The Oscars are indisputably the most prestigious award ceremony in the world – other than perhaps the Ms. Universe contest, which apparently encompasses all known creation.
Since 1929, the Academy Awards have been shining a light on the most daring, innovative, successful and original artists. Many often dispute the validity of the ceremony’s choices. They feel that their favorites were unjustly snubbed, or accuse the 5,000+ judges of never actually bothering to watch the candidate films – choosing instead to sell their vote to the highest bidding publicist. Like in the land of Oz, perhaps there is a simple truth behind the curtain. But the fact of the matter is, cinema has captured audiences in a way that no other art form possibly can, and has gripped us in childlike awe for over a century. The Oscars are a symbolic reminder of that magic, and the incredible feats required to bring it to life.
Fans often overlook the complexities of filmmaking. Movies are dreams born of machinery, imagination and collaboration. Unlike a lone painter toiling in front of a canvas, films require hundreds of people working together in a chain of creativity to bring projects to fruition. A seed is born in a writer’s mind, nurtured by producers, cultivated by directors, brought to bloom by actors, set designers, cinematographers, costume designers and a myriad of other bees around the hive. The full spectrum of human emotion can be found in the annals of cinema. Every human tragedy, bliss, love, fear and aspiration … and we’re still making more every day.
Let’s concede that no list will ever satisfy all moviegoers. Measuring the ‘best’ quality is too subjective an act. Do we reward those who pushed boundaries? Those who were most financially successful? Do we hold the opinion of film scholars in higher regard than the satisfaction of the masses? Perhaps the most acceptable list, therefore, is one of movies that to this day still spurn reverence and debate. Loved, hated, discussed and analyzed, the ‘must see’ masterpieces that continue to fuel their fans’ devotion, and entice the curiosity of new young audiences.
Any movie-loving millenials who haven't seen at least 50% of this list, should hang their heads in shame before Sunday's cinematic ceremonies (or just watch a lot of movies).
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The quintessential movie experience: a young girl, lost in a fantasy world, suddenly alive with color and vibrance, accompanied by animals, heroes, and friends. Dorothy is haunted by a fearful foe, wizened by her adventures and is always seeking a way to get back home. From the moment she opens her door, we’re introduced to a world of techni-color, sets, songs, dance and suspense that make this a cinematic masterpiece for adults and children alike.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was Gone With the Wind.
2. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen’s comedic genius is unleashed full force throughout this journey of romantic lunacy. The love story centers around two neurotic New Yorkers (is there any other kind?) played by Allen and Diane Keaton. Breaking away from every formula, the movie jumps forwards and backwards in its storytelling, and engages the audience in hilarious fourth wall breaks.
Best Picture Oscar? Yes.
3. Psycho (1960)
The Granddaddy of Horror, Alfred Hitchcock forever turned the safe havens of our bathrooms into nightmare fuel chambers of anxiety. The sunlit backdrop was so unassuming and safe, the terror was so visceral and real. Shower curtain sales surely took a nosedive after this film, and women learned to never trust a man that was too close to his mother. As far as laying the ground work for future psychological suspenses, you can see echoes of psycho in Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, and The Shining.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was The Apartment.
4. Rocky (1976)
The undisputed champion of underdog tales. Even as I type this now, I can hear the soundtrack in my head — horns blaring to the determination of a downtrodden hero, who only wants to feel a little dignity in his life and fight to make the world a better place. This film is a simple classic, and single handedly boosted Philadelphia’s tourism industry by 250%.
Best Picture Oscar? Yes.
5. Star Wars (1977)
The words ‘sequel’ or ‘trilogy’ were practically unheard of until this saga landed on the silver screen with lightsabers blazing. Star Wars was one of the first international mega hits, and planted the seed that would make sci-fi as mainstream as any other genre. This classic hero’s journey has made billions in sales and merchandising, making it an undisputed resident of any top 10 list.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was Annie Hall.
6. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Of all the war movies out there, none shows us the conflicting forces to be found on a battlefield better than Francis Ford Coppola’s saga. Madness and sanity, good and evil, chaos and duty, war and death. This film is a harrowing journey into the darkness of the human soul, hauntingly shot and beautifully acted by an incredible cast.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was Kramer vs. Kramer.
