Welcome back as we enter the fourth part of my countdown ranking the Best Picture winners from worst to best.
40. Patton (1970)
Elvis’ favourite film only just cracks my top forty as I felt Franklin J Schaffner’s World War I epic was lacking in various areas. Like a lot of the films in this part of my list I felt that the writers wanted to squeeze in the entire story of Patton and I felt that was to the detriment of the movie. Certainly at points I felt the film lagged but thankfully George C Scott’s performance saw me through the dark times. Patton was definitely Scott’s film and I think without his mighty presence at the helm then the film may not be as well-remembered as it is today. I additionally thought that some of the set pieces were masterfully directed by Schaffner and I feel praise must also go to Jerry Goldman for his memorable score. Although it lags during its three hour running time, Patton still deserves a place in the top forty due to Scott’s performance if nothing else.
39. The King’s Speech (2010)
When The King’s Speech won Best Picture I was one of the people who was against the decision primarily as I thought The Social Network was the better film. However, this blog has given me the chance to reassess Tom Hooper’s movie and second time round it was definitely better than I remembered. Although it still feels a little old-fashioned The King’s Speech’s universal themes about acceptance and conquering adversity are explored well throughout the film. The trio of performances from Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush are all excellent with all three on top form. Meanwhile the art and costume direction were absolutely outstanding and helped to add some authenticity to the piece. Even though there were arguably better films that could’ve walked away with Best Picture in 2010 there’s no denying that The King’s Speech is an accomplished piece of film-making.
38. Marty (1955)
I feel that Marty is one of the Best Picture winners that hasn’t lasted the test of time and I for one feel that’s a shame. Though it doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of other winners from the 1950s, Marty is still a great study of a middle aged man who hasn’t yet found the love of his life. Central to the film’s success is Best Actor winner Ernest Borgnine who perfectly portrays the protagonist as a loveable loser who tries to please everyone he meets. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky also deserves praise for a neat little script in which he has created three-dimensional characters who feel like they could still exist today. At ninety minutes long, Marty never outstayed its welcome but at the same time I think that the fact that this is the shortest Best Picture winner of all time has hampered its chances of becoming a fondly remembered classic. Therefore I would definitely describe Marty as a forgotten gem and feel that you should seek it out if you haven’t seen it before.
37. Birdman (2014)
This year’s Best Picture winner more than demonstrates the interesting field of nominees which included the quirky Grand Budapest Hotel and the awesome Whiplash. Although I still contend that Boyhood should have won, Birdman is still a worthy winner due to its unique concept and fantastic visual flair. It’s most deserved award for me was Best Cinematography as the piece takes place in almost one entire single take. Elsewhere Michael Keaton deserves praise for sending up his own fading star persona whilst Ed Norton and Emma Stone provided fine support as his nemesis and daughter respectively. Though at times Birdman is a little too quirky for its own good it’s a film that more than stands out from the pack and one that signals that Oscar may be honouring more interesting films in the coming years.
36. Ben-Hur (1959)
Ben-Hur is one of those films that’s held up in high regard and there’s a number of great reasons for this. Firstly a lot of the set pieces were brilliantly bold and when they came along I felt they would’ve stunned cinema audiences and Academy voters alike. Chief among the amazing set pieces is the legendary chariot scene whilst the scenes in which Ben-Hur is on the slave ship are also spectacular. Though Charlton Heston’s performance was a little hammy at times it suited William Wyler’s film whilst Jack Hawkins gave the best turn in the film as the conflicted Quintus Arrius. Despite it’s obvious flourishes of greatness, Ben-Hur is a film that takes it sweet time to get going and is one that feels a little date when watching it with 21st century eyes. Ultimately Ben-Hur is a film that deserved to win Best Picture however it is a movie that possibly shouldn’t be as well-regarded as it still is.
