Oscars: Ranking All 87 Best Picture Winners

87
87. Crash (2005)
84. Crash (2005)
Lionsgate
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has awarded a lot of terrible films its biggest prize, but none worse than Paul Haggis’ high school civics lesson masquerading as a movie. Complex racial issues are reduced to hotheaded shouting matches, self-righteous monologues, and dizzying plot turns: Ludacris emancipates enslaved Cambodians! Sandra Bullock’s hatred of minorities is so great, it causes her to fall down a flight of stairs! CREDIT: Lionsgate
86
86. The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)
83. The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)
Paramount Pictures
Cecil B. DeMille made a lot of self-indulgent films in his day. Some of them are great—count us among those who think The Ten Commandments was robbed for Best Picture in 1956—but The Greatest Show on Earth lacks all the hypnotic insanity of his best work and drowns in cheap sentiment, exemplified by Jimmy Stewart as not just a clown but a sad clown. DeMille’s worst crime? It’s a film about the circus that lacks showmanship.
85
85. The Broadway Melody (1928/29)
82. The Broadway Melody (1928/29)
MGM
When film historians level the (not always accurate) charge that early sound movies were static and studio-bound compared to the dynamic films that marked the late silent period, The Broadway Melody is one of the movies they’re pointing to. CREDIT: MGM
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84
84. Braveheart (1995)
81. Braveheart (1995)
Paramount Pictures
Probably the craziest movie ever to win Best Picture, Braveheart’s singular insanity, charged with rape/revenge fantasies, virulent homophobia, and self-annihilating sadomasochistic bloodlust, is a direct conduit into the psyche of its director, Mel Gibson. CREDIT: Paramount Pictures
83
83. Cimarron (1930/31)
80. Cimarron (1930/31)
MGM
A decades-spanning view of one couple’s experience of civilization coming to an Oklahoma settlement in the late 1800s, Cimarron is indicative of the self-consciously important, “history writ large” Westerns that debased the genre until John Ford finally revitalized the Old West with Stagecoach in 1939. That said, the covered-wagon “land rush” scene that opens Cimarron is thrilling to behold. CREDIT: MGM
82
82. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
79. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Fox Searchlight/Warner Bros. Pictures
You can’t underestimate the callousness and calculation of a movie that expects its final candy-colored Bollywood dance number to erase our feeling of horror at the two dreadful hours of nightmarish images—a child who has his eyes gouged out among them—preceding it. Jai no. CREDIT: Fox Searchlight/Warner Bros.
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81
81. All the King's Men (1949)
78. All the King's Men (1949)
Columbia Pictures
Robert Penn Warren’s novel deserves to be called “Shakespearean” for its nuanced portrait of a driven, cynical populist politician in the American South in the 1930s. The film adaptation starring Broderick Crawford most definitely does not. CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
80
80. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
77. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
MGM
A stodgy biopic of theater impresario Florenz Ziegfeld directed like one of his song-and-dance reviews: stagy, plot-free, and heavy on (Busby Berkeley lite) spectacle. CREDIT: MGM
79
79. The King's Speech (2011)
76. The King's Speech (2011)
The Weinstein Company
The ultimate Academy bait: a person who seemingly has everything must overcome an obstacle that somehow undermines him, thus reinforcing the power and privilege he already had to begin with. Tom Hooper’s film might have worked fine as an HBO flick, but on the big screen it seems impossibly slight. CREDIT: The Weinstein Co.
