The best television shows of 2018 comprised a bounty of varied perspectives and disparate storytelling styles. Look closely, though, and many of the yearâs more rewarding shows were attuned to the rigors of human existence, and curious about the pliable concept of identityâbe it the identity of a horny teen on Big Mouth, of New York City on The Deuce, or of subjugated women on The Handmaidâs Tale.
In the second season of GLOW, the eponymous wrestlers struggle for screen time on their show within the show, and simultaneously tangle with the fallout of the characters they craft for themselves in the ring. Despite The Good Place upending its stakes and setting, the showâs relentlessly likeable characters continue to underpin its sunny disposition with an earnest investigation of how our moral identities are forged. And as shows such as Atlanta, Pose, and Dear White People broadened televisionâs definition of âweâ in 2018, one of the mediumâs overarching questions seemed to be: âWhy are we this way?â
As one answer to that question, The Haunting of Hill House complemented its scares with an equally harrowing portrait of a damaged family. Atlanta and Bojack Horseman found a response in the ceaseless, pummeling nature of everyday life, while Dear White People, The Handmaidâs Tale, and Barry wondered if we are what other peopleâwhite people, the patriarchy, exploitative bossesâsay we are. Other shows, such as Bobâs Burgers, were delightful reprieves from reality, though one could certainly find poignancy in that showâs portrayal of middle-class America.
This yearâs list shares only nine entries with last year, a fact that highlights the breadth of a TV landscape thatâs abundant in shows with limited runs. In some cases, shows made a qualitative leap in their second seasons; in others, bold newcomers quickly established themselves among TVâs upper echelon. Almost all of these showsâeven the most joyfully escapist among themâseemed preoccupied in 2018 with the forces which make us who we are. Michael Haigis
Based on the true story of a failed British expedition to find the Northwest Passage in the mid-19th century, The Terror explores the toxic combination of arrogance and bravery that fuels the exploratory missions launched by great colonial powers. After getting stuck for a year and a half in Artic ice, the men, weakened by lead poisoning and fighting the elements, set off on foot in search of salvation. The Terror brings those awful facts vividly aliveâand then goes further, creating a full-blown horror story by introducing a monster called the Tuunbaq, which looks something like a giant polar bear with a human face. The men divide into two factions, battling one another as well as the monster while dying in increasingly baroque ways. Scenes like a fire that ravages a camp, trapping dozens of people in flaming tents just as the men are having a rare night of celebration, ramp up the sense of claustrophobic terror, which only gets worse when the mad leader of one of the factions begins to cannibalize his enemies. Throughout it all, the Tuunbaq keeps decimating their ranks while growing increasingly weakened by the bullets they empty into himâand, presumably, the lead he ingests when he eats them. Like other classic movie monsters, the Tuunbaq is an unsettling metaphor for the way humans throw nature itself out of balance when we gain too much power. Elise Nakhnikian
Steven Soderbergh understands that he must grab us in this century of endless distraction, and his efforts to hold our attention in Mosaic parallel the charactersâ attempts to corral chaos into a functional narrative. In the guise of mounting a murder mystery, the filmmaker attempts to push narrative out of a classical three-act format. Mosaicâs episodes could be watched in any order and theyâd still have a dizzying emotional and intellectual effect, suggesting less what we know than what we donât. As he did in films such as The Limey and Side Effects, Soderbergh fashions found and abstract poetry out of the hard lines of the lairs of the rich and famous. His formalism suggests a wonderfully unlikely fusion of the films of Robert Bresson and Michelangelo Antonioni with lurid noir. Mosaic suggests a mammoth world that exists beyond his rigorously structured narrative, as every textured shot and stray bit of humor hints at the wild humanity existing under the controlled institutions and mannerisms that we collectively call society. Chuck Bowen
Despite losing T.J. Miller as its resident frenemy/douchebro, Silicon Valley successfully maintained its trademark undercurrent of pettiness and macho one-upmanship throughout its fifth season. The new season contained two of the showâs best episodes to date, âReorientationâ and âFifty-One Percent,â the former a master class in throwing techie shade, the latter so perfectly succinct it could have served as the series finale. As always, Silicon Valley casts a satirical gaze on timely tech topics, with this season focusing on Bitcoin, net neutrality, employee poaching, artificial intelligence, the all-consuming blob called Amazon, and the inexplicable allure of Tesla cars. The writers also took their most biting jabs at Information Technology by offering up a vicious parable on the technological and psychological effects of sexual harassment. Directed by Gillian Robespierre, âFacial Recognitionâ showed that not even female robots are immune to the whims of horny men in power. Additionally, this season benefitted from the consistently reliable physicality of its lead, Thomas Middleditch. Richard Hendricks continues to grow, applying the things heâs learned in prior seasons while still managing to make the same mistakes. Heâs the perfect counterbalance to Martin Starrâs droll-as-always Gilfoyle, a dead-on impersonation of your average programmer and still the showâs secret weapon. Odie Henderson
This soulful soap operatic drama pays tribute to New York Cityâs ball culture of the 1980s. Painting in broad, dramatic strokes, the script highlights the factorsâracism, homophobia, transphobia, AIDS, and the wealth gapâthat inspired these men and women to create their own world and faux families, where they could show one another the love and respect that they couldnât find anywhere else. Balancing out the showâs earnest speeches and righteous crusades is plenty of sheer, campy joy, much of it provided by the balls that cap off most of the episodes. Itâs an endearingly lumpy mix, made even more so by the uneven quality of the acting, but that very lack of polish is a large part of why the series works. Like the original ball scene, with all its homemade fabulosity, Pose aspires to a level of perfection it canât quite achieveâand wins us over with the sheer heart and humanity of its effort. Nakhnikian
Unlike Homeland, which is based on another Israeli series, Fauda makes no attempt to cover the political debates or social context behind its constant action. Instead, like its main characters, it keeps its head down and its focus tight. The series follows the fictional members of an elite undercover unit of the Israeli army and whichever Palestinian freedom fighter/terrorist that Doron (Lior Raz), a rogue member of the unit, is obsessed with that season, while occasionally checking in with a handful of other Israelis and Palestiniansâfamily members, lovers, or commanding officersâwho either affect or are affected by the main charactersâ actions. Fauda (Arabic for âchaosâ) is particularly good at showing how war, especially one with no end in sight, poisons the lives of everyoneâeven civilians. While most of the women on the perimeter of the action have relatively modest dreams, just hoping to marry the man they love or keep their children safe, they inevitably get sucked into the maelstrom, losing their peace of mind, their loved ones, and sometimes their lives. Their romances sometimes stretch credulity, particularly this season when, despite actress LaĂ«titia EĂŻdoâs excellent work, Shirin, a dedicated Palestinian doctor, risks becoming a mere symbol of suffering as Doron and Shirinâs young militant cousin Walid (Shadi Marâi) treat her like the rope in a macho game of tug of war. But the way killings and atrocities keep piling up on both sides, creating more trauma and more would-be martyrs by the day, feels all too believable. Nakhnikian
Itâs always a pleasure when The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, like Mrs. Maiselâs comedy routines, doesnât take the easy road. Around the midway point of the showâs second season, Midgeâs (Rachel Brosnahan) father learns that sheâs comedian, during one of her sets. As is her custom, Midge fabulously rolls with the punches, causing Abe (Tony Shaloub) to depressingly pull away from her in ways that are more than a little sad and a whole lot of toxic. But the episode doesnât end with him putting his foot down. Soon, Abe learns that his son, Noah (Will Brill), is a C.I.A. agent and the government, through fear of repercussion, prevents him from doing onto Noah as he did onto Midge. To be denied the full force of his patriarchal might effectively opens his eyes to the fact that Midge is more talented than the hack comedians that tend to him and all the other bluebloods on the borscht belt. After almost losing his life to free-wheeling Paris, Abe should have known better, but this vivaciously alive and often disarmingly off-color comedy knows that some men, most men actually, need to be reminded more than once of a womanâs worth. Ed Gonzalez
Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, the husband-and-wife creators of High Maintenance, have fun regarding the changing character of New York. Theirs is a lightness of spirit that never feels smug, and is evident even in seemingly throwaway gags, like an extended reference to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The highlight of High Maintenanceâs new season is âDerech,â because itâs the episode where all of the showâs thematic concerns, along with its flair for misdirection, most effortlessly converge. Centered on an ex-Hasidic man (Luzer Twersky) whoâs probably being taken advantage of by a Vice reporter (Ismenia Mendes) for a story, the episode zigs and zags its way to its unexpected conclusion, recontextualizing our view of everyone along the way. And by the time one of the drag performers (Darrell Thorne), who earlier sings âWhat are you up to, Elisabeth Shue?â in a moment of stoned bliss, swoops in to save the day, High Maintenance has again digressively arrived at a familiar and comforting place. Here and elsewhere, the series attests with great compassion to the revitalizing effects of living in a place where, while more homogeneous than it once was, pockets of resistance remainâand where people are nothing if not alive to the power of difference. Gonzalez
The Good Place has always partially deconstructed the sitcom format, with the amiable Bad Place demon Michael (Ted Danson) acting as a writer-creator who places his deceased subjects in uncomfortable situations and watches them wriggle. Owing to Michaelâs ability to shape reality for the showâs other characters, The Good Place can alter its own premise from season to seasonâsometimes from episode to episode. In its third season, The Good Place capitalized on that flexibility by having Michael bring his ragtag group of subjects back to Earth, where they ostensibly have another shot at entering The Good Place. At least, that is, until they donât. The Good Place uses its fluid internal logic to manifest hilarious sight gags, poke fun at locales as disparate as Australia and Jacksonville, and heighten the stakes for its characters: The showâs central question is no longer whether the misanthropic Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and her motley crew belong in The Good Place, but whether humans are inherently capable of substantial self-improvement. Ultimately, The Good Place has faith in both its charactersâ budding altruism and human capacity for change, whichâalong with keen observational humor and a limitless formatâturns the showâs quietly heady investigation of ethics into an optimistic salve. Haigis
Bill Hader and Alec Berg, the creators of HBOâs dark comedy Barry, mine a considerable amount of heartfelt insight from their showâs farcical premise: Barry (Hader) is a depressed hitman who falls in love with acting after stumbling into an acting class while on a mission in Los Angeles. The universe of Barry is marked by a style of absurdism and surrealism that recalls FXâs Atlanta, another comedy about a man struggling to improve his station in life. The series has an absorbing, dreamlike quality that, when punctuated with extreme violence, appears nightmarish. Events occur in Barryâs life that defy logic: The police, investigating a series of crimes connected to Barry, bumble along as though theyâve never handled an investigation before, and after Barryâs partner in a brief romantic fling becomes mysteriously distant, his overreaction is no less inexplicable. Such moments service the showâs convoluted plot, which operates as a comedy of errors. Hader and Berg appear uninterested in revealing more about Barryâs personal history than what is communicated by their catchy premise, seemingly figuring that watching Barry navigate the criminal underworld and the cutthroat acting world will remain interesting and entertaining enough. And for the most part, theyâre right. Haigis
Like most shows from the Ryan Murphy traveling circus, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Storyâor as I like to call it, American Horror Story: IrrĂ©versibleâslowly sinks its teeth into you. First it confronts us with the unbearable horror of Andrew Cunananâs (Darren Criss) rage against one of his victims, then backtracks in time to reveal the sadness and frustration of both victim and victimizer, so as to make sense of what initially feels so absolutely senseless. Which is to say, everything that the news didnât tell you during Cunananâs three-month killing spree in mid-1997. In one episode, David Madson (Cody Fern) locks eyes with a woman who regards him with a contempt thatâs wrenching, numbing him to the certainty of his death. And thatâs just one of many instances of how this show harrowingly depicts the psychological and physical toll of the tyranny of the closet. Gonzalez
In the first episode of his Afrofuturist-ish HBO sketch show, creator, director, and star Terence Nance says Random Acts of Flyness is âabout the beauty and ugliness of contemporary American life.â That broad frame allows Nance to download a multiverse of thoughts and ideas, from pointed observations about casual misogyny to a satiric skewering of âwhite thoughts.â Building on his work in films like An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, Nance invents his own kaleidoscopic audiovisual language. Images switch frequently between realistic and surrealistic live action, obscure archival footage, and various styles of animation. Words blossom in myriad forms: as near-subliminal messages, as text exchanges that break into the action to comment on it, as fast-talking monologues or probing conversations. The end result may be dense to the point of impenetrable at times, but Random Acts of Flyness can be gloriously straightforward too. A recurring bit with the characteristically ambiguous title of âBlackfaceâ consists of a parade of beautiful dark-skinned faces, each perfectly lit against a black backdrop and gazing at the camera in lingering close-up. A celebration of black American creativity, intelligence, and beauty,
The Belcher kids, as whip-smart as they are, will believe anything as long as what theyâre told is as anarchic as their inner spirits. âThat all checks out,â says Louise, after a chauffeur informs her that âThomas Hanksâ was paid $12,000 after fans of Big were decapitated en masse after sticking their heads out of limousine roofs. Of course, sometimes only seeing is believing. Case in point: âThe Trouble with Doubles,â an uproarious and poignant ode to the vividness of our fears, which sees Tina (Dan Mintz), Louise (Kristen Schaal), and Gene (Eugene Mirman) hosting a movie night that ends with their friends more than a little shakenâand in the case of Rudy (Brian Huskey), hilariously out of breath. The moment is enough for Tina to take charge, conquering a private fear by busting out the âlegendary Tina-singing-to-her-poop tape.â The sentimental and the anarchic continue to walk gloriously hand in hand on Bobâs Burgers, which understands that desperate times often all for deeply embarrassing measures. Gonzalez
After four seasons, Better Call Saul has more than established itself as a devious inversion of the series that originated it. Audiences once took pleasure in seeing Walter White break bad, traveling down his predeterminedâand over-quotedâpath of going from Mr. Chips to Scarface. Thereâs comparatively little pleasure in Jimmy McGillâs equally predetermined descent into the shoes of criminal lawyer Saul Goodman. For what fun montages and schemes may crop up along the way (the Free Will Baptist Church con is an all-timer), thereâs a real dread in knowing how he ends up. The series has simply been too good at showing his heart, at giving a glimpse of the man who might have been; we donât want to let go. But Better Call Saul has let go. In the aftermath of the previous season, Jimmy slips into a hole of resentment and discontent from which he may never emerge. Here he finally is, the lauded male antihero at the center of TVâs golden age. Buy his poster. Wear his t-shirt. After all, isnât he what weâve all waited for? Steven Scaife
How quickly things change. The fifth season of The Americans ended with Elizabeth (Keri Russell) tacitly accepting that sheâs bought the fantasy of the American capitalist dream. Flash-forward a year to the morally uneasy finale of the series and Elizabeth looks out of over a Russian skyline and utters, âWeâll get used to it.â We may never know if she actually believes that to be true. More certain is that, some 20 minutes into the episode, The Americans pulled off its greatest coup. Inside a parking garage, the world collapsing around them, Elizabeth and Philip (Matthew Rhys) are confronted by Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), and for the next 10 minutes Philip pulls a perfect high-wire act that puts the Jenningsâ almost eight-year-long gaslighting of their neighbor into dazzlingly broad context. Philipâs bravura, a brilliantly controlled articulation of everything that was real and less than real about his friendship to Stan, is at once stinging and vulnerableâand the perfect distillation of everything that made The Americans one of the greatest modern-day television shows. Gonzalez
