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Every Best Picture Oscar Winner Ranked Best To Worst

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist February 25, 2014 at 3:48PM

This weekend, after months of frantic build-up, prognostication and guesswork, the 86th Academy Awards will take place. Of course, the main event will be awarding Best Picture (or, as the category was referred to back in the day, Outstanding Picture), and no matter who takes the prize, the winner joins a roster of films that veer from solid-gold classics to what-on-earth-were-the-Academy-thinking, and everything in between.
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Sound Of Music

70. "The Sound Of Music" (1965)
While our childish hearts may twirl on the mountainside with Julie Andrews, our sober grown-up heads do tell us that the beloved Robert Wise musical is really so much cheese. The story of a singing nun who renounces her nunship to mother a family of moppets, wed their stupidly handsome father (Christopher Plummer) and evade Nazis, we take a Plummer-esque stance on it now: kind of embarrassed by our involvement.

69. "Gigi" (1958)
A sickly and overstuffed Technicolor Lerner/Loewe musical, significantly inferior to some of Vincente Minnelli's other song-and-dance classics, and mostly lacking in memorable tunes (beyond Maurice Chevalier's creepy-even-then "Thank Heaven For Little Girls"). Looks great, but feels like eating an entire wedding cake.

68. "How Green Was My Valley" (1941)
Best remembered now as the film that beat "Citizen Kane" (and as a favorite of Frasier Crane), this sturdy family saga set in a Welsh mining town is decent, but curiously unmemorable. John Ford's favorite of his own films, but if you were going to give only one of his movies Best Picture, why would it be this one?

67. “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947)
Two years after the end of the war and the discovery of the extent of the Holocaust’s atrocities, this serious-minded, well-intentioned story of a journalist “going undercover” as Jewish to expose anti-semitic sentiments must’ve seemed timely. Now it seems tame and rather preachy, with Gregory Peck on stiffer-than-usual good-guy form, though strong support from John Garfield and Celeste Holm does enliven things.

66. "Tom Jones" (1963)
Reflecting as much the mores of the time it was made as the time in which it was set, Tony Richardson’s romping, undisciplined version of Henry Fielding’s novel is best watched now for Albert Finney’s performance as the titular 18th century playboy, because there’s little other substance to it.

65. "Chicago" (2002)
Rob Marshall
’s starry adaptation of the 1975 broadway hit may have been the first musical to win Best Picture since “Oliver!” but still feels like an odd, slight choice over the same year’s “The Pianist.” The glittery, dress-uppy vibe of the Jazz Age setting and musical numbers memorably described by one critic as “calisthenic” don’t help with the insubstantiality either.

64. "Braveheart" (1995)
Mel Gibson
’s full-throated historical epic may seem blusterous and self-aggrandizing in retrospect, but props are due to it for some truly thrilling battle scenes and an overall impressive scope. It’s Hollywoodized bunkum, of course, but of the entertaining, “they’ll never take...our FREEDOM” variety.

63. "Grand Hotel" (1932)
Before ‘The Grand Budapest’ there was simply ‘Grand,’ a lavish, nearly as star-crammed precursor to Wes Anderson’s latest. The glorious Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and Barrymores John and Lionel make it a ‘30s all-star team up, but the portmanteau format it popularized (stories either not at all or barely connected) remains unsatisfying to this day.

62. "Oliver!" (1968)
The Carol Reed version of the Lionel Bart musical based on the Charles Dickens book is a perfectly decent adaptation of the material, and Mark Lester as Oliver is preternaturally angel-faced, but it feels pretty slight, especially compared with David Lean’s brilliant non-musical version from 1948, and also with the more textured efforts in Reed’s own catalogue.

61. "Kramer Vs. Kramer" (1979)
Reasonably well-acted and intermittently powerful divorce drama which hasn't dated well in the last 35 years, now feels decent, but unremarkable. The men's-rights-ish gender dynamics, with Meryl Streep demonized and Dustin Hoffman sanctified, feel especially troubling these days.

60. "All The King's Men" (1949)
Detailing the rise to prominence and the fall into corruption of a Southern politician, and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, by a long mile this version is more successful than the turgid Steve Zaillian/Sean Penn one. Broderick Crawford is terrific as the compromised would-be man of the people but the moralism of the slow descent to hell is pretty depressing stuff.

59. "The Best Years Of Our Lives" (1946)
A wildly popular account, at the time, of the difficulties civilian life posed for three servicemen returning from WWII, the William Wyler drama certainly bears nothing but the best intentions. But to a modern eye it’s a bit overlong, and sags in between some of the more affecting scenes, like this one, of Fredric March returning home to Myrna Loy and family.

58. "The King's Speech" (2010)
Tom Hooper
's stirring tale of the king with the speech impediment and the therapist who helped him find his voice is pretty much the middle-of-the-road personified, and is hampered a bit by Hooper's distracting visual style. But it is remarkably satisfying as a crowd-pleaser, and there's no denying the quality of Colin Firth's central turn.

57. "Chariots Of Fire" (1981)
An unlikely underdog that saw its filmmakers pronounce "the British are coming!" when it took the Oscar, "Chariots Of Fire" remains an atypically effective cheer-from-your-seat kind of sports movie. A bit fusty, yes. Formally uninventive, yes. But as the Vangelis score soars, it's hard not to see why it proved such a surprise crowd-pleaser 30+ years ago.

56. "The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King" (2003)
Peter Jackson
's Tolkien trilogy is a crowing cinematic achievement, but it was the third and least of them that won Best Picture (though it's still leaps and bounds above 'The Hobbit' films so far). 'Return Of The King' matches the spectacular action and impeccable craft of the first two, but lacks the tight focus of the first or the more emotional qualities of the second. And of course, it goes on foreeeeveeeeeeeer.

This article is related to: Features, Awards, Academy Awards, Oscars, Feature


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