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78
78. Hamlet (1948)
75. Hamlet (1948)
Universal Pictures
“This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind,” director Laurence Olivier, who plays the Dane, narrates at the beginning of his film. Well, we don’t need to make up our minds about the fact that this is an extraordinarily wrong-headed adaptation of the Shakespeare play—with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy even remanded to internal monologue. The problem lies not in its stars but in its star director. CREDIT: Universal
77
77. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
74. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Oscar loves its biopics, and the life story of the great 19th century author, especially his involvement in the infamous Dreyfus Affair, could be cinematic. It’s just not in this version. CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures
76
76. Cavalcade (1932/33)
73. Cavalcade (1932/33)
Fox Film
The Noel Coward play was exactly what Oscar voters ate up in the ‘30s: a history-spanning portrait of the changes in London society as seen through the eyes of one couple, including the Boer War, the sinking of the Titanic, and World War I. Cavalcade’s decades-spanning view did for Britain what Cimarron did for the Old West, pairing personal lives with historical events—much as Forrest Gump also would six decades later. CREDIT: Fox
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75
75. Rain Man (1988)
72. Rain Man (1988)
United Artists
A display of Acting with a Capital A, Rain Man pairs Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman as brothers, the latter as a sufferer of autism in what may be the hammiest, most self-consciously mannered performance Hoffman has ever given. Which is really saying something. CREDIT: United Artists
74
74. The Lost Weekend (1945)
71. The Lost Weekend (1945)
Paramount Pictures
Billy Wilder, director of Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, and The Apartment, was by no means a prude. But he sure came across like one while helming this “problem picture” about the perils of alcoholism. The Lost Weekend could have been sponsored by the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. CREDIT: Paramount
73
73. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
70. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Universal Pictures
A sappy portrait of schizophrenia about a Nobel Prize-winning Princeton University professor that becomes a tedious head-trip movie about an imaginary Jude Law before becoming an irresponsible “love conquers all” story. Seriously, Ron Howard’s movie actually suggests that the love of Jennifer Connelly is only the prescription you need if you’re suffering from major mental illness. CREDIT: Universal
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72
72. Gladiator (2000)
69. Gladiator (2000)
DreamWorks
One of the defining macho-movie reference points of 21st century manhood, Ridley Scott’s sword-and-sandals swashbuckler about a Roman general forced to fight in the Coliseum is actually pretty tedious whenever Russell Crowe isn’t swinging a sword. However, it is enriched by Joaquin Phoenix’ creepiest pre-I’m Still Here performance. CREDIT: DreamWorks
71
71. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
68. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
United Artists
A triumph of chutzpah to be sure—producer Michael Todd crams his adaptation of the Jules Verne epic with wall-to-wall celebrity cameos, including Frank Sinatra as a Barbary Coast Saloon Pianist—Around the World in 80 Days is a carnival barker’s idea of a Best Picture winner. Funnel cakes, anyone? CREDIT: United Artists
70
70. Oliver! (1968)
67. Oliver! (1968)
Columbia Pictures
Carol Reed made some great movies in his career: The Third Man, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol. Oliver! is not among them. Blame a particularly weak lineup of nominees, and the shameful snub of 2001: A Space Odyssey from the Best Picture roster, for its win. CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
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69
69. American Beauty (1999)
66. American Beauty (1999)
DreamWorks
Sam Mendes’ experiment in smugness seeks to reveal the hypocrisies and moral bankruptcy at the heart of suburbia. Instead, it’s the film that comes across as hypocritical and morally bankrupt. CREDIT: DreamWorks
68
68. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
65. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
MGM
Doomed to be forever known as “The Movie that Beat both The Graduate and Bonnie & ClydeIn the Heat of the Night follows the Academy’s preferred formula when it comes to race: be at least a decade behind the curve, completely ignore the role of class in facilitating inequality, engage in kneejerk demonization of the South, then make the audience feel enlightened just for having watched it. CREDIT: MGM
67
67. Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
64. Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
20th Century Fox
A really well-intentioned expose of anti-Semitism in New York City and Connecticut that unfortunately feels more like an essay than a film. CREDIT: 20th Century Fox
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66
66. The English Patient (1996)
63. The English Patient (1996)
Miramax
“Quit telling your stupid story about the stupid desert and just die already!” Seinfeld’s Elaine was right about this one. Sack Lunch was the better date-night movie of 1996. CREDIT: Miramax
65
65. Argo (2012)
Argo, Ben Affleck
Warner Bros. Pictures

While we often question Ben Affleck’s acting, in Argo he proved himself not only a capable actor, but a fantastic director. His 2012 political thriller , follows CIA Agent Tony Mendez as he sets off to reduce six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis. Affleck artfully composes the ferociously exiting thriller so that it keeps its audience holding its breath until the bitter end.

