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Most Deserving Best Picture Winners

Movies | By Nicholas for The Top 13 on March 4, 2010

The Academy has a storied history of picking the wrong film for Best Picture, and ignoring many great films entirely (as evidenced by our Nomination Snubs list). But every once in a while, the Academy will bestow one of its most coveted statuettes upon a truly deserving film. Seeing as the Oscars will air this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern, we at the Top 13 wanted to share with you our list of those Best Picture winners that we think most deserved their prizes. Here's to hoping that one of this year's more deserving nominees - Inglorious Basterds, A Serious Man or The Hurt Locker - takes home top honors.

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The Godfather: Part II


The Godfather: Part II


Almost universally agreed to be the best Best Picture, The Godfather: Part II is undoubtedly Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece and one of the best films of the twentieth century. Without a doubt, 1974 was a spectacular year all around for Coppola: not only did The Godfather: Part II beat out Polanski's neo-noir tour de force Chinatown, but his understated film The Conversation was also nominated for Best Picture, making Coppola one of only four directors in history to have two films nominated for the honor in the same year.

Midnight Cowboy


Midnight Cowboy


The Academy is typically regarded as a conservative institution, but every once in a blue moon its members make a surprisingly progressive decision, and in 1969 they made their most revolutionary choice when they awarded John Schlesinger's gritty, X-rated Midnight Cowboy the institution's highest honor over the heavily favored Newman/Redford vehicle Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hindsight, of course, has completely vindicated the Academy's then-controversial decision.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest


One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest


The 1975 Oscars contained the single best crop of Best Picture nominees of all time; in a weaker year, any of the other four nominees - Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, Altman's Nashville, and Speilberg's Jaws - could have easily taken the prize, but the Academy wisely opted to bestow the honor upon Milos Forman's anti-establishment classic One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. The film (which we ranked second in our Adaptations Top 13) managed to perfectly capture the zeitgeist while still feeling just as timeless as the Ken Kesey novel upon which it was based.





Regarded as perhaps the best film of all time, Michael Curtiz' Casablanca was then and is now the obvious choice for Best Picture of 1943. The only competition came from Sam Wood's adaptation of Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls (which, like Casablanca, starred Ingrid Bergman), but even that important work proved no match for Casablanca. Of course, the film isn't just some staid classic; Bergman and Bogart's masterful performances ensure that the film remains just as lively and immediate today as it was over sixty years ago.

The Godfather


The Godfather


Another film with very little real competition for the Oscar, Coppola's first installment in the lauded Godfather series came up against Deliverance and Cabaret, and, though the vote totals have only been revealed to the public three times (1933-35), it's pretty much a forgone conclusion that The Godfather was far and away the champion in 1972. The Best Picture win served as the coming-out party for Coppola as a brave new voice in American cinema - one who would lead the charge into the revolutionary golden decade of the 1970s.

The Departed


The Departed


Often times when a legendary director with a history of Oscar-worthy films, but no Oscars under his belt finally wins his first Best Picture Award - as Marty Scorsese did here - the Oscar is viewed as a lifetime achievement award. And while Scorsese is certainly worthy of such an honor, The Departed stands on its own as one of the most deserving Best Picture winners of all time due in large part to its brilliant, expletive-laden script, a fantastic ensemble case, and Scorsese's unique directorial style.

On the Waterfront


On the Waterfront


Elia Kazan, in his second collaboration with Marlon Brando, produced a beautiful film, albeit one mired in political controversy. It's difficult not to look upon On the Waterfront's grand success at the Academy Awards (the film won eight Oscars out of twelve nominations) as the industry cowering before Kazan, whose testimony in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee resulted in numerous arrests. But politics aside, the fact of the matter is, Kazan made what was easily the best film of 1954, and one of the greatest dramatic movies of all time.

The Silence of the Lambs


The Silence of the Lambs


The Academy rarely rewards any kind of genre picture outside of the technical categories, so it was a great surprise when, in 1991, Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs became only the third film in history to sweep the "Big Five" categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Even though this choice came as a shock in the face of the Academy's voting history, it was precisely the right decision given the other contenders: the shlocky Prince of Tides, Oliver Stone's lumbering JFK biopic and the wonderful, though slight, Beauty and the Beast.





A year after catching some flack for awarding Best Picture to Midnight Cowboy, no one would have blamed the Academy for giving the award in 1970 to one of the fluffier nominees such as Airport, but they did no such thing. In fact, the Academy chose Patton, perhaps the darkest of the three more socially aware nominations (Altman's MASH and the Nicholson vehicle Five Easy Pieces were the others). Patton was a revelatory war film that truly deserved the honor; without it, we may never have seen Coppola's daring Apocalypse Now nine years later.