Few television shows can match the commitment of The Handmaidâs Tale to withholding catharsis from audiences. The series, which maintains a visual lyricism that both clashes with and magnifies the brutality on screen, is most heartbreaking during moments of doubt, when Elisabeth Mossâs June appears resigned to her fate. Yet it consistently obscures her true motivation, mining mystery from her submissiveness: Is it genuine, or another tactic? When sheâs able to seize, however briefly, the upper hand from her tormentors, the series offers tantalizing glimpses of their chagrin. For a moment, weâre prompted to envision that chagrin morphing into sorrow, shame, maybe even fear. That would spell some kind of catharsis, but until it actually arrives, The Handmaidâs Tale remains intellectually nourishing, easy to admire, and difficult to endure. Itâs a beautiful test of stamina, offering only small reprieves from Juneâs suffering. It embeds us alongside her, and remains dedicated to illustrating how exactly the villains can win. Haigis
Phoebe Waller-Bridgeâs affinity for girls behaving badly was at the center of her last project for the BBC, Fleabag, in which the female protagonist steals, seduces, and cracks rape jokes. With Killing Eveâwhich Waller-Bridge adapted from author Luke Jenningsâs Villanelle seriesâshe uses the same whip-smart voice to explore women whose bad behavior extends beyond the limits of rapacious sexuality and crass humor: specifically, to murderous psychopaths. The series suggests a delightfully demented, considerably more violent spin on Broad City, Insecure, and Waller-Bridgeâs own Fleabag. Those programs are wryly comical and sexually frank, with complex female relationships at their center, and Killing Eve brings us all those attributes in the guise of a crackerjack mystery. The series combines a dry comedyâs affection for the mundane with the slick look and tone of a psychosexual thriller, and the result is something wholly original, suspenseful, and caustically funny. Julia Selinger
As much as any series this year, Legion underscored the role of television as a forum for risk-taking. Noah Hawleyâs comic-book freak-out uses boldly off-kilter visuals and an occasionally challenging narrative to elevate what is essentially standard superhero fare. In its second season, the series maintains focus on the showdown between David (Dan Stevens) and The Shadow King (Navid Negahban), a conflict that seems as fundamentally simplistic as any good-versus-evil tale. Yet Legion, by employing stylistic flourishes which reflect Davidâs fractured psyche and telepathic powers, turns a basic story into a byzantine maze which leads to a genuine shock. After embedding the viewer in Davidâs highly unreliable perspective, the second season ends with a twist that suggests we might have been subjected more to his delusions than once seemed possible. When the nominal hero commits an unforgivable violation in the seasonâs surprising finale, Legion morphs into a rumination on egoism, entitlement, and toxic masculinity. Legion is a superhero story that does more than merely excite, and maintains a healthy skepticism toward would-be heroes with unchecked power. Haigis
Homecomingâs visual ambition is complemented by intellectual curiosity, with creator and director Sam Esmail using the showâs titular facilityâa therapeutic treatment facility designed to help returning American veterans acclimate to civilian lifeâto impugn the motivations of the military industrial complex and its profiteering contractors. In the tight span of 10 easily digestibly half-hour episodes, the showâs writers highlight the tenuous relationship between memory and reality, and demonstrate the dehumanizing nature of combat. As Heidi, an under-experienced social worker played by Julia Roberts, circles the dark truth of what happened at Homecoming, the series explores the emotional fallout of the soldiersâ most tragic experiences, and underlines the way the menâs emotions inform their very realities. Homecoming manages to both thrill and propose a grim hypothetical: that the earnest practice of soldier rehabilitation and the economic rigors of the war business may not be able to coexist. Haigis
More than any other of modern televisionâs prestige offerings, BoJack Horseman is at once edifying and infantile. It tosses out literary witticisms with ease and dots its assiduously composed backgrounds with visual and linguistic larks that will have you reaching for the pause button. And yet, for all its trenchant banter and adroit wordplay, itâs the Netflix showâs painful earnestness that makes it brilliantâthe way it uses fantasy to address reality and its many barbarities, the unescapable consequences of selfishness, the collateral damage of self-destruction, the corrosive effects of mental illness. But the latest season of the series isnât all ennui and agony. Itâs also slathered with sex jokes and groan-inducing euphemisms, unrepentantly childish and deftly delivered. Itâs a serious show, but not self-serious. Greg Cwik
In its second season, HBOâs sprawling, richly detailed series jumps forward to 1978 in order to arrive at another inflection pointâone marked by the nascent feminist movement, emerging punk culture, and the complete commodification of porn. With this temporal leap, creators David Simon and George Pelecanos maintain the sensation that New York is perpetually on the brink of transformation, and create tension by intertwining the destinies of the showâs characters with the fate of the changing city. The series focuses on the far-reaching effects of urban transformation, and asks who benefits the most from urban renewal. In Simonâs work, change is calamitous for a cityâs marginalized characters, those figures who are barred from the insulated corridors of powerâand those figures toward which, including even the villainous and predatory pimps, Simon is clearly most sympathetic. For the club owners and porn stars in The Deuce, 1978 is a boom. Yet Simon, so focused on renewal and decay, is rarely coy about foreshowing the bust. Season two amounts to a halcyon recollection, overshadowed by impending tragedy that will likely come as a shock, and represent the end of the good old days, which were deteriorating from the moment they began. Haigis
Dear White Peopleâs sophomore season urgently formulates a trenchant assessment of Americaâs deteriorating national dialogue. Last season proposed discourse as a bridge between whites and blacks, but as Twitter trolls and insurgent white nationalists plunge the fictional Winchester University into unrest, Dear White People now questions whether such a discourse is possible at all. Writer-creator Justin Simien is adept at asking questions without purporting to have any answers. The showâs mostly black students have individual and unique reactions to the events of last season, but theyâre united by a crisis of confidence. Student union meetings across campus are clouded with uncertainty, as students struggle to move forward while Winchester is increasingly divided along racial lines. Despite being as quick and witty as ever, the charactersâ conversations unfold with a demoralizing sense of fatalism. The series offers a dim view of communication in an increasingly tribal world. Haigis
Season two of GLOW maintained the showâs masterful balance of camp, breezy humor, and weighty drama, while offering deepened insight into how its striving characters relate to the patriarchal systems in their professional and personal lives. As they struggle to keep their show on the air, Ruth (Alison Brie), Debbie (Betty Gilpin), and the rest of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling compete with one another for the opportunity to stage matches that often veer toward exploitation. The fraught relationship between the womenâs professional success and personal debasement is one that GLOWâs writers cannily navigateânever more so than when TammĂ© (Kia Stevens) embarrassedly performs as her wrestling persona, The Welfare Queen, in front of her horrified son (Eli Goree). GLOW reflects her paradoxical emotions in equal measure: TammĂ©âs pride at having mastered a craft, and her utter shame at having to stoop toward racial caricature for approval. The series is similarly poignant when portraying pitfalls faced by its other female characters, including an encounter between Ruth and a network executive which unflinchingly evokes the #MeToo movement. Just as often, GLOW is airy and accessible, using comedy as a Trojan horse for trenchant observations of the role of women in wrestling, entertainment, and society at large. Haigis
It feels reductive to call Big Mouth a public service, because no one thinks of public services as being thoughtful, funny, or full of illustrated penises. But the Netflix cartoonâs brazen approach to sexuality is as hilarious as it is heartfelt, a plea to normalize the behavior and bodily functions that society has taught us to hide in shame. To do it for the kids, because the kids of Big Mouth sure could use a more understanding world to grow up in. Puberty for them may have a distinct surplus of hairy monsters and horny ghosts, but their confusion and anxiety rings as unfortunately true as any teen drama ever has. If the first season introduced all the apparitions that symbolized the kidsâ new urges and thought processes, the second tasks them with something even more difficult: adjusting to the fact that those things are all here to stay. Even the new addition of the seemingly malevolent dildo connoisseur the Shame Wizard isnât here to be defeated so much as eventually accommodated. While lives and relationships change, season two of Big Mouth demonstrates how we all learn to survive with those wizards, ghosts, and monsters whispering in our ears. Scaife
Created, written, and directed by Mike Flanagan, whoâs unmatched in his ability to tune audiences into the strain and intensity of charactersâ tortured psyches, The Haunting of Hill House is less than an adaptation of Shirley Jacksonâs 1959 gothic horror novel of the same name than an echo of it. The series, at least until its disarmingly hopeful finale, leaves you with a depressing and melancholy impression that there may actually be no escape from whatever it is thatâs haunting the Crain family. And thereâs a sense that all five of the Crain siblings seem to understand as much, each and every one of them throwing themselves into their work or shrinking into their addictions, sometimes both, as if hoping to discover something to the contrary. Itâs as theyâre all perpetually standing on a bridge between the real and the ethereal, uncertain of where to go. Gonzalez
Atlanta: Robbinâ Season is cloaked in a heavy yet strangely exhilarating veil of dread. Like Twin Peaks: The Return, thereâs a sense that anything can happen in this series, as comedy mingles with violence and transcendence with a liquidity that feels simultaneously spontaneous and preordained. The most uncomfortable moments of Atlantaâs first season, such as the killing of a gun-running Uber driver, are the rule in Robbinâ Season rather than the exception. Last seasonâs lighter, frothier momentsâthe ones that kept it more or less tethered to the formula of a modern, upscale single-camera TV comedy for erudite young liberalsâhave been pared away. The characters are chillier and more aloof, defensive, and hostile now. Part of this new discomfort stems from what is murkily implied to have occurred in the charactersâ lives since we last saw them. Weâre made intensely aware of our limitations as spectators. Donald Trump became president of the United States while Atlantaâs first season was earning critical accolades. The early episodes of Robbinâ Season donât mention this event, but the showâs anxious atmosphere appears to be a reaction to his divisive politics of hatred and paranoia. Bowen
Every Oscar Best Picture Winner, Ranked
Consider this project part cathartic exorcism and part sheepish capitulation to the role the Oscars have played in our lives.
Itâs a rare type of cinephile who wasnât introduced to the idea of film as more than just idle entertainment by the ritual of the Academy Awards. And itâs an even rarer type of cinephile who didnât soon thereafter vehemently reject the Oscar as the ultimate barometer of a filmâs artistic worth. Those of us who started off with The Godfather, Schindlerâs List, All About Eve, or Casablanca all eventually got around to Out of Africa, Around the World in 80 Days, The Greatest Show on Earth, Cimarron, and Cavalcade. First loves being first loves, we still find ourselves regressing if for only one night a year, succumbing to the allure of instant canonization even as it comes in the form of repeated slap-in-the-face reminders of Oscarâs bracing wrongness: Gladiator, Braveheart, Chicago, Crash. In that sense, consider this project part cathartic exorcism and part sheepish capitulation to the role the Oscars have played in our lives. If we had to sit through every one of these movies, the least you can allow us is the chance to show you our scars. Eric Henderson
Editorâs Note: This article was originally published on February 26, 2018.
90. Crash (2005)
Crash is set in Archie Bunkerâs world, a nostalgic land where race is at the forefront of every consciousness during every minute of every day, where elaborately worded slurs are loaded into everyoneâs speech centers like bullets in a gun, ready to be fired at the instant that disrespect is given. The characters are anachronistic cartoons posing as symbols of contemporary distress. âI canât talk to you right now, Ma,â says Don Cheadleâs cop, pausing mid-coitus to take a phone call. âIâm fucking a white woman.â âHoly shit,â another character exclaims. âWe ran over a Chinaman!â âI canât look at you,â Matt Dillonâs cop tells a black female paper-pusher, making like Peter Boyleâs character from the 1970 white-man-on-a-rampage melodrama Joe, âwithout thinking of the five or six qualified white men who could have had your job.â Dyno-miiiiiiite! Paul Haggisâs depiction of a world where everyoneâs thoughts and words are filtered through a kind of racist translator chipâlike a Spike Lee slur montage padded out to feature lengthâand then spat into casual conversation is ungenerous, because it depicts every character as an actual or potential acid-spitting bigot, and itâs untrue to life, because it ignores the American impulse to at least pretend one isnât a racist for fear of being ostracized by oneâs peers. Matt Zoller Seitz
What Should Have Won: Munich
89. Out of Africa (1985)
Out of Africa is the worst of the bloated, self-important best picture-winning pseudo-epics. It attempts to merge the sweeping visuals of Lawrence of Arabia with a Gone with the Wind-style story. But director Sydney Pollack is neither David Lean nor David O. Selznick, with the interminable result shellacked to the highest of glosses by John Barryâs syrupy score. Out of Africa depicts Danish writer Isak Dinesenâs (Meryl Streep) time growing coffee in Kenya. âI had a fahhhhhrm in Ahhh-frica,â says Dinesen seven times in the first scene, highlighting the aural act of violence that is Streepâs accent. This is one of the actressâs busiest performances, a full-tilt deployment of her entire arsenal of tics; a scene where Dinesen fends off a hungry lion with a whip sees the actress chewing as much scenery as the animal. Meanwhile, Robert Redford coasts by on his looks and Klaus Maria Brandauer smirks like a syphilitic Cheshire Cat. Whenever Pollack gets visually stuck, he cuts to a sea of dark brown African faces staring at the screen in confusionâan overused, racially suspect punchline. Out of Africaâs biggest sin is that it immediately evaporates from memory, as if oneâs brain were committing a mercy killing. Odie Henderson
What Should Have Won: The Color Purple
88. Cimarron (1931)
As pre-code spectacles go, Cimarron is something of a big-budget exercise in experimentation, though not in the sense that it actually produces anything innovative. Director Wesley Ruggles helms a script spanning 40 years to create whatâs meant to be eye-catching spectacle; the filmâs story, which spans 1889 to 1929 in Oklahoma, begins with a restaging of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, a sequence that uses 47 cameras to cover some 40 acres of land. From there, heavily theatrical acting styles and overwritten dialogue define most scenes, as Yancey (Richard Dix) and his family try to turn Osage County, Oklahoma into a tenable place to live. Certainly, if only for the fact that it was an early sound western, Cimarron would have been a new audio-visual experience for audiences at the time. Today, and not least because of its racist characterizations, itâs little more than an eye and ear sore. Clayton Dillard
What Should Have Won: The Front Page
87. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
If the cartoonists at Hanna-Barbera wanted to quickly convey the extent of a cartoon characterâs world travels, they might cut from a shot of, say, Huckleberry Hound walking before the Eiffel Tower to a shot of the pooch prancing before Big Ben. In A Beautiful Mind, a film that doesnât lack for the laziest of short cuts, a young John Nash (Russell Crowe) sits at his desk while special effects morph the exterior of a Princeton dormitory to accentuate the changing seasons: leaves drop, snow gathers and melt, birds chirp. Throughout the film, such hacky artistry is in service not for bringing us closer to the reality of the mathematicianâs life, but for implicating us in a circus act. Imagine, for a second, the fascinating possibilities of having simply shown Nash talking to dead air for the duration of the film. Doesnât quite sound like a potential Oscar winner, and so Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman decided to articulate schizophreniaâs grip on the mind with a bunch of swirling digital numbers and cutesy imaginary encounters. The film is, through and through, quintessentially cornball. If itâs impossible in retrospect to believe that A Beautiful Mindâs first half is supposed to depict the world as hallucinated by a master mathematician, thatâs because the filmâs comprehension of mental duress is fundamentally jejune, the stuff of shock tactics as imagined by connoisseurs of Dead Poetâs Society, or the most earnest believers in a clichĂ© I always wished had made it into Roger Ebertâs Bigger Little Movie Glossary: Crying While Sliding Oneâs Back Against a Door. Ed Gonzalez
What Should Have Won: Gosford Park
86. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
In a fit of delusion, 90-year-old Jewish former schoolteacher Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) reaches out for her black chauffeur, Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman), and professes that heâs her BFF. Until this point, Miss Daisy has been all sorts of mean, accusing him of stealing a 33-cent can of salmon and cruelly prohibiting him from seeing Martin Luther King speak at a dinner sheâs attending. She canât even let Hoke piss without complaining. That it takes the loss of her sanity for Miss Daisy to finally say something heartfelt to her decades-long caretaker is an irony completely lost on Driving Miss Daisy. This is because writer Alfred Uhry never clarifies why Hoke would accept Miss Daisyâs word as truth. At best, Hoke feels sorry for Miss Daisyâs deteriorating mental state; at worst, Stockholm syndrome keeps him in the orbit of someone who could only appreciate him when she wasnât lucid. Either way, heâs stuck with her out of obligation, like a freed slave who stays on the plantation to help his master. The film never realizes its racial harmony is really racial subservience because itâs too busy patting itself on the back. And while one canât really complain about the acting, nothing less than all-encompassing rage should break out whenever one considers that this won best picture while Do the Right Thing wasnât even nominated. Driving Miss Daisy is the cinematic equivalent of an ally paying nothing but lip service. Odie Henderson