64
64. Terms of Endearment (1983)
62. Terms of Endearment (1983)
Paramount Pictures
James L. Brooks’ mother-daughter relationship dramedy is a “split the difference” Best Picture. Not bad, but really not great either, it ended up holding the Oscar statuette after the votes were divided by The Big Chill, The Right Stuff, and Tender Mercies. CREDIT: Paramount
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63
63. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
61. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Columbia Pictures
A divorce drama made at a time when divorce was still taboo onscreen, the Dustin Hoffman/Meryl Streep showcase is a study in fine acting, but in every other respect hopelessly dated. They passed over Apocalypse Now for this? The horror! CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
62
62. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
60. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Warner Bros. Pictures
The delicate relationship between an elderly white woman and her black chauffeur in the Civil Rights Era South isn’t actually as touchy-feely and toothless as some seem to think it is. Yes, it’s atrocious the Academy chose to award this while not even nominating Do the Right Thing, but Driving Miss Daisy has an unusual spark because Jessica Tandy’s title character is actually Jewish and faces discrimination of her own, including even a synagogue bombing. CREDIT: Warner
61
61. Marty (1955)
59. Marty (1955)
United Artists
Delbert Mann’s portrait of a lovable palooka (Ernest Borgnine) who works in a butcher shop and lives with his mother is unique in Academy history for being the first Best Picture winner that itself is a remake of a TV movie. Mann directed both versions but we actually prefer the small-screen take starring Rod Steiger. CREDIT: United Artists
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60
60. Tom Jones (1963)
58. Tom Jones (1963)
United Artists
Alvy Singer’s description of an all-confidence, no-substance comedian in Annie Hall perfectly describes Albert Finney’s take on the classic 18th century foundling hero: “Look at him mincing around…thinks he’s so cute!” Other than an inventive opening staged like a silent movie, Tom Jones is pretty much insufferable. CREDIT: United Artists
59
59. Shakespeare In Love (1998)
57. Shakespeare In Love (1998)
Miramax
Oscar thought this movie was better than Saving Private Ryan? Even worse, it thought this movie was better than The Thin Red Line? CREDIT: Miramax
58
58. The Departed (2006)
56. The Departed (2006)
Warner Bros. Pictures
A list of Martin Scorsese movies that are better than The Departed and more worthy of Best Picture in their respective years: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, The Age of Innocence, Casino. CREDIT: Warner Bros.
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57
57. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
55. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar
The first and only X-rated Best Picture winner seems pretty tame today. In fact, it’s basically like a racier Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid: a male bonding film about two guys engaged in illicit activity (in this case, gigoloism!) who may be doomed. CREDIT: United Artists
56
56. The French Connection (1971)
54. The French Connection (1971)
20th Century Fox
Another thing the Oscars love? Portraits of amoral men drunk on power. The ultimate example? William Friedkin’s narc thriller starring Gene Hackman as ruthless cop Popeye Doyle. Too bad the movie’s so enamored with Doyle’s proto-fascism (and his ability to chase subways!) to offer up any kind of critique of his moral decay. CREDIT: 20th Century Fox
55
55. Wings (1927/28)
53. Wings (1927/28)
Paramount Pictures
William Wellman’s aviator drama is a solid actioner. But when it comes to the first-ever Oscars ceremony we prefer the movie that snagged the one-time prize for Unique and Artistic Production: F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, which, if that category were considered the equivalent of Best Picture (it’s not), would place that film at No. 7 on this list. CREDIT: Paramount
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54
54. Patton (1970)
52. Patton (1970)
20th Century Fox
See what I wrote for The French Connection about the Academy loving portrayals of morally bankrupt men in positions of ungodly power. The funny thing is, unlike The French Connection, Patton, and the actor who inhabits him, George C. Scott, does have a critical perspective on the general’s violence and militancy. The Academy’s hawkish pro-Vietnam War voting body may not have seen that at the time. CREDIT: 20th Century Fox
53
53. Rocky (1976)
51. Rocky (1976)
