Monday, September 3, 2012

The Ten Best 'Best Picture' Oscar Winners...or something like that.

Alright, so Josh over at The Cinematic Spectacle recently posted his list of the ten best Best Picture Oscar winners, and I wanted to weigh in with my thoughts.  Now, I’ve only actually seen 59 of the actually Best Picture winners, so my judgment may be skewed a little, but this is just for fun anyways, so who really cares.

We’ll start at the bottom.

On the Waterfront

`On the Waterfront' is one minute steely and rugged, the next soft and serene. It is at one extreme sincere and fragile and at the other harsh and manipulative. What is so brilliant about `On the Waterfront' is that it balances those extremes beautifully in order to create a film that is strong and endearing; one that we can appreciate and relate to.

The film drives forward on a conundrum of conscience that is very telling to the nature of man himself; always looking for a way out of making those decisions that could cost us something valuable.

Marlon Brando truly gives and inspired and flawless performance. There really isn't enough good to say about this fantastic performance. Eve Marie Saint is also wonderfully used as Edie, the moral crux at the films core. Karl Malden is brilliant as Father Barry, and I truly wish he had joined Brando and Saint as Oscar winners that year. His portrayal of the conflicted priest is outstanding and truly memorable amidst a very memorable cast.

Everything about this film hits the mark just right; from the acting to the script to the masterful direction on the part of Elia Kazan. The mood is perfectly set, the black and white tones are rich and engrossing, the music is flawlessly captivating and the film editing keeps us wrapped up in every scene. In a nutshell `On the Waterfront' is flawless.

Midnight Cowboy

The film centers around two ‘losers’, Joe and Rizzo who bond over their shared loneliness.  Joe moves from Texas to New York, planning on becoming a hustler to make a living.  Upon a chance meeting with Rizzo (that doesn’t go so well), the two wind up wallowing in their solitude together, working hard to exploit each other to make a living.  While the majority of the films center seems to go nowhere (climactically), it serves to build a tragic portrait of two wasted lives.  In many ways, the film reminds me of John Huston’s tragically underrated ‘Fat City’.  In fact, the endings are similarly tragic, especially when you consider the emotional weight it carries for the characters.  Throughout the film Rizzo is dying to reach Florida, a place he considers a safe-haven.  It is only appropriate that Florida bring with it insurmountable pain (or would that be a welcomed release?).


The performances by the two stars is nearly otherworldly, especially Dustin Hoffman, who chews up every scene.  Many may label his performance ‘gimmick’, but there is so much earnest heart and drive in his every tick that he bleeds forth a reality that surpassing mere clich√©.  Voight is a perfect complement here, serving up a more subdued and ‘observational’ character. 

Few films can capture the desperation that simmers under the skin of the lonesome, and ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (while subjectively dated) refuses to date itself.  This is one for the ages.

Annie Hall

What I think is so poignant about `Annie Hall' is that it depicts a relationship that is as average as they come and so any and every one can relate and draw from this film. The audience can immediately place themselves in the film and understand both Singer and Hall and this helps the audience make a personal and emotional connection to the material; thus causing us to care deeply about the outcome. The film beautifully captures the strains that insecurities and difference can cause on a relationship and approaches the subjects of independence and desire with precision and grace.

The film is only elevated by the brilliant performances by the two leads. Keaton, who rightfully won the Oscar for her performance, is exciting and mysterious, intriguing and complex. Her character is desirous from the very beginning and she builds on her intricacies magnificently. Allen is a revelation, and in all honesty my favorite part of the film. His neurotic shtick can get a little tiresome (as was seen in `Scoop') but here he is genuine and passionate with his delivery, to the point where he is not only tolerable but wholly enjoyable.

`Annie Hall' has already received classic status and will always be regarded as one of the finest films of all time. I'm here to simply agree and urge anyone who has yet to see the film to check it out ASAP. Coming from a man who was once put off by the auteur that is Woody Allen, this is truly an astounding film. Set aside any preconceived notions of what you're going to see and just dive right it, for this film has everything a movie lover needs to survive.


