February 24, 2012

Best Picture Oscar Deathmatch

I have seen over 150 Best Picture Oscar nominees. But which films are my favorites, the best of the best? First, I took a list of all the Best Picture nominees and marked the ones I had seen. Starting in 1990, I have seen at least 3 of the nominees, usually 4 or 5 of them. To make the Best Picture Deathmatch slightly less grisly, I divided the competition into two: 1929-1989, and 1990-2011.
Getting those two lists down to 20 each was easy: I marked every film my wife or I had ever owned on VHS, laserdisc, or DVD. Then I added a couple titles (It's A Wonderful Life, Unforgiven), which get a bye into the finals. (What's the point in making up my own lists if I can't break my own rules?)

Gone with the Wind (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Citizen Kane (1941)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Casablanca (1943)
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
The Apartment (1960)
My Fair Lady (1964)
The Sound of Music (1965)
The Godfather (1972)
The Sting (1973)
Chinatown (1974)
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Jaws (1975)
Annie Hall (1977)
Star Wars (1977)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Broadcast News (1987)
Field of Dreams (1989)

Goodfellas (1990)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Fugitive (1993)

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quiz Show (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Braveheart (1995)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Jerry Maguire (1996)
The English Patient (1996)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Gladiator (2000)
Master and Commander (2003)
The Departed (2006)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
The Lord of the Rings (2001-03)
Then the really brutal part began. I had to winnow down the top 40 to 10 each. There Will Be Blood, indeed! Any ranking of Best Picture nominees is going to be pretty mainstream, so I'm not breaking any new ground here. Let's just say, I could live the rest of my life on a desert island with any five of these 20 movies. Actually, I'd be fine with just Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Casablanca (1943)
  • The Godfather (1972)
  • The Sting (1973)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • Star Wars (1977)
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • Broadcast News (1987) 
Any list where Star Wars is the worst of the lot is some fine company! I think we can all agree it would have been nice to replace Episode 4 with Episode 5, right?
  • Goodfellas (1990)
  • The Fugitive (1993)
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • Sense and Sensibility (1995)
  • Jerry Maguire (1996)
  • L.A. Confidential (1997)
  • Gladiator (2000)
  • Master and Commander (2003)
  • The Lord of the Rings (2003)
It broke my heart to cut Remains of the Day from the list, but there's only room for one Emma Thompson movie in my Top 10. I've owned Crouching Tiger on DVD for nearly a decade, but I don't know if I've ever put it in the machine. There could be a pita pocket in that DVD case for all I know. Meanwhile, I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater seven times in six months, and maybe twice in the following 17 years.

The Best AND My Favorite?
Too many Oscars telecasts end with a Best Picture winner which is not my favorite movie, or, (in my opinion) not the best movie.
I can be satisfied with one or the other, but how often do I get both? Of all the telecasts since I started paying attention in 1990:

2017: I am really pleased that the sea creature romantic fable The Shape Of Water won.
2014: Birdman was my favorite movie of the year, even if the problems of a white male movie star are hard to sympathize with these days.
2006: The Departed is the best picture, and my favorite, and nearly makes up for the GoodFellas snub of 1991.
2003: The bad luck that the masterpiece Master & Commander was released the same year as the culmination of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They're both great, but my allegiance was split.
2000: Gladiator was the best of the five nominees, and I have grown to love it, but at the time, Wonder Boys (not nominated) was my favorite for Best Picture. This was the nadir of The Weinstein Effect- ephemeral romance Chocolat was up for Best Picture instead of Wonder Boys, O Brother Where Art Thou, Billy Elliot, or Almost Famous. They all woulda lost to Gladiator, but that's not the point!
1994: I think we can all agree this was the best field in the modern era. Any one of these five could win Best Picture in almost any other year.
1992: Unforgiven easily trounces the other nominees.
1991: I hadn't seen it yet when it won in the spring of 1992, but Silence of the Lambs easily wins Best Picture from me AND the Academy.