United Artists
A lovable meatpacker with a speech impediment gets a title-shot set to martial Bill Conti music. A great movie to inspire you to lose those nagging 10 pounds, but otherwise not such a great movie. We know Mr. T doesn’t show up until Rocky 3, but we pity the fools who voted for this over Network and Taxi Driver. CREDIT: United Artists
52
52. Forrest Gump (1994)
50. Forrest Gump (1994)
Paramount Pictures
Well, it gave us the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company so at least fanny-pack-wearing tourists to Times Square are grateful. CREDIT: Paramount
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51
51. Out Of Africa (1985)
49. Out Of Africa (1985)
Universal Pictures
Roger Ebert said it all in his post-Oscars wrap-up in 1986: “There was a small irony in the fact that the academy passed over a movie about blacks in a white land {The Color Purple} to give seven Oscars to Out of Africa, a film about whites in a black land.” CREDIT: Universal
50
50. From Here to Eternity (1953)
48. From Here to Eternity (1953)
MGM
Other than Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster’s roll in the surf—and an easy-on-the-eyes Donna Reed as a hooker!—there isn’t much to recommend Fred Zinnemann’s portrait of life at Pearl Harbor before Dec. 7, 1941. CREDIT: MGM
49
49. Chicago (2002)
47. Chicago (2002)
Miramax
There’s been such a backlash against the Kander & Ebb musical in the past ten years, it’s hard to look at Chicago with clear eyes. The fact is, it’s a fun, bouncy romp through the decadent ’20s that’s not really trying to be anything more than a good time. Rob Marshall’s decision to stage his musical set pieces as the fantasies of fame-obsessed Roxie Hart, however, was an inspired choice, a fever-dream portrait of today’s media circus, then in its infancy. CREDIT: Miramax
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48
48. Gandhi (1982)
46. Gandhi (1982)
Columbia Pictures
The perfect movie for your 10th grade World History class. CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
47
47. West Side Story (1961)
45. West Side Story (1961)
United Artists
As she did so often, Pauline Kael nailed it regarding Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ stereophonic assault: “The irony of this hyped-up, slam-bang production is that those involved apparently don’t really believe that beauty and romance can be expressed in modern rhythms—for whenever their Romeo and Juliet enter the scene, the dialogue becomes painfully old-fashioned and mawkish, the dancing turns to simpering, sickly romantic ballet, and sugary old stars hover in the sky.” CREDIT: Unit
46
46. The Deer Hunter (1978)
44. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Universal Pictures
It’s staggering how infrequently Michael Cimino’s study of Vietnam vets is called out for its racism. According to this movie, the Vietnamese—whether Viet Cong or not—exist just to soil the innocence of good old working class Pennsylvania boys and drive them to suicidal games of Russian Roulette. Love the 45-minute wedding scene that opens the movie. Too bad it’s ripped off from The Godfather. CREDIT: Universal
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45
45. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
43. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Forget the argument about euthanasia that dominated discussion about Clint Eastwood’s flinty female boxing drama. The biggest problem is that his ultimate actions toward Hilary Swank’s Maggie don’t feel motivated by his character, or hers for that matter, but by some impulse toward dramatic hyperbole. Other than its minimalist, color-drained cinematography, everything else about Million Dollar Baby tends toward the histrionic. CREDIT: Warner Bros.
44
44. Ordinary People (1980)
42. Ordinary People (1980)
Paramount Pictures
Should it have beaten Raging Bull, or even The Elephant Man, for Best Picture? No. But it’s the movie that all subsequent exposes of repressed suburbia (Hello, American Beauty!) try, and usually fail, to match. It’s the first and best of the Evil Bedroom Communities sub-genre. CREDIT: Paramount
43
43. 12 Years A Slave (2013)
12 Years A Slave, Lupita Nyongo
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Hollywood is no stranger to period-dramas depicting slavery, but Steve McQueen’s 2013 film 12 Years a Slave about Solomon Northrup, free Black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery stands apart from the others. McQueen is unapologetic when in  painting the most horrendous atrocities and violences of the time-period. 12 Years A Slave is a tearfully painful experience for its audience, but its possibly the closest experience to slavery that Hollywood has every delivered.