35. The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese was a director who was long due for producing a Best Picture winning film however I was one of those who was surprised when that film turned out to be The Departed. Although it’s nowhere near as great as the likes of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, The Departed is still an engaging crime thriller that has a lot of depth to it. Part of the reason for the film’s success is due to the performances of the ensemble cast and particularly Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Both DiCaprio and Damon play with the audience’s emotions as the characters play both sides of the law to differing degrees. Despite him hamming it up at times, Jack Nicholson also provides great value as the film’s central antagonist Frank Costello. The Departed builds up to a fantastic crescendo and its final hour is full of edge-of-you-seat moments and a final scene that I didn’t quite see coming. So, while I don’t think The Departed will be remembered as one of Scorsese’s best films, it still deserves its place as one of the 87 Best Picture winners.
34. Grand Hotel (1931/32)
Like Marty, Grand Hotel is a film that isn’t as well-remembered as some of the other films on this list and I for one feel that this is a little wrong. Edmund Goulding’s film was one of the first to combine some great shots of its titular Berlin establishment with a great ensemble cast. In fact it’s the cast that somewhat make the film with Lionel Barymore being particularly on form as the terminally resident who’s decided to start living life to the fullest. Big stars of the time such as Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford are well utilised throughout the film while smaller names such as Wallace Beery and John Barrymore play their parts equally well. Although it does feel a little old-fashioned, Grand Hotel is still a film that would entertain today’s audiences and it’s a film that I wish a few more people would’ve seen.
33. Amadeus (1984)
The 1980s were definitely the decade of the meandering historical epic and while most were rather dull, Amadeus was the film that bucked the trend. Part of the reason for this was the fact that director Milos Forman was willing to play with the genre of the costume drama and add some modern twists to the characters. Everything about Amadeus just looks fantastic and it is a film that is drenched in decadence from beginning to end. While F Murray Abraham’s sly turn as Salieri won him the Oscar I felt that Tom Hulce as the titular composer gave the more rounded performance of the pair. If I have one criticism of Amadeus then it’s the fact that none of the characters are particularly likeable as they’re all obsessed with fame and fortune. But that didn’t too much in Amadeus’ case as the film was just full of visual splendour and two great central turns from Hulce and Abraham.
32. Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
Kramer Vs Kramer was another one of those films that’s held up as a film that didn’t deserve its Best Picture win but I personally felt it was fantastic. I feel part of the reason for its success is the fact that screenwriter Robert Benton stepped up to direct the film after original helmer François Truffaut pulled out. I think that Benton knew exactly how he wanted his words realised on screen and the result is a tightly paced movie about the importance of family. Part of the success of Kramer Vs Kramer is the fact that Benton has created two flawed individuals in Ted and Joanna who ultimately just want the best for their son. Both Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep deservedly won Oscars for portraying two people who had to change their priorities as they realised what they truly wanted. Kramer Vs Kramer also isn’t a film that’s just story and no style as Trauffaut’s long-time cinematographer Néstor Almendros adds real beauty to the piece, capturing some silent moments between father and son. Ultimately I felt Kramer Vs Kramer was won one of the better Best Picture winners and is one of the films that has truly explored the meaning of the word family.
31. The Lost Weekend (1945)
I’m a massive fan of Billy Wilder’s work and while The Lost Weekend isn’t one of my favourite of his films it still demonstrates why the director is so great. Part of the reason for The Lost Weekend’s success is the way in which the camera focuses on the downfall of Ray Milland’s alcoholic writer over the course of a couple of days. The script is perfectly written and the film is populated with realistic characters and deals with themes that are still as relevant today as they were when The Lost Weekend was released. Meanwhile Ray Milland is absolutely fantastic in the central role as he anchors the film and almost appears in every scene. Although there are no big musical sequences or epic set pieces, The Lost Weekend’s real joy is that it contains a humanistic story told by an actor who really understands his character.
