In this list, having looked at many instances of the Oscars getting it horrendously wrong with its choices for Best Picture, we highlight moments when the Academy nails it. This is the top 10 times the Oscars picked the right Best Picture.
We’ve talked – endlessly – about the Oscars getting it wrong. It’s a topic ripe for debating, arguing over and reinterpreting courtesy of hindsight. But in this list I take a look at ten times the Academy Awards nailed it. Be it a clear winner, a tough choice among strong contenders, or a little bit of luck picking the enduring classic for Best Picture, this selection of Oscar greats reveal Best Picture winners which deserve to be crowned winner of the industry’s highest accolade.
10. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975)
Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville
Give the Academy Awards credit for getting this right because 1975 presented the Oscars’ members with perhaps the highest calibre of Best Picture nominees ever. Any of the five films could have won, each exhibiting the qualities deserving of the Academy Awards’ highest honour. Of the five directors whose films when into battle for Best Picture at the 48th Academy Awards – Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman and Milos Forman – it was the latter, the least known, who triumphed. But if Forman was ever going to win an Oscar then One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was the film to deliver it. It’s his best work, features Jack Nicholson at his best, and remains a provocative window on mental health care during the period. It’s also a film that both warms and breaks the heart.
9. Braveheart (Gibson, 1995)
Apollo 13, Babe, The Postman, Sense and Sensibility
Braveheart is a somewhat refreshing Best Picture Academy Award winner because it was nominated against a true-life story of American heroism (Apollo 13) and an Oscar-worthy period drama starring a bunch of British thespians (Sense and Sensibility). A bloody and graphic war film about the William Wallace-led Scottish revolt against King Edward I of England, Braveheart was a worthy Best Picture Academy Award winner that remains one of the best films of the 1990s and one of the best war movies ever made.
8. In The Heat Of The Night (Jewison, 1967)
Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
A defining moment in Sidney Poitier’s career, In The Heat Of The Night is probably the actor’s best-remembered film, dealing with race relations in America’s Deep South at a time when the fires of the Civil Rights movement were still burning. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, a similarly themed but very different film starring Poitier was also nominated that year, boosting his celebrity even more.
7. Schindler’s List (Spielberg, 1993)
The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day
A somewhat divisive film about the holocaust, for those that adore Schindler’s List there are few depictions of Jewish persecution at the hands of the Nazis than Steven Spielberg’s 1993 effort.
6. The Departed (Scorsese, 2006)
Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen
The Departed deserved its Oscar for Best Picture for one reason: it was the best film nominated that year. Oh, and the Academy felt guilty about not giving Martin Scorsese a Best Director award previously.
5. Platoon (Stone, 1986)
Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, A Room with a View
War, destruction and a critical view of American foreign policy aren’t ideal attributes when going for Oscar gold but Oliver Stone’s film rightly won plaudits and admiration in 1987. Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters gives the film a run for its money but hindsight still suggests the Academy got it right when they picked Platoon for Best Picture.
4. Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969)
Anne of the Thousand Days, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hello, Dolly!, Z
Ahead of its time, daring and sporting one of the best performances of Dustin Hoffman’s career, what’s less surprising about Midnight Cowboy rightly winning Best Picture is Hoffman being overlooked for Best Actor (he lost to John Wayne for his turn in True Grit).
3. The Silence Of The Lambs (Demme, 1991)
Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides
In one of the few instances when the Academy Awards celebrated a dark, twisted, suspenseful and violent piece of work over a happy, romantic musical (Beauty and the Beast), The Silence of the Lambs’ triumph at the Oscars is one of the defining examples when the Academy got its Best Picture award spot on. Jonathan Demme’s film is even more deserving of its award in hindsight despite some strong nominees such as Oliver Stone’s JFK. The Silence of the Lambs is a film that stands the test of time.
2. On The Waterfront (Kazan, 1954)
The Caine Mutiny, The Country Girl, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Three Coins in the Fountain
One of the defining roles of Marlon Brando’s career, On The Waterfront remains a widely respected film among audiences and critics. When compared to the other films nominated that year, it’s director Elia Kazan’s work that stands out.
1. The Apartment (Wilder, 1960)
The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers, The Sundowners
Sometimes the Academy Awards has a difficult task deciding which of the nominated films for Best Picture to pick as its winner but not so in 1961. The Apartment, Billy Wilder’s delicious comedy starring the delightful Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, is one of the most endearing, lovable, funny and feel-good films ever made.
Over to you: what Oscar winning films deserved the Best Picture award? What other Oscar winning films should have made this top 10?