Welcome to the penultimate part of my Best Picture list countdown and in this instalment we discover which films just missed out on a place in the top ten.
25. Platoon (1986)
It’s fair to say that the 1980s were the decade in which Oscar’s decisions were the most puzzling with a large number of undeserving movies scooping the Best Picture prize. The best decision the Academy made throughout the 1980s was to award Oliver Stone’s biting Vietnam movie Platoon with the top prize. I personally feel that Platoon’s greatest strength is the fact that it combines great visual sequences with narrative depth. As Stone himself served in Vietnam, Platoon comes across as a personal story whilst the characters themselves feel realistic. Both Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe give fantastic supporting turns as the conflicting leaders and only Charlie Sheen’s lead turn lets the film down slightly. Overall Platoon shows that Oscar didn’t always get it wrong in the 1980s and I’d just wish there were more quality Best Picture winners during the decade of my birth.
24. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Believe it or not but I’d never watched The Silence of the Lambs prior to embarking on this blog and it’s only now I realise what I was missing. One of the best things about Jonathan Demme’s film is that you’re sucked into the story right from the get-go and the movie’s tightly paced script meant that I never tuned out. Another of Silence of the Lambs’ great achievements is the fact that it contains genuinely terrifying moments that even made me jump and I’m one of those people who aren’t normally effected by horror films. The performances from both Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster are terrific with the former hamming it up and the latter playing it straight. I personally didn’t have a problem with the fact that Hopkins didn’t appear on screen that much as the anticipation of his various returns was one of the film’s joys. I’m actually surprised a film as dark as The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture to begin with and I’m even more shocked that it’s one of only three movies to scoop the big five awards.
23. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Kathryn Bigelow made history when she became the first female to win Best Director whilst her film The Hurt Locker was at the time the lowest grossing film ever to win the big prize. I’m not quite sure why The Hurt Locker did so poorly at the box office as I found it to be an incredibly riveting watch from beginning to end. Although I found the story a little hard to get into at times I think that characters created by screenwriter Mark Boal were utterly believable. However, possibly The Hurt Locker’s most captivating element was Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography which gave the whole film a documentary like feel. The Hurt Locker was a film that also felt incredibly relevant at the time of release and I think that Bigelow more than deserved her Oscar for what was a fine piece of thought-provoking cinema.
22. Argo (2012)
When I watched Argo for the second time I was worried that it would be a film that didn’t stand up to repeat viewings, but I was wrong. In fact if anything I enjoyed the film a lot more the second time around as I was able to appreciate its mix of intense thriller and Hollywood satire. If I’m honest I feel that the scenes involving the veteran Hollywood characters played by Alan Arkin and John Goodman were more my cup of tea than the latter moments in which Ben Affleck’s agent tried to get a group of hostages out of Iran. That’s not to say that I wasn’t on the edge of my seat during the film’s closing moments despite knowing the outcome of the movie at this point. Although the film’s two elements don’t always gel well together, I feel that Argo is a smart grown-up film that should have earned Ben Affleck at least a Best Director nomination and one that is more than worthy of its Best Picture award.
21. Gone with the Wind (1939)
As you may have noticed throughout this countdown I’m not a fan of films that drag out their story over a long running time and due to this logic Gone with the Wind should be further down my list. While I do contend that Victor Fleming’s film contains a baggy middle act it doesn’t take away from the fact that this was a rather ground-breaking movie in several ways. Gone with the Wind is not only the first Best Picture winner to be filmed in colour but is also a film that utilises colour in an incredibly effective manner. The set pieces, especially those during the civil war, are expertly filmed whilst the performances are almost universally excellent. Special mention must go to Vivien Leigh’s compelling central turn as Scarlett O’Hara as well as Hattie McDaniel’s history-making performance as Mammy which made her the first African American Oscar winner. Although certain parts of Gone with the Wind feel a little dated, this is still an epic that feels incredibly relevant today and for the most part is a thoroughly compelling watch.
20. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
We enter the top twenty with the first of two David Lean films to snag the Best Picture prize. The reason Lawrence is slightly lower than Lean’s other offering is that I personally felt that it took its sweet time to actually get going. I found that the scenes before Lawrence go to the desert were a little baggy and could’ve easily been tightened to cut down another film that had an extended running time. That being said, once the film got to the desert I was utterly transfixed thanks in part to F.A. Young’s fantastic cinematography which was well accompanied by Maurice Jarre’s iconic score. However I feel that I enjoyed Lawrence of Arabia most of all thanks to Peter O’Toole’s sparkling central turn as T.E. Lawrence. It’s easy to see why O’Toole became such a recognisable name following the film’s release as I felt he was utterly superb and if Lean had just sacrificed a little bit of the film’s earlier scenes then I think Lawrence of Arabia would’ve been a lot higher on the list.
19. No Country for Old Men (2007)
We now come to what, in my opinion, is the best Best Picture of the 21st Century so far in the form of The Coen Brothers’ crime saga. It’s fair to say that No Country for Old Men is quite an unassuming Best Picture winner but it is a film that I consider to be a masterclass in how to make a subtle yet brilliant movie. It does help that No Country for Old Men contains one of the most memorable film performances in recent memory in the form of Javier Bardem’s central turn as the film’s psychopathic antagonist Anton. The only reason the film isn’t a little higher in my list is due to the rather anticlimactic final scene which rather spoils the thrilling moments that have happened several minutes before. That being said the finale doesn’t hamper the overall feel of the film too much and I do think that it’s great that the Coens finally received well-overdue recognition from the academy for what is still one of their finest movies to date.
18. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Back to David Lean now with another film that is visually compelling but has a few problems with its pacing. The Bridge on the River Kwai is almost a film of two halves with everything that involves Alec Guinness’ Colonel Nicholson being absolutely brilliant. I found Guinness to give a superb central performance and the stand-off between him and Sessue Hayakwa’s Saito were brilliant. Conversely I thought that the scenes involving William Holden’s Commander Sheers were rather dull and I began to tune out every time his character appeared on screen. In fact I thought there were far too many scenes of Sheers’ company trudging through the jungle and I believe that the character’s only positive contribution to the film was the awesome final scene. However, once again this doesn’t take away from the fact that Bridge on the River Kwai is an absolute classic and is one that showcases how fine a director David Lean is. In fact I would go as far as to say that Bridge on the River Kwai is Lean’s best work and if you’ve not seen it before I would really recommend going out of your way to track down a copy.
17. It Happened One Night (1934)
While the pomp and circumstance of Gone With the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia is fine sometimes it’s the simplest films that have the greatest impact. That’s certainly true of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, which is still only one of three films ever to have netted Oscar’s Big Five. Although It Happened One Night is essentially a romantic comedy, Robert Riskin’s script neatly underpins the razor sharp dialogue with themes of oppression and money not being able to buy happiness. What makes It Happened One Night so special is the perfect chemistry between leads Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as the womanising reporter and absconding heiress respectively. The relationship between Colbert and Gable’s character is expertly played with the pacing of their eventual courtship being well-timed. Tying things together nicely is Frank Capra, a man who sadly only helmed two Best Picture winners and who stood out to me as one of the greatest directors of the early years of talking pictures.
16. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
One film that Capra didn’t win an Oscar for was It’s a Wonderful Life which lost out to a film I previously knew nothing about. As I love It’s a Wonderful Life I was initially sceptical about The Best Years of Our Lives’ Best Picture win but this scepticism soon disappeared. What I liked about the film was the way in which it explored the themes of hopelessness of the men who’d returned from fighting in World War II. The story is perfectly paced with the three characters portrayed by Frederic March, Dana Andrews and Howard Russell all getting their time to shine. The trio of actors are all outstanding with special mention going to non-actor Russell’s portrayal of Homer who, just like the actor portraying him, lost both of his hands in the war. The Best Years of Our Lives is a film I probably never would’ve watched had it not been for this blog and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to see it as I personally found it to be an incredible movie.