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42
42. You Can't Take It With You (1938)
41. You Can't Take It With You (1938)
Columbia Pictures
Featherweight but fun—one scene where Jimmy Stewart threatens to scream while in a crowded restaurant is a masterpiece of comedic suspense—Frank Capra’s misfit laugher had no business beating The Adventures of Robin Hood, Jezebel, or that high-in-the-running contender for Greatest Movie Ever Made, Grand Illusion, for Oscar gold. CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
41
41. Mutiny On Bounty (1935)
40. Mutiny On Bounty (1935)
MGM
I’d rather have seen Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Informer, or Top Hat take the prize, but I’m the first to admit there are few things more fun than watching Charles Laughton chew South Seas scenery and yell “Misterrrr…Christian!” CREDIT: MGM
40
40. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
39. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
New Line Cinema
Mind you, I love The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers but the capper of Peter Jackson’s trilogy is plotted like the following: 1) lead-up to a battle; 2) battle; 3) lead-up to a battle; 4) battle; 5) eagles!; 6) a half-dozen endings. CREDIT: New Line Cinema
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39
39. All Quiet On The Western Front (1929/30)
38. All Quiet On The Western Front (1929/30)
Columbia Pictures
Francois Truffaut questioned whether it was ever possible to make a true anti-war film. On some level, battle will always come across as exciting, onscreen. But Lewis Milestone’s early sound picture comes about as close as any film to proving the great Frenchman wrong. CREDIT: Universal
38
38. Ben-Hur (1959)
37. Ben-Hur (1959)
MGM
Peter Bogdanovich’s advice on how to sit through the sword-and-sandal epic: “The only way I could advise people to watch Ben-Hur would be to sit through the beginning to get the idea, then go out for lunch and come back in time for the chariot race, which was magnificently staged and directed by former stuntman Yakima Canutt.” CREDIT: MGM
37
37. Platoon (1986)
36. Platoon (1986)
Orion Pictures
Like almost all Vietnam War movies, Oliver Stone’s film doesn’t even deign to show the point of view of any Vietnamese. But it also shows the psychosis of war better than almost any combat flick until The Hurt Locker. CREDIT: Orion Pictures
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36
36. A Man For All Seasons (1966)
35. A Man For All Seasons (1966)
Columbia Pictures
Is it more theater than film? No question. But Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation of Robert Bolt’s play about Thomas More and his battle with Henry VIII over the king’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church is enlivened by a tony cast, including Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, John Hurt, Orson Welles, and as the mutton-eating Tudor monarch himself, Robert Shaw. CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
35
35. The Last Emperor (1987)
34. The Last Emperor (1987)
Columbia Pictures
Forget The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris. The Bernardo Bertolucci movie that really needs more recognition is his luscious biopic of China’s last Manchu emperor, Pu Yi. CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
34
34. The Hurt Locker (2009)
33. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Summit Entertainment
Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq War drama adds a new dimension to Platoon’s idea of “war as insanity.” This, per Chris Hedges’ opening epigraph, is “war as a drug,” addictive, cyclical, and incredibly profitable for those who make money off it. CREDIT: Summit Entertainment
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33. Dances with Wolves (1990)
32. Dances with Wolves (1990)
Orion Pictures
Yes, GoodFellas is an infinitely better film. But 23 years after its release we may take Kevin Costner’s Native American epic a bit for granted. No film before had considered the culture or language of this continent’s original inhabitants with such delicacy or swooning beauty—John Barry’s magnificent score is an American symphony on par with Copland. Yet Dances With Wolves is also not a crude “red skin good, white skin bad” reverse Western. Talk about a tightrope act.