As the film opens we meet Antonio Salieri, a man gone crazy. He is living in an asylum and claims to have murdered Mozart. In the opening scenes of the film Salieri is met by a priest who wants to hear his story and so Salieri proceeds to tell him how it was that he came to meet, grow to despise and eventually kill Mozart.

Antonio Salieri was an aspiring composer who has reached a certain level of fame as court composer to Emperor Joseph II but he has achieved nothing in comparison to the fame and recognition as the esteemed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri himself feels that Mozart's music is divine, something sent from God above (kind of the way I feel about this movie) but when he has the chance to finally meet this messenger of God he is let down. Mozart is not the noble gentlemen he had expected but instead is a pompous arrogant vile thing that sends shivers down Salieri's spine.

How could God use this disgusting man in such a beautiful and miraculous way?

The moral complexities that ‘Amadeus’ flirts with are truly outstanding to watch unfold, as they embed themselves in Salieri’s own soul and build to something intoxicatingly sincere and profound even.  With stunning performances that are backlit across magnificent cinematography and an acute directorial eye; this film is, in a word, perfect.


I have a real soft spot for this film.  I still remember being a young boy, around five or so, and watching this with my family.  We’d snuggle up in my parent’s bed and watch this film, which is my father’s favorite.  One could easily dismiss this placement as mere sentimentality, but I think that would be a mistake since the film itself is highly regarded as one of the finest ever made.  So, I think the sentiment I attach to it is mere coincidence.

The beautiful visuals that arrest this film are complemented with ease by a rich soul, a rich chemistry that exists between the actors and their characters and the direction the film is emotionally taking.  This is the ageless love story, the romantic epic that still gives the viewer those butterflies.  Forget ‘Gone With the Wind’, because ‘Casablanca’ is timeless and articulate throughout; a film that understands the importance of building a balance between concept and integrity and manages to flesh out a situation with the same depth it gives to its love story.

Why couldn’t THIS have been Bogart’s Oscar?

All About Eve

The film revolves around a friendship that turns to bitter rivalry. Young Eve Harrington will do anything to get a shot in the movies, and when she is introduced quite unexpectedly to the famous Margo Channing it seems that she may get her chance. Margo soon finds that Eve may seem simple and sweet, but her interference with her life starts to cause her more problems than she could have imagined. It soon becomes apparent that Eve wants nothing more than to become Margo, even if that means stripping her of everything that she holds dear to her.

What could have been nothing more than a simple story becomes so much deeper thanks to the brilliant performances by the entire cast, not just the glorious Bette Davis.  But the actors don't have to do all the work on their own though; the script they are given helps them a great deal.  Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz adapts Mary Orr's `The Wisdom of Eve' with wit and class, serving up a delightfully entertaining film from start to finish.

`All About Eve' may not seem like an extremely deep film, although the ending flirts with the concept of karma and the idea that one can only get away with deception and trickery for so long, but even at its simplest `All About Eve' is intelligent and thought-provoking. It brilliantly balances the need to be important with the need to be entertaining. There are few films that can match `All About Eve' frame for frame, and that alone solidifies its very necessity.

The Godfather & The Godfather,  Part II

It has been said that `The Godfather' films (at least the first two) are those rare films that just feel right from beginning to end. Every facet seems to fit just perfect, seems to flow evenly and brilliantly. Every actor is perfect (and I do truly mean perfect) for their roles. They melt into character and never break, always elevating the scenes they embody. The script is tightly woven, intricate and engrossing. The direction by Francis Ford Coppola may very well be the single greatest directive execution in the history of film making (if I had to separate, I always go to the original). His delivery of these marvelous films is really what helps create its sheer presence and undeniable commanding power. Coppola cemented himself here as one of the great directors of all time.

