Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Best of the Best

The 81st Academy Awards will be announced on Sunday on a night I look forward to every year. I am somewhat of an Oscar historian and can recite the list of Best Pictures in order from 1985 to today. I probably started watching the awards with my dad in 1986 (Platoon) and have watched each ceremony since. Looking back on the list of Best Picture winners over the past 20 years there are some really great films that have been recognized and a few that had no business winning the award. What follows is my personal list of the 10 best movies that won Best Picture from the last 20 years of Oscar. #1 was easy for me but putting the rest of the top 5 in order was a difficult task.

#1 - Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - Far and away the best movie of the past two decades (and of all-time). A culmination of an amazing technical achievement in film making as Peter Jackson and company craft the perfect trilogy. The visual effects in this epic will stand the test of time.

#2 - Braveheart (1995) - Probably the best revenge movie ever made. William Wallace's quest for vengeance is glorifying and gory. The film is shot in epic splendor by Mel Gibson (before he want bat-shit crazy). James Horner's powerful score is one of the best movie soundtracks of all-time.

#3 - Titanic (1997) - Take out the sappy love story and you still have one of the best technical achievements in movie making. The record (for its time) budget was put to good use and resulted in an authentic shipwreck that the audience believed. What is impressing is that this is only James Cameron's 3rd best film (Aliens and Terminator 2 were better). Another excellent James Horner score.

#4 - Gladiator (2000) - True story. I actually fell asleep through 80% of this movie in the theatre on first-viewing. The margaritas I had before-hand to celebrate my birthday were to blame. Ridley Scott crafts an excellent biopic of General Maximus Decimus Meridius that features outstanding performances by Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix (before HE went bat-shit crazy).

#5 - The Departed (2006) - Along with Goodfellas, this is Scorcese's best film. Gripping performances all around, especially by Damon and DiCaprio. And old-fashioned cop drama chock-full of well written dialogue.

#6 - Silence of the Lambs (1991) - I wrestled with ranking this one a few spots higher due to the kick-ass acting of Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, but ultimately dropped it to this position due to the slowness in plot at times. Once the action and tensions picks up, this movie is hard to beat. Bonus points for making "It puts the lotion in the basket" one of the best movie lines of all-time.

#7 - Schindler's List (1993) - The most depressing of the Best Picture winners by far, this film gives a sobering take on the Holocaust. One of Steve Spielberg's best (but not THE best - see below) efforts in directing. Ralph Fienes gives his creepiest performance in one of his first major roles.

#8 - Rain Man (1988) - A feel-good road trip movie that features Dustin Hoffman's best work. Tom Cruise is very underrated in his role as Charlie Babbit. Barry Levinson deserves some credit for making the film pace very well, mixing in comedy and genuine drama throughout.

#9 - Million Dollar Baby (2004) - Hilary Swank gives a better performance in Boys Don't Cry, but her role as boxer Maggie Fitzgerald is still head and shoulders above the competition. The boxing scenes are very authentic and I feel that Clint Eastwood delivers one of the best acting turns in his long accomplished career. Some hate the ending, but I thought it worked well and fit with the overall tone of the film.

#10 - Chicago (2002) - Barely beats out American Beauty and Forrest Gump or the final spot. Joins Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, as the best musical-to-screen transition. Great music and great performances along with Renee Zellweger's legs eek it into the top 10.

#20 - Shakespeare in Love (1998) - This huge steaming turd of a movie somehow managed to beat out Spielberg's best film (Saving Private Ryan) for Best Picture in 1998. I hated this film and it's one of the chief reasons for my distaste of Gwenyth Paltrow. The biggest Academy botch of all-time by far.

For the record, I would probably add either Slumdog Millionaire or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to this list if (when) either film wins on Sunday.


T. said...

How I love lists! I disagree with yours a bit, but I think Rob's list would look a lot like yours, so perhaps it is my gender. Let's also mention the best movie NOT to win Best Picture over the last 20 years - the Shawshank Redemption.

Anyway, here is my list, I am not doing all 20, but I'll do my top ten, and then the "worst."

1 - The Departed - I can't decide if this is Scorsese's best movie, but it is certainly tied with Goodfellas, and perhaps a smidge behind Raging Bull and Taxi Driver.

2 - Return of the King - I am the first to admit that I am not one for the "fantasy genre" - but this last installment brought the whole trilogy full circle for me, and there is absolutely no question that this is one of the greatest "productions" of all time. As a side note, I think Viggo Mortenson was missing from your best actors without Oscars list. Maybe not for this role, but for History of Violence and Eastern Promises both.

3 - Million Dollar Baby - for all the reasons that you said.

4 - American Beauty - not only for being a very well done movie, but I think it also captured where America's head was at this time.

5 - Schindler's List - obvious reasons

6 - Silence of the Lambs - no it's not a classic Oscar winner, but that's what makes it one of the best.

7 - Forrest Gump - I never wanted to like this movie, I think the premise is cheesy and indulgent. And yet the fact that it transcends being both cheesy and indulgent is what makes this movie so good. That, and I am a sucker for American history and good soundtracks.

8 - Chicago - a true "movie lovers" movie.

9 - Crash - yes I know there are two camps, one who hates this movie and thinks it's an insult to the Oscars, and another that appreciates the blatant, in your face, kind of message movie that this is. I fall into the latter camp.

10 - Rain Man - this is another movie that is not only well done, but I think captures a lot of that late 80s sort of mindset. It's like a time capsule.

And then my bottom three:

18 - Titanic - I can't get past the cheesy love story, which is unfortunate becuase I heart both Leo and Kate.

19 - Gladiator - sorry, I think this is one of the weakest Best Picture winners in recent years (see below for the other). Give me Russell Crowe in The Insider, LA Confidential, or Cinderella Man anyday.

20 - Shakespeare in Love - I agree with you on this. This movie beat out Saving Private Ryan and Life is Beautiful...definitely something wrong there.

Jordan said...

That's a good list from the female perspective I think. Leaving off more violent fare like Gladiator and Braveheart. I thought Crash was a little overrated. I agree that Shawshank got the shaft. I've only seen it once though and need to see it again.

T. said...

You know, it's not even the violence in those two (I have no problem with violence given some of my other favorite movies!). I just think of them as such "boy movies" and also, I am totally not into "epic" type films, particularly anything taking place prior to WW2. I am just not interested.