32
32. The Artist (2011)
31. The Artist (2011)
The Weinstein Company
Not a slice of life so much as a slice of cake, Michel Hazanavicius’ silent movie, the first to win Best Picture since Wings, represented an unexpected shift on the part of the Academy toward the confectionary. Its story may not leave you full sated—it’s a pastiche of Singin’ in the Rain and, oddly enough, Vertigo—but it sure is tasty going down. In an increasingly noisy cinematic landscape, sometimes silence really is golden. CREDIT: Miramax
31
31. Amadeus (1984)
30. Amadeus (1984)
Orion Pictures
Not a musical but one of the very best “music films” (important distinction!), Milos Forman’s study of the relationship between Mozart (Tom Hulce), a genius, and Austrian court composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), not so much a genius, is a sublime portrait of that ineffable thing, talent. It crescendos when Mozart and Salieri collaborate on the former’s celebrated “Requiem Mass” with Salieri reduced to the role of a stenographer contemplating where inspiration comes from. CREDIT: Orion Picture
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30. It Happened One Night (1934)
29. It Happened One Night (1934)
Columbia Pictures
Not only does the screwball comedy begin here, pretty much everything about the romantic comedy in general goes back to Claudette Colbert’s heiress on the run and the working stiff (Clark Gable) who tries to rein her in. Would we slam on the brakes at the sight of Colbert’s bare, extended leg? Is the Pope Catholic? CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
29
29. All About Eve (1950)
28. All About Eve (1950)
20th Century Fox
Fasten your seatbelts….As bitchy as an episode of the Real Housewives, but oh-so-much more intelligent, Joseph L. Mankiewicz gave Bette Davis a role for the ages: as a fading Broadway star challenged by Machiavellian upstart Anne Baxter. Come for the battle of the divas, stay for the snappy wit of George Sanders as theater critic Addison DeWitt. CREDIT: 20th Century Fox
28
28. The Apartment (1960)
27. The Apartment (1960)
United Artists
Billy Wilder could be a hit-or-miss phony, his cynical edge merely disguising the fact that he was a shameless sentimentalist. But boy did he get it right with his gentle romance between a lovable paper-pusher (Jack Lemmon), who lets out his flat for trysts, and a brokenhearted elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike some of his gooier efforts, The Apartment never crumbles, cookie-wise or any other way. CREDIT: United Artists
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27. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Birdman, Michael Keaton
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Alejandro González Iñárritu's show business satire is a triumph on nearly every level -- its camerawork, edited to seem like one continuous take, its score, and, perhaps most notably, its acting combine to make Birdman one of the more memorable films of 2014. Michael Keaton's self-aware performance as an actor trying to be taken seriously after years of being known for playing a superhero has been considered one of the greatest cinematic comebacks in recent memory.
26
26. The Silence of The Lambs (1991)
26. The Silence of The Lambs (1991)
Orion Pictures
What really distinguishes Jonathan Demme’s thriller, what makes it more interesting than almost any other serial killer flick since Fritz Lang’s M is that Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, psychotic cannibal though he is, fulfills the role of one of the “good guys” by helping Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling track down another killer. Pretty subversive stuff, even without the fava beans. CREDIT: Orion Pictures
25
25. The Sound of Music (1965)
25. The Sound of Music (1965)
20th Century Fox
Okay, the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical is about as reflective of history as Inglourious Basterds. But not necessarily less worthwhile as a fiction. Robert Wise took Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and a whole bunch of lederhosen-wearing kids to Salzburg and made a movie of stunning scenic beauty, not just ear candy. CREDIT: 20th Century Fox
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24. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
24. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
United Artists
Jack Nicholson delivers one of his all-time greatest performances as R.P. McMurphy, a criminal faking insanity to get out of prison only to find that the mental institution he’s been transferred to is that much more of a prison. Ken Kesey’s original novel, so powerful a call for ending the taboo of mental illness, became an even better movie. CREDIT: United Artists
23
23. Titanic (1997)
23. Titanic (1997)
Paramount Pictures
Haters be damned, James Cameron’s megablockbuster is epic, romantic, old-school meets new-school Hollywood filmmaking at its best. CREDIT: Paramount
22
22. Schindler's List (1993)
22. Schindler's List (1993)
Universal Pictures
Its critics have charged that Steven Spielberg attempted to give the Holocaust a “happy ending” with his tale of a German factory owner who saved the lives of hundreds of Jews. They have a point. It may be that the Holocaust and the full scale of its horror can never be adequately represented on film. But it’s also true that no one had showed it being anywhere near as terrifying as when Spielberg turned his his camera on humanity’s darkest hour. CREDIT: Universal
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21. Chariots of Fire (1981)
21. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Long dismissed because it prevented Oscar from going to Reds or Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chariots of Fire is about as close as a sports movie has ever been to an art film. With its brainy Oxford lads—and one ascetic Scottish missionary—striving for a place on Britain’s track and field team at the 1924 Olympics, it makes athletics cerebral. CREDIT: Warner Bros.
