The new parlor game, I guess, is ranking the Academy Awards’ Best Picture recipients, all 85 of them. Buzzfeed did an article, and that led to a lot of uproar on Twitter, as well as some fine lists from other folks (like the great Glenn Kenny).
I like making lists, like reflecting on what I’ve seen, and like wasting time. Thus, this is a perfect exercise for me…except I haven’t seen all of the winners. Some (like Wings) because they’re hard to find for a layperson. Others (like The Greatest Show on Earth) because I could care less. But there are inexcusable gaps, too (like The Hurt Locker or The Sting). Overall, I’ve seen 48 of the 85, which isn’t bad.
The films below are all the ones I’ve seen. A lot of factors went into their placement, but the key question I asked, when in doubt, was How much do I want to re-watch this movie? I would not pretend that I can say with authority that one film is actually “better” than the one ranked immediately below it, but I do enjoy it more.
Weak-ass, bloated film, and it’s always struck me as being the epitome of pre-Easy Rider studio bullshit.
47. Dances with Wolves
Not that the bloat ever went away. 22 years later, here we are. It is pretty to look at, though.
The boat sinks beautifully, and that nude sketch scene is a keeper, but almost every line of dialogue is atrocious. Also, that theme song can fuck right off.
45. Ordinary People
Fine performances in a fairly boring film. Redford took another decade and a half to wear out his welcome as a director, but the seeds of Bagger Vance can be found here.
44. Driving Miss Daisy
Again–nice work by the stars, including an Oscar-deserving Jessica Tandy, but this thing moves with less speed than Miss Daisy’s car. Nice score.
43. Slumdog Millionaire
Stylistic overload to little purpose, although it did bring a taste of Bollywood to the mall theater scene, and that is an accomplishment.
42. All the King’s Men
This was a huge letdown for me, because I loved Robert Penn Warren’s novel, but it isn’t a bad film. It just doesn’t transcend the other films of its period.
41. The Artist
Charming, but lightweight. Bonus points for having John Goodman.
Epic and stately, if overly reverent. Kingsley is quite good, but the script feels like a Cliff’s Notes look at the Mahatma.
39. Midnight Cowboy
Dustin Hoffman carries this movie, the first (and only) X-rated Best Picture. It must have been one hell of a thing to see onscreen in 1969. Less so forty-five years later.
38. Forrest Gump
Not as bad as its current reputation or as good as it was once assumed to be. There are fun moments here, and some great, iconic scenes. Tom Hanks does well in a tricky role. I used to love this movie. Then I hated it. It has, however, proved irresistible over the long haul.
37. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Great film to see once. After that, you drown in Jackson’s clunky dialogue and the half-dozen endings.
Hat tip to Bob Fosse and the darkness of the material. Even so, this is a shallow film well-executed. John C. Reilly steals it.
35. The English Patient
Long, but beautiful. Perhaps it is a good example of Oscar bait, but I found it moving years ago. Have not re-visited.
34. The King’s Speech
Tom Hooper found his ideal material–British, mildly funny, somewhat important. Colin Firth is fine.
33. Million Dollar Baby
It has boxing and euthanasia, both of which I whole-heartedly endorse.
Ridiculous, but at least it doesn’t tone the gore down for a PG-13.
This one doesn’t tone it down either. Remember when people liked Mel Gibson?
30. The Sound of Music
Beautiful on blu-ray, well choreographed. The score is catchy as a motherfucker.
I’m a sucker for movies with multiple inter-woven plot lines, so this one gets a pass from me. Kenny notes in his piece that it hasn’t aged well, but I haven’t seen it in years.
Fun, even if the last half hour is unnecessary bullshit. Again–John Goodman.
27. West Side Story
26. Shakespeare in Love
Some of us actually though this deserved to beat Saving Private Ryan. Literate screenplay, good acting, etc., but this is where I draw the line with John Madden’s filmography.
25. Lawrence of Arabia
Beautiful, with a great lead performance. A bit dry (no pun intended).
24. The French Connection
Gene Hackman rules.
Without this, we’d have no Over the Top, and the world would be a far less wondrous place.
22. American Beauty
The score is incredible, as is Kevin Spacey. My only gripe is the CGI rose petals, which have never looked real.
A gay subtext and a great chariot race give this one a boost.
George C. Scott owns this film, which has dubious politics but remains engrossing.
19. The Silence of the Lambs
Without Anthony Hopkins, this would be a TBS-quality movie. With him, it enters the Pantheon
18. Rain Man
I may be over-rating this, but it was my first R-rated movie, so its impact on my life is immeasurable.
17. All about Eve
Brilliant screenplay and performances hide just how talky this is.
16. The Departed
Not Scorsese’s best work, but a lot of fun. Great screenplay.
15. The Deer Hunter
Deliberate and meditative. It has grown on me as the years have passed. Western Pennsylvania has never looked so good.
14. No Country for Old Men
Tense, philosophical. Not the perfect movie Ebert claimed it to be, but definitely a classic.
13. Gone with the Wind
Another film I’ve had my ups and downs with. Beautiful production, sharp visuals. Not so subtle racism. Still, it manages to be extremely, surprisingly compelling.
I’ve always though this was one of the weaker films in Oliver Stone’s great decade of work from 1985-1995. But that still puts it above most directors’ work.
11. The Godfather, Part II
Not the equal of its predecessor, but its mythic look at the immigrant experience is all-time great stuff.
10. The Last Emperor
This might be the most beautiful film on this list, a fascinating history of early 20th century China, with a particularly erotic moment that is the highlight of Bertolucci’s career.
9. Annie Hall
Woody Allen’s best, and the best romantic comedy ever made.
8. Kramer vs. Kramer
Often overlooked and underrated, this is perhaps the best movie ever made about parenting, with a particularly good turn from Hoffman.
7. Schindler’s List
You can nitpick this movie–plenty have. But it is an immaculate, surprisingly gritty look at the Holocaust, and Spielberg’s passion shines through.
The Director’s Cut is even better than the original, which was already fantastic. Funny, tragic, perfect.
5. The Apartment
Surprisingly dark for 1960. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are a lovely pair in a cynical world.
Eastwood’s magnum opus, this requiem for the Western is an embarrassment of riches, particularly its gifted cast.
There’s not much I can add on this one, other than to say it holds up better than any other film of its period I’ve seen, even Kane.
2. The Godfather
Again, you don’t need me to explain the placement of this one.
1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher are giants here, and Milo’s Forman seems to get these guys and their lives. Masterful. Most would not rank it this high, but I couldn’t find a film on this list I loved more. The score is strangely lovely, too.