And the Oscar goes to...
It's that time of year again when the red carpet is rolled out for Hollywood's elite. Actors, directors, writers, producers - they all wander down in their finest attire with the hopes of grabbing an elusive golden statuette. Yes, it's the Oscars this Sunday. With 87 winners of the Best Picture Oscar since it started in 1929 there are bound to be a few duds that no-one can quite believe won (ahem, Crash). That's not the case every year, though. On some occasions the Academy gets it right and honours the movie that deserves to win. If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff, and get familiar with the best of the best, here's the top 25 best Oscar-winning movies you should make sure you watch.
25. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Talk about your bleak victories. It can't be said that Michael Cimino's Vietnam drama is an uplifting film and that's partly why it struck a chord with the Academy. One of only a few films to directly address the effects of the war, it's a striking piece of cinema that cuts between the delight of American soldiers enlisting and the horrors they face once they're at war. It's a haunting epic that boasts a stellar cast, and has the Russian roulette scene to end all Russian roulette scenes.
24. West Side Story (1961)
Is West Side Story the best musical of all time? Since its release plenty of competitors have emerged, that can't be argued, but there's something infectious about the sheer energy of the film. A Romeo and Juliet story told in New York City's west side through the medium of song and dance, its as fun as you might expect. Think Grease but with way smoother collar-poppin'. And afterwards, you won't be able to stop clicking your fingers, telling people to just be cool.
22. Unforgiven (1992)
You know how it goes. A cop on the verge of retirement is dragged into his most life-changing case on his last day. Clint Eastwood's 1992 western takes that idea and yanks it through the dust and grime of Big Whisky, a small town that's witnessed some heinous activities.
At the top of his game, both in front and behind the camera, it's one of Eastwood's best performances as the grizzled (is he ever anything else?) William Munny, an outlaw who returns to finish one last job. It's still a surprise that such a dark, violent fable managed to bag the Oscar.
23. Argo (2012)
A stylish period movie produced, directed by, and starring Ben Affleck, Argo nabbed the Best Picture award in a year where true story films dominated the ballot. Beating the likes of Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln, its win left quite a few furrowed brows.
It tells the story of CIA expert Tony Mendez (Affleck) who negotiated the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, a covert op to ensure safe passage out of the country for six Americans by pretending to be a Hollywood producer shooting a movie. The facts might be fudged in places to make the story gel, but none of that takes away from the thrill of watching this plan unfold.
21. Amadeus (1984)
Still lingering over Milos Forman's film is the small matter of accuracy. What actually went down between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his noted rivals? Was it really this soap opera-ish? It's not the first biopic to dally with the truth, and that shouldn't make a difference when the movie itself is a majestic experience. Tom Hulce tackles the part of the classical composer, displaying quite a lot of restraint considering Mozart's reputation as a larger-than-life character.
20. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Before he became Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner took the lead role in Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq drama as Sergeant First Class William James. As a war-savvy vet, he heads up an explosive ordnance disposal team in Baghdad, eventually going off-mission to seek revenge for the murder of a young boy.
It's through his maverick and often dangerous methods that the movie opens up to its larger theme; how conflict truly affects soldiers. Plus, its the first Best Picture winner directed by a woman.
19. On The Waterfront (1954)
Based on the real-life story of a New Jersey whistleblower, the tale of corruption at the docks made Marlon Brando into a bona fide star. He also bagged his first Oscar as longshoreman Terry Malloy, a conflicted soul who stands up against the mob-controlled union despite his own shortcomings.
Sure, he's most fondly remembered for The Godfather, but this put him on the map. The film also earned director Elia Kazan his second Oscar and introduced Eva Marie Saint to the world.
18. No Country For Old Men (2007)
One of the Coen brothers' most ambitious efforts. It plays like an updated western, ripe with dark, seedy undertones setting the scene for one hell of a mystery. Seeing as this is a Coen film, the story is told through the experiences of a regular joe who opts to completely ruin his life.
Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, the man in question, who discovers a bag of cash and decides "I'll keep it! Why the hell not?" Javier Bardem's bolt gun-wielding psychopath Anton Chigurh answers that question for him, as one of cinema's most menacing and fearsome villains.
17. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
David Lean directs one of the best-ever World War 2 movies, reimagining the brutal enslavement of Allied prisoners forced to build the Burma railway. Alec Guinness' British Colonel encourages his soldiers to help the Japanese with the bridge as a way of boosting morale, while a fellow Brit pushes William Holden's American officer to destroy the bridge upon completion.
It exposes the truth behind Japanese POW camps, and how thin the line between heroism and loyalty really is.
16. Rocky (1976)
Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed his breakout role in Rocky. Like his on-screen counterpart, he too rose like the Philadelphian underdog who dreams of boxing in the heavyweight championship.
The movie became the highest-grossing of the year, bagging $225 million, and turned Stallone into a massive star. From his determination to succeed to his ambitious air-punch at the top of the museum steps, you can't help but root for Rocky to bag that title.
15. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
There was no way the Academy could ignore the Tolkien trilogy for the third time. I mean, come on. A visually-adventurous tale of Hobbits, Elves, Orcs and - above all - the true strength of friendship, it was a travesty that Peter Jackson and his team didn't scoop up awards for the previous two.
With an A-list cast, attention to detail and respect towards the source novels, it received the thumbs-up from fans who at last could see the fantastical world of Tolkien they'd only ever imagined.
14. It Happened One Night (1934)
If it weren't for It Happened One Night we'd never have the modern romantic comedy. Before Frank Capra's screwball caper, there were no amusing scenarios when couples first meet in movies, or scenes where characters dissect their heartbreak with friends.
All of that stems from the story of Claudette Colbert's hoity heiress, who finds herself torn between two suitors, and goes for the least likely option. It took the conventions of the post-Depression era, when women were in pursuit of financial security, and twisted them into something fresh.
13. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
"I'm walking here!" yells Dustin Hoffman's scam artist as a New York City cab nearly mows him down. It's a scene that's so iconic it almost overshadows the movie itself, which is worth noting because Hoffman improvised the entire thing! John Schlesinger's ease for letting his drifter pic go wherever his leads liked is part of what makes it feel so natural.
The story follows Jon Voight's Joe Buck. After leaving Texas for the bright lights of the big city he turns tricks to make a living, and along the way befriends Ratso (Hoffman). The first X-rated movie to ever win Best Picture. By todays ratings, it would be an NC-17 - the UK equivalent of an 18.
12. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Miles Forman's adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel is a classic for a reason. In his best performance to date, Jack Nicholson plays Randle McMurphy, a wise-crackin' con who talks his way into a mental institution to forgo a harsher prison term. He rages against the machine that's run by the evil Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) and befriends all sorts of folks inside - including a pre-Doc Brown Christopher Lloyd. It's both uplifting and heart-breaking.
11. Gone With The Wind (1939)
A grand, majestic picture that walked away with eight Oscars, it's a surprise that this lush melodramatic tale of romance and injustice during the American Civil War even made it to the big screen.
Adapted from Margaret Mitchell's novel, its still the most successful movie in box office history (when adjusted for inflation). An amazing feat considering it was beset with problems right throughout its lengthy production, from the hundreds of actresses who tested for the part of Scarlett O'Hara to the sheer quantity of directors who came and went.
10. Schindler's List (1993)
Steven Spielberg's got something of a knack for cranking out palatable blockbusters, regardless of the topic. Aliens, spies, robots, you name it, he's done it. In Schindler's List he turns to the Holocaust to craft an evocative, powerful movie based on a historical event that saw 6 million Jews senselessly murdered.
Despite garnering a lot of negative attention for diverting his attention, Spielberg nevertheless chose to focus on the 600 who survived thanks to Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). It's unashamedly a Spielbergian take on things, putting the spotlight on the decency of man even in our darkest hours.
9. The Apartment (1960)
Well-known at the time for screwball comedies, Billy Wilder tried something new with The Apartment. It became an instant game-changer, a pioneer in terms of what Hollywood could get away with.
Jack Lemmon stars as Baxter, an insurance agent who lets his office pals use his apartment to entertain their mistresses, all the while struggling to find love himself until he meets Shirley Maclaine's whip-smart elevator operator, Fran. It's her performance that's the real turning point. She's full of biting wit and self-deprecating one-liners, yet still brings an edge of darkness to Baxter's humdrum life.
