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The 5 Best Best Picture Oscar Line-Ups Of All Time

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist February 20, 2012 at 2:39PM

Given that 2011 was one of the better years for English-language cinema in recent memory, it's disappointing that this year's Best Picture line up feels more anaemic. Sure, you'll find few who'll quibble with the inclusion of " Moneyball" -- it's the kind of fearsomely smart, grown-up entertainment than in an ideal world, would make up the majority of nominees. And even those who weren't totally won over by "The Tree of Life" surely can't find much to complain about when it comes to its inclusion.
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Best Best Picture Years

Given that 2011 was one of the better years for English-language cinema in recent memory, it's disappointing that this year's Best Picture line up feels more anaemic. Sure, you'll find few who'll quibble with the inclusion of " Moneyball" -- it's the kind of fearsomely smart, grown-up entertainment that in an ideal world, would make up the majority of nominees. And even those who weren't totally won over by "The Tree of Life" surely can't find much to complain about when it comes to its inclusion.

But those are only two of the nine nominees, and the rest are a rather thin lot: the charming but slight expected winner "The Artist," the also charming but slight "Midnight In Paris," the charming but misshapen "Hugo," the patronizing, overlong "The Help," B-list Spielberg in "War Horse," Alexander Payne's fifth best film in "The Descendants" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," the worst-reviewed Best Picture nominee in modern times.

So not a banner year, but then, one doesn't have to look far back into the history of the Academy Awards to discover years that were far worse. And indeed, one need not give up hope with the institution, because there are plenty of years where the memberships' picks have done them proud. To kick off our week of Oscar coverage, we've picked out the five years where the Academy nominated a stellar line-up, and five where they dropped the ball. Read on for more. (Note: for clarity's sake, we're referring to the year in which the eligible films were released -- the ceremonies, as ever, were held early the following year).

The 5 Best Best Picture Line-Ups

GWTW
1939
The Best Picture Nominees:
"Gone With The Wind" (winner), "Dark Victory," "Goodbye Mr Chips," "Love Affair," "Mr Smith Goes To Washington," "Ninotchka," "Of Mice and Men," "Stagecoach," "The Wizard Of Oz," "Wuthering Heights"
What Could They Have Nominated?
"Dodge City," "Jesse James," "The Old Maid," "The Women," "Gunga Din," "Intermezzo," "Jamaica Inn," "The Roaring Twenties"
Why Is It One Of The Best? Well, in one of the the great years in cinema history, they managed to pick most of the right ones. Obviously, ten nominations means you've got more room, but there's really very little filler in there -- even the lesser known films on the line-up, most notably Bette Davis melodrama "Dark Victory" and the adaptation of "Of Mice and Men," which was lost until relatively recently, hold up terrifically. And otherwise, they're pretty much stone-cold classics. You might argue that "Goodbye Mr. Chips" and "Love Affair" are sentimental fluff, but they look pretty substantial compared to some of the things that got the nod this year.

Hamlet
1948
The Best Picture Nominees:
"Hamlet" (winner), "Johnny Belinda," "The Red Shoes," "The Snake Pit," "The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre"
What Else Could They Have Nominated?
"Red River," "Easter Parade," "Key Largo," "Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House," "State of the Union," "A Foreign Affair," "The Bicycle Thieves"
Why Is It One Of The Best? The 1940s was probably the best decade for the Oscars, movie wise, and we could have taken our pick, but few years were as consistent as '48. Olivier's directorial effort in "Hamlet," which took Best Picture, remains the definitive take on the play, and one of the best screen Shakespeares, with one of the most thrilling swordfights ever to come on screen. But with Powell & Pressburger's staggering dance drama, "The Red Shoes," "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," one of John Huston's very best, and even the lesser-known melodramas "Johnny Belinda" and "The Snake Pit" (which each feature stunning performances from their leads Jane Wyman - who won Best Actress - and Olivia De Havilland) it's hard to argue with the lineup even if we wouldn't have objected to seeing "Key Largo" or "The Bicycle Thieves" among the final five.

