Oscars: All 89 Best Picture Winners Ranked

28) American Beauty (1999)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Annette Bening likes being nailed by the King. Thora Birch will not pass the asparagus. Wes Bentley films dead birds and plastic bags. Allison Janney apologizes for how things look. Chris Cooper comes out. Mena Suvari is very, very dirty.
Could Have Been
The Cider House Rules
Not Even Nominated
All About My Mother; Toy Story 2; The Talented Mr. Ripley; The Matrix; Being John Malkovich; Magnolia; Fight Club

27) Spotlight (2015)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The Spotlight team at the Boston Globes uncover all manner of unsavoury behavior by priests. Powerful, relevant, and about time a film of this nature, journalism, took the big prize. Especially given the heavyweights also in contention.
Could Have Been
The Big Short; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Revenant
Not Even Nominated
Carol; Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Sicario; Ex Machina; Inside Out

26) The French Connection (1971)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
A crooks n’ cops crime thriller wins Best Picture. William Friedkin employed his gritty, realistic style to the film, winning the Best Director Oscar. Still a force to be reckoned with for its genre, the frenetic chase sequence between a car and moving train is awe-inspiring to this day.
Could Have Been
The Last Picture Show; A Clockwork Orange
Not Even Nominated
Sunday Bloody Sunday; McCabe & Mrs. Miller; Dirty Harry

25) The Departed (2006)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
A crooks n’ cops crime thriller wins Best Picture. Not often you can say that. Martin Scorsese took home the Oscar for Best Director. We waited thirty years to say that. It was inevitable when his old buddies Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas came on stage to announce Best Director.
Could Have Been
Babel
Not Even Nominated
Dreamgirls; United 93; Pan’s Labyrinth; Children of Men

24) Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman are a match made in heaven here, and unlikely bromance. The first then X-rated film to nab Best Picture. Its themes are heavy even today. And that ending, how could you do that to us? John Barry, though, you the man.
Could Have Been
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Not Even Nominated
Easy Rider; The Italian Job; The Wild Bunch; Once Upon a Time in the West; They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

23) Rebecca (1940)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Maybe as close to Best Director as Alfred Hitchcock ever got for his debut American movie. He lost to John Ford. Adapted from Daphne du Mauriers novel, Laurence Olivier remarries, to Joan Fontaine, but the memory of his first wife linger on. Judith Anderson has something to say about it too.
Could Have Been
The Grapes of Wrath
Not Even Nominated
His Girl Friday; The Thief of Bagdad; Pinocchio

22) The Deer Hunter (1978)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Told in three very distinct chapters, and tones, Robert De Niro and his buddies soon head off to war, but come back different people. Kind of. This joins a string of relenting Vietnam movies from America in this era, not all won Best Picture of course.
Could Have Been
Coming Home
Not Even Nominated
Interiors; Autumn Sonata; Days of Heaven

21) Annie Hall (1977)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Yet another self-paroding Woody Allen flick, he built a carer on writing himself with the favorable lifestyle and flaws to match. But one of his very finest this was. The Academy don’t tend to nominate comedy, let alone hand them the big prizes.
Could Have Been
Star Wars
Not Even Nominated
Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Saturday Night Fever; New York, New York

20) It Happened One Night (1934)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
So all three Best Picture winners that claimed the big five (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay) make the top 20 here. Frank Capra directs Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable to gold with this quiky romantic comedy. Cleearly stood the test of time.
Could Have Been
One Night of Love
Not Even Nominated
Manhattan Melodrama; The Merry Widow; Of Human Bondage

19) 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The Academy proved they are not racist. That’s that problem solved. In all seriousness, a rich, important part of American history told like a boss. This would have been a thrilling year for the Best Picture race had American Hustle not intervened.
Could Have Been
Gravity
Not Even Nominated
Blue Jasmine; Inside Llewyn Davis; Blue Is the Warmest Color

18) West Side Story (1961)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The swinging sixties were rife with big musicals winning Best Picture. This one, beautifully shot in all its color, and incredibly choreographed, takes the age-old Romeo and Juliet to New York.
Could Have Been
Judgment at Nuremberg
Not Even Nominated
La Dolce Vita; Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Yojimbo; L’Avventura; Breathless; Last Year at Marienbad

17) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
A fantasy-adventure film takes the big prize. That never happens. In fact, the film stomped over everything in its path, winning all 11 of its nominations. A blatant reward for all three films in the Peter Jackson trilogy. Which might be the case here too.
Could Have Been
Lost in Translation
Not Even Nominated
City of God; 21 Grams; Cold Mountain

16) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Academy favorites David Lean and Word War II team up and conquer. The extraordinary film took all but one of its eight Oscar nominations. It ends with a bang of course. Alec Guinness, what have you done?
Could Have Been
Sayonara; 12 Angry Men
Not Even Nominated
Paths of Glory; Jailhouse Rock; An Affair to Remember

15) Unforgiven (1992)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Clint Eastwood takes all his has learnt about the morality and brutality of westerns, and crafts a rather personal, poignant picture. Ultimately about the act of killing, the subject is given a heavy esteem, showing the fear and regret it causes.
Could Have Been
Howards End
Not Even Nominated
Raise the Red Lantern; The Player; Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Aladdin; Malcolm X; The Last of the Mohicans; Glengarry Glen Ross

14) The Apartment (1960)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Billy Wilder was on a roll. At this stage of his filmmking career he was churning out comedy-dramas every year. This gem comes with a friendly warning about who you give your apartment key to. As well as what you might learn about that special someone, love-wise.
Could Have Been
Elmer Gantry
Not Even Nominated
Spartacus; Never on Sunday; Psycho; The Virgin Spring

13) Amadeus (1984)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart acts like a baffoon, and laughs like a hyena. But this is not an out-and-out comedy at all. Milos Forman is a master of mixing tones, this has captivating drama, but also a dark underbelly of fatherly spirit and painful envy. As for the sheer scale of the picture’s art direction and costumes, breathtaking. Some decent music too.
Could Have Been
The Killing Fields; A Passage to India
Not Even Nominated
Paris, Texas; Once Upon a Time in America; Ghostbusters; The Terminator

12) Moonlight (2016)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The latest top prize winner to break down another wall in Hollywood. Bravo Barry Jenkins and co. My big question though, if they gave the Best Actress award to Isabelle Huppert, would Faye Dunaway have declared Elle as Best Picture?
Could Have Been
La La Land
Not Even Nominated
Jackie; Loving; Silence

11) All About Eve (1950)

Oscars

In A Nutshell
The classic drama of the aging Broadway star set the record for the highest number of Oscar nominations with fourteen. This included an unprecedented four of the actresses – Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter. But it was man who won the only acting prize – George Sanders. Go figure.
Could Have Been
Sunset Boulevard
Not Even Nominated
Kind Hearts and Coronets; The Third Man; The Asphalt Jungle

CONTINUE – Part V: Always Liked To Hear About The Oldtimers

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16 thoughts on “Oscars: All 89 Best Picture Winners Ranked

  1. I see what you did with #52 and #51. But…can epic filmmaking really be brought back twice in six years? I think you’re just testing us to see if we’re paying attention.

  2. I don’t understand your caption for Chicago (2002):
    “Some exquisitely executed set-pieces don’t really make this familiar musical a big screen classic. On the verge of war, were America looking for some razzle-dazzle relief a la post World War II?”
    Was America on the verge of war in 1931, when Chicago is set? What makes you say there was “famous razzle-dazzle relief” around 1946? Having studied the period, I don’t see it. Or did you mean World War I? That would make a certain sense, that’s when women went from dresses to skirts, start of radio and magazines, Great Gatsby stuff. But then it would be weird to ask if 1931 was trying for that, when 1931 was in many ways a continuation of that (to some degree, Cabaret is about that).
    Confused.

    1. It’s a basic and casual reference to the flourish of musicals in Hollywood after the second world war. Not just the reflection on Oscar nominations and winners, but cinema in general. Almost like the world needed cheering up or distracting. Which we did. And not that many of those musicals were uplifting. The Chicago win may in some part be on a similar vein, post-9/11 and the resulting fiasco.

    1. Yeah very high. It’s on the back of the recent win. If we did this in 5 years, 2 years, it’d be lower.

      Or are you complaining it should be higher? 😁

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