Awards season is well underway, and the year’s best films will compete to be crowned Best Picture. You’ve seen our list of Best Pictures that don’t quite hold up, now check out ten movies that are the best of the Academy’s elite.
By Phil Pirrello
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
In 1993, many doubted that the director of blockbuster fare like E.T. and Jurassic Park could pull off this WWII film about the owner of a Nazi munitions factory turned Jewish sympathizer. The final product ultimately proved that only he could. Emotionally devastating and inspiring, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winner marks a maturation point in the director’s career – paving the way for films like Saving Private Ryan while delivering one of the filmmaker’s best.
2. No Country for Old Men (2007)
In a perfect world, more movies would be based on Cormac McCarthy novels and only directed by the Coen Brothers. Until that world exists, audiences will have to settle for this taut thriller that gave us Javier Bardem’s instantly iconic, compressed-air wielding villain and a master class of slow-burn tension.
3. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen has a CV full of quality films, but Annie Hall will always be at the top. This quirky, heartfelt comedy’s take on the messiness of relationships has the perfect laughs-to-tears ratio. Here, Allen firmly establishes his neurotic outlook on love stories in a way that is just as affecting today as it was more than 30 years ago.
4. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Once David Lean hooks you in with his majestic anamorphic vistas, he never lets you go. You wouldn’t want him to anyway. The late Peter O’Toole gives a career-best turn as the titular character, a cavalier British officer who becomes a load-bearing column supporting the Bedouins in their conflict with the Turks during WWI. Unlike most films, Arabia truly earns its “epic” status.
5. The Godfather, Part II (1974)
Which film in the Corleone family saga is the best: Part I or Part II? No movie fan should have to face that Sophie’s Choice. Director Francis Ford Coppola returns with a crime epic than spans two time periods and over a dozen locations as he juxtaposes the tragic fall of Michael Corleone in the present with the “Vito Begins”-esque rise of his father. The first sequel to ever win Best Picture, Godfather Part II is one of the best films in the history of ever.
6. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
“I’m walking here!” In the only X-rated Best Picture winner, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman star as a hustler and con man respectively who scour the vice-ridden streets of New York looking for increasingly troubling ways to get their fix at the expense of their souls. John Schlesinger’s unflinching portrayal of this urban bromance is equal parts hard to watch and “can’t look away.”
7. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Many films have tried to put their stamp on post-war life of the Vietnam vet; few have achieved the success of Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter. Robert DeNiro, the late John Cazale and Meryl Streep drive home the psychological ricochets of war; how a soldier’s loved ones and home can feel more foreign to him than the jungles they left behind. Also note Christopher Walken’s portrayal of a heartbroken vet left with nothing but games of Russian Roulette.
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
How this February release about very non-Academy friendly elements like sexually confused serial killers managed to sweep the 1991 awards is still unbelievable. Jonathan Demme’s taut thriller about Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling is as nuanced as it is frightening. Jodie Foster’s untested FBI rookie remains one of film’s most resilient and engaging heroines, while Anthony Hopkins' Lecter is, well – you know the rest.
9. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
There’s a reason why David Lean is associated with “epic” and “Oscar-worthy.” They are seemingly the only speeds that the director operates in. His complex war movie asks complex questions about honor and loyalty, as Alec Guinness leads a broken crew of Japanese POWs during WWII to their greatest victory – destroying the very bridge they are building for the enemy. Few movies can walk the fine line between rousing and tragic, and Kwai does it effortlessly.
10. The Godfather
Francis Ford Coppola’s first bloody chronicle of the Corleone family is full of iconic moments brought to life by brilliant actors in service of an even more brilliant script. Each scene clicks into place like chambers into a .38, delivering cinema’s best take on the cost of doing business with the Mafia in the name of “family.”
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