15. All Quiet on The Western Front (1929/30)
After two mediocre winners in the forms of Wings and The Broadway Melody, the Academy finally picked a worthy Best Picture winner in their third year. That film was All Quiet on the Western Front which, like The Best Years of Our Lives, explores the reality behind serving in the war. The movie follows the exploits of several young men over the course of World War One and perfectly emphasises the real horrors of war. For a film released in the early 1930s I think that All Quiet on the Western Front was way ahead of its time both thematically and visually. Special mention must go to the battle scenes which were shot in a way that made them seem absolutely believable and I feel that this film would’ve been the first time that audiences may have grasped what the soldiers who served in the war had to go through. I think it’s a testament to director Lewis Milestone that his film hasn’t dated that much at all and I would go as far as to say that it’s better written and shot than a lot of war movies released in recent years.
14. Annie Hall (1977)
Another example of how well-drawn characters can somehow be enough to drive a film, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall is a completely brilliant film thanks mostly to the director’s fantastic script. Allen’s semi-autobiographical story seems him play a fictionalised version of himself as he creates an awkward chemistry between himself and Diane Keaton’s kooky singer. Every line of dialogue rings true as Annie and Alvy’s relationship plays out on screen in a way that most people can identify with in some way. Whilst Allen plays to his strengths, it’s Keaton who is the life blood of the film and her grounded portrayal of Annie earned her a well-deserved Oscar. With a brilliantly-paced script and identifiable characters Annie Hall proves that you don’t always need visual splendour to create a worthy Best Picture winner.
13. From Here to Eternity (1953)
Combining exploration of romantic relationships with visual flair, Fred Zinneman’s Hawaiian army epic is one of the most successful Oscar movies of all time. In my opinion the film deserved its thirteen nominations and eight wins as it was a movie that really moved and shocked me in equal measure. All five central cast members were nominated for their respective roles with Frank Sinatra shocking me the most as the jovial yet doomed Private Maggio. Meanwhile Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift both put in solid leading turns with the latter playing against type playing a rather strait-laced character. Adding to the strength of the film are the visuals with Zinneman perfectly exploiting the Hawaiian exterior locations to full effect. The final scenes of the movie are quite shocking whilst I found the closing scenes quite moving and felt they capped off the film beautifully. There’s very little I can fault the film for and it’s at this point that I wish I had more spaces in my top ten.
12. The English Patient (1996)
Following on rather nicely from From Here to Eternity we have another film that combines a wartime setting with a relationship drama. What I liked about The English Patient is the way in which the two stories involving Ralph Fiennes’ Count László Almásy intersect beautifully throughout the course of the film. Although Fiennes is great at playing a dashing leading man it’s the film’s two actresses who make the biggest impression. I’m a massive fan of Kristen Scott Thomas and felt she played a strong yet sensitive female lead while the chemistry between she and Fiennes was perfect throughout. Meanwhile Oscar winner Juliette Binoche brought some real heart to the film as her nurse Hanna tended to the fallen Count. Alongside the performances I felt John Seale’s cinematography was absolutely fantastic as he captured the Tunisian deserts and Italian countryside beautifully. Despite having a rather lengthy running time, I was never bored by The English Patient and instead found it a captivating love story that utilised its wartime setting to full effect.
11. Rebecca (1940)
It was a rather agonising decision about which film to leave out of the top ten with three movies jostling for that all-important tenth spot. In the end I decided to place Alfred Hitchcock’s eerie chiller at number eleven and it once again makes me bemoan the fact that I can only place ten films in my final post. There’s nothing bad I can really say about Rebecca, which is a film that exploits the creepy setting of Manderlay to full effect. Adding to the sense of dread are the Oscar-winning cinematography and Franz Waxman’s fantastic score which builds up to a great crescendo. Both Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine are brilliant in the lead roles but it is Judith Anderson who gives the film’s best performance as the ominous housekeeper Mrs Danvers. I have to say the biggest travesty of all is that Hitchcock himself didn’t win Best Director for his brilliant work helming the film and it was sadly an award that evaded him throughout his career. I do feel that’s a shame as Rebecca proves that Hitchcock is the master at creating a terrifying atmosphere and I’m just sorry I couldn’t place the film in my top ten.
And that top ten is coming up next folks as we finally find out what comes out in my list as the greatest Best Picture of all time.