Best Picture Winners Ranked

Every Best Picture Winner Ranked: The Top Ten

As I approach the final post in this countdown I must say that I do regret doing this ranking system in a way as every film in this top ten is a worthy of a top spot. But as I’ve committed to a countdown I’ve decided to let my own opinions be the guide and the films in the top three might not be ones everyone was expecting. Obviously this is just my personal taste and is not a scientific formula so if you don’t agree with my choices then please let me know underneath what you feel should have been number one.

10. The French Connection (1971)

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To reiterate that point I’ve placed a film that is an absolutely excellent movie in the number ten spot and I have to say I agonised whether it would get a place at all. The French Connection is almost perfect in every way from the excellent cinematography to the way in which William Friedkin ensures that we never miss any part of the non-stop action. As it’s the first R-rated movie ever to win Best Picture, The French Connection is able to blur the lines a little more and shows that good doesn’t always prosper. Meanwhile Gene Hackman was at his best as the fraught Popeye Doyle and received a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his turn here. The French Connection also showcased what the 1970s were going to bring in terms of cinematic triumph and as four of the ten films here are from that decade you can see I more than agree with that sentiment.

9. Midnight Cowboy (1969) 

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Moving on from a film from the 1970s to one from the late sixties which I believe his ahead of its time and to this date is the only X-Rated movie ever to win the big prize. Director John Schelsinger is keen to ensure that his film about a male gigolo isn’t just a standard affair and so inserts flashbacks and fantasy sequences into the mix. These scenes add to our emotional involvement in the film especially when we learn about the heartbreak that Jon Voight’s Joe went through before he met Dustin Hoffman’s smooth talking Rizzo. It’s the chemistry between Voight and Hoffman that makes the movie as compelling as it is and their scenes together add an extra layer of emotion to proceedings. As the film progressed I was increasingly more invested in our protagonists and by the final scene as the strains of ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ played I have to admit that I had a little tear in my eye.

8. On the Waterfront (1954) 

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Elia Kazan was one director who I was previously unaware of before starting this challenge but upon completion I personally feel that he’s one of the best of all time. Kazan’s greatest work is possibly On the Waterfront which perfectly captures what life was like for the dockworkers in Hoboken, New York. Marlon Brando puts in an Oscar-winning star-making turn as the slightly dumb Terry Malloy whose redemption throughout the film demonstrates the actor’s range. Brando is flanked by a brilliant supporting cast which includes Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Lee J Cobb and the Oscar-winning Eva Marie Saint who brings more than a little bit of heart to the film as Evie. The cinematography adds to the realism of the piece as does the fact that Kazan cast non-actors in some of the film’s minor roles. Overall On the Waterfront is a compelling film, packed with emotional realism and backed up with a cast who were at the top of their game.

7. The Apartment (1960) 

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A film that is at times light-hearted and at other times completely heart-breaking, The Apartment proves why Billy Wilder is arguably one of the greatest directors of all time. Everything about the film from the score to the screenplay is note-perfect and the focus on the loneliness of the central characters is an instantly identifiable theme. Jack Lemmon is perfect in the lead role and proves that he’s an actor who’s as comfortable with slapstick comedy as he is with human drama. Meanwhile Shirley MacLaine is equally fabulous as the tragic Fran and it helps that she shares a believable chemistry with Lemmon. Unlike other films on this list, The Apartment is one that stands up to repeat viewings and it’s a movie that you can get different things from each time you want it. Sometimes I feel that human drama is a lot more impactful than sweeping epic shots and long action sequences and The Apartment is more than a testament to that.

6. The Godfather Part II (1974) 

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Although I’d watched both of The Godfather films before this challenge allowed me the opportunity to assess which was the better film and I ultimately came to the conclusion that the original was better than the sequel. This is mainly to do with the fact that the scenes involving Michael’s continued dominance were a little baggy at times even though the story finally gains traction in the film’s final third. However, the scenes featuring Robert De Niro as the young Vito were arguably more compelling than anything in the first Godfather film and it’s fair to say that the actor’s compelling turn was more than deserving of an Oscar win. There were also other elements of the film I enjoyed very much especially the fact that the brilliant John Cazale was given more to do as Fredo. Even though it’s probably one of if not the best sequel of all time, The Godfather Part II’s baggy middle chapter means that it doesn’t quite eclipse Coppola’s start to the trilogy.