What Should Have Won: Born on the Fourth of July
85. Braveheart (1995)
Braveheart substitutes polished aesthetics, quotable speeches, and superficially bravura camerawork for a genuine examination of historical legend, while its would-be woozy romance remains trapped beneath the weight of both its unmerited running time and overly orchestrated sense of tragedy. Never have the Dark Ages appeared so plasticine and manicured as they do through Mel Gibsonâs panoramic lens, nor has any single image of the directorâs career been more encapsulating than that of William Wallace, the 13th-century warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England, his limbs outstretched in a Christ pose just before his final gutting. In this final moment of masochistic glory, Gibson and Wallace become one, a man of fire and passion ready to kick your ass into complacency. Rob Humanick
What Should Have Won: Babe
84. The Artist (2011)
The idea of making a film about the American cinema between 1927 and 1933 seems as daunting a prospect as making a film about the entire cinemaâin other words, the difference between conceiving the magnitude of a galaxy and the magnitude of the universe. You might as well make a 100-minute film about the Renaissance. Michel Hazanaviciusâs The Artist neatly sidesteps this unsolvable dilemma by ignoring everything thatâs fascinating and memorable about the era, focusing instead on a patchwork of general knowledge, so eroded of inconvenient facts that it doesnât even qualify as a roman Ă clef. As an unthinking hodgepodge, the film at least has a distinct advantage over My Week with Marilyn, and thatâs Hazanaviciusâs competence as a shooter. Whereas Simon Curtisâs disaster makes the wrong impression almost immediately, with an opening âfilm within a filmâ thatâs supposed to be a 1950s movie musical but looks more like a music video that Madonna would have rejected in the 1980s, Hazanavicius at least has sense enough to craft his âold movieâ scenes to look like old movies. Scarcely a patch on what Guy Maddin can do on a bad day, but letâs say USAâs Psych decides to do a silent cinema-themed episode to complement their Hitchcock episode or their Telemundo episode. They would do well to call Hazanavicius first. Jaime N. Christley
What Should Have Won: The Tree of Life
83. The Broadway Melody (1930)
Philosophically speaking, Sunrise was the first film to win the award associated with the qualities we now associate with the best picture category, in a year in which the industry tossed The Jazz Singer an honorary award rather than make the field of silents compete against it. In its second year, Oscar embraced the future with both hands, and thanks to The Broadway Melodyâs win we have a case study for how technical innovations are occasionally anathema to artistic expression. Exactly the sort of clunky apparatus that Singinâ in the Rain decades later gently mocked, the filmâs every shot announces itself as the result of a compromise made to sync image with sound, with neither of them being done any particular justice. A deluge of movie musicals would soon flourish thanks to the advent of sound: Gold Diggers of 1933, Love Me Tonight, Hallelujah, Iâm a Bum, all of them as dizzyingly innovative and effortlessly entertaining as the shallow, melodramatic The Broadway Melody is frozen. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: In Old Arizona
82. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Oscar has awarded expansive tedium more often than not, but even by those pitiful standards, Around the World in 80 Days is a specialized case. Adapting a Jules Verne novel but framing the entire proceedings as a reactionary pre-Space Age paean to days gone by, producer-impresario Mike Toddâs dick-swinging epic is regressive in every conceivable way. From David Nivensâs entitled superciliousness as Phileas Fogg to Cantinflasâs shameless mugging as Foggâs lackey manservant, Passepartout, from their rescue of Shirley MacLaineâs Indian princess (admittedly less cringeworthy than, say, Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed but still rough to watch) to a William S. Hart-era Wild West shootout between white folks and whooping Native Americans, the entire enterprise distills the worldâs entire history of cultural appropriation into an endless amusement-park ride. And even that would have some contemporary worth as an eye-popping reminder of shifting attitudes if it were at least watchable. But no, itâs three-plus hours of vacation slides you found in your grandparentsâ attic. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: Friendly Persuasion
81. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
As is true of a great deal of the films that have been adorned with the best picture Oscar in the past two decades, John Maddenâs Shakespeare in Love is a thunderous mediocrity, a beautifully costumed and designed mess, as ultimately amiable as it is nonsensical. The greatest voice the theater has ever seen, the author of an unequaled canon that serves as inspiration for nearly all narrative works in the modern age, William Shakespeare is here portrayed by Joseph Fiennes as an egotistical cadâa loathsome, unrepentant scoundrel and bum whoâs capable of uttering âDamn, Iâm good!â after finishing the first act of a play heâs weeks late on. Indeed, the screenâs contempt for its chief architects remains as potent and unyielding as it is largely thoughtless and despicable. Hollywood has never been very comfortable, or perhaps capable of, depicting great writers successfullyâor, for that matter, taking their struggles seriously and their triumphs sincerely. As Shakespeare in Love unfolds, the penning of Romeo and Juliet is seen as near-accidental, spurred by the Bardâs misguided lust for a costume girl. And yet, as the film proceeds through its weedy narrative, focused mainly on the romance between Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) and the first production of Romeo and Juliet, the unenviable task of believing that Shakespeare was a genius of tremendous insight and imagination, despite the productionâs eager insistence that he was simply a jealous coward stricken with luck, becomes an exhausting exercise of imagination. Chris Cabin
What Should Have Won: The Thin Red Line
80. Argo (2012)
There seems to be a general, taken-for-granted assumption in criticismâor film culture more broadlyâthat the most unassuming films manage to index complex political and social truths if only by virtue of their unpretentiousness and eagerness to entertain. So it seems fair enough to assume that such cheery popcorn flicks could prove equally insidious in their inconspicuousness. Argo feels like such a film: well-acted, competently directed, and sufficiently entertaining, yet all the more troubling as a result of its breezy pleasures. The problems emerge early, with the history of Iran in the 20th century and especially the events leading to the hostage crisis of 1979 laid out in detailed storyboards. In doing so, Argo effectivelyâand, perhaps, self-consciouslyâpasses the buck of fealty to the operations of cinema. But regardless of whether or not Ben Affleckâs tone-setting meta-gestureâwhich winkingly acknowledges that this is the film version of a âdeclassified true storyâ (as the film was obnoxiously marketed)âis intentional, itâs undoubtedly irresponsible, even cowardlyâa cheap escape hatch for Argo and Affleck to tuck-roll through any time questions of the filmâs veracity come to bear. The film is a wet dream of buccaneering American foreign-policy intervention, attempting to absolve its responsibilities for accuracy (or even decency) in its slight, simple story of Affleckâs all-American hero whose pluck and gallantry would be for naught were he not also a repentant dad, eager to return home to his half-estranged son. John Semley
What Should Have Won: Zero Dark Thirty
79. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
As far as tributes to vagrancy and animal abuse go, mid-century American cinema has done worse. But even taking into account Hollywoodâs then-emerging neo-gigantism, itâs shocking how much effort The Greatest Show on Earth goes into missing the forest for the trees. Cecil B. DeMille, then regarded as Hollywoodâs undisputedly great showman, setting his sights on the big top spectacle of P.T. Barnum ought to have been the ultimate âbest of both worldsâ proposition. But the allowances modern audiences still grant to DeMilleâs products of their timeâcrediting his ability to sustain momentum through grandiose running times, or his balanced eye for scopeâlay down and die in the face of this monstrosity, alternately leaden and corny and neither in the right moment. In the same sense that James Stewartâs mysterious clown never removes his makeup, anyone exposed to this film today will spend 152 minutes with Emmett Kellyâs expression frozen on their own face. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: The Quiet Man
78. American Beauty (1999)
A black comedy with a curious opinion of its charactersâ repellent behaviors, Sam Mendesâs American Beauty is also tone-deaf in its belief that the struggle is real for white, wealthy suburbanites. The Burnham clan and their neighbors arenât so much people as they are often offensive caricatures that exist only to service screenwriter Alan Ballâs anti-conformist message-mongering. American Beautyâs most famous scene, in which Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) explains to Jane Burnham (Thora Birch) that a plastic bag floating in the wind is the most beautiful thing in the world, is emblematic of the jejune self-aggrandizement that, like Ballâs litany of leaden ironies, abounds throughout the film and works to dubiously sentimentalize the charactersâ pathologies. Indeed, this is a film that sees only beauty and nobility in transgression, as in Kevin Spaceyâs Lester Burnham, after yearning to bed his teenage daughterâs friend (Mena Suvari), retreating to his corner upon learning that the girl is a virgin. One walks away from American Beauty believing that if its makers could blow themselves, they would. Greene
What Should Have Won: The Insider
77. The Kingâs Speech (2010)
Working from the British-royalty-biopic template perfected by Peter Morgan, The Kingâs Speech provides a cute, complication-free portrait of the Duke of York (Colin Firth), who would eventually become King George VI of England, and his difficulty overcoming a lifelong stammer. Opening in 1925 to the sight of George addressing a Wembley Stadium crowd with halting bits and pieces of words, Tom Hooperâs film proceeds to chart the future kingâs failed efforts to deal with his problem through kooky speech therapist sessions (one has him stuff marbles in his mouth), all while his father, George V (Michael Gambon), lambastes his younger sonâafter one of the kingâs famous, eloquent Christmas broadcasts via the newfangled radioâto just speak, âDammit!â The film is sluggish and reductive, epitomized by both its eventual, one-dimensional conflation of Georgeâs speech issues with the WWII effort and its glossed-over address of the radioâs role in transforming the ruler-ruled dynamic. Straining to elevate its real-life footnote of a tale into a meaningful fable about a man, and nation, âfinding their voice,â The Kingâs Speech manages to spit out merely high-minded sitcom uplift. Nick Schager
What Should Have Won: The Social Network
76. Gladiator (2000)
The â80s and â90s saw a string of duds almost inexplicably become critical and awards darlings, suggesting that mainstream cinema culture was undergoing some kind of intellectual regression. And with the release of Gladiator at the start of the millennium, it didnât appear as if such deterioration was going to slow down any time soon. Directed by Sir Ridley Scott on depressing autopilot, the film displays none of the technically nimble artistry of such classics as Alien and Blade Runner. The overstuffed production meanders through knotty character dilemmas and rote attempts at Shaekepearean esoterica in as bland a manner possible. All the better to elevate Russell Croweâs Maximus to the level of the grandiose, and in the most suspect and laughable of ways. The man is a walking vacuum of personality who the film believes to contain multitudes, and the kicker is how Gladiator, with Maximus taking a moral stand against the brutal culture of ancient Rome and his befriending of an African slave, is viewed through the lens of modern political correctness. In the filmâs key scene, a gruesome gladiator battle, Maximus righteously screams, âAre you not entertained?!â But the presentation of the scene is as unironic as a crowd-pleasing ESPN highlight reel, or a pep rally pretending at moral conviction. Wes Greene
What Should Have Won: Traffic
75. Gandhi (1982)
No scene in Gandhi is as suggestive as Dennis Millerâs joke about the Mahatma reaching inner serenity by locking himself inside a closet and shouting âmotherfuckerâ for one hour every day. Richard Attenboroughâs polished, thoroughly safeâand, consequently, Oscar-garlandedâveneration of the great political and spiritual Indian leader has no room for contradiction, so here Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) is first seen at his assassination and subsequent funeral; the film may rewind to his earlier days, but it continues as one long embalming procedure. Gandhi was a dream project for the filmmaker for more than two decades, and itâs no surprise that it takes the shape of a hallowed pamphlet, wafting from one historical event to anotherâthe early humiliation as a âcoolie barrister,â the activism in South Africa, the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, the Dandi Salt March of 1930, the âQuit Indiaâ resolutionâin a cloud of incense. Attenboroughâs heartfelt admiration for the manâs philosophy of resistance through peace is indisputable, yet itâs expressed exclusively in conventional coffee-book epic tropes that render it a swollen underdog tale, with Gandhi as the exotic center of a huge, guest-star cast of Hollywood Yanks (Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen) lending liberal cred and old-pro Brits (Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard) supplying Imperial villainy. Fernando F. Croce
What Should Have Won: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
74. Chicago (2002)
Though Broadway babies have been breathlessly claiming movie musicals to be in the middle of âa comebackâ for decades now, Chicago is the only one since Vietnam to actually earn the top Oscar. And certainly not for being the best of the bunch, as its triumph was likely a confluence of that perfect storm of the ongoing success of the hit Broadway revival (which, alongside Rent, gave the Great White Way its groove back), leftover enthusiasm from the heel-kicking maniacs titillated by Baz Luhrmannâs Moulin Rouge the prior year, and, yes, Harvey Weinstein. Directed ever so tastefully by Rob Marshall, Chicagoâs biggest crime isnât that itâs offensive. The problem is that itâs the opposite. The Kander-Ebb source material called for a surly, acerbic, acid-tongued talent who could tease out the grit and irony of the bookâs criminals-as-celebrities environmentâa Bob Fosse, not a Harold Prince. Most of Marshallâs musical numbers strip away setting and scenery in favor of a harsh spotlight shining through pools of dark, a handsome strategy but one which drives home the filmâs own self-imposed nothingness. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: The Pianist
73. Forrest Gump (1994)
Over the course of a prolonged bus-stop conversation, Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks)âa man with an IQ of 75ârecounts to various strangers how he helped spark the sexual revolution, fell in love with his childhood friend, Jenny (Hanna Hall as a child, later Robin Wright), exposed the Watergate scandal, earned the Medal of Honor, met three American presidents, ran coast to coast, and fathered Haley Joel Osment, among other accomplishments heâs also largely unaware of. Some of Forrestâs cameos throughout history push the limits of believability or taste (such as the bit involving John Lennon), but thatâs certainly intentional, and the overarching silliness finds shelter in Robert Zemeckisâs assuredly optimistic, even self-deprecating sleight of hand. Itâs impossible to imagine Forrest Gump having been absorbed by the culture wholesale without such conviction and affecting sincerity. Unfortunately, that merging of the real with the impossible is both pivotal to the film at a conceptual level and deeply problematic. If Forrest and Jennyâs respective paths through life are taken seriously as a reflection on society of the times, any conclusions drawn from their escapadesâbest represented by the scene of their walking together through Washington D.C. circa 1968, Forrest a decorated Vietnam veteran, Jenny a proud flower girlâreveal a facile understanding of the political turmoil those people experienced. One might prefer to just embrace the hokum and take it all in as if through Forrestâs eyes, though the film isnât entirely conducive to this approach either, particularly with Jenny ultimately, almost despicably, being added to the filmâs historical bullet points as an AIDS victimâa moment that lands with calculated velocity for maximum tissue dispensation. Humanick
What Should Have Won: Pulp Fiction
72. Chariots of Fire (1981)
In 1924, Harold Abrahams, a Lithuanian Jew born in London, and Eric Lidell, a Scottish Protestant born in China, were the two best runners England had to offer. Both in their mid-20s, the two young men were the chief talents that competed in track and field for Great Britain at the Paris Olympics. Despite the appearance that itâs a balanced account of the talent and determination of both Lidell (Ian Charleson) and Abrahams (Ben Cross), and to a lesser extent their teammates, Hugh Hudsonâs Chariots of Fire is practically a loving testament to the endurance of Protestantism over whatâs here characterized as bitter Judaism. Weâre allowed nary a view of what Abrahamsâs heritage meant to him, good or bad, while Lidell, himself a missionary awaiting his return to China, is seen expounding wisdom at and around church. Thereâs something eerie about the way Lidell ties religion to physical domination and true power, but the tone of the film remains rigidly upbeat and determined. Hudson, working with the great cinematographer David Watkin, has crafted an exquisite glass house in which to witness this uneasy, irrefutably well-meaning, and quite physical drama. And yet it becomes increasingly hard to ignore the intonations of the screenplay as it goes along, and Hudsonâs direction sags under the weight. The film does pay a bit of anti-fascist lip service by having Lidell nearly refuse to meet with the Prince of Wales, soon to be Hitler-sympathizer King Edward VIII, but it nevertheless preaches an unquestioning allegiance to some ostensibly perfect, all-important authority figure throughout, whether itâs in the service of God or the monarchy. Cabin
