I would like to thank the Academy…

In case you didn’t know, the Oscars were last night.  Until then, I hadn’t watched the Oscars in years–I believe it was the year Renee Zellweger was nominated for her role in Bridget Jones’ Diary and I was floored that a comedy received a Best Actress nomination. I watched parts of it between scenes during a rehearsal–that’s how long ago that was. This year, I was a little shocked to see our buddy James Franco alongside Anne Hathaway–not a pair I could have foreseen, but I guess I’m a little out of the Hollywood loop. But that’s not important. What’s important is that regardless of how many of the nominated films I’ve seen or how strongly I agree (or disagree) with the Academy’s decisions, Oscar season always gets me thinking about the movies I love. So here, in chronological order, are ten of my favorite Oscar-winning films, which you should buy, rent, or Netflix immediately:

Casablanca – 1943, three awards including Best Picture. I know this is a cliche and everyone claims to love it, but when I really talk to people, it seems most of them haven’t actually seen it. They can quote lines like, “Play it again, Sam” or “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” but they don’t know when they fall in the film or what they really mean or who Ingrid Bergman is. Which is a shame because I think this is the most interesting political film I’ve ever seen, and the romance between Bergman in Bogart is unforgettable. Plus, it’s why you know the phrases, “We’ll always have Paris” and “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Laura – 1944, Best Black and White Cinematography. I’m not just a fan of this because we share a name, though I’ll admit that’s why I first saw it. This is a fantastic film noir with a surprisingly intriguing plot and all that 1940s film charm. Plus, it’s easy to get to, because it’s available on Netflix instant streaming.

All About Eve – 1950, six awards including Best Picture. If you aren’t a Bette Davis fan, you ought to be. There is no one like her, and her eyes are iconic for a reason. All About Eve is my favorite of her films. It captures all of her maniacal, aggressive spirit. Plus, you can see Marilyn Monroe in one of her very first bit parts.

An American in Paris – 1951, six awards including Best Picture. Is there anything better than Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dancing in the streets of Paris? I can’t think of a thing. Add Oscar Levant and you’ve got one of the most irresistible movies I’ve ever seen. The visuals in this film are incredible, especially considering this is 1951. You’ve probably heard some of the songs, including “I Got Rhythm” and “Dis Moi” but never knew where they came from.

Sabrina – 1954, Best Costume Design. Audrey Hepburn was so young in this movie, and Humphrey Bogart was fairly old, but somehow they create perfect onscreen chemistry. It’s a lovely, heartfelt film–romantic, yes, but not in the ways you might expect. It’s a bit of a Cinderella story, but not so gooey. And really, the costumes are superb (thanks to the renowned costumer Edith Head)–and that’s not platitude, that’s part of the film’s art.

The Sting – 1973, seven awards including Best Picture.  This is what my husband calls a man’s movie, but I love it too–maybe because Robert Redford and Paul Newman are so dreamy. It’s the classic con-man movie, the foundation for just about every con-man movie you’ve ever seen, and with better acting, to boot.

Paper Moon – 1973, Best Supporting Actress for Tatum O’Neal (setting the record for youngest Academy Award winner at the age of ten). Another con-man movie in the same year as The Sting, but with a familial twist. Set in the Great Depression, this is the story of a man who gets saddled with what could be his daughter, and given her talent for conning, she just might be. Tatum O’Neal’s actual father, Ryan O’Neal, played her father onscreen with amazing results. Madeline Kahn co-stars, and was also up for Best Supporting Actress, but Tatum beat her to it.

Life is Beautiful – 1997, three awards including Best Actor for Roberto Benigni. Watch this, but bring a box of tissues (or two). Also, bring your glasses. It’s an Italian film, subtitled, but I always forget that until it’s in front of me. I’m so engaged, the subtitles seem to fade away. But, set in the concentration camps of WWII, it has more than its share of gut-wrenching moments. You might not want to watch this more than once, but you should still watch it.

Iris – 2001, Jim Broadbent won Best Supporting Actor, Dame Judi Dench was nominated for Best Actress, and Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (I include these nominations because I still believe they should have won). This is the true story of Dame Iris Murdoch, and her mental deterioration later in life. It’s beautifully acted and written and directed. And it’s also available on Netflix instant streaming (I know because I watch this one frequently).

Once – 2007, Best Original Song. Some call Once a bit of a cornball film but I think it’s really moving, and the music is just superb. It feels a little like La Boheme–I guess it captures a bit of the bohemian spirit. Just thinking about it, I have the song (the one it won the award for) stuck in my head. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not “catchy” in the Taylor Swift sort of sense (is that the right reference? or should it be Justin Bieber?). It’s just really friggin’ good.

*Also–since I do have an interest in good writing and you might, too–here’s a list of movies that have won Best Original Screenplay, and here’s who won Best Adapted Screenplay.


  • Sam Ligon says:

    It seems like the Oscar winners that you think are great are older movies, especially the best picture award winners. Does this suggest that the Oscars used to be a more reliable indication of good movies?

    • Laura says:

      I definitely think it’s gone downhill, but I think movies in general get worse every year. There are too many of them, and most are about product placement and showing off celebrity abs. Though last night’s Best Picture and Best Actor winners thrilled me–The King’s Speech and Colin Firth!

      • Scott Eubanks says:

        It’s more about how much money they can make in foreign markets and the cost/benefit analysis than an idea or story. Writing the actual movie is the fourth or fifth step, after the producers generate the concept, something like, “I’ve got it, lets make a movie about the Domino’s Pizza Noid from the 80’s.” Then they pander it to other producers, trying to emphasize how solid it is as an investment. “It’s gonna be a cross between E.T., and Harry Potter, with some Transformers T&A!” (Yes Michael Bay, I can read your thoughts) All money-making ventures. By the time the script writer, a hired gun who’s been broke since Friends went off the air, sits down to actually write it, the story is a paint-by-numbers, a matryoshka nesting doll of cliches. You’re right, Laura. Movies feel more and more like two hour commericals. It seems like the only criteria for the Academy is to nominate anything that isn’t total crap. There were some excellent movies this year, but most of them were bad. The Academy Awards sometimes feel more like all the chain restaurants having an annual awards ceremony for the best potato skins.

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