Ranking the Best Picture Winners, Part VII

34.  How Green Was My Valley (1941)

This is John Ford at his loveliest and most heart-breaking, as opposed to the hokey sentiment to which he sometimes stooped in lesser films.  Very fine.

33.  Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Kind of horrible, but such an interesting cultural artifact and so compelling in a train-wreck way that I was riveted by it.  It also helped that I was reading Joe Litvak’s superb The Un-Americans: Jews, the Blacklist, and Stoolpigeon Culture at the time that I first saw it.  Falls under the category of what J. Hoberman has called “Jewish movies without Jews.”  

32.  Argo (2012)

Reviewed here.

31.  12 Years a Slave (2013)

Reviewed here.

30.  Titanic (1997)

Say what you will, James Cameron knew what he was doing with this.  I saw Titanic twice during its original theatrical run: the thing played the audience like a piano both times.  One of the rare cases in which the romantic spectacle is done well enough to disguise the basic shallowness of the material.  Also, Kate Winslet.

29.  The Sound of Music (1965)

What can I say?  Like everyone else who was born in the last quarter of the twentieth century I grew up watching this on TV every year, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for it.  If anybody was able to sell this material it was Julie Andrews.  And unlike My Fair Lady (which is every bit as big and gauche) its actors can actually sing fairly well.  A guilty pleasure for anyone who secretly likes his or her sentimental Hollywood corn served well-done (and who doesn’t, really?)

28.  Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

While this has never been a personal favorite, I can still remember the sheer thrill of seeing this at the Stanley Theater in Utica a decade or so ago.  There is a wide-angle shot of Peter O’Toole standing on the beach while Maurice Jarre’s score ripples across the soundtrack that is more sublime than many entire movies on this list.

27.  An American In Paris (1951)

Discussed here.

26.  Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Yeah, I liked this.  Deal with it.  (See also Titanic, The English Patient, etc.)

25.  Rebecca (1940)

The only Hitchcock film ever to win Best Picture, and Hitch himself didn’t even get a statuette.  That’s because it was officially David O. Selznick’s baby, something over which the two famously butted heads.  Worth seeing if only for the Gothic nightmare that is Mrs. Danvers.

24.  Terms of Endearment (1983)

Another example of melodrama done right, thanks to a good script by James L. Brooks and a stellar cast led by Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Debra Winger.  Fun fact: MacLaine and Nicholson have both appeared in three Best Picture winners each, as have Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Clark Gable, Diane Keaton, and Dustin Hoffman.  (Has anyone appeared in four or more?)

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