`The Godfather' films truly stand the test of time as one of the most recognizable and highly lauded cinematic spectacles ever released. Many critics consider the original the finest movie ever filmed, and technically I feel they are correct. There isn't a single flaw to be seen here for everything and everyone is a perfect complement to one another.  These films will leave the viewing with absolutely no regrets.  They are quite simply the pure definition of `cinema'.  This is what the movies are all about; great storytelling; and no greater story has ever been told.

Kramer vs. Kramer

There are many films about the deterioration of the marriage arrangement, but very few of them can reach the levels of emotional attachment that `Kramer vs. Kramer' manages to grasp hold of. To say that `Kramer vs. Kramer' doesn't still resonate today is a miscalculation if you ask me, for even if the eventual result is softer and or more delicate than is often the case in reality, there is so much truth in every frame that one can't help but draw comparisons to similar situations today.

`Kramer vs. Kramer' feels very short, which I actually believe works to its benefit. I often prefer films that really elaborate on each character and scene and build a life inside itself, but `Kramer vs. Kramer' doesn't need to stretch the clock to do that. It quickly, yet efficiently, fleshes out our main characters (namely Ted) and never allows itself to drag on long enough to bore us. It's like a sucker-punch to the gut; quick and undetectable yet brutally effective.

`Kramer vs. Kramer' is a beautiful film that still stands tall as an inspiring and moving cinematic landmark. I'm so thrilled that the Academy showered this film with multiple Oscar wins, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Lead Actor and Supporting Actress. There aren't many films out there today that have this sort of power.

The Apartment

When watching `The Apartment' I expected something completely different. I expected something outlandish and slapstick and more in the vein of `The Odd Couple' and I think that because I really had no idea what this movie was about. I didn't bother reading the back of the DVD case because I knew I wanted to see it based on its reputation alone. Why spoil the surprise, and so I brought it home and popped it in and here I am now, writing my review of one of the best comedies I've ever seen.

The reason `The Apartment' is so great is because it is extremely smart. It's funny, sure, but in an honest and believable manner. It's witty and original and the chemistry between the stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine is effortless.

`The Apartment' is a charming movie, but one cannot overlook its dramatic air. There is a lot in this film that is `no laughing matter' so-to-speak, for it deals with some very serious subjects such as infidelity and suicide. Thankfully writer/director Billy Wilder approaches this with candor and grace, delivering a serious film that, while not making light of the subject, manages to infuse enough honest humor to make it utterly enjoyable.


  1. Excellent write-up! And thanks for the link.

    I love that you have my favorite film at #1. :) Watched some of it on TCM earlier today, and it's so ridiculously good.

    Bogie definitely should've gotten that Oscar for Casablanca!

    Your choices are all great, but the one that I'm hesitant on is Kramer vs. Kramer. Though it's a terrific film, I think Apocalypse Now deserved the win.

    Amadeus, All About Eve, The Godfather Part II, and Midnight Cowboy were very much considered for my list, but I had to cut them. :(

    It's also interesting that you ranked them. If I had done that, I suppose they'd be something like this:

    1. The Apartment
    2. Casablanca
    3. The Godfather
    4. The French Connection
    5. On the Waterfront
    6. Schindler's List
    7. Annie Hall
    8. Gone with the Wind
    9. Platoon
    10. It Happened One Night

    1. I just love Kramer vs. Kramer...but I think it's a father thing for me...sentiment, I know, but it is so strong for me. It actually doesn't win the Best Picture award for me (Alien does) and on many days I even prefer Apocalypse Now, but I don't hate its win at all. In fact, out of all the films I listed, the only ones that actually win in their respective years is The Godfather and Casablanca. Even The Apartment, which I ADORE loses to La Dolce Vita.

    2. Interesting. I don't hate Kramer's win either. I just wish Apocalypse had won. Six of my picks would be my personal winners, the losers being On the Waterfront, Schindler's List, Annie Hall, and Platoon.

    3. So who are your winners in those years?

      For me:
      54 - La Strada
      77 - Eraserhead
      86 - Hannah and Her Sisters
      93 - The Piano