would consider themselves above standard common decency that should be awarded to all folks (aka this all starts because Little Bill gives a slap on wrist to a cowboy that severely disfigured a prostitute with a knife for saying he had a small penis).
Although I’m not a huge fan of people taking the law into their own hands, the way the events unfold in this movie make a pretty powerful case that Eastwood’s lone gunslinger was definitely needed one more time before he rode off into the sunset.
8.) Forrest Gump
What can I say? I love Tom Hanks! There is no question that he is my favorite actor of all time, and like Clint Eastwood westerns, I could probably make a top 10 list of just movies he’s been in that I’ve loved. Saving Private Ryan. Catch Me if you Can. Cast Away, Apollo 13, You’ve Got Mail, The Green Mile, Road to Perdition and the list goes on and on.
The only problem is not every one of these films has won Best Picture despite a ton of them being nominated for this award. So Forrest Gump is somewhat of my representational pick to highlight the incredible career of Tom Hanks and all the various wonderful roles he has had over the years.
Still though, just in case people might call me out on this, I really do love Forrest Gump. It’s one of the more beautiful love stories that I’ve watched in my life, as Forrest’s unwavering devotion to Jenny, despite her being the very definition of a toxic influence on his life, is handled so well that it makes you forget that he was treated as a door mat for most of his life by her. Still Robin Wright also gives a good deal of 3 dimensional pathos to her character as a victim of child abuse and how that can really screw up a person’s whole life track.
Plus it’s got so many great scenes such as Forrest saving Lt. Dan in Vietnam and how their friendship grew in their shrimping boat days. One of cinema’s great bromances right there.
Plus that soundtrack. It was my most listened to CD of 1994 and for several years after with all that wonderful 60s and 70s classic rock.
Yeah, some of you might still be bitter that this movie beat out Pulp Fiction, but sour grapes, folks! It’s got one of the best lines in all movies in: “I might not be a smart man, but I know what love is.”
7.) Lawrence of Arabia
There’s an old story that my Grandma would watch this film in the winter time because she wanted to be reminded of what the warm sun looked like during those cold dark days. Although I can agree that there’s definitely sun in abundance as well as sand and epic masterful battle scenes, what really stands out to me with this movie is the actual character of T.E. Lawrence.
If you strip away all the fantastic cinematography, the wonderful score, and the miraculous visual style, it’s really a story about a man finding his true calling in this world and the near superhuman tenacious lengths in which he will fight for it. A stranger in a strange land, Lawrence fights tooth and nail to gain the respect of the Arabic army he has been assigned to assist with their war against the Turks. And in earning it, it defines who is in a way that transforms him forever. These end up being “his people”, and the fellowship he has with his adopted countrymen is vastly superior to anything he has with those of his own homeland.
It’s a perfect immigrant story, except told from the perspective of an Westerner finding his true home elsewhere, instead of the other way around. And I think in this day and age, I think that’s something that is important to be reminded of from time to time. That our ways aren’t always the best, and that people find themselves all the time by adopting aspects of different cultures.
In closing though, it’s hard to beat that fantastic cinematography. Few films look this tremendous on the big screen. It’s the reason movies were made to be watched like that!
Ah, Rocky. I’m sure the training montage I included in this entry has been by everyone at least at one point especially this time of year when everyone is still attempting to keep their New Year’s resolution about getting into better shape.
I’m sure there are tons of guys and gals running up stairs of a local library or courthouse at the end of their morning 2 mile jog, throwing up their hands and saying “Yeah, this is the year I beat those love handles!” before heading over to Dunkin’ Dounuts for a celebratory box of Munchkins.
But that’s the impact this movie has had on our culture. This is the movie about beating the odds. About internal grit and personal determination. It’s actually funny to me how many people believe that Rocky beats Apollo Creed for the title at the end of this film. Nope, that doesn’t happen until Rocky II. Honestly, Rocky gets his brains beaten in by Apollo in this movie. It’s not even a contest in terms of skill. Apollo is so much the better fighter. But Rocky has the guts to go the distance and that never quit attitude is really what makes him a hero. He refuses to lay down, he refuses to say he’s had enough even as he absorbs blow after blow. That kind of integrity and grit is very appealing to us as humans, that will to survive what life dishes out at you and keep moving forward.
In fact, that’s the true reason they should give out participation trophies to kids sometimes. As a way of acknowledging that although you can’t always win in life, it’s equally important to not lose either. To put it all on the line and continue to get better. That’s an extremely important life lesson.
