Project: Best Picture Oscar Winners

[Post updated 2/27/17]

BEST PICTURE WINNERS
Wings (1927, William A. Wellman)
The Broadway Melody (1929, Harry Beaumont)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, Lewis Milestone)
Cimarron (1931, Wesley Ruggles)
Grand Hotel (1932, Edmund Goulding)
Cavalcade (1933, Frank Lloyd)
It Happened One Night (1934, Frank Capra)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, Frank Lloyd)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936, Robert Z. Leonard)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937, William Dieterle)
You Can’t Take it With You (1938, Frank Capra)
Gone with the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming)
Rebecca (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)
How Green Was My Valley (1941, John Ford)
Mrs. Miniver (1942, William Wyler)
Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
Going My Way (1944, Leo McCarey)
The Lost Weekend (1945, Billy Wilder)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler)
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947, Elia Kazan)
Hamlet (1948, Laurence Olivier)
All the King’s Men (1949, Robert Rossen)
All About Eve (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, Cecil B. DeMille)
From Here to Eternity (1953, Fred Zinnemann)
On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan)
Marty (1955, Delbert Mann)
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, Michael Anderson)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, David Lean)
Gigi (1958, Vincente Minnelli)
Ben-Hur (1959, William Wyler)
The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)
West Side Story (1961, Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)
Tom Jones (1963, Tony Richardson)
My Fair Lady (1964, George Cukor)
The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise)
A Man for All Seasons (1966, Fred Zinnemann)
In the Heat of the Night (1967, Norman Jewison)
Oliver! (1968, Carol Reed)
Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger)
Patton (1970, Franklin J. Schaffner)
The French Connection (1971, William Friedkin)
The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
The Sting (1973, George Roy Hill)
The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Milos Forman)
Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen)
Annie Hall (1977, Woody Allen)
The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979, Robert Benton)
Ordinary People (1980, Robert Redford)
Chariots of Fire (1981, Hugh Hudson)
Gandhi (1982, Richard Attenborough)
Terms of Endearment (1983, James L. Brooks)
Amadeus (1984, Milos Forman)
Out of Africa (1985, Sydney Pollack) [cap]
Platoon (1986, Oliver Stone)
The Last Emperor (1987, Bernardo Bertolucci)
Rain Man (1988, Barry Levinson)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989, Bruce Beresford)
Dances with Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)
Unforgiven (1992, Clint Eastwood)
Schindler’s List (1993, Steven Spielberg)
Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis)
Braveheart (1995, Mel Gibson)
The English Patient (1996, Anthony Minghella)
Titanic (1997, James Cameron)
Shakespeare in Love (1998, John Madden)
American Beauty (1999, Sam Mendes)
Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott)
A Beautiful Mind (2001, Ron Howard)
Chicago (2002, Rob Marshall)
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003, Peter Jackson)
Million Dollar Baby (2004, Clint Eastwood)
Crash (2004, Paul Haggis)
The Departed (2006, Martin Scorsese)
No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle)
The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow)
The King’s Speech (2010, Tom Hooper)
The Artist (2011, Michel Hazanavicius)
Argo (2012, Ben Affleck)
12 Years a Slave (2013, Steve McQueen)
Birdman (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu) [cap]
Spotlight (2015, Tom McCarthy) [cap]
Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins) [cap]

And so it goes: the first Lists Project at SOC has been completed. Do you know what this means? It means I finished something I started! In retrospect this makes it feel more lamentable yet that I was unable to think of five paragraphs of stuff to say about Out of Africa, as its absence from the list of reviews above now seems a bit glaring. Who knows? In three years, maybe I’ll try that one again.

I started working through all of the Best Picture winners on February 26, 2012 with Wings and finished with The Artist on April 1 of this year. (Not that you asked but I have in fact already completed the next chapter of the Oscars thing by watching all of the Best Director winners that didn’t also take BP — though I’m still working on actual full-length reviews of all of them.) Of the 85 Best Picture recipients, I had already seen 57 before this undertaking, and saw one more (Argo) in theatrical release before it won a few months later. That means there were 27 new-to-me films explored for this. I watched every last one of the films, whether I’d seen them before or not, in that time period, with the following three caveats:

Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker and The King’s Speech were screened and reviewed for unrelated reasons just prior to starting this project and I didn’t revisit them because they’d been tackled so recently.
– 27 of the Best Picture winners are also featured in the concurrent list project, the AFI 100; add the AFI titles cast off from the original 1997 version of that list and there are 10 additional overlapping films. I watched the movie whenever it came up first. So Schindler’s List, which is near the top of the AFI list, was watched and reviewed vastly in advance of the rest of the ’90s Best Pictures.
– The winners from 2013 onward were added to this list after the initial project.

Because you know you love it when I rank things, here is the list of BP winners ranked according to my feelings about them. The films that I had never seen before are bolded. The films upon which my viewpoint changed for the better since I’d seen them previously are in red; those that moved downward in my estimation are colored green.

[Note: A * below indicates that the film was a subsequent winner that won after I completed this project.]

