On Sunday February 24th, 2008, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will be holding their 80th Oscar ceremony to honor the year’s best achievement in cinema. The telecast/infomercial is one of the biggest worldwide events, and according to Wikipedia, “holds the distinction of having won the most Emmys in history, with 38 wins and 167 nominations.”
Of the 79 Best Pictures named, some films have stood the test of time and remain classics while others are have become duds that leave the viewer scratching their head, wondering what the voters of the time saw. While it’s completely unfair to compare the spectacle of Ben-Hur alongside the intimacy of Marty, this hasn’t stopped the Academy from their annual apples-to-oranges competition.
With this list, I chose to attempt to showcase the breadth of the honorees. Having the list reduced to ten means a great many titles are left out.
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Best Picture award for Peter Jackson’s final chapter in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was really an award to recognize the work done on all three films since it was in essence one giant project. It is one of four films to sweep the categories it was nominated in, going 11 for 11, tying the record of wins held by Ben-Hur and Titanic.
9. All About Eve
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ film of deceit and betrayal is still compelling as the world of celebrity and show business forever continues to fascinate and draw people to take part. Eve pretends to be a fan, but she’s really come to take the life of Margo Channing in a figurative sense. Hard to believe Bette Davis came in to replace Claudette Colbert shortly before filming because it’s one of her greatest roles. The film won six awards.
8. Midnight Cowboy
Even more so than Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, Midnight Cowboy displays a stark, gritty realism rarely seen in Hollywood films even today. Joe Buck has come to New York City to ply his trade as a male prostitute, but has a tough go of it. Ratso Rizzo is a crippled con man who lives on the streets. Together, they maneuver through the mean streets as best they can. The film won three awards and it is the only X-rated film to ever receive an Oscar.
Clint Eastwood’s film reveals the reality behind the accepted myths of the Western genre. The heroes and villains aren’t clear-cut, violence has ramifications, and alcohol not bravery or nobility fuels the fighting. The film won four awards and is the last Western to win Best Picture.
6. West Side Story
Stephen Sondhiem and Leonard Bernstein’s take on Romeo & Juliet transports the story to the streets of New York with the warring families replaced by street gangs. There’s a purpose to Jerome Robbins’ choreography beyond dancing for its own sake. The film won 10 awards and in addition Robbins was presented an honorary award for Brilliant Achievements in the Art of Choreography on Film.
5. Annie Hall
The film is the perfect synthesis of Woody Allen as it retains his sense of humor like the early, funny ones, but he stretches out as both a writer and director, using the medium like he never had before. While the events as presented in a fantastic manner, it is a realistic love story. The film won four awards.
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Based on the brilliant novel by Ken Kesey, who initially wasn’t happy with the loss of the narrator or the casting of Jack Nicholson, the film tells the story of McMurphy, who fakes insanity so he can serve out the rest of his prison term in the perceived comfort of a mental institution. There’s a surprising amount of humor for a film that plays out like a classic tragedy. The film won five awards.
3. The Godfather
Marlon Brando leads the Corleone family and an amazing cast in Francis Ford Coppola;s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel. The film spans ten years and presents the transformation of Michael from civilian to Don. While some understandably find Part II to be a superior film, it needed The Godfather to lay the foundation. The film won three awards.
2. Lawrence of Arabia
David Lean’s glorious epic based loosely on the life of T.E. Lawrence and his time in Arabia during World War I. Freddie Young’s amazing Super Panavision 70 cinematography and Peter O’Toole’s star-making performance are the standouts in this film whose story of war in the Middle East unfortunately still resonates today. The film won seven awards.
Voted the best screenplay of all time by the Writers Guild of America, west in 2006, this classic film tells the tale of Rick and Ilsa, whose relationship was interrupted when she discovered her husband Victor was still alive. Their love triangle plays out in Morocco as Victor and Ilsa are on the run from the Nazis and need the letters of transit Rick has obtained. It’s a flawless film about love and sacrifice. The film won three awards.