Besides, Rocky is important just because this is Sylvester Stallone one really “good” movie. He might have absolutely tons of “fun” movies, but this movie is unfortunately is only “good” one.
5.) The Godfather Part 2
I know what you are thinking. If this movie is only number 5 on this list, what has he got in the first 4 spots?!? And some of you will end up seeing the rest of the list and scoff in disappointment on how these more “unworthy” movies could beat out what is arguably one of the greatest sequels in film history, but more than that, one of the few that could be said is better than the original.
The only problem for me is the fact that at least in my opinion, it’s not better than the original. Sure, Godfather II has a lot going for it, I mean, A LOT going for it. The “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart” scene alone is enough to make any movie cinematic royality.
But at the end of the day, I just don’t like Al Pachino’s Michael in this movie, compared to the one we get in the first movie. In Godfather II, he’s just a villain. Sure, he’s bad ass, he’s competent and in control, he’s still charming and charismatic, but he’s also a villain. In any other film, Michael would be the bad guy, because although he says he’s doing everything for his family, the things he does are far from it. He’s cold, calculated, and sociopathic at times in the way he handles his business. For example, I get that Fredo attempted to murder him first, but the long game he plays waiting for the moment their mother dies to exact his revenge for that, it’s both chilling and extremely uncomfortable.
In fact, what saves this movie often for me are the flashbacks to De Niro as the younger Vito Corlone, and his rise to power from a poor immigrant to the crime boss who has all the judges in his pocket. Vito’s character always had a sense of overwhelming class and dignity even though he was a mobster, so I always liked him more. But we’ll talk about that more later in this list…
4.) Lord of the Rings, Return of the King
Some people might give me crap for including so many entries on my list that are more representational of the solid work that an actor or franchise did for movies overall, but screw them! They can make their own damn lists. I like the Academy themselves am perfectly justified with the inclusion of Return of the King on my list of Best Pictures, not so much because it was the greatest of all the films, but because it was the final chapter and the culmination of an incredibly remarkable saga. Sure you could say the same thing about Return of the Jedi, and yet that didn’t win the Oscar, but I feel like Lord of the Rings from a production standpoint is very different from Star Wars.
Mainly it’s because you could look at the Lord of the Rings trilogy as one gigantic movie, split up into parts that were released a year a part. This is mainly because the movie was filmed all at the same time by the same director and same production staff, as opposed to Star Wars that was filmed years apart with a variety of different creative inputs.
So in essence I’m putting this on my list because making the Lord of the Rings movies and more importantly making them so well, is an insanely awesome acheivement, one which had defied film makers for years as one of those stories that could never be properly put on celluloid. It was too big, too epic in scale, too many characters and places and things. Tolkin didn’t just world build with LotR, he set the gold standard for world building, spending incredible amounts of time on the littlest details.
I will also say that the fact that a fantasy, science fiction, or horror film even received the Best Picture Oscar is an incredible achievement in its own right. So many of the all time greats of these genres end up bridesmaids never the bride when it comes to Best Picture, with obvious snubs being Star Wars, E.T., A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist, and a host of others. Even today with the nominations being increased from 5 to 10 to “accommodate” popular movies that actually made money, these genres are often included just to save face with fans.
That is except for Shape of Water. It still amazes me that a movie that started out as an idea for a third Hellboy movie ended up with the Oscar. Maybe it’s because of Return of the King and its trailblazing win!
3.) The French Connection
A good old fashioned 70s crime drama. Now, that’s my cup of tea. Back before it was all about over the top stunts and explosions, you built excitement and tension the old fashioned way: Strong acting, realistic stakes, suspenseful dramatic directing/editing.
It doesn’t hurt that the French Connection also boasts one of the most magnificent car chases this side of Steve Mcqueen’s Bullitt. The scene of course features Gene Hackman’s pork pie hat wearing super cool detective, Popeye Doyle, commandeering a civilian Pontiac Le Mans coupe and making a mad chase through the crowded NYC streets after a hitman who is attempting to escape on an elevated train.
The reality of the car chase is heightened by the use of a camera mounted low on the bumper which shot at a lower frame rate to accelerate the frantic pace of the action, as well as the fact that many of the car crashes which occurred due to mistimed stunt work by the drivers were actually left in the film. This gives the entire chase an authentic collateral damage type feel which ratchets up the realism and draws you further into the unfolding events.
