25. "Platoon" (1986)
The second Vietnam movie to win Best Picture (and the first made by an actual vet of the conflict), "Platoon" isn't the most artful 'Nam picture to contend for an Oscar (*cough* "Apocalypse Now"), but is one of the most visceral, authentic and deeply felt. Oliver Stone's own combat experience feeds into his powerful and elegaic tale of the young infantrymen (Charlie Sheen) torn between two mentors, as powerful an anti-war statement as ever graced the Academy's stage.
24. "The Hurt Locker" (2009)
80 years into its history, the Academy finally deigned to give Best Picture to a movie directed by a woman, but Kathryn Bigelow's war drama about a risk-addicted bomb-defusing expert was no affirmative-action choice. It's gripping, authentic, wryly funny and brilliantly directed. The narrative occasionally ends up in a cul-de-sac (the sub-plot involving Jeremy Renner's young Iraqi friend), but it's otherwise a top-tier war movie.
23. "The Silence Of The Lambs" (1991)
One of the unlikeliest Oscar phenomena ever, Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Thomas Harris' serial killer thriller might not be the most nourishing or uplifting of the Best Picture winners, but it's one of the most thrilling, and certainly the scariest. It's been a little diminished by its imitators (especially in Anthony Hopkins' performance), but if only every studio thriller was this good...
22. "Amadeus" (1984)
A rare example of the Prestige Picture done right, Milos Forman’s retelling of Mozart’s story through the eyes of a rival is inspired precisely because strip away the lavish sets and costumes, and you’re left with a compelling two-hander: a fascinating take on the nature of artistic jealousy between an accomplished journeyman and a genius. It’s an added treat that the genius is played as an insufferable giggling manchild by Tom Hulce.
21. "No Country For Old Men" (2007)
Deeply satisfying and richly textured, this film really saw the Coen brothers, long favorites on the more culty side of things, come into their own in terms of mainstream acceptance and the honing of their uncompromising vision to reach a wider audience. Still the best adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy book, they also get career-best performances from most of the cast, including Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and an unforgettable Javier Bardem.
20. "Midnight Cowboy" (1969)
The birth of a real sea-change in Academy Award-winners (the first X-rated film, the first with gay themes), John Schlesinger's heartbreaking story of the relationship between two NYC hustlers has aged a little in 45 years, but remains hugely potent thanks to Waldo Salt's phenomenal script, and, more than anything, the wrenching performances from Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. Plus Harry Nilsson, obviously...
19. "Gone With The Wind" (1939)
"Gone With The Wind" had a production of almost unrivaled difficulty, burning through multiple directors, but the result was absolutely worth it—the film won more Oscars than anything else up to that point, and adjusted for inflation, is the most successful film in history. Whatever its problems are—hugely troubling depictions of race and gender; it's about an hour too long—one can't ignore the glorious Technicolor sweep of the thing, or the soapy pleasures of the story.
18. "The Deer Hunter" (1978)
Michael Cimino’s elegy to the Vietnam War is incredibly ambitious, and makes good on most of its ambition, not least in a clutch of amazing performances from Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Cazale. And its scope was rivaled by its success, with the film winning nine Academy awards.
17. "The Lost Weekend" (1945)
Somewhat atypical even for the restless Billy Wilder, "The Lost Weekend" might be mistaken for an 'issues' movie as the film tackles the evergreen topic of alcoholism, in the shape of Ray Milland's boozy writer. But the director's melding of psychological realism and heightened film noir style keeps it miles away from being a movie of the week, and it remains gritty and near-definitive on the subject to this day.
16. "Rebecca" (1940)
Winning out in a competitive year (“The Philadelphia Story,” “The Great Dictator,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and a second Hitchcock effort, “Foreign Correspondent” were also nominees), Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel is worthy even against that field. Creepily gothic in atmosphere, and boasting an Olivier performance finely balanced between charm and cruelty, it’s a compulsive, sinuous, doom-laden treat.