8. The French Connection (1971)
Dom Toretto's crew have got nothing on the petrolhead prowess of Gene Hackman in The French Connection. As Detective Jimmy Doyle he might pursue justice behind the safety of a badge, but there's nothing remotely by-the-book about his swaggering determination.
Tasked with bringing down a ring of heroin smugglers in New York City, he embarks on one of the best car chases ever filmed. The unrelenting demands of director William Friedkin saw a large portion of the city's subway shut down for the scene, in which Hackman's cop hurtles around the streets in his Pontiac to pursue his target who is on a train.
7. Annie Hall (1977)
One of Woody Allen's best romantic comedies saw the director take a turn out of the weird, oddball pictures he was making and dive into the mainstream. Casting Diane Keaton as the title character was a masterstroke. Carefree and cool, and with trend-setting fashion sense, she's the perfect antidote to Allen's neurotic Alvy Singer.
Their funniest moment happens while they discuss their next date, as a series of captions appear to illustrate the differences between what we say and what we mean. While he wasn't the first director to break the fourth wall, he's the one who wrung the most laughs from its possibilities.
6. The Godfather (1972)
Based on Mario Puzo's novel, The Godfather gave birth to the modern mobster movie. Its influence over the entire gangster genre spilled out into real life, with New York City's crime lords taking their cues from the Corleone family. There's so much packed into the film that's since been lifted into pop culture via spoofs and parodies: the horse head in the bed, the mutterings of Marlon Brando's wiseguy, and the sweet piece of improvised dialogue - Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
5. Silence of the Lambs (1990)
Since when did serial killer movies that include poetic cannibals and skin-wearing psychopaths win Oscars? That's what's so impressive about Jonathan Demme's movie. It's rare for a genre movie to win anything, never mind the Best Picture, but Silence Of The Lambs beat its competitors in every single nominated category.
What cinched it? The dynamite script, utterly haunting score, the turns from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins? It's all of those things, and that tightly-edited final sequence, which remains just as chilling as the stuff youll see in any horror movie worth its salt.
4. All About Eve (1952)
The double-whammy of Bette Davis as veteran actress Margo Channing and Anne Baxter as her conniving ingenue Eve Harrington is what makes All About Eve still so watchable. The pair are flung together in this timeless story about our resistance to growing old, with Davis' scathing delivery of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's razor-sharp dialogue making this her finest performance.
"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night," says Channing, unaware that the perils of ambition without decency might require a little more Dutch courage.
3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Now that everyone throws around the word 'epic' when they've eaten a particularly good sandwich, it's lost some of its power. However, David Lean's sprawling movie defined spectacle cinema, inspiring the likes of Spielberg and Lucas, and truly deserves to be called epic.
Its cinematography is gorgeous, and Peter O'Toole knocks it out of the park as World War One officer T.E. Laurence. More impressive than its thousands of extras is its length; at 227 minutes it remains the longest movie to ever take home the Best Picture trophy.
2. Casablanca (1943)
It's the great American movie. A brilliant blend of romance, thriller and war-torn actioner that had two top-of-their-game actors in the lead roles. Whatever you want to call it, you can't deny the watchability of Michael Curtiz's WW2 adventure, which sees Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as two lovers who can't be together.
Chemistry like theirs is rarely seen onscreen nowadays, a result of their off-set friendship which also gave the film its most memorable one-liner. In between takes Bogart would teach his co-star poker, often repeating the phrase Heres looking at you, kid to Bergman.
1. The Godfather: Part 2 (1974)
Themes of loyalty, family and sacrifice drive home Francis Ford Coppola's second chapter in the Corleone clan's tale. One of the first sequels ever to outdo its predecessor, the movie surges with confidence. Coppola takes everything that made the first movie jolt moviegoers out of their seats, and ups the stakes.
It takes a look back through the early years of Vito Corleone in Sicily, charting his accomplishments before he became the New York City mafioso. Robert De Niro joins the cast as the young Don, alongside Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in the greatest gangster movie ever made.