What Should Have Won: Atlantic City
71. Cavalcade (1933)
Frank Lloyd directed almost 85 feature films across his 40-year career. That Cavalcade was his 68th seems almost absurd, given that likely only silent-film scholars and dedicated critics could name a single film of his before that. Akin to other expensive studio productions during the late 1920s and early â30s, Cavalcade has significant pacing issues, exacerbated by a story that spans over three decades chronicling a London familyâs dealing with, among other events, the onset of WWI. Its decidedly important themes are significantly watered down by Lloydâs inability to make NoĂ«l Cowardâs screenplay come across as anything other than a stagey series of overly dramatic exchanges. Dillard
What Should Have Won: I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
70. Birdman (2014)
Thereâs one truly revelatory sequence in Birdman, and youâve seen it in the trailer: Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a has-been Hollywood star mounting a Broadway play as his comeback vehicle, is visited on the street by the filmâs costumed title character, a superhero Riggan once played and now hears and sees in hallucinations. Like Gollum as employed by, say, Marvel Studios, Birdman feeds his portrayer lines about how viewers just want action and destruction, not arty stuff like âWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Love,â the Raymond Carver short story that Riggan is adapting, directing, and starring in on stage. In a few invigorating moments, Birdman illustrates his point, causing explosions, helicopters, and a giant avian robot to materialize, in a spectacle that, per the filmâs ambiguous magical realism, hundreds of screaming New Yorkers may or may not actually be seeing. On the most visceral level, this scene is a simple depiction of how bracingly impactful special effects can be when used sparingly, as opposed to being a movieâs primary draw. But more importantly, itâs the one moment that viewers are allowed to feel for themselves the Hollywood skewering that Birdman constantly spoon-feeds like strained bananas. R. Kurt Osenlund
What Should Have Won: The Grand Budapest Hotel
69. Rain Man (1988)
Rain Manâs cross-country odysseyâas shared by Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) and his autistic brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman)âstrains for the profound and complex sense of Americana that is Jonathan Demmeâs usual thematic obsession. But Barry Levinson is a more isolated filmmaker; take the director out of his Baltimore hometown and heâs way out of his limited depths. This is apparent from the filmâs opening, where Levinson bisects a smoggy Los Angeles background with a shiny red sports car, ironically scoring the scene to the Belle Starsâs âIko Iko.â Itâs the L.A. parallel to Something Wildâs New York skyline montage, but it packs none of that sequenceâs seething, dangerous wonder, settling instead for an obvious comment about materialism and an unexploited joke: introducing quintessentially American pretty boy Cruise as a hood-ornament reflection. The banality continues for two hours plus, but itâs surprisingly less torturous than one might fear. The best that can be said of Hoffmanâs Oscar-lauded performance is that itâs consistent, an actorâs equivalent to watchable white noise. Cruise is, of course, the exact opposite, a Danny Zuko-like high school jock mistakenly cast in Chekovâs Uncle Vanya, bugging his eyes and gesticulating with fervid abandon. Rain Manâs own Abbott & Costello metaphor goes a long way toward explaining the casting intent, though it also adds a dimension to the pop-culture-laden humor that masks the filmâs superficiality. Keith Uhlich
What Should Have Won: Dangerous Liaisons
68. Dances with Wolves (1990)
Despite its empathy and respect for Native Americans, Dances with Wolves has very little going for it besides its admittedly majestic trappings. Working with cinematographer Dean Semler on location throughout the American West, director Kevin Costner captures a dizzying array of gorgeous panoramic compositions that situate tiny silhouettes of humans amid expansive stretches of green fields and blue skies. What the first-time director doesnât do, however, is infuse these images with any thematic weight or import; they are, in the end, just pretty landscape shots. Unlike legendary western directors John Ford or Sergio Leone, Costner doesnât intend for these snapshots of sprawling vistas to symbolize much of anything (here, theyâre just transitional devices or mere filler material), and thus the size and scale of the film, though quite immense, seems to shrink before our eyes in terms of emotional resonance. Itâs a laudable adventure that neither redefines nor simply mimics the genreâs storied conventions, a sturdy, mildly stirring revisionist cinematic portrayal of the American West as a place where manifest destiny meant not only modernityâs expansion, but also ancient culturesâ decimation. Schager
What Should Have Won: Goodfellas
67. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Many were shocked to recently learn that Dustin Hoffman slapped co-star Meryl Streep on the set of Kramer vs. Kramer. Hoffmanâs reputation as an actor who relies heavily on the crutch of ridiculous head games to reach some sort of emotional truth has been around as long as his Marathon Man co-star Laurence Olivier threw him the most magnificent shade: âMy dear boy, why donât you just try acting?â But the fundamental disrespect for women embodied within what Hoffman thought was a helping hand isnât absent from the film itself. At the start of Kramer vs. Kramer, Streepâs Joanna Kramer leaves her husband and son in order to find herself, and the film bends over backward to show that itâs actually Hoffmanâs Ted Kramer who is doing all the finding within himself, as he first awkwardly then whole-heartedly embraces his role as a single parent. And when Joanna comes back into the picture, her dramatic function is solely to serve as antagonist to the newly enlightened Ted. The world having outgrown the filmâs pedagogic function, all thatâs left really is soap operatics and courtroom melodrama. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: All That Jazz
66. Tom Jones (1963)
No matter how many of Tom Jonesâs tricks have become lingua franca clichĂ©s over the years, British cinema in the early â60s needed the film to happen. Following years of Shakespeare adaptations, gothic Hammer horror, and kitchen-sink realism, something needed to shake the cobwebs loose. And at the time, Tony Richardsonâs loose-limbed adaptation of Henry Fieldingâs The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, like Laugh-In would soon be for American TV audiences, was that much-needed breath of fresh, irreverent air. But have you watched an episode of Laugh-In lately? Tom Jones still radiates verve but now also plays like one unfunny joke after another. And while the gags come via some of the best talents Britain had to offer, itâs not difficult to trace an angry-young-man through line from the misadventures of Albert Finneyâs rake to the misanthropic yuks raised by Malcolm McDowellâs Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: America, America
65. My Fair Lady (1964)
My Fair Lady hasnât aged well. But then again, maybe the hit musical was never so fresh in the first place. One could start with its repulsive premise: The reason poor people are poor is that rich people donât like the way they talk. And then thereâs the filmâs rampant sexism, which might have been a satirical take on male chauvinism but is instead made into a kind of running in-joke. Rex Harrison plays the woman-hater par excellence, Henry Higgins, a phonetics expert and the only-too-delighted mentor to Audrey Hepburnâs Eliza Doolittle, a lower class flower girl with a braying Cockney accent. Over the course of the film she gains the âloverlyâ speech and vocabulary of the upper class, and with it the promise of independence and security, only to return to Higginsâs beck and callâa lamentable âhappy endingâ and a notable departure in the musical from George Bernard Shawâs original play, Pygmalion. Finally, thereâs the filmâs sheer bloatedness. Director George Cukor doesnât so much adapt the Broadway musical as transplant it to the screen. The result is a rambling, decadent extravaganza thatâs so stagey it even requires an entrâacte. Thereâs something to be said for the glamorous dresses and memorable songs, but looking back on the film now the film it seems, more than anything, like a grandiloquent ball of gas from a desperate Old Hollywood. Peter Goldberg
What Should Have Won: Dr. Strangelove
64. The English Patient (1996)
Itâs not overstating it to say that The English Patient strives to enter the prestige picture hall of fame; it contains most of the perceived hallmarks of a best picture winner, from the sweeping, picturesque setting, to an impressive host of âseriousâ actors, to award-winning source material. Yet the central issue with the filmâs sensibilities, as conveniently (and famously) pointed out by Elaine (Julia-Louis Dreyfus) in an episode of Seinfeld, is that Minghellaâs direction of the sex scenes between LĂĄszlĂł (Ralph Fiennes) and Katharine (Kristen Scott Thomas) exists to promote a palatable idea of sensuality that conforms to middlebrow sensibilities of adventure (my words, not Elaineâs). That Elaine would prefer to instead see Sack Lunch, a dopey comedy about a shrunken family stuck inside of a paper bag, scans as a fair, though still vicious dig at The English Patientâs sanitized and self-serious depiction of carnal appetites. Dillard
What Should Have Won: Fargo
63. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Although it stars William Powell and Myrna Loy, who in 1934âs The Thin Man made one of screwball cinemaâs most sardonic pairings, The Great Ziegfeld doesnât have even half the zip and pizazz of the duoâs former starring vehicle. Worse still, the Robert Z. Leonard-directed film is merely a product of its time, stretched to over three hours to highlight the newest sound technology available on the MGM lot, with a ho-hum sequence featuring the song âA Pretty Girl Is Like a Melodyâ chewing up nearly 10 minutes of screen time. Made just after the Production Code went into full effect, everything from the dance numbers to the quip-heavy dialogue in between feels toned down, sexless, and unremarkable. Itâs the sort of â30s musical thatâs bound to leave viewers wandering to themselves: Whereâs Maurice Chevalier when you need him? Dillard
What Should Have Won: Dodsworth
62. Ben-Hur (1959)
Although Ben-Hur inaugurated at least a decadeâs worth of widescreen epics in Hollywood, influence should be kept distinct from quality. Watching the film, one sees its budget on display in production design, costumes, and special effects, and yet the biblical story remains dormant, stodgy and familiar rather than lively and strange. Scale takes precedent over feeling and intimacy, with the central chariot race being a prime example of an impressively mounted set piece whose thrill wears off as quickly as a roller-coaster ride. Much like those biblical epics made by Cecil B. DeMille from the silent era to 1956âs The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur feels too manufactured to put Christians in theater seats. And Heston, who arguably never gave a good performance, doesnât act so much as frown and furrow his brow throughout the picture. His ever-constipated look sums up Ben-Hur, which ranks among the most ill-fitting efforts in the last two decades of director William Wylerâs career. Dillard
What Should Have Won: Anatomy of a Murder
61. Gigi (1958)
The second of Vincente Minnelliâs films to win the best picture trophy at the Academy Awards, Gigi also earned the virtuoso filmmaker an Oscar for his direction. But itâs better to view that triumph as a career achievement award, since this musical feels so uneven when compared to Minnelliâs other legendary efforts in the genre: The unmemorable songs succeed only at bringing a plodding quality to the musical sequences, and the performers (with the exception of Leslie Caron as the titular heroine) all seem ambivalent, almost at a loss as to how to execute the material. This musical romance, based on a 1944 novella of the same name by Colette, is slow and exudes a stifling sense of the familiar throughout. But this being a Minnelli production, it should come as no shock that it has style to burn. The art direction and costumes are, perhaps, gaudily overbearing, but this only helps to contribute to an oneiric mood of suspended reality that, by way of the elaborately conceived long-take camerawork, empathetically regards the life of a woman dreaming to escape the stifling patriarchal structures of her social world. Greene
What Should Have Won: The Defiant Ones
60. West Side Story (1961)
Pauline Kael famously had zero time for West Side Story, saying âitâs trying so hard to be great it isnât even good,â and that âthe bigger the leap the more, I suppose, the dancer is expressingâon the theory that America is a big, athletic country.â True, the merged sensibilities of co-directors Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise turned out a film that was both more overworked and more portentous than a musical about rival street gangs who work out their hostilities in dance offs ever should have been. And neither Natalie Wood, whose Puerto Rican accent flexes way beyond any dancerâs leap, nor Richard Beymer, sleepy and ineffectual as the former head of the Jets, clear much space around themselves as the romantic leads. Striving at every turn to transcend its genre rather than advance it, West Side Story nevertheless inherits a whole arsenal of strength from its source materials: Shakespeareâs Romeo and Juliet, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheimâs legendary Broadway score, Robbinsâs mold-breaking choreography, and Americaâs dark, racist heart. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: The Hustler
59. The Sting (1973)
If you believe the urban legend, filmmakers have been fooling audiences since at least the Lumiere brothersâ The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, a screening of which sent people scrambling from their seats as the moving image of a train steamed toward them on screen. The con at the core of George Roy Hillâs The Sting is a little more sophisticated than that: Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) enlists veteran grifter Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to take down the brutal Irish gangster Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), who murdered Hookerâs mentor. Benefiting much from circumstance and luck, Hooker and Gondorff conspire to open up a fake betting parlor in an effort to bleed Lonnegan dry, financially speaking. There are elaborate conversations, apparent double-crosses, and costume changes aplenty. (Woe unto anyone who doesnât pay strict attention during the first half hour or so, as the stakes for the scam are briskly outlined.) When this caper first opened, plenty of jaws probably dropped during its denouement, though not necessarily because of the filmmakersâ audacity. The Scott Joplin-soundtracked shenanigans collapse under their own weight, particularly if given a momentâs thought beyond the final fade-out. The Sting looks gorgeous, yes, but it ultimately proves to be as empty as the vacant building housing that fake betting parlor. Preston Jones
What Should Have Won: Cries and Whispers
58. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
The staginess of A Man for All Seasons is evident in Fred Zinnemannâs direction, which uses slow zooms and roundtables of characters conversing to highlight the speech-laden screenplay, adapted from screenwriter Robert Boltâs own stage play. Make particular note of the now famous scene in which Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) lectures Roper (Colin Redgrave) on manâs laws versus godâs laws; the sequence is cut to elevate Moreâs words as wise, even saintly, ensuring that the film works best as a showcase of its actorsâ considerable prowess at chewing scenery. Robert Shaw, Wendy Hiller, Orson Welles, and John Hurt all give memorable performances, but the film itself is nothing revelatory and slags for much of its two-hour runtime. Pauline Kael said âthereâs more than a little of the school pageantâ in its rhythms. Thereâs also too little visual distinction to make this more than a creaky recipe for the studio prestige picture. Dillard
What Should Have Won: Whoâs Afraid of Virginia Woolf
57. The Sound of Music (1965)
For as empty an experience as The Sound of Music on film is, is it okay to admit that itâs Carmen compared to the stage incarnation? Every plot modification made by screenwriter Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest), every note of the enriched musical arrangements by Irwin Kostal, every coolly delivered, if still unimpeachably wholesome, line delivery by then Queen of the World Julie Andrews all combine to turn what was even then a creaky piece of manipulative flibbertigibbet into a reasonably agreeable way to pass the time with your older relatives, and even subtly reveals some of the playâs more unseemly undercurrents. This is, after all, the story of a man with seven children getting a very young, idealistic nun so hot and bothered she leaves the convent to be his female dear, who will respond to his every beck and call of âDo-Mi.â Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: Darling
56. Wings (1927)
Seen through the graph of the first Oscars, you can easily make heads or tails of the filmâs strengths and weaknesses. In a pattern that would fade to oblivion after Gone with the Wind made the idea of a âsweepâ not only possible but mandatory, the Oscars were given out like Cannes prizes, with films rarely taking more than a few statuettes, as if each award bestowed a just measure of validation. Wings won one of two âbest movieâ prizes, while the other (qualified as âUnique and Artistic Productionâ) was claimed by F.W. Murnauâs Sunrise, which has, by contrast, aged sublimely. Even though Oscar historians and statistic-heads generally put Wings on top, its prize is the more pedestrian-sounding âBest Picture, Production,â which is exactly right. Itâs a producerâs triumph, an undeniably impressive marshaling of logistics, funds, and personnel, all at the service of an eveningâs entertainment. More succinctly, itâs a philosophy of moviemaking and award-capturing that has never gone out of style. Christley