20
20. Grand Hotel (1932)
20. Grand Hotel (1932)
MGM
Sorry All Quiet on the Western Front, Grand Hotel is the first great film to win Best Picture. A kaleidoscopic tableau of interlocking characters at posh Berlin lodgings, director Edmund Goulding’s movie features an ensemble of astonishing power: pug-faced lug Wallace Beery, silent movie goddesses Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, and not one but two Barrymores—ratty Lionel and dashing John. CREDIT: MGM
19
19. An American in Paris (1951)
19. An American in Paris (1951)
MGM
Conventional wisdom is that Vincente Minnelli’s big screen take on the Gershwin musical only comes alive during its final ballet. But does it ever come alive. That’s one of the most stunning musical numbers ever, and actually, the rest of the movie, a breezy Utrillo-style character study of an expat in the City of Lights is a delight in its own right. CREDIT: MGM
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18. My Fair Lady (1964)
18. My Fair Lady (1964)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Lerner & Loewe’s Broadway smash is a top contender for the title of “Best Stage Musical of All Time.” So by default it would have been hard to muck up its big screen adaptation. George Cukor, best known for his ability to get great performances out of his actresses, ended up making a movie as delicate and refined as bone china. Seriously, who cares that Audrey Hepburn didn’t do her own singing? As the backlash against Russell Crowe’s pipes in Les Mis proves, a dub can be a good thing.
17
17. On The Waterfront (1954)
17. On The Waterfront (1954)
Copyright
If not naturalism—because, far from being “realistic,” Brando’s performance is highly stylized—Elia Kazan brought a Neorealist sensibility to American movies with On the Waterfront. Unfortunately, it’s bravura technique in service to a repellant ideology. Demonizing unions, Kazan used his tale of a longshoreman convinced to turn stool pigeon against corrupt labor bosses as a justification for the fact he named names during the height of McCarthyism. CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
16
16. Gigi (1958)
16. Gigi (1958)
MGM
For all the great movies he directed (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon, Lust for Life, Some Came Running) it’s amazing Vincente Minnelli has never been fully enshrined in the pantheon of great American directors. That needs to change. Just take a look at Gigi. Almost every shot of this Belle Epoque musical written directly for the screen by Lerner & Loewe looks like an impressionist painting by Renoir, Degas, or Manet. Retina-gorging. CREDIT: MGM
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15. The Sting (1973)
15. The Sting (1973)
Universal Pictures
Paul Newman and Robert Redford reteamed four years after Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and their follow-up may actually be the better movie. In 1920s Chicago, a grifter (Redford) teams up with a card sharp (Newman) to steal away a fortune from hulking mobster Robert Shaw. The screenplay is knotty and dense, then suddenly pulls taut as our heroes’ con suddenly—and brilliantly—reveals itself. A model of storytelling economy. CREDIT: Universal Pictures
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14. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
14. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
MGM
William Wyler’s quiet, chin-up reverie on British life during World War II is, along with Powell & Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale and the film that appears at No. 9 on this list, indicative of how some filmmakers sought to move beyond plot in the 1940s and capture the rhythms of life itself. That’s a mentality we’d associate with art house cinema today, but back then a movie like Mrs. Miniver, which is mostly a collection of wartime vignettes, could be in the mainstream.