Godfather
1972
The Best Picture Nominees:
"The Godfather" (winner), "Cabaret," "Deliverance," "The Emigrants," "Sounder."
What Else Could They Have Nominated?
"The Poseidon Adventure," "What's Up, Doc?" "Jeremiah Johnson," "The Candidate," "The King of Marvin Gardens"
Why Is It One Of The Best? Even if it wasn't a masterpiece, "The Godfather" being one of the biggest hits of all time meant it was a no-brainer of a winner, but what's impressive is how adventurous the rest of the five were. While other years in the seventies were tarnished with the selection of disaster movies like "Airport" and "The Towering Inferno," the Academy of the early 1970s went with Bob Fosse's impeccable musical about the rise of Nazism, John Boorman's gripping thriller of masculinity under threat, a Swedish-language Western with Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman, and while it's certainly the weakest of the bunch, a compassionate, honest tale of a black family in the South during the Depression that shows up "The Help" as the Lifetime movie-of-the-week it really is. Plus, Luis Bunuel and Louis Malle both got Screenplay nominations. The 1970s, man. Better days.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
1975
The Best Picture Nominees:
"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" (winner), "Barry Lyndon," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Jaws," "Nashville"
What Else Could They have Nominated?
"Shampoo," "The Sunshine Boys," "Amarcord,"  "The Man Who Would Be King,"  "Three Days Of The Condor," "Night Moves,"
Why Is It One of The Best? Look over those nominees again. For our money, that's the single greatest line-up in Best Picture history. There's not a bad film in the bunch, with career best work from Robert Altman and Milos Forman, Spielberg's taut-as-hell blockbuster, Lumet's near-perfect, progressive drama, and to our mind, one of Stanley Kubrick's best films. It's the peak of the thrilling 1970s era of smart films being celebrated, and there were joys to be found across the ceremony, from Fellini's Best Director nomination for "Amarcord" to Kurosawa's "Dersu Uzala" winning Best Foreign Language Film.

No Country For Old Men
2007
The Best Picture Nominees:
"No Country For Old Men" (winner), "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "There Will Be Blood"
What Else Could They Have Nominated?
"Into The Wild," "Sweeney Todd," "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly," "The Savages," "American Gangster," "Ratatouille," "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford," "Zodiac"
Why Is It One Of The Best? Generally deemed as one of the greatest modern years for American cinema, it could have been easy for the Academy to go with safer fare. But, in a real return to the 1970s, they came through, giving the dark duo of 'No Country' and "There Will Be Blood" the top number of nominations, with each film winning major awards. And, while we suspect some will disagree, there's not a film in that five that we don't like: the first act of "Atonement" is phenomenal, "Juno" is as good a film of its type as has been made in recent years, and "Michael Clayton" gets better and better with each rewatch. Are there a few films that we'd rather have seen up there -- "Zodiac," 'Jesse James,' "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly"? Sure. But we'll happily meet the Academy half-way on this one.

Other Great Years:
1945: "The Lost Weekend," "Anchors Aweigh," "Mildred Pierce," "Spellbound." Let down by: "Bells Of St. Mary's"
1953: "From Here To Eternity," "Julius Caesar," "Roman Holiday," "Shane" Let down by: "The Robe."
1957: "Bridge Over The River Kwai," "Witness For The Prosecution," "12 Angry Men," "Sayonara," "Peyton Place"
1962: "Lawrence Of Arabia," "The Music Man," "The Longest Day," "To Kill A Mockingbird" Let down by: "Mutiny On The Bounty"
1974: "The Godfather Part II," "Chinatown," "The Conversation," "Lenny," Let down by: "The Towering Inferno"
1976: "All The President's Men," "Bound For Glory," "Network," "Taxi Driver," Let down by: "Rocky"
1978: "The Deer Hunter," "Coming Home," "Heaven Can Wait," "Midnight Express," "An Unmarried Woman"
1982: "E.T," "Missing," "Tootsie," "The Verdict," "Gandhi"

Thoughts? Agree, disagree? Weigh in below.

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


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