What Should Have Won: Seventh Heaven
55. The Shape of Water (2017)
Though set in Baltimore in the early 1960s at the height of the Cold War, Guillermo del Toroâs The Shape of Water truly takes place in Movieland: that generic realm of borrowed fantasies where The Majestic and AmĂ©lie are also set. Itâs been made with a level of craftsmanship that should be the envy of most filmmakers, but the impudent, unruly streak that so often gives del Toroâs films their pulse has been airbrushed away. Del Toroâs sentimental side takes over here, leaving the audience with a plot that fuses E.T. and Free Willy with a frustrated womanâs daydream of sexual salvation. Del Toro is aiming for critique via contrast, proffering a rosy vision of romantic acceptance thatâs pointedly unpalatable to a real-life society governed by boundaries and biases. But such critique isnât earned because del Toro isnât willing to acknowledge uncertainty or emotional or moral fallibility on the part of his heroes, shifting all of humankindâs unsavory characteristics over to Strickland (Michael Shannon) and other American and Russian military personnel. Why doesnât Elisa (Sally Hawkins), presumably romantically alone most of her life, feel terror once sheâs found love? For all its conceits, themes, and symbols, The Shape of Water fails to impart a sense that its antique tropes have been adopted for a purpose. People, smitten with the filmâs banalities, will claim that it has âheart.â But del Toroâs heart beats louder when he allows himself to play, dreaming his own dreams and respecting his heroes enough to sully them. Chuck Bowen
What Should Have Won: Phantom Thread
54. Rocky (1976)
Blue-collar triumph reigns supreme in Rocky, a film that arguably created the sports movie clichĂ©s that have defined decades of American imitators, from Hoosiers to Rudy to We Are Marshall. Sylvester Stalloneâs original formula, which follows a hungry young fighter in Philadelphia vying for his shot the heavyweight champion of the world, steals its use of streetwise dialogue and awkward passages of intimacy from other filmmakers, especially John Cassavetes, and molds it into a pandering crowd-pleaser. Rocky appeals to the dubious idea that human perseverance, particularly on the part of the underprivileged, is the solution to a society where momentary disadvantage is not so much baked into the culture as it is a matter of personal will. While other American filmmakers were pointing to the grimmer, systemic issues of media, racism, and political corruption, John G. Alvidsen is content to have his titular character quite literally wrap himself in the American flag. Dillard
What Should Have Won: Taxi Driver
53. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Danny Boyleâs Slumdog Millionaire is a fairy tale of upward mobility in which the indefatigable Jamalâs (Dev Patel) devotion to protecting andâafter his self-interested older brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), becomes a murderous gangster and turns traitor on his siblingâreuniting with Latika (Freida Pinto) is predicated on unwavering faith in love. That destiny favors the pure of heart who are disadvantaged and romantic is an unabashedly mushy concept, and yet Boyleâs direction is ecstatic, enthralled by the notion that kindness and generosity in the face of hardship have a way of paying dividends in the most unexpected, circuitous ways. Jamal faces down two gangsters, the police, and a dastardly game show host on his way to Who Wants to Be a Millionaireâs 20-million rupee final question, an improbable path forged by an unwillingness to accept social standing as fixed that, eventually, unites him with the country of India at large. Schager
What Should Have Won: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
52. Oliver! (1968)
Based on Charles Dickensâs Oliver Twist, Oliver! survived the transplant from Broadway to screen about as well as any movie from its era. And even for as hopelessly behind the times it seemed circa 1968, maybe part of its appeal was in reminding a populace battered by political unrest, bloody assassinations, racial strife, and endless war that, hey, at least weâre not putting boys who ask for more gruel up for sale out on the cold, soot-ridden streets. Or beating the women who try to help them to death. So if the material seems unduly grim for the milieu, at least it delivers a score of memorable songs fit for whistling past the graveyard, and a stockade of grimed-up urchins popping their knees to Onna Whiteâs precocious choreography. No one would ever die claiming this as Carol Reedâs finest hour, but on its own terms, itâs a reasonably well-oiled machine of a musical, if vaguely terrifying throughout. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: A Lion in Winter
51. Patton (1970)
George C. Scott is Patton. In a career-defining performance, Scott embodied the controversial U.S. general in ways that have been equaled but never surpassed in the history of American biopics. Scott gets all of Pattonâs rage, self-pity, arrogance, doubts and seemingly every other human emotion across in discreet chunks and sometimes all at once, capturing the modern-day gentleman warriorâs quixotic bravura, self-love, and misanthropy in equal measure. The screenplay, co-written by Francis Ford Coppola, has Shakespearean overtones, from soliloquies delivered in iambic pentameter on the eternal nature of war to ruminations on the difference (or lack thereof) between acting and being. This formal complexity is matched by the sheer scale and power of the battle scenes, which capture the brutality and amorality of the battlefield and hold up better than most war films from the time. But Patton is also a strange work for its time, an essentially pro-war film released at the height of the Vietnam War that glorifies an egomaniacal general precisely for his disregard for humanitarian notions like the wellbeing of his soldiers. It also glosses over his deep and abiding racism, particularly his anti-Semitism, as well as his dangerous warmongering after WWII. This out-of-placeness gives the film an uncanny quality, its undeniable visceral power masking an ethically retrograde core. Oleg Ivanov
What Should Have Won: Five Easy Pieces
50. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Although not one of William Wylerâs most accomplished films, Mrs. Miniver is by all means a fine Hollywood product, wringing compelling, if increasingly overwrought, drama from its homefront story of a British family broken apart by World War II. The filmâs first third is especially lively as it explores the superficial interests of Kay (Greer Garson), who spends her days purchasing hats and other accoutrements that, she worries, will upset her more frugal husband, Clem (Walter Pidgeon). Once the war hits, however, Mrs. Miniver drops much of its class concerns for a more typical wartime narrative of potential loss and recovery, exploiting the time in which itâs made as much as it explores said time. A concluding scene featuring a refrain of âOnward Christian Soldiersâ finally places the film within the realm of spiffily made propaganda, capping a story thatâs by turns endearing and noxious. Dillard
What Should Have Won: The Magnificent Ambersons
49. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
In retrospect, Peter Jacksonâs The Lord of the Rings trilogy feels almost anomalous: a Hollywood franchise that actually ended. Its crowning achievement is bloated, yes, but an honorable bow out to a surprisingly emotional series (The Return of the Kingâs award could double as an honor to all three films). Sure, thereâs something obnoxiously grandiose about the trilogyâs final film: the onslaught of epic this-is-it-folks final speeches and its attempts to cram every last world-building detail in (what do orcs do when theyâre not plundering?) under the three-and-a-half-hour mark are nothing if not the sign of a director who wanted too much. But, all qualifiers aside, The Return of the King is an admirable achievement of large-scale fantasy that has hardly been repeated since. Jackson effectively translates the bookâs themes of friendship and the fallibility of humanity in the face of power to the screen, and with a moral conviction thatâs atypical of most blockbusters. His maximalist approach and attention to detail brings Tolkienâs notoriously sprawling cosmos to life, making Middle-earth feel expansive and lived in. Good, evil, magic, fellowship, beasts, men, orcs, dwarves, elves, love, heroism: It all comes to a headâagain and againâin the final battle for this mystic land. Goldberg
What Should Have Won: Mystic River
48. Spotlight (2015)
Spotlight is a complex film about moving past clannish parochial designations, one which ends up assigning the burden of guilt upon an entire populace for looking the other way, none of them quite aware of the scale of the problem they were avoiding. In tackling this mass culpability, the film also confronts the degradation of individuality which also occurs as communities stretch past their traditional limits and out into the ethereal fabric of the internet, as city papers become assets of global conglomerates, and local flavor turns into a surface characteristic rather than an essential quality of a place. But the biggest downside to this approach is that, burdened with the telling of this expansive story, the film devotes too much time delivering information to establish a convincing visual foundation for its account, aside from a few ominous shots of church structures literally looming over everything. Full of reserved tracking shots and walk-and-talk exposition dumps, Spotlight seems submissively constructed around the contours of its voluminous dialogue, a feat of informational cinema thatâs equally thrilling and overwhelming. Jesse Cataldo
What Should Have Won: Mad Max: Fury Road
47. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
One of the most expensive productions of its day, Frank Lloydâs Mutiny on the Bounty is a lavish, action-packed spectacle, full of exotic locales, authentically historic ships, and rip-roaring high-seas adventure. But the source of its enduring appeal is much simpler: the thrillingly bitter rivalry between Charles Laughtonâs imperious Captain Bligh and Clark Gableâs cocksure Lieutenant Christian. Their antagonism is, in part, a clash of competing forms of masculinity, with Blighâs preening, affected pomposity facing off against Christianâs virile, earthy swagger. While Christian gets his rocks off with a pretty Tahitian girl after a year at sea, Bligh remains hopelessly repressed throughout, perhaps sublimating his erotic urges into the sadistic punishments he metes out to the shipâs crew. (All those whippings start to seem pretty kinky after a while.) Lloydâs sturdy but impersonal direction is ultimately more focused on meeting the productionâs considerable technical challenges than in teasing out all of this psychosexual subtext, but he never loses sight of the fact that this is, at heart, a story about men in conflict. Perhaps itâs a fitting epilogue then that the filmâs three male leads (Laughton, Gable, and Franchot Tone) were all nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor, and all of them lost. Watson
What Should Have Won: The Informer
46. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen, as is his wont, is largely content to craft images and sounds that strongly convey atmosphere and evoke great horrors but are less visualizations of human feeling than artistic posturing. Take 12 Years a Slaveâs opening shot, an artfully framed overhead of a plate containing a drab piece of meat and bread and a few blackberries whose juices the educated Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), whoâs warned to feign illiteracy for the sake of his survival, will use to craft a letter to potential saviors back in New York. McQueen only implies Solomonâs realization of how he can repurpose the blackberry juice as ink, transfixing us instead with the beauty with which the juice circles around the plate as Solomon tilts it from side to side. This manner of giving primacy to the fastidiously composed image over human emotion is repeated when Solomon, after his intentions have come to light, burns the letter heâs written, the embers of the flame suggesting a vast universeâs dying stars. Itâs an impossibly gorgeous image, poetic in its implications, though it isnât preferable to the one that was meticulously left off screen: the dissolving of hope from Solomonâs face. Gonzalez
What Should Have Won: Her
45. Titanic (1997)
So The Onion headline wryly read, âWorldâs Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-Berg.â Agreed. As Kate Winsletâs own Freud-referencing character snips, Titanic is epic cinemaâs grandest erection, and when James Cameronâs near-scale model set of the towering hulk of steel that was, at the time, the largest ship in the world severs down the middle, it then becomes the most vulgar representation of castration to ever cause millions of heartwarmed teenage girls to choke sobs into their fists. Itâs a ready-made sarcophagus for everything thatâs vulgar in mainstream cinema. Titanic both embodies and validates the excess that is its own subject. And itâs arguably the most artlessly touching disaster movie of all. No, really. Time and a number of equally irony-free blockbusters in the interim (including Spielbergâs War of the Worlds and the entire Lord of the Rings weep-cycle) have dulled its impact somewhat, but Titanic was Cameronâs strike against technophiliac hyper-masculinity in adventure features and a splashing, pre-millennial introduction to a premonitory brand of earnest, new-age spectacle. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: L.A. Confidential
44. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
This meandering, misleadingly titled film wants to be both a dramatization of the Dreyfus Affair and the biography of an artist whose career added up to much more than his involvement in that infamous scandal. It opens with Zola (Paul Muni) and his friend CĂ©zanne (Vladimir Sokoloff) practically acting out the beginning of La BohĂšme: starving in a Paris garret, burning a manuscript for warmth while avoiding the landlord. The scene is conspicuously artificial, an ill-considered aesthetic choice by director William Dieterle for the life story of a celebrated naturalist, both in his muckraking journalism and social-realist novels. The screenplay scrambles through biopic backstory, traveling, in just two or three reels, all the way up to the 1894 case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut), convicted of treason on flimsy evidence because of widespread anti-Semitismâthough the film never acknowledges such bigotry. Instead, The Life of Emile Zola depicts the case as a rousing but generic injustice, shaking Zola from elder-statesman complacency. The writerâs rediscovered optimism and outrage (âJâaccuseâ!) feel designed to stir up old-fashioned American values, such as justice and benevolence. The film argues, with varying success, that such ideals persisted because of the works of men such as Zola, even if weâve forgotten them. Henry Stewart
What Should Have Won: The Awful Truth
43. Hamlet (1948)
Laurence Olivierâs Shakespeare films generally lack personality, because the actor-directorâs guiding interest is one of fidelity to the source texts. Case in point, Hamlet restricts action, blocking, and dialogue to conventional setups that allow the play itself to take center stage. In 1948, this approach made a certain amount of functional sense: These films were a means to allow those who lived outside of major metropolitan areas the chance to see the works performed in the dominant medium of the time. Viewed today, Olivierâs conservative visual choices prove frustrating and undemanding, from the basic continuity editing during the fog-filled opening to the pedestrian framing of Hamletâs death. See Orson Wellesâs Macbeth, also released in 1948, instead for its elaborate set design and overpowering depth of fieldâa decidedly more cinematic adaptation of the Bard for the silver screen. Dillard
What Should Have Won: The Red Shoes
42. Ordinary People (1980)
Suicide and depression are topics often handled clumsily in films, used as a symbol, a metaphor, a lazy narrative device (think of Tom Fordâs A Single Man, the shiny, bastardized adaptation of Christopher Isherwoodâs novel, which turns the ethereal depiction of a flawed man in mourning into a clichĂ© gay martyr), or else with inane sentimentality (the beloved Shawshank Redemption). It makes life, innately fugacious, feel like a device, a means. Robert Redfordâs Ordinary People is one of the few âprestigeâ pictures that treats suicide, and the longing for death that depression inspires, with earnestness. It makes mental illness seem, so to speak, normal, not a shameful affliction. Thereâs progress, setbacks, self-doubtâflaws and follies of humans are, in a way, not dissimilar to those of a film, and in its imperfection, Ordinary People plumbs a depth other mainstream films rarely do. If Redford occasionally slips into derivation with his camerawork (heâs never really developed his own style behind the camera), he at least commits to the cathartic uncertainty of love, of its inevitable end, in the filmâs final moments. Greg Cwik
What Should Have Won: Raging Bull
41. Terms of Endearment (1983)
It would be inaccurate to call this three-hankie classic, maybe the finest defense for the portmanteau âdramedyâ thatâs ever graced American screens, artless. On a Film Comment podcast about films designed to make their audiences cry, Mark Harris sagely pinpointed how the James L. Brooks productionâs very first major laughâas a young Aurora Greenaway (Shirley MacLaine, flawlessly prickly) crawls into her baby daughterâs crib thinking sheâs stopped breathing and isnât satisfied until sheâs made the infant cryâencapsulates the entire central relationship in a nutshell. Still, the reason Terms of Endearment truly works is that Brooksâs comparatively loose and easy style give his actors the opportunity to breathe unexpected moments of real-life experience into their roles. Compare it to something like Steel Magnoliasâin which Dolly Parton robotically declares âlaughter through tears is my favorite emotionââto see just how deftly Brooks avoids formula and achieves Partonâs emotional Valhalla. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: Terms of Endearment
40. Marty (1955)
