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The 10 greatest Oscar 'Best Picture' winners ever

“Nothing can take the sting off the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other golden statues.”– Billy Crystal

The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, are considered the highest honour in the entertainment industry that can be bestowed on one associated with entertainment. More than nine decades since its inception, the Academy Awards have, despite the immense flak and criticism that comes its way, remained one of the most awaited events in the industry.

The Academy has been accused of being biased in their judgement and for propagating discrimination on the grounds of sexism, lack of representation and diversity, as well as homophobia. Remember how Ang lees Brokeback Mountain, which was undeniably one of the greatest pieces of art of the year, was denied the Best Picture award due to the gay coupling on-screen? 

No matter how hard we try to downplay the gravitas of these awards, winning one is a lifelong dream for every performer, usually becoming one of the most celestial highlights of their career. Receiving a nomination itself is a huge deal. Winning is a different game altogether. 

Think of Leonardo DiCaprio. Every Oscars season, his disgruntled face would appear on the giant screen as he kept missing out on awards that were rightfully his. He became the butt of all jokes until he received one for his outstanding and dauntless performance in Inarritu’s The Revenant, where he went to the extent of consuming a bison heart for his craft. His best friend, Kate Winslet, could not hold back her joy at seeing him finally receive the award that should have come his way long back. 

Across 24 categories, including direction, acting, cinematography, editing, costume design and many others, the Academy hands out various awards. While every year, the Academy deals with monumental controversy regarding various poor choices on behalf of the members, it is an overall enjoyable experience. To experience various inspirational speeches by actors and directors and the rest as they bawl their hearts out talking about this achievement is, indeed, moving. 

With the 93rd Academy Award show on its way, we decided to take a look at the ten greatest films that have been awarded the Best Picture award over the cinematic history of the Academy. 

The 10 greatest Oscar Best Picture winners ever

10. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960) 

Although Billy Wilder is synonymous with his more popular flicks, namely Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity, it is pertinent to note that The Apartment is indeed one of his finest creations. With a perfect blend of humour, romance, melodrama and overall restlessness and unhappiness resulting from modern life, the film sees a lonely slacker named Bud Baxter who hopes to gain the favour of company managers to get a promotion by subletting his apartments to them to carry out their amoral behaviour with various women discreetly. However, when the personnel director Sheldrake attempts to use the same apartment to bed Fran, a girl who has caught Bud’s eye for quite some time, things go awry. 

Deceit and lies and the discretion with which extramarital affairs are carried out in the film are bound to cause the misunderstandings that unravel as the film progresses. While it is one of Wilder’s happier endings, wonderful performances from the cast, namely Jack Lemmon as Bud, make the film genuinely intriguing. It is sentimental and delicate yet uproariously funny. The classic Wilder cynicism looms large as he deals with the conditions of human existence in contemporary society with masterful craftsmanship. 

“I’ve decided to become a mensch. You know what that means? A human being.”

9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)

When the despotic, cold and ruthless Nurse Mildred Ratched crosses paths with the witty, charming and shrewd Randle “Randy” McMurphy, the outcome is vicious. When Randy is transferred to a mental institution, he quickly realises that the patients remain quiet and obedient, fearing her intimidating and threatening demeanour that always has new punishments to offer. Randy stirs a rebellion which makes the subdued and demure patients become more volatile and question the authority. This leads the two, namely Randy and Ratched, to clash at loggerheads and lead to the ultimate showdown. 

If Jack Nicholson’s brilliant acting and cackling laughter do not leave you with goosebumps, we do not know what will. A piercing storyline with brilliant performances, namely Nicholdon’s, which made him a well-recognised star within the elite circuit of Hollywood, the film is a celebration of our fallen hero’s loss.

Although he loses, we cannot help but cheer for him. As the tyrannical and merciless Ratched, Lousie Fletcher was brilliant in her role and received an Academy Award for her performance, as did Nicholson. Disturbing and squeamish, comedy has been well infused into the film, which delivers a poignantly profound message as it comes to a tragic yet heartwarming close. 

“I tried, goddammit. At least I did that.”

8. Gone With The Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)

A story of unrequited love, where hapless lovers pine for one another during unexpected circumstances sees the wealthy Scarlett O’Hara going to extreme lengths to win the favour of the handsome Ashley Wilkes who gets married to his cousin.

