Cinematic counter-programming — during the summer, it isn’t too difficult a strategy to pull off. The season is jam-packed with Hollywood’s biggest, baddest blockbusters, each weekend sporting franchise installments, high concept adventures and sensory overloads designed to keep or synpases firing at maximum capacity while the sun beats us down. But what about those who want to take a break from the action? People will find a few movies that may tickle their art house desires, but other than the occasional sleek drama or black comedy, there aren’t too many options.
Which is why it makes perfect sense for last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture to hit Blu-ray this week. The Artist arrives just in the nick of time with a sweet story that’s welcomely un-blockbustery (although it revolves around the blockbusters of the early days of Hollywood!). Inspired by The Artist, we took a look back at the many Best Picture winners over the years that seem like logical fits for the summer programming. Action, thrillers, children’s movies — the Academy as awarded them all with its top prize at some point in its 84 years of handing out Best Picture Oscars. If you’re looking for a few films with a bit of a history to them, here are your best bets:
The Best Picture Adult Comedy: Annie Hall
All raunchy misadventures and over-the-top rom-coms are in debt of Woody Allen’s magnum opus, a hilarious, uniquely structured and shockingly poignant comedy. In Annie Hall, the auteur director tackles romance and relationships, but like magic, finds ways to weave in sex jokes and stand up bits wittier than most of what we see in theaters today. The film won Best Picture in 1977.
The Best Picture Epic Fantasy: Lord of the Rings
Too soon? No. Never. There have been few movies that begin to touch the tangible otherworldliness of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, a fully realized universe where every moment is fully fleshed out, from epic battle scene to intimate dramatic moment. After three back-to-back-to-back films, the franchise’s final installment, Return of the King finally picked up a Best Picture Oscar in 2003.
The Best Picture Action Movie: The French Connection
The gritty crime tale from William Friedkin (the director of The Exorcist follows James “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) as he traverses New York City, on a mission to bust some drug smugglers. The story is involving enough, but French Connection also sports one of the best car chases of all time — yes, even in the wake of the many Fast and the Furious sequels. It was the first R-rated Best Picture winner, which it won in 1971.
The Best Picture Musical Movie: My Fair Lady
Today, most musicals are mash-ups of familiar classics — the horrific sounding “jukebox musical” (see the much maligned Rock of AgesMy Fair Lady stands as one of the most perfectly crafted of the bunch. Starring the always lovely Audrey Hepburn and the ultimate speak-singer Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady picked up the Best Picture Oscar in 1964.
The Best Picture Thriller Movies: The Departed
For awhile, it looked like Martin Scorsese was never going to pick up an Oscar, but his return to unfiltered violence and profanity (and, perhaps more importantly, a great crime tale) saw the cineaste win a coveted Best Director Oscar. The movie may have the gravitas of an all-star cast and creative team, but at its core its pulpy genre material that, in lesser hands, would fit right into the the throwaway summer season. The Departed won Best Picture in 2006.
The Best Picture Superhero Movie: Ben-Hur
Today we have crime-fighting men impersonating bats and clad in iron armor, but back in Biblical times, the world had Ben-Hur. He doesn’t have super powers, but his journey is epic, falling from grace only to rise up from slave status as one of the great chariot riders. Oh, and he met Jesus. The movie won Best Picture in 1959.
The Best Picture Kids Movies: Oliver!
And just in case the young ones take a break from clamoring to see the latest and greatest in big screen entertainment, there’s Oliver!, the charming, kid-centric film based on the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens classic. Oliver! works double duty: it’s a ball for children who dream of living on their own, but it should sufficiently scare the crap out of them too. Fagin is one scary dude. Oliver! won Best Picture in 1968.
[Photo Credit: Weinstein Company]