Played with heartbreaking vulnerability by Ernest Borgnine, Marty is the quintessential cinematic everyman, a lonely, insecure Bronx butcher resigned to bachelorhood but nevertheless secretly hoping to find a love of his own. When he meets the equally plain, lovelorn schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair), hope rises in Martyâs heart, only to be immediately quashed by the belittlement and criticism of those around him. In chronicling its proletarian protagonistâs struggle to find happiness, Marty shined a light on the regular people that went to the movies, reflecting their small hopes and dreams back to them with dignity and gritty humor. Borgnine channels the rough, primal energy that characterized his darker roles in earlier films into a measured performance of quiet despair and stoic solitude. Thereâs an underlying hint of self-loathing in his performance that gives the character an edge it might otherwise lack, endowing Marty with a moral grandeur worthy of Willy Loman and the other great, forlorn antiheroes of American tragedy. This small, humble character study, which also won the Palme dâOr at Cannes, brought a naturalism to the American screen that helped pave the way for the unsentimental realism of the films of the â60s and â70s. Ivanov
What Should Have Won: Marty
39. All the Kingâs Men (1949)
Pauline Kael once claimed that Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford), the folksy tin-pot despot at the center of Robert Rossenâs All the Kingâs Men, âmight just make you feel better about the president youâve got.â If only! In fact, Starkâs political graft, double-dealing, and sexual indiscretions all look a bit quaint in comparison to the shameless lies, bald-faced corruption, and vicious race-baiting of our current grafter in chief. But that doesnât mean this pared-down adaptation of Robert Penn Warrenâs Pulitzer Prize-winning novel lacks for insight into the warped psychology of U.S. politics. On the contrary, the film remains a compelling and surprisingly ambivalent study of a uniquely American demagogue: a hayseed bootstrapper turned thuggish autocrat who bellows populist slogans at throngs of whooping yokels like a cracker-barrel Mussolini. Crawfordâs thunderous performance brings Stark to life, but itâs Rossenâs directionâwhich draws influence from the murky cynicism of film noir and the refractive realism of Citizen Kaneâthat ultimately makes the character so gripping. Rather than resolving the contradictions of Starkâs character, Rossen prefers instead to gape at him with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. Keith Watson
What Should Have Won: A Letter to Three Wives
38. Gentlemanâs Agreement (1947)
In a near-prophetic artistic gesture, director Elia Kazan presages and diagnoses the cult of social-issue martyrdom in the cinema as wholly well meaning but ostensibly shallow and unwise; the Potsdam Agreement and Hirohitoâs surrender were, as major world events, barely settling into the social mindset and history at the time of the filmâs release. Arguably Kazanâs first major work, Gentlemanâs Agreement resonates with outrage and anguish, but its overarching thematic stronghold is far more fascinated in the importance and dangers of masquerade, the dividing yet highly permeable lines between faĂ§ade and identity. And yet, Kazan smartly evokes and defends the power of narrative to summon truths thought largely intangible, as Schuyler Greenâs (Gregory Peck) article on anti-Semitism is ultimately widely regarded as watershed writing, a coincidental prognostication of the filmâs tremendously positive reception. The director, who emigrated to America from Istanbul and was brought up in the Greek Orthodox faith, clearly offers Green as his proxy, making Gentlemanâs Agreement something like a fictional but sincere articulation of its making, but the tone of anger that rumbles beneath this whip-smart drama unmistakably comes from someone who knows all too well what itâs like to not be welcomed into the club. Cabin
What Should Have Won: Crossfire
37. From Here to Eternity (1953)
Set against a backdrop of a military base in Hawaii in the weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, From Here to Eternity is about two men who die and two relationships that fall apart because three soldiers resist doing what would make their lives easier. The central cast of Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, and Frank Sinatra showily perform their charactersâ hatred for the paste that they try to fix with love or violence, sometimes both. Perhaps Director Fred Zinnemann himself gets a little too intoxicated with all the tragedy. The drama steadily grows into something just a little too big for the filmâs meager narrative, sacrificing its coherence to the logic of the romances and passions on screen. But From Here to Eternity achieves its real intensity in the way it toys with and distorts its setting. Zinnemannâs bitter vision strips away the appeal of scenic Hawaii, turning it into a sinkhole, a place where passions swell but people quickly get stuck in place. Military life looks less like a model of personal discipline than a backwater of petty bureaucracy and personal abuse. In other words, Zinnemann frames the perfect setting for a story about self-destructive men and women yearning for a future with an ambiguous, probably impossible, promise of fulfillment. More than its iconic beach scene, then, the final moments summarize From Here to Eternity best: Reed and Kerrâs characters on a boat bound for the California, their dreams smashed to pieces. Whether life on the mainland will have more to offer them is anybodyâs guess. Goldberg
What Should Have Won: From Here to Eternity
36. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Despite the tense cutting of Hal Ashbyâs Oscar-winning editing, the murder mystery that anchors In the Heat of the Night is its least interesting aspect. The real suspense comes not from who killed a prominent white man in Mississippi, but from whether Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) can deal with being less skilled than Philadelphiaâs suave, urbanite detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier). Gillespie outranks Tibbs on the police force and, in societyâs eyes, on the basis of skin color. But he knows heâs outmatched and so does Virgil. Whether In the Heat of the Night was the first studio film to explicitly present an African-American character as better than his white counterpart is debatable. Whatâs not up for debate is how the film enjoys rubbing that notion in, especially in the scene where Tibbs violates the unspoken rules of centuries of white supremacy by slapping the hell out of the most powerful man in town. In the Heat of the Night avoids the usual message-picture trappings by ending on an unsentimental, ambiguous note. One senses that it sees its main charactersâ begrudging mutual respect for each other as an exception to the rules of race-based interaction rather than a change to be celebrated. Odie Henderson
What Should Have Won: The Graduate
35. You Canât Take It with You (1938)
Tony Kirby (Jimmy Stewart), the son of snobs, falls in love with Alice (Jean Arthur), the daughter of free-spirited artists. Their relationship forms the core of this subversive romantic-comedy epic (126 minutes!), but the film is much bigger than the two of them, touching also on schemes involving real estate and munitions monopolies. Robert Riskinâs screenplay, based on a Kaufman-Hart play, treads themes that would later dominate director Frank Capraâs Itâs a Wonderful Life: the evil that bankers do, and the importance of having friends whoâll take up a collection for you (in this case, neighbors, to pay a legal fine). But the villainous Mr. Potter-type isnât played by Lionel Barrymore; Edward Arnold takes the role, while Barrymore plays his foil, the eccentric Grandpa Vanderhof, embodying anti-capitalist ideals in his apathy for money and his emphases on happiness and fun. He lords over a sort of commune dominated by several generations of his family and a few stray creatives: The house has a dancer, playwright, inventor, vibraphonist, fireworks manufacturers and more, including minstrel-y servants whose depiction is racist. Otherwise, theyâre a delightful ensemble, loveable kooks bantering wittily, scrambling through screwball scenarios. But the squeaky Arthur, as Vanderhofâs granddaughter, dominates. She and Stewart are adorable together, as they seem to genuinely relish one another. Her eyes can simultaneously express love and loneliness; in fact, thatâs her resting face, open and giving while pulling you into its yearning darkness. Sheâs irresistible. Stewart
What Should Have Won: Grand Illusion
34. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Coming as The Deer Hunter did just three years after the fall of Saigon, itâs unsurprising that Michael Ciminoâs film plays like history written in lightning. Indeed, this fine-grained epic about what war does to menâblue-collar souls shredded beyond recognition in the damp, bloody jungles of Southeast Asiaâderives considerable power from its sense of urgency. Thanks to the work of a formidable cast that includes Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and an Oscar-winning Christopher Walken, the film is greater than the sum of its partsâparts that have long been co-opted by popular culture, such as the harrowing Russian roulette scene. The steady accumulation of vivid details helps to give the film its cumulative power. Itâs in the faces of a Russian Orthodox weddingâs attendees, in the grubbiness of the car that takes a group of men hunting, and itâs certainly in Steven Pushkov (John Savage) shrieking âMichael, thereâs rats in here!â while stuck in a river (that Savage was actually screaming at Cimino, and not De Niroâs Michael, is beside the point). The 50-minute wedding sequence that opens the film is a masterful evocation of the home front as a kind of idyll, as well as a sharply detailed introduction to the group of soldiers who will go off to fight in a war that destroys their hearts and minds. Ciminoâs film faced off against another Vietnam drama, Coming Home, at the Oscars and rightly prevailed on the big night, for this is a film that refuses to ever slip into the saccharine. Jones
What Should Have Won: An Unmarried Woman
33. The Departed (2006)
With Michael Ballhausâs coiled, constantly roving cinematography bringing a measure of unease to the underworld action, The Departed jumps out of the gate like a caged lion freed into the wild, delivering a rapid-fire primer on the congruent paths of state police academy trainees Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), an intelligent recruit desperate to reject his familyâs criminal past, and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a careerist with political dreams and deep-seated ties to Costello. Sullivan is Costelloâs mole in the police department and Costigan is the cop infiltrating Costelloâs crew, and both are soon ordered to discover the otherâs identity, a dueling-rats conceit William Monahanâs screenplay embellishes with trademark Martin Scorsese preoccupations: Catholicism, double lives, issues of honor, honesty, and deceit, and the bond shared between fathers and sons. Faithful to premise of Infernal Affairs, Scorseseâs adaptation nonetheless substitutes the originalâs sleek, cool demeanor with a feverish, foul, funky energy thatâs layered with a thin coating of sexual deviance (epitomized by Nicholsonâs porn-theater dildo antics) and dysfunction (with Sullivan cast as the impotent son to Costelloâs seriously virile papa). Deftly employing classic rock for clever commentaryânever more so than with adjacent Nicholson and DiCaprio love scenes subtly linked by Pink Floydâs âComfortably Numbââand swiftly crosscutting between multiple subplots, Scorseseâs film, for much of its 150 minutes, rocks violently, passionately, urgently. Schager
What Should Have Won: Letters from Iwo Jima
32. Gone with the Wind (1939)
For generations, Gone with the Wind wasnât merely the grandest movie from Hollywoodâs Golden Age. It represented the entire concept of âthe moviesâ incarnate. But even that achievement wouldnât have sustained its prominence in pop culture for this long alone. (After all, how many proletariat still talk about The Big Parade?) David O. Selznickâs recreation of the antebellum South and its demise in the Civil War serves primarily as the epic backdrop for author Margaret Mitchellâs indomitable belle Scarlett OâHara (Vivien Leigh), and just as Scarlett manages to get under everyoneâs skin throughout the filmâs four-hour running time, so too has the film itself managed to pick away at the scabs of Americaâs own dark history. Never before nor since has there been a problematic text of this magnitude. Gone with the Wind is a self-sustaining force for critical exploration, a virulently racist monument, an ahead-of-its-time feminist triumph, and a hell of a great story. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: Stagecoach
31. Going My Way (1944)
In his BFI book on Boudu Saved from Drowning, Richard Boston argues that Groucho Marx could be seen as the author of his films, offering the following question as attempted evidence for his claim: âWithout cheating, can you say off the top of your head who directed Duck Soup or any other Marx Brothers film?â Unfortunately for Boston, heâs asked cinephiles to name Leo McCarey, perhaps the most unique studio director of the 1930s. McCarey made better films than Going My Way, but few are as simultaneously warm and sharp, spinning its comedic yarn of two priests butting heads over their differences with an effortlessness that balances songs, visual gags, and dramatic conflict without forcing the filmâs tone in one direction or another. In an era when Hollywoodâs idea of fun involved navigating a maze of implied sexual interests and foregrounding vaudevillian performance styles, Going My Way remains among the most thoroughly accessible. Dillard
What Should Have Won: Double Indemnity
30. Schindlerâs List (1993)
This depiction of the wartime life of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German entrepreneur who opened factories to help the Nazi war effort in Poland, only to staff them with Jewish workers, remains Steven Spielbergâs most personal film, but for different reasons than ancestry. Oddly triangulated between Schindlerâs relationship with his workers, most prominently his accountant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), and the brutal Nazi commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), the film allows Spielberg to study life in the ghetto, the concentration camps, and the Nazi aristocracy, but more potently dissects the limitations of fiscal success and artistic power, not to mention the valley that too often separates the personal and the logical. Spielberg has always aligned himself with the great and the burdened, and his connection with Schindler reveals a particular sadness in the directorâs identity as a filmmaker. Spielbergâs indisputable talent has allowed him to put strong attention on domestic and international humanitarian issues while also crafting a number of hugely popular and successful entertainments, often utilizing the mediumâs ability to preserve or recreate life and its philosophical promise of defying death to provide an optimistâs view of history. But that philosophical promise remains just that: a promise without a tangible reality. Schindlerâs List is at once Spielbergâs doomed attempt to make good on that promise and a smart treatise on the essential impossibility of that promise. Cabin
What Should Have Won: The Piano
29. The Last Emperor (1987)
Language is only one factor in The Last Emperorâs negotiation of East and West. That struggle is embedded in Bernardo Bertolucciâs exoticizing gaze, which never fails to relish the details of palace customs, such as a turtle swimming in a bowl of soup or a dance by Tibetan lamas. It isnât Bertolucciâs goal to get us acclimated to our surroundings; at times, the Forbidden City is shot like a busily designed sci-fi/fantasy set, turning foreign style into gaudy artifice. But this is a film that makes a case for the exoticizing gaze as a mode native to the movie camera, and for exoticism as a natural interest of the cinema, insofar as the act of filmmaking is tied to the creation of spectacle. In its position in the chronology of film history (predating Zhang Yimouâs Ju Dou, the first mainland Chinese film to be nominated for a foreign-language Oscar), thereâs no way for The Last Emperor to dissociate from notions of the âexotic.â But the perspective from which it regards the Forbidden City seems accurate not only to the way foreigners would view it, but also to the way Chinese people are encouraged to view their own historyâas a tourist attraction or amusement parkâin the wake of headlong modernization. Andrew Chan
What Should Have Won: Hope and Glory
28. Grand Hotel (1932)
Why make a film with both John and Lionel Barrymore, to say nothing of Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, when you could make two films separately with each of them and, presumably, make double your money? This was the company line that Irving Thalberg found himself at odds with when he decided to cast all four (and more) in his adaptation of William A. Drakeâs Broadway smash Grand Hotel. Thalbergâs revelation was one of decadence, allowing the audience to luxuriate in those monumental visages all at once, but the film only works because director Edmund Goulding gives his spaces the same power and art-deco glamour as his performers. Garbo and Crawford are patiently unveiled, as they should be, but the director frontloads the film with his male stars and their various plotlines in immediate and immediately engaging montage, only to further introduce the pulp of the filmâs expertly weaved narrative with a bravura lobby sequence that makes stunning use of overhead crane shooting by famed DP William H. Daniels. Cabin
What Should Have Won: Shanghai Express
27. One Flew Over the Cuckooâs Nest (1975)
Not as biting as the disavowal of the immediate family in Bob Rafelsonâs masterpiece Five Easy Pieces, One Flew Over the Cuckooâs Nest allows R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) a sense of family and companionship during the latter half of the film, a devoted sense of feeling that inevitably leads to his downfall. And the emotional devastation of the ending remains potent more than 40 years after the filmâs initial release. Thereâs so much charisma and charm to the film that the breakneck denouement canât help but punch you in the gut. As the gargantuan Native American Chief (Will Sampson) finally âtriesâ and succeeds to lift the granite water dispenser, thrusting it out the window and escaping into the wilderness, the full impact of McMurphyâs presence as a cause for change comes into focus. Seeing that energy, that lust for life in someone else, becomes the filmâs greatest joy, and watching it drain out of Nicholsonâs character its greatest tragedy. When such a spark becomes labeled insane, or queer, or unnatural, the true definition of crazy becomes a socially accepted cure. Glenn Heath Jr.