A+ FILMS
01 The Apartment (‘60)
02 Casablanca (‘43)
03 The Best Years of Our Lives (‘46)
04 Annie Hall (‘77)
05 All Quiet on the Western Front (‘30)
06 Rebecca (‘40)
07 The Silence of the Lambs (‘91)
08 Gone with the Wind (‘39)
09 Schindler’s List (‘93)
10 The French Connection (‘71)
11 All About Eve (‘50)
12 It Happened One Night (‘34)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED [A/A-]
13 Midnight Cowboy (‘69)
14 No Country for Old Men (’07)
15 Moonlight (’16) *
16 Mrs. Miniver (‘42)
17 Amadeus (‘84)
18 Spotlight (’15) *
19 Terms of Endearment (‘83)
20 Argo (’12)
21 The Bridge on the River Kwai (‘57)
22 American Beauty (’99)
23 Titanic (‘97)

RECOMMENDED [B+/B]
24 A Man for All Seasons (‘66)
25 The Greatest Show on Earth (‘52)
26 West Side Story (‘61)
27 The Godfather Part II (‘74)
28 You Can’t Take It with You (‘38)
29 The Sting (‘73)
30 The Sound of Music (‘65)
31 Gandhi (‘82)
32 The Hurt Locker (’09)
33 From Here to Eternity (‘53)
34 Hamlet (‘48)
35 Ben-Hur (‘59)
36 The Departed (’06)
37 Wings (‘27)
38 Chicago (’02)
39 12 Years a Slave (’13) *
40 Kramer vs. Kramer (‘79)
41 Birdman (’14) *
42 The King’s Speech (’10)
43 Marty (‘55)
44 Shakespeare in Love (’98)
45 The English Patient (‘96)
46 The Life of Emile Zola (‘37)
47 The Lost Weekend (‘45)
48 Mutiny on the Bounty (‘35)
49 Grand Hotel (‘32)

NEITHER / NEUTRAL / WTF / IDK / LEAVE ME ALONE [B-/C+]
50 The Last Emperor (‘87)
51 The Great Ziegfeld (‘36)
52 All the King’s Men (‘49)

53 Patton (‘70)
54 The Godfather (‘72)
55 Chariots of Fire (‘81)
56 Slumdog Millionaire (’08)
57 Tom Jones (‘63)
58 In the Heat of the Night (‘67)
59 On the Waterfront (‘54)
60 Unforgiven (‘92)
61 A Beautiful Mind (’01)
62 An American in Paris (‘51)
63 The Broadway Melody (‘29)
64 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (‘75)

CAUTION [C/C-]
65 Lawrence of Arabia (‘62)
66 Out of Africa (‘85)
67 Gentleman’s Agreement (‘47)

68 Rocky (‘76)
69 Platoon (‘86)
70 The Artist (’11)
71 Ordinary People (‘80)
72 Cavalcade (‘33)

73 Rain Man (‘88)
74 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (’03)
75 How Green Was My Valley (‘41)
76 Million Dollar Baby (’04)
77 Cimarron (‘31)

AVOID [D+/D/D-/F]
78 Around the World in Eighty Days (‘56)
79 Dances with Wolves (‘90)
80 Gigi (‘58)
81 Going My Way (‘44)
82 Braveheart (‘95)
83 The Deer Hunter (‘78)
84 Driving Miss Daisy (‘89)
85 Gladiator (’00)
86 Oliver! (‘68)
87 My Fair Lady (‘64)
88 Forrest Gump (‘94)
89 Crash (’05)

In case you’re wondering, the above averages out to a “B” or thereabouts, which means that in my view, the average Best Picture Oscar goes to a movie that’s… okay. Sounds about right. While we’re being indulgent, a personal note: Once a film’s review is locked in here it doesn’t mean I won’t reassess and regrade the movie and rewrite the whole review in a few years, but I can honestly say that Oliver! is the one film we’ve investigated thus far that — even though I hated those three below it more — I intend never, ever to watch again. Never. The next time I hear those songs, I won’t, because I’ll be dead.

In general, this undertaking didn’t alleviate any of my basic suspicions about the Academy. Once you get past the early years of outright rule-breaking and ballot-stuffing, a few years are downright alarming examples of stuffy white people on the wrong side of history, most notably 1989 and 2005 — having now seen all of the nominees in the latter year, it’s especially mystifying to me how Crash happened unless it was a situation wherein the Academy ran into a problem of the “safe” choice happening to be the “incompetent” one.

But it should also be noted, as indicated by the number of films that overlapped with the AFI poll taken in 2007, that the Academy has made a prescient choice more often than we sometimes remember. You can’t pin down the continued relevance of Lawrence of Arabia or The Godfather to their having been Oscar winners because so many other films with massive legacies were not — but their importance was predicted correctly, even if for every Casablanca there was a Tom Jones. This is sometimes lamentable, actually. Typically reputed to be the worst film to take the Oscar, The Greatest Show on Earth is in fact delightful (and the movie thought of as its runner-up, The Broadway Melody, has its moments) — and one assumes that its poor reputation is in part in light of the fact that so many films have been gradually stamped out of popular consciousness in favor of the Giants. A Man for All Seasons is a perfectly worthwhile film, but how many people are likely to nod knowingly rather than laugh at its inclusion here?

But while we’re stroking the ability of the Acad to occasionally get things right: I want to eventually conduct an extensive survey of whether the right choice was made from the nominees in a given year, but as of now there are alas only a few years in which I’ve seen every film nominated (1949, 1967, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1989, 1999, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014). So instead, the handful of years in which I can currently say that the Oscars’ choice for the best American film would be the same as mine: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930); It Happened One Night (1934); Casablanca (1942 or 1943); The Apartment (1960); Annie Hall (1977); The Silence of the Lambs (1991); Schindler’s List (1993); and Moonlight (2016).

Take note of this one last thing: two of the films in my top five Best Picture winners including my #1 are comedies, the genre least often rewarded by the Academy. Does it Mean Something?

I appreciate your patience with my being way too excited about having done this. Next week we’ll start on Best Director, which won’t take long.

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