Over time, Scarlett and Ashley cross paths several times yet are held back by several constraints. Soon, Scarlett realises that the one who loves her (Rhett Butler) has been with her all along yet has been unnoticed. However, it is too late, and the tragic Civil War and Reconstruction destroy her idyllic life. 

Overly complicated romantic entanglements in this film have been a source of inspiration to Hollywood for decades. Although the film was criticised for the inherent racism, lengthy running time and melodramatic love affairs, the film is iconic in every sense. A wonderful cast, including the dashing Clark Gabel as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as the haughty Scarlett, as well as rich, elaborate costumes and colours, add an added dimension to the film. Poignant and sumptuous in every sense, the film is every hopeless romantic’s dream.  

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

7. 12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen, 2014)

Based on an incredibly gut-wrenching story about a free black man’s survival after being sold off as a slave, the film revolves around a violinist named Solomon Northup who lives as a free man with his family in New York. His life turns upside down when he s kidnapped and later sold as a slave where he earns the nickname Platt.

Amidst brutal and barbaric conditions that only the very depraved can create for fellow human beings, Northup struggles for twelve years, enduring the malicious treatment meted out to him by his masters. He meets a Canadian abolitionist twelve years later who vows to help him connect with his family. 

This unforgettable and harrowing twelve-year odyssey of Northup reeks of the cruelty and malevolence coupled with hatred borne in the hearts of slave owners. McQueen’s brutal and unabashed exposure of American slavery would make viewers gasp and, while revelling in the brilliance of the content, vow to never watch it again.

The film is devoid of the concept of the quintessential white saviour and is like a never-ending, recurring nightmare. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s brilliant portrayal of the lead adds a sense of terror to the film as one cannot help but fathom what black people had to endure at the hands of these cruel white men. 

“I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!”

6. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)

With its historic 2019 win, Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win the Best Picture award.

Dark, gritty social satire with a punch-in-the-gut ending that sends you on a rollercoaster of emotions, the film highlights the raging class differences and how a socio-economic shift can affect the lives around it. The well-established Park clan and their giant mansion are juxtaposed to the worn-down shack the Kims live in. The monsoon rains flood the Kim household while the Parks are conscious about the stink emanating from the latter’s wet clothes. The Kim family, scheming and shrewd, gradually hatch a plan to act as parasites and leech off the wealthy family. However, their actions have vicious consequences.

With a well-timed message that is in tune with the reality we live in, Joon-Ho’s masterpiece was celebrated far and wide. One feels sympathy for the Kims while hoping they would stick to honest means. Their fates are sealed and they are simply victims of circumstance, doomed to a brutal ending owing to their economic disadvantage. Emphasising the bitter truth regarding the human condition, Joon-Ho’s message transcended all language barriers and seemed to resonate with the audience.

As Joon-Ho says, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” 

“She’s nice because she’s rich. Hell, if I had all this money. I’d be nice, too!”

5. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)

Emphasising the stages of growth in protagonist Chiron’s life, the film traces his childhood, adolescence and adulthood. As the African-American boy tries to navigate his way through the brutalities of the world, grappling with heavyweight issues including sexuality, abuse and identity, he encounters the kind-hearted drug dealer Huan, whose advice acts as a guiding force in his life and helps him get by. The film avenged its predecessor, aka Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain and its shocking loss at the Academy by becoming the first queer film to win an Award in 2017. 

A raw and fascinating intersectional take on masculinity and blackness reeking of vulnerability, the film is seductive and visually fluid. The mellow compassion arises from the crisis of identity and sexuality in a somewhat isolated world. Juan and Chiron find commonalities in their blackness as well as their desperate need to secure a place in the world.

The duality of existence becomes the film’s highlight and continuously brings forward incredibly poetic scenes that remain etched in the minds of the viewers. In one such scene, as Juan teaches Chiron to float, it is almost as if one vulnerable black man entwines himself around the other, teaching him to float in the waters of life. Although during the 2017 Academy Awards, the Best Picture prize had been mistakenly handed out to La La Land, Moonlight was soon called on-stage to receive their award, and this showed the positive shift in perspective.

 “In the moonlight, black boys look blue.”

4. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

Based on Mary Orr’s story that was inspired by a real-life anecdote relayed to her by actress Elisabeth Bergner, the film revolves around an ageing actress Margo Channing who is one of the greatest Broadway stars. However, after a certain stage performance, she meets a fan named Eve, who soon impresses Margo enough to become her assistant, much to the chagrin of Margo’s maid, Birdie. Soon, Eve’s sinister motives come to light as she tries to usurp Margo’s fame and career, trying to rob the actress of everything, including roles, her boyfriend as well as her dignity. 