Of course, that’s not the only scene worth commenting on in a movie chocked full of cat and mouse style intrigue. Plus Fernando Rey’s Heroine ring crime boss, Alain “Frog One” Charnier, is just the right mix of suave yet smug in his own sense of superiority that you can’t wait to see him get knocked down a peg or two.
It’s a shame they made French Connection II as it’s not very good other than the ending in which Doyle finally tracks down and kills Frog One in sort of a Dirty Harry style finish. I guess despite winning the Oscar for best actor for the first one, Gene Hackman couldn’t turn down that sweet sweet sequel money.
I’ll let you in on a secret. This movie was actually my test to prospective girlfriends as to whether they were someone I would really want to get serious with. You see I respect the hell out of anyone that enjoys classic movies. Those that don’t scoff at a film just because it was made 80 years ago in black and white. Those that accept the fact that good movies have always been around, not just in their lifetimes, and are willing to watch older films with a completely open mind.
And since some of the girls I dated ended up being somewhat shallow, I would show the real special ones Casablanca as like a final test. If they truly understood why this was one of the greatest movies ever made (and you could tell just by their initial reactions to certain scenes), then I knew they were a gal for me.
Of course, my wife, Nicole, aced that test with flying colors as we spent the rest of that evening talking about some of our favorite parts including the scene when a bunch of Nazi soldiers start singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” only to be countered by the reknown resistence leader, Laszlo, getting everyone in Humphrey Bogart’s club to drown them out in a sign of French patriotism by singing “La Marseillaise”.
Of course, the real point of Casablanca is its star crossed love story between Bogart’s Rick and Bergman’s Ilsa, which ranks there among the very best ever to be captured on film. The intensity of their performance and chemistry they share is heavenly to the point of sublime perfection. So much is said without saying a single word that it’s sometimes like going to a famous museum and getting lost in a beautiful painting hanging on the way. The stillness and effortlessness of it, especially in those scenes were Ilsa comes to steal the papers of transit from Rick at gun point only to realize that she’s madly in love with him.
Yet, in the end what’s special about this movie is that it doesn’t give the audience that expected happy ending where the guy and the girl finally get together. Instead, it gives you something greater with Rick’s selfless heroic turn ensuring that not only Laszlo escapes his Nazi pursuers, but that Ilsa remain by Laszlo’s side to help him with the great task of leading the resistance that stands before them. It’s true that problems of 3 little people don’t add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world, and that sometimes the sacrifice for the greater good is the greatest way to show the depth of your love and devotion.
1.) The Godfather
Okay. If there was going to be one movie out there that was going to beat out Casablanca for number one on my Best picture winners of all time list, the Godfather made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Sincerely, despite it being nearly 3 hours in length, it’s one of only a handful of movies, I will watch every single time I see it on. Like Star Wars, it’s cinematic comfort food to me. A dish that never ceases to satisfy and always leaves me hungry for more. Plus, unlike Godfather II, I often find myself in the original Godfather having a great deal of sympathy for the Corlone family. They are really the heroes of this picture, despite everyone being technically a bunch of murdering criminals. They seem to have a code of ethics, moral authority as it were, and give their decision to refuse the distribution of narcotics on their streets is what runs them a foul of the rest of the crime families to begin with, they are definitely on the side of right which makes you empathize with them so much more than the usual gangster.
Plus, unlike Michael in Godfather II who seems to have slipped far into the dark side, Al Pachino’s performance in this first movie as the war hero who out of the love for his father takes his first steps into the underworld is incredibly moving and relatable. And those scenes where he finds true love while hiding in Sicily only to see it robbed of him by an assassin’s bomb, it never fails to get me every time I watch it. To think the entire trajectory of the Godfather saga could have been different if Apolloni had lived. Maybe Michael wouldn’t have become so cold and stoic. Maybe he would have been a well balanced and benevolent decision maker like his father. It’s a question that still nags at me every time I watch it.
Plus I really like Godfather I over Godfather II because of James Caan’s Sonny character. Sonny is just wonderful to me, hot headed, passionate, violent, but his brotherly affection and commitment to family is so obviously powerful and strong that of course it ends up being his Achilles Heel. I absolutely love every scene he shares with Robert Duvall’s Tom in particular and would have loved to have seen a movie just about those and their friendship over the years.
Yeah, it’s one of the all time most “perfect” movies and one that keeps getting better every time I watch it. I could go on and on listing scene after scene that I love, but I feel like none sum it up better than the tense, suspense filled meeting between Michael and Sollozzo at the Italian restaurant…