The Last Emperor


The Last Emperor


An epic in every sense of the word, Bernardo Bertolucci's internationally funded biopic The Last Emperor made easy work of the other Best Picture nominees (including Fatal Attraction and Moonstruck) and won a staggering nine Oscars. Strangely, the film now seems somewhat unappreciated. And while it may not be as significant as certain other pieces of Bertolucci's oeuvre - in particular, The Conformist - it is nevertheless an awe-inspiring film that should not be forgotten.

No Country for Old Men


No Country for Old Men


The race between No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood for Best Picture in 2007 was easily the most closely contested since the aforementioned 1975 race. There was even concern that the two significant masterpieces might split the vote and one of the dark-horse contenders (Juno, Michael Clayton or Atonement) might steal the prize. In the end, though, Academy voters gave the prize to the Coen Brothers' film, which we at The Top 13 think was, by the slightest margin possible, the correct choice.

All Quiet On The Western Front


All Quiet On The Western Front


Those who think the Oscars are a bit too self-congratulatory now would have positively balked at the 1930s ceremonies; these were studio parties, where the "Big Five" studios gave each other awards voted on by themselves. In a few cases, though, they got it right, and All Quiet On The Western Front was easily the best example of that. The film, adapted from the German novel of the same name, was an artistic triumph by under-appreciated auteur Lewis Milestone, whose inventive use of lighting and camera movement gave the trench warfare sequences a heft that was previously unthinkable.

Out of Africa


Out of Africa


Sydney Pollack's Out of Africa earned him the only Best Picture win of his directing career, even though it wasn't his best film (that honor falls squarely at the feet of his magnum opus They Shoot Horses, Don't They?). Nevertheless, it was far better than any of the other nominees in 1985. This is especially true when comparing the film, which focused on the doomed affair of characters played by the stellar Robert Redford and Meryl Street, to the other frontrunner of that year, Spielberg's cheesy and pedantic adaptation of The Color Purple.

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Comments Leave a comment


The 1970 Best Picture nominee you're thinking of is Airport, not Airplane!. LOL.

8:37 AM   Mar 04, 2010


Thanks for the catch. It's been corrected.

8:55 AM   Mar 04, 2010


Also, the Altman film nominated for Best Picture in 1970 was M*A*S*H, not MASH.

8:39 AM   Mar 04, 2010

PulpAffliction ★★

Actually, the television series was called M*A*S*H, and though the film included the asterisks on some of the posters, the official title (refered to both in press releases and during the opening credits of the film) was MASH.

11:32 AM   Mar 04, 2010

stillathreat ★★

For what it's worth, I thought There Will Be Blood should have won it over No Country. Also, The Last Emperor is amazing.

9:28 AM   Mar 04, 2010


Totally agree!

5:02 PM   Mar 06, 2010


I disagree with Departed sniffing this list, and would add Amadeus. I think the opposite of the description is true, in that Departed is, in fact, a lifetime achievement award. In my opinion Amadeus is one of the greatest movies ever.

1:41 PM   Mar 04, 2010

ajay ★★

1975 was amazing. I love all those nominations, and somehow the best managed to win. Too bad they followed it up with picking Rocky over Taxi Driver.

1991 was great, too, because it ended the worst period for the Oscars. Driving Miss Daisy won, Ordinary People won over Raging Bull, and Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas... yeesh.

But I would have preferred There Will Be Blood, no matter how much I love No Country.

2:39 PM   Mar 04, 2010

PulpAffliction ★★

'89 and '90 were just unfathomably bad choices.

4:16 PM   Mar 04, 2010

tloveisready ★★

Seems like a pretty obvious list, but it's great anyway and I agree all the way down.

4:57 PM   Mar 04, 2010


I also disagree with the Departed. Scorcese should have won for Goodfellas in '90. That said, the other contenders in 2006 were not that strong, so I won't begrudge its win. But I would not say it was one of the most deserving winners of all time.

9:15 AM   Mar 05, 2010


Unforgiven & Annie Hall belong on this list.

10:14 AM   Mar 07, 2010


The Departed sucked balls. Why don't you just put Crash up on the list, as well?

5:50 PM   Mar 11, 2010


Not so sure about Godfather Part II being the undisputed most deserving film to ever win. I mean, c'mon, it's Chinatown.

1:32 PM   Apr 15, 2010

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