Every February, movie fans all over the world eagerly await one of the great annual rituals of the motion picture industry: the Academy Awards ceremony. Held in Los Angeles to great fanfare, this televised ceremony recognizes the very best achievements in filmmaking for the previous year.
The Academy Awards are the most prestigious honors given in the film industry. The awards, nicknamed the “Oscars,” are given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).
AMPAS was founded in 1927 to “…advance the arts and sciences of motion pictures.” In 1929, the Academy began making “Awards of Merit” for superior achievement in all aspects of filmmaking. The Academy’s first Awards of Merit were presented in 1929 for achievements made during the previous two years. Oscar winners are now determined annually by the votes of the Academy’s 6,000 members.
The Best Picture Oscar, traditionally the last one announced at each year’s ceremony, is considered the most prestigious because it recognizes the best overall filmmaking achievement made during the previous year.
Here now is my list of the Top 10 “Best Picture” Oscar Winners of All Time. May I have the envelope please…
10. The Departed – (2006 Best Picture)
Producers: Brad Pitt, Brad Grey, Graham King; Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson
The Departed is hands down the best crime drama I’ve seen since I first saw The Godfather Part II in 1974! Here is a chilling story of crime and corruption in Boston. The Departed combines an intense and tightly woven screenplay, and dynamic performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Vera Farmiga. Martin Scorsese won his first Best Director Oscar for this movie.
9. The Sound of Music – (1965 Best Picture)
Producers: Argyle Enterprises, Inc.; Director: Robert Wise
Starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer
Exactly how do you solve a problem like Maria? The Sound of Music is a timeless masterpiece, perhaps one of the greatest musicals ever, and certainly the greatest family film of all time. Starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, it tells the true story of the von Trapp family singers in Austria during the years leading up to their escape from the Nazis. Everything about this movie shines – the acting, singing, dancing, and especially the cinematography.
8. Ben-Hur – (1959 Best Picture)
Producer: Sam Zimbalist; Director: William Wyler
Starring Charlton Heston and Jack Hawkins
For 38 years, Ben-Hur held the record for the most Academy Awards won by a film, with 11. That record was eventually tied by Titanic in 1997 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003. Ben-Hur is an adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Set in Jerusalem at the height of the Roman empire, it tells the tale of a wealthy Jewish merchant and his journey from a life of privilege, to slavery, and ultimately to a spiritual awakening. Epic movie-making at its best!
7. Amadeus – (1984 Best Picture)
Producer: Saul Saenz; Director: Milos Forman
Starring F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce
Amadeus, winner of 7 Academy Awards in addition to its Best Picture Oscar, is an adaptation of Peter Schaffer’s smash Broadway play of the same name. Based loosely on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the world’s greatest composer, Amadeus is in every way one of the great cinematic masterpieces ever created. It contains absolutely everything that a great movie should: fabulous acting, a fascinating plot, and the best music ever composed (Mostly Mozart – ’nuff said…)
6. Lawrence of Arabia – (1962 Best Picture)
Producer: Sam Spiegel; Director: David Lean
Starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, and Omar Sharif
Winner of 7 Academy Awards, Lawrence of Arabia is a cinematic biography of T.E. Lawrence, the high strung, reclusive hero of the Arabian desert during World War I. Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, in their first major film roles, shine as T.E. Lawrence and Sherif Ali, respectively. This is another film with breathtakingly spectacular battle scenes and stunning cinematography.
5. Schindler’s List – (1993 Best Picture)
Producers: Steven Spielberg, Gerald R. Molen, Branko Lustig; Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley
Schindler’s List is the story of Oskar Schindler, a German entrepreneur living in occupied Poland during World War II. He’s a Nazi, a war profiteer… and a man of conscience. He became one of the great heroes and humanitarians of the war when he successfully rescued 1,100 Jews from execution by the Nazis. Schindler’s List is a heart-rending film, and Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece.
4. From Here to Eternity – (1953 Best Picture)
Producer: Buddy Adler; Director: Fred Zinneman
Starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Deborah Kerr
This movie’s most famous scene – Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr passionately embracing and kissing on a beach while waves lap over them – is actually a bit misleading. From Here to Eternity is less a romantic movie than it is a story of one misfit soldier’s attempt to maintain his individualism while the Army tries to coerce him into conforming to its rules. All this is set in Pearl Harbor in the days immediately prior to the Japanese attack. Brilliantly acted by Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and especially Frank Sinatra, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Maggio.
3. Gone With the Wind – (1939 Best Picture)
Producer: David O. Selznick; Director: Victor Fleming
Starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, and Olivia DeHavilland
This sumptuously produced epic of the Civil War is based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. It’s the story of Scarlett O’Hara, owner of the plantation Tara, and her affairs of the heart. She has an unrequited love for Ashley Wilkes, but she marries Rhett Butler. Together she and Rhett endure family tragedy and the brutal occupation of the Union army during the last days of the war. A long and complex movie, Gone With the Wind nevertheless stands as of the great classic films of all time.
2. The Godfather (1972 Best Picture)
Producer: Albert S. Ruddy; Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and Robert Duvall
The Godfather is a genuine masterpiece – a bloody, violent, and profane story about organized crime in America in the years immediately following World War II. Everything about this film is simply superb! It’s an understatement to say that it is well acted by a very strong ensemble cast. Director/screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel deserves special mention. It’s one of the most faithful adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen on film!
1. Casablanca – (1942 Best Picture)
Producer: Hal B. Wallis; Director: Michael Curtiz
Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman
Casablanca is my choice as the number 1 Best Picture Oscar winner of ’em all! That despite it being ranked only #3 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Movies” list of all-time greatest films. There’s simply nothing better than watching Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilse Laszlo (Ingrid Bergman) illuminate the screen in this fabulous 1942 film that combines romance, adventure, melodrama, comedy, and some of the most memorable and oft-quoted lines you’ll ever hear in a film. Casablanca is simply the “best of the best!”
There you have it, friends… my list of the Top 10 “Best Picture” Oscar Winners of All Time. Happy movie-watching!
History of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – (AMPAS Official Site)
History of the Academy Awards – (AMPAS Official Site)
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – (Wikipedia article)
100 Years… 100 Films Tenth Anniversary Edition – (American Film Institute Official Site)
Top 10 Epic Movies of All Time (AC article written by Mike Powers
Top 10 Movies of All Time – a Movie “Hall of Fame” (AC article written by Mike Powers)
DVD case information
Personal viewing of listed films