Mankiewicz often described his films as a continuous commentary on the behaviours and manners of the “contemporary society in general and the male-female relationship in particular” which made the stories dark and funny at the same time.

This film brings together the perilous elements of fame, theatre, ego, vanity, rage and more to present the story of a waning career that will soon be overtaken by someone else. With a brilliant cast, the film draws focus upon the desire on one’s part to bring destruction to the other in order to succeed. The film is a wonderful showdown of some of the worst vices in the entertainment industry, bringing forth the despicable elements of human nature coupled with witty and well-timed dialogic encounters. 

“We all come into this world with our little egos equipped with individual horns. If we don’t blow them, who else will?”

3. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

“Schindler gave me my life, and I tried to give him immortality”. Holocaust survivor Poldek Pfefferberg wanted to tell the world about Schindler’s unthinkable act of kindness and compassion. After persuading Thomas Keneally to write the book, he convinced Steven Spielberg to adapt the film which also proved Spielberg’s prowess as a director.

Set during the Second World War, the film traces the events that follow after an ethnic German named Oskar Schindler travels to Krakow to make a fortune for himself and ends up hiring cheap labour in the form of Jewish workers in his factory. When the Nazis begin to mercilessly exterminate Jews, he enlists the help of his accountant Itzhak Stern and forges an elaborate plan to rescue them successfully. 

One of the best historical dramas to shadow the horrors of the Holocaust, the film lays bare the atrocities and heinous crimes meted out to the Jews. With Liam Neeson as his protagonist, Oskar Schindler, it is pertinent to note that the terrifying nature of the Holocaust is the focal point and looms large throughout the film, petrifying the audience. Adding humanism to his protagonist, Spielberg has created an emotionally hefty masterpiece; though criticised for not having explored tropes of sexuality and violence as well as creating a film from the perspective of a Nazi German, the picture portrays the degradation of humanity and how power leads to the creation of cruel and barbaric monsters. 

“Someday, this is all going to end, you know. I was going to say we’ll have a drink then.” 

2. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1943)

Nearly eight decades after the release of Casablanca, the film’s ethereal beauty remains immortalised.

Although viewers were not necessarily intrigued by the film at the time of its release, it aged like fine wine. With a perfect backdrop of the raging Second World War serving as a harrowing yet beautiful premise for the reunion of two doomed lovers, this monochromatic romance is a visual treat for the eyes. With a brilliant ensemble where the lead actors were at the pinnacle of success, the film has Humphrey Bogart in an unexpected yet iconic role. Ingrid Bergman is absolutely “luminous” in hers. Legendary scenes and dialogues remain etched in the minds of the viewers, immortalised today and tomorrow. 

Rick Blaine owns a nightclub and leads a somewhat stable life when his peace and quiet are disrupted by the whirlwind entry of his ex-flame, the resplendent Isla and her fugitive husband, Victor Laszlo. Rick has certain letters that can help the couple escape safely. However, lost love and rekindling of pangs coupled with vehement corruption and shady characters stand in their way. 

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

1. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) 

In his incredible adaptation of the eponymous 1972 Mario Puzo best-selling novel The Godfather released in 1969, Francis Ford Coppola outdid the author. With Puzo and Coppola both working on the script, the film, which continues to reign supreme in the hearts of cinephiles and film critics, brought home various awards and accolades. Staying faithful to the source material, the film sees Sicilian Mafioso paterfamilias battle it out among themselves to assert their dominance causing the family structures to fall apart with gruesome violence and intense bloodshed. Don Vito Corleone is the alpha and hopes his business to be taken over by his worthiest son. Yet treachery and bloodlust stem from the family itself, disrupting the peace of Godfather’s reign. 

With raging themes of friendship, loyalty, betrayal and vengeance, the film stars a legendary ensemble including Mario Puzo, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, James Caan and more. The film is Coppola’s masterpiece and boasts of brilliant cinematography as well. A riveting watch, it sees the conglomeration of brutal violence and serious thematic tropes along with pure entertainment. With Brando’s brilliant portrayal of Don Corleone, which goes down in history as one of the most iconic characters on screen, the film won not only the Best Picture Award but also ten other nominations. Although Brando won the Best Actor award, he refused to accept it due to his protest against Hollywood’s misrepresentation of Native Americans in films harkening a legendary moment in the Academy’s history. 

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” 

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