30. The Artist (2011)
Although The Artist wasn’t the film that provided the most thought-provoking scenes or spectacular sequences, it was one of the most entertaining Best Picture winners I watched while on this journey. I feel its appeal was greater to me as I’d recently relived the time period in which the film was set and therefore I could appreciate its historical context. Michel Hazanavicius’ film is also perfectly timed so that the story never runs out steam and that George Valentin’s downfall and redemption occurs naturally. Jean Dujardin was also on fine form as the silent film star whose world collapses beneath him whilst Berenice Bejo was equally stunning as newcomer Peppy Miller. But what gave The Artist that extra sheen was the costumes, sets and most importantly the music which made it a convincing exploration of the silent film era. Although it may have had little new to say about the movie industry, I found The Artist to be a rather smart satire and a film that was a thorough joy to watch.
29. Gladiator (2000)
Ridley Scott’s reintroduction of the sword and sandals epic rightly won an Oscar in 2000 as the film is visually superb. The second half of the film which features the gladiatorial scenes themselves is the highlight for me as Scott and his team worked hard to make these sequences as realistic as possible. In fact the entire film is visually compelling and really transports you back to the time of the gladiators. The performances in the film are universally great from Joaquin Phoenix as the obnoxious emperor to the smaller turns from British Thespians Oliver Reed, Richard Harris and Derek Jacobi. However the best performance comes from Oscar winner Russell Crowe who is wonderfully expressive as the wronged Maximus. If there’s one thing that’s wrong with the film then it’s the poorly executed script which suffers from exposition-heavy moments but that’s a minor niggle in a Best Picture winner that has plenty to offer.
28. Unforgiven (1992)
If Gladiator signalled the return of the sword and sandals epic then Unforgiven definitely did the same for the Western. However Clint Eastwood’s film plays with the conventions of the genre by having his character William Munny discovering that he no longer has the heart for killing that he once did. Cinematographer Jack N Green deserves particular praise for capturing the Old West on screen and makes William and Ned’s road to the town of Big Whiskey all the more compelling. Another great part of Unforgiven is the scenery-chewing Oscar-winning turn from Gene Hackman as dastardly law man Little Bill who arguably made his character the most memorable in the film. Though I didn’t find it as engaging as I possibly should have done, Unforgiven is still packed full of memorable moments and fantastic performance and is ultimately a well-shot and well-acted old school Western that benefits from having an easy-to-follow story.
27. Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King (2003)
If there’s one thing that defined the early 21st century in terms of cinema it was the Lord of the Rings trilogy so it didn’t come as much of a surprise when the final film in the franchise went on to win Best Picture. Although Return of the King’s win was arguably Oscar’s attempt to honour the whole trilogy I still felt it worked as a standalone film. Part of the reason for this is that the actors feel that they have come of age and therefore deliver the most mature performances of the three films. Additionally director Peter Jackson’s use of technology and utilisation of the New Zealand scenery was similarly at its best most notably in the final battle scenes. A lot of people hold up the film’s multiple endings as its only downfall but I have to say I didn’t mind them as I felt they worked in the context of the story. Whatever you may think of the numerous final scenes, there’s no denying that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of the most memorable cinematic offerings in recent memory and that the Return of the King deserved its Best Picture win.
26. West Side Story (1961)
We end this part of the countdown with the best musical ever to win the Best Picture award. Unlike other technicolour toe-tapping movies of the 1960s, West Side Story had that little extra edge which made it stand out from the crowd. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins brilliant brought the musical to the big screen and were able to perfectly choreograph every number to perfection. The stark colour scheme perfectly helped to identify the Jets and the Sharks whilst I don’t personally believe that there is a bad song in the film. Although the performance from Richard Beymer as Tony was a little flat the turns from Natalie Wood, George Chakiris and Rita Moreno more than made up for this. West Side Story is also a musical that makes you sympathise with its characters and by the end I for one had a tear in my eye as Maria surveyed the damage that the gang war in her neighbourhood had caused.
Next up we discover which films have missed out on a Top Ten slot as we count down numbers 25 to 11.