5. Schindler’s List (1993) 

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Spielberg’s finest hour opens our top five here as the director’s documentary-like style pays dividends with an absolutely tremendous film. The black and white cinematography means that Schindler’s List strikes itself out as unique straight away with the camera work throughout being superb. Spielberg makes sure that the visuals fit in with the heartbreaking nature of the story and the little image of the girl in the red dress is as powerful now as it was over twenty years ago. Schindler’s List also benefits from a lead character who isn’t exactly noble but is propelled to do the right thing as the war progresses. Liam Neeson gives an admirable turn as the titular factory owner but it’s Ralph Fiennes’ performance as the despicable Goth that steals the show. Powerful, visually stunning and well-acted in equal measure, Schindler’s List is a masterpiece and possibly one of only a handful of films from recent decades to truly deserve its Best Picture win.

4. The Godfather (1972) 

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This is where things start to get a little bit more complicated as I’ve really jostled over where to put the final four films in the list. A lot of people would’ve put The Godfather at the top of their list but I personally feel that my attention started to wane during the film’s middle section where Michael leaves the Corleone clan behind in order to get married and wander round the countryside. Those scenes aside everything else about The Godfather is fantastic and just a couple of minutes into the film you know you’re watching a classic. Pacino’s performance here is superb as are the turns put in by both James Caan and Robert Duvall who in my eyes are all stronger than the Oscar-winning Marlon Brando. The design of The Godfather is just superb and there’s a reason why the film is still highly-regarded today as in my mind it hasn’t dated. Though not as perfect as some may think, The Godfather is still one of the best Best Pictures of all time even though it doesn’t garner a place in my top three.

3. All About Eve (1950) 

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Even though it’s not to everybody’s tastes I still feel that All About Eve is one of the best films of all time and one of the greatest Best Picture winners to boot. The film’s record of fourteen nominations has never been bettered whilst the strength of the ensemble still stands up today. Bette Davis’ both plays to her strengths as the short-tempered Margo but also shows a softer side in the later scenes. Meanwhile Anne Baxter is great as the titular newcomer to the world of fame who weasels her way to the top. The scenes between Davis and Baxter are particularly fantastic whilst director Joseph L Mankiewicz’s script is note-perfect in my opinion. Able support is provided by Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter as well as the film’s only Oscar winner George Sanders. Over sixty years on, All About Eve’s themes about fame being fickle are as relevant today as they were then and I feel that’s why the film still feels as perfect as it does.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) 

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As I mentioned in the introduction, the films placed in the top positions are ones that I have a personal connection to and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is definitely one of those movies. It’s a film that I’ve watched several times during my lifetime and it’s one that I never get bored of watching. Still only one of three films to ever win the Big Five Oscars, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the perfect example of how a film can utilise a space and make the audience feel as claustrophobic as the characters. Jack Nicholson is at the top of his game as institutionalised criminal McMurphy but it’s Louise Fletcher as the icy Nurse Ratched who steals the show for me. The bleak cinematography and brilliant editing add an extra realism to the movie and the final scene is still powerful no matter how many times you watch it. I find it hard to find any fault in Milos Forman’s film and that’s why it easily takes the silver medal on this countdown.

1. Casablanca (1943) 

But there was only one choice for the number one position and it’s a film that I’ve loved ever since I first watched it about fifteen years ago. Casablanca is not only a perfectly made film but one that contained well-written, flawed characters who you were able to sympathise with. What makes Casablanca is the fact that there are no heroes among the characters but instead we find a group of people who are just trying to make the best of a bad situation. Michael Curtiz’s direction perfectly captures the lawlessness of the area of Casablanca as we watch the smoke waft through Rick’s Cafe into the gambling rooms at the back. Both Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart are at the top of their games here and their chemistry means that Rick and Ilsa go down as one of cinema’s greatest ever couples. I still find Casablanca’s final scene as heart-breaking as I did the first time I saw it and I which I could add a little bit of music to this post as it would be great to go out with the strains of ‘As Time Goes By’.
So that’s the end of the Best Picture Challenge however Every Nominee will continue and in the next post I will reveal where the blog will go next.
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