Ranking the Best Picture Winners, Part IX

15.  The Deer Hunter (1978)

Another one that really impressed me as a budding film lover but that I should probably revisit.  It may be one of the best uses of the three-act structure in Hollywood cinema, and one of the few three-hour movies that’s actually well-paced.  Also, Meryl Streep.  

14.  Gone With The Wind (1939)

Speaking of pacing, this is another one that makes its epic running time work.  How Selznick, Victor Fleming et al. were able to make a four-hour movie that people (myself included) have been happily sitting through for the last seventy-five years, I’ll never know. 

13.  The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Another case of “holy shit, they picked the best movie!” shock, rendered all the more shocking for said best movie being an irredeemably dark, unapologetically gory horror-thriller which conjures up one of the scariest villains, like, ever, and lets him go at the end.  For all its (many) terrifying moments, the most intense may be the relatively quiet mind-fuck/dialogue scene early in the film between Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lechter and Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, in which he systematically reduces her to a quivering bundle of nerves without so much as lifting a finger.  (Call it the negative image of Holly Hunter and William Hurt’s seduction-by-earpiece in Broadcast News.)  Wonderfully perverse.   

12.  Amadeus (1984)

My fear is that this hugely entertaining, blessedly unsentimental black comedy has gotten a reputation for being a genteel, middlebrow prestige picture, just because it’s about (among other things) Mozart.  I re-watched it fairly recently and am happy to report that it holds up beautifully.  The Academy voters were right to give the Best Actor Oscar to F. Murray Abraham, whose vigorous performance as the tortured, vengeful Salieri is still better than Tom Hulce’s as Mozart, if only by a hair.  A win well-deserved.           

11.  Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Reviewed here.

10.  Casablanca (1943)

Look at the other nominees for 1943 and you’ll see that it was a weak year for Hollywood filmmaking, and Casablanca’s competition that year was not very stiff.   Even so, it’s encouraging to see that its greatness was recognized in its own time.  It worked for audiences in 1943, it still works for audiences today (seven years ago I attended a Valentine’s Day screening at the Athena Cinema in Athens, OH, which was sold out), and it always will.     

9.  The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

A movie that earns every ounce of its sentimental power.  Bette Davis apparently said she thought it was the best movie ever made (full disclosure: its director William Wyler was both her frequent collaborator and lover).  It also won Wyler his second of his three Oscars for Best Director. 

8.  The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Discussed here.

7.  It Happened One Night (1934)

Probably Frank Capra’s most charming and least didactic movie, and still one of the greatest romantic comedies ever to come out of Hollywood. 

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