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13. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
13. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
20th Century Fox
Directed by John Ford, that Greatest American Director Not Named Howard Hawks, How Green Was My Valley was the heart to Citizen Kane’s head. Yes, it beat Orson Welles’ masterpiece in 1941 and has never lived it down. A sketch of life in a Welsh mining town in the early 20th century, Ford’s film is tenderly expressionistic. The Academy just might have gotten it right this time. CREDIT: Fox
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12. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
12. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
RKO Radio
The story of three soldiers—family man Frederic March, soda jerk Dana Andrews, and wounded warrior Harold Russell, who lost both hands for real during World War II—returning home to civilian life allegorized America’s struggle to rethink itself after years of all-out conflict. Cinematographer Gregg Toland took the deep-focus staging he employed on Citizen Kane and applied it to Best Years to enhance the immersiveness of the narrative and naturalism of the performances. CREDIT:
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11. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
11. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Columbia Pictures
Everyone talks about how epic David Lean’s film is. It certainly is that. But what’s every bit as impressive is how intimate it is, particularly because of the introspective performance of first-timer Peter O’Toole as the title character, a kind of romantic hero who’s as much a poetic observer of the Arab Revolt of World War I as he is an instigator of it. CREDIT: Columbia Pictures
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10. No Country For Old Men (2007)
10. No Country For Old Men (2007)
Miramax
The Coen Brothers’ chase thriller may be the most formally daring movie the Academy’s ever recognized. Part existential quest, part picaresque of the American Southwest, No Country for Old Men’s victory proved the Academy doesn’t have to vote like a body comprised of stuffy old men. CREDIT: Miramax
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9. Going My Way (1944)
9. Going My Way (1944)
Paramount Pictures
Forget On the Waterfront. If you really want to see naturalism in Hollywood, check out the films of Leo McCarey. An early proponent of improvisational acting, McCarey let his performers breathe. Going My Way is about as close as the American cinema has ever gotten to making a Yasujiro Ozu movie—that is, attuned to the delicacy of small gestures, carefully expressed but deeply felt emotions, and the transcendent power of simplicity and domesticity. CREDIT: Paramount
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8. The Godfather (1972)
8. The Godfather (1972)
Paramount Pictures
What else can be said about The Godfather that hasn’t been said? Probably nothing. Like all the greatest gangster pictures it teases out fully the parallels between capitalism and criminality. CREDIT: Paramount Pictures
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7. Unforgiven (1992)
7. Unforgiven (1992)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Clint Eastwood’s final Western is like the last will and testament of the genre. When it won Best Picture "deserve" had everything to do with it. CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures
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6. Gone With The Wind (1939)
6. Gone With The Wind (1939)
MGM/Loew's
Like Lawrence of Arabia, it may not be the scale of Gone With the Wind that’s most striking, but the richness of its characters. Sure, the burning of Atlanta is like history written with lightning. Just as powerful is the quicksilver plotting in Act 2, when, in a montage of rapid-fire scenes, we get a glimpse at the precipitous downward spiral of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler’s marriage. One movie about which you’ll never hear us say, “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
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5. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
5. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Columbia Pictures
Alec Guinness was never better than as his horribly misguided British army officer turned prisoner of war in David Lean’s first foray into epic filmmaking. Lean shows a critical awareness of the limitation of “British virtues” that’s lacking from his later, more jingoistic films, including Lawrence of Arabia, and provides a blistering critique of class and racial prejudices as the fuel that powers war. CREDIT: Columbia
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4. Rebecca (1940)
4. Rebecca (1940)
United Artists
Alfred Hitchcock hit it out of the park on his very first Hollywood movie, an adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s neo-Gothic novel about a young, nameless bride who finds herself in a web of intrigue after marrying a brooding aristocrat. Already worthy of the title Master of Suspense, Hitch showed his grasp of mood, his ability to relate to women, and his unique concern with both the pleasures and perils of privilege. CREDIT: United Artists
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3. The Godfather Part II (1974)
3. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Paramount Pictures
A vast expansion on its predecessor that somehow never suffers from bloat, Francis Ford Coppola’s middle Godfather movie, following Michael Corleone’s attempts at legitimizing the family business, questions the vey concept of “legitimacy” and mythologizes American nation-building with a stirring portrayal of the immigrant experience. CREDIT: Paramount
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2. Casablanca (1943)
2. Casablanca (1943)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Here’s looking at Michael Curtiz for being Hollywood’s unsung genre maestro. His most enduring film is part love story, part war film, and a masterpiece in every frame. If it’s the most romantic film of all time, it’s because it finds an even greater love than that between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman: the love of people willing to risk all, including personal happiness, to fight for a better world. Our beautiful friendship with Casablanca is still only beginning. CREDIT: WB
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1. Annie Hall (1977)
1. Annie Hall (1977)
United Artists
The greatest romantic comedy ever made doesn’t even seem like a rom-com. At times as prickly and solipsistic as its characters—Woody Allen’s Alvy and Diane Keaton’s Annie, whose relationship seems doomed from the start—its flaws only make it more perfect. Without schmaltz it expresses nostalgia for the heady glow of new love and a mature acceptance when and if it passes. Unlike the dead shark of Alvy and Annie’s relationship, it still swims in our brains. moving forward toward new understanding.

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