7. The Lion King (1994)
This might be my childhood bias at play, but before Pixar brought animation into the 21st century with classics like Finding Nemo, Up and The Incredibles, The Lion King was Disney’s pinnacle film. It was among the last to utilize a musical soundtrack, which has now been transformed into a very successful Broadway musical.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was Forrest Gump.
8. The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix set far too many new trends in storytelling, cinematography and sci-fi to list. A mind boggling existential journey that perfectly captured our fears of emerging technology, as well as the sense of detachment from reality that came with internet access. It was shot masterfully, and as far as techno-dystopias go it is only rivaled by Terminator 2.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was American Beauty.
9. Gone with the Wind (1939)
Are you happy now? It made the list. All jokes aside, this epic American saga earned its accolades by being one of the most monumental feats of golden age cinema. Iconic, tragic and beautiful, Gone with the Wind set the blueprint for several films to follow. To this day, it still holds the distinction of highest ticket sales of all time and the first Academy Award winning performance by an African American – Hattie McDaniel. Moreover, it has one of the best comebacks ever delivered to a manipulative woman.
Best Picture Oscar? Yes.
10. Chinatown (1974)
This film-noir classic is important because it reminds us that in reality, bad guys sometimes win. Like all private detectives working in dark cities, our anti-hero has his own moral code. A cynical loner pushing his way into a bleak indifferent world. Roman Polanski immigrated to America, and endured his own culture shock before making this film. In it, we see a similar journey laden with glimmers of hope and romanticism, cruelly torn away. L.A. Confidential is a comparibly decent equivelant film, as is Brick.
Best Picture Oscar? No.The winner was The Godfather Part II.
11. 8 1/2 (1963)
There’s nothing I can say about Fellini’s brilliant movie that won’t make me sound like a pretentious film school fool. It’s a movie about making movies, but also about life and the struggle of creating something. Guido, our hero, perfectly portrays the pains of any artist: a pendulum swing between soaring confidences and crushing insecurities. When he is trapped without inspiration, he escapes into fantasies of women. The speech delivered by the critic, is still one of the most haunting fears felt by any in the creative process:
"Destroying is better than creating when we're not creating those few, truly necessary things. But then is there anything so clear and right that it deserves to live in this world? ... But we critics do what we can. Our true mission is sweeping away the thousands of miscarriages that everyday ... obscenely ... try to come to the light. And you would actually dare leave behind you a whole film, like a cripple who leaves behind his crooked footprint. Such a monstrous presumption to think that others could benefit from the squalid catalogue of your mistakes!"
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was Tom Jones.
12. Network (1976)
Brilliantly comical and frighteningly prophetic, this incredibly well written film took us behind the door of mass media, global conglomerates and manufactured ‘reality’ — long before the days of Fox News and Snookie. It would have been a lot funnier, if it’s dark predictions hadn’t come so depressingly true.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was Rocky.
13. Jaws (1975)
It was tough not to put Jurassic Park in this spot, but you have to hand it to Steven Spielberg for practically inventing the summer blockbuster. And this was over two decades before he had computer graphics to play with. Jaws changed the landscape of film advertising by moving away from the roadshow city tour model. Instead of letting local newspapers slowly print reviews, Spielberg introduced the first ever 30 second primetime commercial, and changed the face of the industry forever. And what a terrifyingly simple soundtrack …
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
14. Pulp Fiction (1994)
One of Tarantino’s best, Pulp Fiction took its audience on a surreal rollercoaster ride of disordered scenes, comically brutal violence, entertaining dialog and wacky characters. It’s hard to pinpoint which ingredient makes this soup so wonderful: Bible-quoting executioners, dance contests in diners, butt dwelling golden watches or a well rested gimp … there are too many to choose from.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was Forrest Gump.
15. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Along with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, this film is one of the finest Westerns of all time. An engrossing crime caper in its own right, the movie’s true genius comes from the playful chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Their funny one-liners and dynamic performances essentially invented the modern-day buddy picture.
Best Picture Oscar? No. The winner was Midnight Cowboy.
Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator (1940) which features closing speech, words that still resonate true today.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) for essentially inventing viral marketing.