What Should Have Won: Nashville
26. Amadeus (1984)
As A.O. Scott once noted, âCinematic biographies of the famous are not documentaries. They are allegories: narrative vessels into which meanings and morals are packed like raisins in an oatmeal cookie; modern, secular equivalents of medieval lives of the saints; cautionary tales and beacons of aspiration.â Perhaps no film better exemplifies this principle than Milos Formanâs Amadeus, which takes a reed-thin historical rumor about the supposed rivalry between composers Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and inflates it into a mythopoetic morality play about creativity, genius, and professional jealousy. Featuring spectacular stagings of some of Mozartâs best-loved operas, the film luxuriates in the details of its cartoonishly decadent recreation of 18th-century Vienna: the flamboyant parties, lavish interiors, and outrageous Marie-Antoinette-meets-Billy-Idol wigs. But Forman never lets the grandeur overshadow the tragedy at the filmâs heart: the anguish of a man whose passion to create beautiful music vastly outstrips his talent. Watson
What Should Have Won: Amadeus
25. Casablanca (1942)
There are, of course, the close-ups when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) see each other for the first time as Sam plays âAs Time Goes By,â but thereâs also the furtive glance they throw at one another for an instant, before their eyes flicker back to the table, as they sit chatting about precedents being broken with Victor and Renaud. Those are the times that Casablanca resonates not only as a great example of the films being made during the studio era, but also as a reminder of moments weâve had ourselves. Itâs a movie that inspires nostalgia. Casablanca is about striving for something meaningful. Itâs also a tale of sacrifice in the name of greater good, set in a mysterious world of shadows, booze, cigarette smoke, and memories. The love story at the center of the film allows its heroes to tap into something special within their selves, and if they lost it in Paris, somehow they got it back in Casablanca. The film is all of those things at once, but itâs also about these people, these faces, and all the little moments between them. It reminds me that when weâre in relationships, we learn more about who we are reflected in other people, and when we go to the movies, the great ones can do the same thing. Jeremiah Kipp
What Should Have Won: The Ox-Bow Incident
24. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
For all of its visual grandeur, technical sophistication, and rousing action, David Leanâs The Bridge on the River Kwai is fundamentally a character study about the way that normal behavior becomes insanity in wartime. Colonels Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) and Nicholson (Alec Guinness) are both professionals merely trying to do their duties to the best of their abilities. Saito, the Japanese commander of a POW camp, sees nothing wrong in using torture and other acts that violate the Geneva Convention to accomplish his assigned task: building a bridge over the eponymous river. The British Nicholson, a career soldier, pushes his own men to the breaking point to build the bridge in order to prove the superiority of the English, even though the bridge will ultimately aid in the Japanese war effort. The side plot involving U.S. Commander Shears (William Holden) is forgettable, and Lean whitewashes the brutality of the Japanese and the inhumanity of the POWsâ working conditions, but the strange dance of opposition and cooperation between Saito and Nicholson makes for one of cinemaâs oddest and most compelling relationships. Countless films have proposed that war is madness, but few have so effectively demonstrated that such folly is the inevitable result of simply doing oneâs patriotic duty. Ivanov
What Should Have Won: 12 Angry Men
23. An American in Paris (1951)
Vincente Minnelliâs An American in Paris features starving artists living that imaginary ideal Parisian life of constant song, dance, and antics. Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly), an ex-GI with aspirations to paint, stayed in the city after the war and is now torn between two love interests: Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron), a young girl who works at a perfume shop, and Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), a wealthy heiress who could really help his career. The musical is best remembered for its extravagant finale: the âAmerican in Parisâ ballet set to the George Gershwin orchestral work that gave the film its name. The 17-minute coda of abstract storytelling through music, dance, and cinematography is radical, transforming ballet-stage content into sophisticated cinema, employing a huge ensemble on a soundstage larger than any dance theater could reasonably accommodate. But the filmâs strongest scene comes earlier: the musical performance of âOur Love Is Here to Stay,â set on the banks of the Seine. Though each has another love interest, Jerry and Lise fall for each other here not through words (though Kelly sings), but through movement, as theyâre drawn toward each other and push each other away on a misty purple evening. The magic of the real Paris is distilled into a few elementals: stone, water, and starlight. The lovers seem to dance in the shadow of Notre Dame, below a backlot Pont de lâArchevĂȘchĂ©, but you canât quite make out those landmarks, because the emphasis here isnât on the extravagant, such as that churchâs gothic architecture, but on simpler, more basic things. Kelly and Caron hold their hands behind their backs, as if to control their sexual urges, moving in unison but apart until they canât take it anymore. The dancers fold into a kiss, their bodies curling into each other. Itâs not dazzling like the final scene, but itâs no less extraordinary. Stewart
What Should Have Won: A Streetcar Named Desire
22. The Apartment (1960)
Whatâs really changed about office life in New York City since 1960? I started working in an office in 1987 and I saw guys just like C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon). They were all yuppied up, like Charlie Sheen in Wall Street, but they were still brownnosers hoping to make their bones and live the regal New York City lives of their jet-setting evil managers. Billy Wilder showed that the best way to get ahead is to let your boss use your apartment to get head. Like King Vidor before him and Mike Judge after him, Wilder showed how the climb up the corporate ladder can be filled with soul-sapping broken rungs. Except Wilder, like Sidney Lumet, makes New York City a character in his films. You sense that Baxter believes if he can make it here, he can make it anywhere, even if it means having to sleep in a bed with wet spots he didnât coax out of their owners. Wilder also proves, as films like The Pawnbroker, The Lost Weekend, and Manhattan did, that the Big Apple looks better in black and white. Odie Henderson
What Should Have Won: The Apartment
21. The Lost Weekend (1945)
Billy Wilderâs The Lost Weekend is a clammy, noirish expedition into the darkest depths of alcoholism. Based on Charles R. Jacksonâs semi-autobiographical novel, the film traces failed writer Don Birnhamâs (Ray Milland) inexorable four-day bender, from the first soothing tipple to the final agonizing withdrawals. With tartly sardonic dialogue courtesy of Wilder and his long-time writing partner Charles Brackett, the film captures the desperation and despair of a man who keeps returning to the bottle even though he knows itâs destroying him. Filming on the streets of New York and in Bellevue Hospitalâs alcoholic ward, Wilder presents Donâs addiction with an unsettling verisimilitude, culminating in the filmâs most legendary sequence: a nightmarishly vivid bout of the DTs. But no mere social document, The Lost Weekend is also a powerful existentialist parable worthy of Albert Camusâa bleak and brutal confrontation with the absurdity of existence that uses Donâs cycle of addiction as a metaphor for humankindâs search for meaning. After spending the entire film asking only where his next drink will come from, Don finally finds himself cut off, sober, and forced to face a much deeper question: What do I have to live for? Watson
What Should Have Won: The Lost Weekend
20. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Lawrence of Arabia works best not in the moments when director David Lean is aiming to overwhelm with bright, busy frames bustling with activity, but when heâs crafting more subtle effects. For a grand epic, much of the filmâs running time is actually dedicated to stark, minimalist sequences of wandering through the desert. In that respect, Lawrence of Arabia belongs as much to a very different continuity of films, from John Fordâs 3 Godfathers to Werner Herzogâs Fata Morgana or Gus Van Santâs Gerry, all films where the mystical and isolating quality of the desert plays a very important role. Lean crafts many minimal, forbidding sequences dominated by Rothkoesque simple landscapes, with two colors separated from one another by a horizontal lineâpale blue on top and white on the bottom, often with the black specks of camels trotting across the sand. Images like that define Lawrence of Arabia. Sure, there are plenty of more traditional epic moments: big battle scenes and rousing speeches and military parades and big trains of soldiers winding through the desert. But the film is even more striking when itâs not trying to be big, when itâs working on a smaller scale within its huge canvas. Ed Howard
What Should Have Won: Lawrence of Arabia
19. It Happened One Night (1934)
When It Happened One Night hit theaters, it was middle-class men and women who fully embraced the film. And Frank Capra clearly revels in the faces, mannerisms, and talents of the less fortunate, as in a late sequence where Peter Warne (Clark Gable) waves not only to the conductor, but the homeless man riding on the top of the train and a boxcar full of other bums. At another point, a trio of random bus passengers, commoners trying to go home or get away from it, provides impromptu entertainment for their fellow travelers by singing. The common folk that Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin present here are, at heart, entertainers both good and bad, people who use storytelling and performance as a way to grapple with bad luck and anxious existence. Taken in all at once, they create a wild pulse of society and community in Capraâs exquisite comedy, of the unknown abilities and wisdoms that the person next to you in traffic carries around, sometimes without even knowing it. On their own, these moments summon everyday passions and expressions that remain quiet until fortuitously called upon, revealing the unexpected dividends of chance. Cabin
What Should Have Won: It Happened One Night
18. Platoon (1986)
Platoon is a lacerating eulogy for Americaâs militaristic ideal. Standing in not only for director Oliver Stone, but for those who were lucky or rich enough to garner a deferment, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) walks off a plane in the opening scene and essentially comes into contact with two presaged variations of himself: a black body bag being hauled onto one plane, and a hardened, defeated veteran getting on another. Those two images become lodged in Taylorâs mind as he begins his tour of duty with the 35th Infantry Regiment, led by Lieutenant Wolfe (Mark Moses) but essentially run by the opposing forces of Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe). Opposing parallels abound in Stoneâs film, from a bunker filled with hash-smoking, Motown-loving grunts to a den of poker-playing, Budweiser-chugging, Confederate-flag-hanging privates, but they all trickle down from the free-thinking humanist ideals of Elias and the let-God-sort-them-out ârealityâ of Barnes, making Barnesâs eventual fragging of Elias a fascinating turning point for Taylor. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert challenged FranĂ§ois Truffautâs claim that war films are essentially flawed because all war films inherently depict war as âfunâ at some point. In truth, the war film only shares that universal flaw of narrative cinema, which is that we are merely experiencing a depiction, and thus, in Platoon, as in all great war films, we are witnessing the depiction of a most staggering atrocity and are thankfully protected from the full emotional weight of the actual atrocity. Still, surfacing from the onslaught of Stoneâs film, one can feel a shedding of a certain innocence and taste a bitter wisdom that only great films, no matter their chosen genre, can pass on. Cabin
What Should Have Won: Platoon
17. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Midnight Cowboy waves the flag of New Hollywood cinema high. It takes the promise of a youthful, even dangerous American cinema offered by Bonnie & Clyde in 1967 and runs with it, assembling method acting, colorful characters, and experimental formal technique into a new form of studio picture with one eye on the counterculture, the other on commercial accessibility. Director John Schlesinger, whose previous films were seminal works that helped establish the tone of British New Wave cinema, approaches Waldo Saltâs screenplay as a hybrid formation pitched between the worlds of Warhol and Hollywood. The perceived promiscuity of the fading â60s is one of the filmâs core themes, with scenes set at drug-fueled parties, inside decrepit NYC apartments, and on bustling streets, all of which gives insight into both the psychology of a generation and, more to the point, the rambunctious inclinations of those filmmakers that would come to comprise a new dawn of studio filmmaking. Dillard
What Should Have Won: Midnight Cowboy
16. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
The story of a woman who becomes a boxing sensation after winning the affections of her would-be manager, Million Dollar Baby casts Hilary Swank as the David to Clint Eastwoodâs Goliath. Told with the kind of lyrical stoicism and rough-hewn sentimentality that suggests a gravel-voiced grandfather recounting war stories while chugging jiggers of scotch, the film envisions an elegiac boulevard of broken dreams where characters drown in the spiritual anemia of noir shadows. Itâs across a very wide gender and cultural divide that Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank), a 31-year-old waitress who âgrew up knowing she was trash,â appeals to the crotchety Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), a man whose failure as a father is hauntingly mirrored in his failures as a coach. Unlike any boxing film before it, Million Dollar Baby gets down to the existential nitty-gritty of the sport; of course, it should come as no surprise that Eastwood, whose films are directed and cut like great jazz pieces, reveres movement the way he does, evoking every physical step Swank makes inside the ring as the dance of a wandering soul. The filmmaker, who similarly observes the wear and tear his characters take to the flesh in the same way they suffer inside, evokes life as a journey of shared consciousness. By filmâs end, Frank, referred to as a âfucking paganâ by a local priest, finds his holy spirit and negotiates God under his own terms, performing a final act of contrition so powerful and serene you can almost see his soul being set at ease during the filmâs melancholic final shot. Truly, this is a man that has successfully rolled with lifeâs punches. Gonzalez
What Should Have Won: Million Dollar Baby
15. Moonlight (2016)
Moonlight captures an awful texture of human nature with an unusual degree of understanding: that the more we need something, the less others are inclined to give it to us. The lonely are often guaranteed to remain so, as others can smell this loneliness, greeting it with contemptuous disgust. Throughout the film, sex and kinship are treated as secrets among other people, bonding rituals that Chiron has been decisively and unfairly denied, as heâs been relegated to an asexual and solitary plane with his socially indoctrinated self-hatred. This is why the use of three actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes) to play one character proves so resonant. No matter who Chiron becomes, people can discern his core and brutally reject him until he preemptively rejects himself, finding comfort in echoes of the past, such as how his adult bed reminds him of the sheets in the guest room at Juanâs (Mahershala Ali) house. Reinventing himself as a drug dealer, in a nod to Juan, Chiron remains at his core a haunted, stunted virgin. Moonlight is so profoundly moving because Jenkins refuses to condescend to Chironâs misery with glibness, and this beautiful relentlessness scans as artistic reverence. Bowen
What Should Have Won: Manchester by the Sea
14. The Hurt Locker (2009)
As a political text deliberately limited to a gruntâs view of the Iraq War circa 2004, The Hurt Locker is neither recruiting pamphlet nor antiwar tract. Nevertheless, glimpses of the conflict canât help but burn through the projectâs professed neutrality. What other moment in recent cinema, after all, more piercingly captures the mutual horror of people in the area (occupying forces as well as resistance fighters) than the scene in which Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) frantically scrambles to remove the time bomb thatâs been strapped to a distraught Iraqi? In a flash, as the two men exchange desperate looks and the explosive ticks away, the dismay of people forced together and trying to deal with an impossible situation is forcefully laid out. Just as evocative is a later moment when, uneasily back home with his estranged family, William suddenly freezes before a wall of supermarket cereal boxes. For the âgood warrior,â the variety of civilian decision turns out to be more disorientating than the grim single-mindedness of combat. Only a harrowing and subversive work like Hurt Locker could envision the protagonistâs closing appearance in the âkill zoneâ as both a daredevilâs personal triumph and a dead manâs walk. Croce
What Should Have Won: The Hurt Locker
13. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Few war films can match Lewis Milestoneâs technically and artistically groundbreaking All Quiet on the Western Front for relentless despair or elemental furyâboth on and off the battlefield. Through both the refreshingly unsubtle rendering of its anti-war themes and a pre-Searchers doorway motif that suggests that we view these events as if from naĂŻve, domesticated eyes, the film eschews the typically visceral nature of on-screen action, instead supplanting it with a sickening monotony that borders on nauseating, the camera often down in the dirt and mud with the men and every thunderous explosion as shuddering and final as the last. All Quiet on the Western Front may well feature the most ambitious sound design of the early talkies, and while early mixing equipment was technically primitive compared to what moviegoers have experienced for the past decades, such limitations add immeasurably to the artistic fabric of this film; the rawness of the audio eradicates any lingering notion that war is romantic or exciting, and at times suggests the very battered eardrums of those engaged in combat. Humanick
What Should Have Won: All Quiet on the Western Front
12. No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men laments with confused, terrified resignation the dawn of a new, more insane ageâor, as one cop puts it, âthe dismal tide.â Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is the storyâs nominal good-guy detective, attempting to figure out the who, what, where, when, and why of Vietnam vet Llewelyn Mossâs (Josh Brolin) disappearance and the carnage wrought by Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), but heâs really just a street sweeper, left to clean up the mess left in these two younger menâs wakes. Joel and Ethan Coenâs concise, efficient script proficiently captures Cormac McCarthyâs melancholic view of old-young disparities, whether it be Ed Tomâs utilization of horses to scour the desolate desert for clues, or his bafflement at the callous disregard for the dead (and propriety) shown by a guy transporting corpses to the morgue. Meanwhile, their economical, decidedly un-flashy direction (mimicking McCarthyâs writing, and aided by longtime collaborator Roger Deakinsâs beautifully severe cinematography) repeatedly conveys narrative undercurrents in entrancingly subtle ways, such that the plethora of animal carcasses, instances of man-versus-beast violence, and Ed Tomâs yarn about a slaughterhouse mishap coalesce into a chilling portrait of anarchic interspecies warfare. Brusque exchanges and austere violence are the storyâs stock in trade, with both elements so downbeat and harsh that they occasionally veer close to absurdity, thereby providing the Coens with opportunities to wryly alleviate the oppressive despair and viciousness that hovers over the proceedings in the same way that the enormous western landscape and its weighty silence hang over its human inhabitants. As Ed Tom says in reference to a particularly grim anecdote, âI laugh sometimes. âBout the only thing you can do.â Schager
What Should Have Won: No Country for Old Men
11. The French Connection (1971)
More than four decades after its initial release, William Friedkinâs Oscar-sweeper remains an electrifying achievement, drawing its high-voltage forward momentum from the collision of semi-documentary procedural, with its based-on-real-events verisimilitude, and downbeat rogue-cop revisionism. Shooting in actual locations wherever possible, and availing themselves of the featherweight handheld cameras that enabled the development of the Direct Cinema movement, Friedkin and cinematographer Owen Roizman put the grit into âgritty authenticity.â But thatâs only half the equation. Ernest Tidymanâs script tweaks buddy-cop stereotypes by compelling the audience to identify with a bigoted and obsessive loose cannon whose actions grow increasingly questionable, and subverts the tidy moral resolution demanded by genre convention, reflecting a darker, more ambivalent worldview, simultaneously hearkening back to the post-WWII high tide of film noir and resonant with Vietnam-era anxieties and tensions. Budd Wilkins
What Should Have Won: The Last Picture Show
10. Unforgiven (1992)
Mythologies haunt Clint Eastwoodâs Unforgiven. Set primarily in 1880 and 1881 along a trail between Wyoming and Kansas, the elder characters of the film talk of their violent pasts while younger men eagerly listen, waiting to prove themselves. David Webb Peoplesâs screenplay resembles a series of nesting one-scene plays, a few of which end in moments of violence that shatter the younger generationâs illusions of the masculine grandeur of killing. At times, Eastwood goes out of his way to emphasize the pitiful and demoralizing chaos of murder, particularly when one of the filmâs villains is shot to death in an outhouse, his eyes alive with unforgettable terror. Twenty-five years after Unforgivenâs initial release, itâs still distinctive to watch an American revenge film in which violence is accorded this sort of awful and surreal weight. Looking to the notorious William Munny (Eastwood) for comfort after his initiation into murder, the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) says that the killing doesnât feel real, evincing a poetically human response to atrocity thatâs unusual for genre cinema. Eastwood and Peoples often juxtapose legendary killers, the protagonists and primary antagonists of the film, with outsiders, supporting characters such as the Schofield Kid and the writer W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek), who blithely echo our own distanced and worshipful embrace of violence in pop art, as a transmitted energy thatâs divorced of the ramifications of the destruction it simulates. Bowen
What Should Have Won: Unforgiven
9. On the Waterfront (1954)
On the Waterfront remains an incredibly stirring and relevant melodrama. Director Elia Kazan conjured an illusion of docudrama spontaneity with his on-location shooting that allows him to stage images with psychological symbolism and religious metaphor with relative subtlety. Beyond the famous crucifixion imagery, thereâs also the generally cramped sense that characterizes many of the domestic and street sequences. Youâre allowed to feel and see the figurative and literal cages that confine the exploited and poverty-stricken characters as they make their way to the docks as well as to their shoebox apartments and bars as the endless winter wind beats against their faces, which bracingly contrast with the open, free-floating moments Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) shares with his would-be lover, Edie (Eva Marie Saint). Brandoâs brilliance resided in his ability to elevate universal, elemental yearning to the level of myth; he voices what many people may find to be inexpressible, and Kazan and cinematographer Boris Kaufmanâs staging renders that myth as earthbound as itâs ever going to be. On the Waterfront is a Hollywood fantasy with an unusually distinct atmosphere of disenfranchised frustration that remains contemporary, which is to say that it fulfills an audience memberâs daydream of grandeur while fulfilling his or her desire to see a film that speaks directly to their experience. (Mean Streets, Rocky, Raging Bull, and many others are unthinkable without this film.) Kazanâs ultimate gift may have been his pomposity: He read a gangster story and said, âThis is my story, this is our story.â Bowen
What Should Have Won: On the Waterfront
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
With The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme made an honest to goodness horror film, one thatâs ârespectable,â by marrying the gloom and hyper-articulate Britishness of a Hammer Films production with the contemplated restraint of something âserious.â Nothing in Demmeâs eclectic oeuvre suggested he was the filmmaker to adapt Thomas Harrisâs clinically dour novel, yet the filmmaker, fresh off Married to the Mob, turned the lugubrious story of a cannibalistic psychiatrist and a serial killer who flenses hefty women and makes suits of their skin into a love story tinctured with notions of queerness. In his less than 20 minutes of screen time, Anthony Hopkins dines on scenery decadently, as if enjoying a fine meal, though the film ultimately belongs to Jodie Fosterâs Clarice Starling, a neophyte and outsider (recall her standing a full head below the wall of men clad in red shirts in the elevator). Itâs a film whose genre identity is muddled, two kinds of aesthetic/thematic work conflated, not unlike the flamboyant and sybarite Hannibal Lecter, with his dexterous sense of smell and penchant for the fine arts, left to rot in a dungeon-like cell adorned with drawings of Florence, done from memory. âMemories are all I have.â Heâs one of the scariest cinematic villains because his penchant for violence is disguised by rarefied tastes. Where Michael Myers disappears into the night at the end of Halloween, the sound of his breathing filling the silence, Lector disappears into the blighting of day, as Clariceâs voice echoes, âDr. Lector, Dr. Lector, Dr. LectorâŠâ Heâs now with her forever. Cwik
What Should Have Won: The Silence of the Lambs
7. Rebecca (1940)
Alfred Hitchcockâs Rebecca is cloaked in a respectability for which itâs yet to be entirely forgiven. The film taught Hitchcock a key lesson in dissonance and contrast, as the Selznick-ian glamour of the sets and actors heightens our awareness of whatâs not being directly mentioned: the erotic suppression that drives the narrative. In his early British thrillers, Hitchcock used German expressionist tricks to conjure notions of evil and dread. After Rebecca, Hitchcock would infuse such dread in bourgeoisie comedies of manners, occasionally springing formalist tricks to highlight key emotional shifts. Films such as Vertigo, Psycho, and Marnie refract their obsessions through a central triangle or rectangle, though Rebecca never achieves that focus. However, the film remains a key illustration of Hitchcockâs gift for fashioning emotional architecture. Every room in Manderley, a hall of mirrors of sexual resentment and taboo carnality, thrums with menace and longing thatâs baked into bric-a-brac that tells many tales. Itâs a pivotal work in the evolution of an artistâs poetry of sickness. Bowen
What Should Have Won: Rebecca
6. The Godfather (1972)
From the opening zoom, as deliberate and controlled as an experienced killer, to that final closed door and all that it insinuates, Francis Ford Coppolaâs The Godfather is the most restrained of epicsâa story of family and murder, loyalty and betrayal, all shrouded in Gordon Willisâs chiaroscuro shadows. Itâs an operatic mix of artistic resolution and pulpy entertainment, probably the greatest example of a film being âbetter than the book.â In the scene when Clemenza (Richard Castellano) is taking a leak as his consort shoots a snitch inside a nearby car, undulating beige reeds take up half of the frame as the Statue of Liberty looms small in the background. Behold the immaculate but unfussy precision of the composition, and, after the gun shots fade, the cut to a smiling Clemenza as he zips up. Itâs a meticulously constructed scene, and itâs known for Clemenzaâs insouciant (and improvised) uttering of âLeave the gun, take the cannoli.â The film is, by this point, a ubiquitous cultural presence, its dialogue and visual moments ingrained in the cinematic lexicon, but this familiarity has done little to dull its power. Cwik
What Should Have Won: The Godfather
5. Annie Hall (1977)
The protraction of Annie Hallâs first act is absolutely necessary, because by the time the introductions are over, so are Annie (Diane Keaton) and Alvy (Woody Allen)âa brilliantly spring-loaded narrative trap thatâs abetted by the fact that Annieâs very first scene isnât cute or la-de-da at all, but of a woman chomping at the bit of an unhappy relationship, fully immersed in the therapy her partner talked her into in the first place. Sheâs snuck into the film, in a way, but Woody/Alvy keep the jokes coming, and the narrative doubles back to paint the picture of their once-happy courtshipâanother in a subset of false beginnings. The one-liners, still gut-busting after 40 years, paint over the Annie/Alvy fissures until thereâs nothing left to do but face facts, and even then, thereâs the line about the dead shark, the confrontation with the L.A. cop, Tony Robertsâs hilarious sun mask, etc. The timeline of the coupleâs relationship is illuminated in a non-linear, blackout-sketch style, creating a collage effect, in which the causality-based explanation of their split dissipates: Scenes from a Marriage scrambled by a variety program of ceaseless experimentation. Christley
What Should Have Won: Annie Hall
4. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Vito (Robert De Niro) and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) lead lives that exist in a bog of moral ambiguity. From Gordon Willisâs crepuscular lighting to Ninoa Rotaâs funereal score, The Godfather Part II seems to flow from the earlier film. Francis Ford Coppolaâs dissolves carry us, like a parent holding a sleeping child, from scenes of a young Vito trying to make ends meet to an increasingly vindictive Michael; Coppola draws parallels and dichotomies between these two men and the way they approach business and the way they treat their families. The careful pairing of past and present shows, with startling diligence given the sordid material, how Vitoâs use of violence possesses a kind of Sicilian honor that Michael, face consumed by shadow, gradually loses. Four decades later, the film remains an anomaly, a sequel that matches (some say surpasses) its predecessor, an Oscar-winning epic that found ubiquitous pop-culture appeal and made bank at the box office. Coppola and his coterie of editors cut the film lyrically and sinuously, weaving into the narrative themes of capitalism, family, love, and betrayal, conjuring visual metaphors from the chiaroscuro lighting and sepia-toned compositions. The two tales of menâone good but capable of bad, the other good but made craven and unrepentantâplumbs the unfathomable depths in the dark heart of humanity, the cruelties skulking in that darkness. Cwik
What Should Have Won: The Godfather Part II
3. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Though the Morgansâ various serialized stories (told in mini-bildungsroman form through a much older Huwâs narration) sometimes betray How Green Was My Valleyâs origins as a novel, theyâre held together by the connecting thread that unites those two basic plot threads. The two things that give men their sense of purposeâGod and workâboth come home to roost in the place that gives women theirs, and if the dysfunction of the former invariably leads to the dismantlement of the latter (each of the Morgan sons sets sail for America or wherever else they can find work), itâs the institution of home that allows everyone to soldier on through strife in the male-dominated arenas. A square message, to be sure, especially since John Fordâs uncompromising The Grapes of Wrath didnât even allow the pitiable Joads a home at all. But beneath the unobjectionable veneer of nostalgia and the too-pleasant anonymity of those salt-of-the-earth types, Fordâs social conscience convinces. It would be hard to miss given how often he has the camera positioned low enough to look up to his subjects. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: How Green Was My Valley
2. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
William Wylerâs The Best Years of Our Lives was the film Americans knew they needed, but likely few realized how badly they also wanted it. As has happened with other films in that position before and since, its achievements seemed to take on a force-of-nature patina; it was the highest-grossing film since Gone with the Wind and missed tying that epicâs then-record number of Oscar wins by just one trophy. A prime example of American middlebrow writ on an epic scale in service of universalizing its themes and messages, the film follows three veterans who, having returned home after spending years in the life-or-death panic of World War II, now find themselves all chasing oblivion. If The Best Years of Our Lives emerges as a more contemporary-seeing film than almost anything else to which its ingredients could compare, itâs because of how frankly it wrestles with the burden of patriotism. The nationâs problems are right there in plain sight, just as clear as cinematographer Gregg Tolandâs typically precise deep-focus shots. Eric Henderson
What Should Have Won: The Best Years of Our Lives
1. All About Eve (1950)
The depth of All About Eveâs social rancor is virtually unparalleled in classic film. Joseph L. Mankiewiczâs effervescent cynicism is as observant as Billy Wilderâs, but while the latter views human nature as a set of perpetually losing odds one must wager against regardless, the former understands the essence of relationships as a constantly shifting compromise of ego. The film is a sour exploration of the raw deal offered to both sexes by gender roles, and how we strive to regain that lost ground through interpersonal viciousness. What makes Mankiewiczâs approach gently revolutionary is the female leadsâ reluctance to sit back and passively transform from objects of desire into (bluntly) mothers or wives. Even Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), whose transparent deception is still the filmâs least interesting aspect, sees her attractiveness as the means to an end: Itâs power, not sex, that she wants. The filmâs climax, where Eveâs web unravels around her throat, and its cyclical epilogue may put her and Margo Channing (Bette Davis) back in their place with far-fetched ferocity. But Mankiewicz grants them their dreams with surprisingly little patriarchal compromise: Margo escapes the stageâs unforgiving clutches, and Eve wins success at what is, really, a nominal social fee. The refreshing implication is not that women need men to succeed, but that both sexes may need one another to keep their respective evils in check. Joseph Jon Lanthier
What Should Have Won: All About Eve
Interview: Frank Grillo on Donnybrook and Being a Fighter for Life
The actor discusses his lifelong fascination with fighting, doing his own stunts, his experiences with violence, and more.
Frank Grillo is absolutely relentless as a cold-hearted killer in writer-director Tim Suttonâs dystopic Donnybrook. A drug dealer, Chainsaw Angus is describedâquite accuratelyâby one character as âthe devil.â Angus dispatches anyone and everyone who gets in his way, and throughout the film, Grilloâs performance throbs like a raw nerve. His eyes may look vacant, but Angus is always calculating. He wears pitch-black clothes and stands too close to everyone, as if to make his menacing presence not just known but felt.
Donnybrook traces the path that Chainsaw takes to the Donnybrook, a bare-knuckle cage match with a $100,000 prize, alongside that of his true enemy, Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell). The film is already unyielding in its depiction of an unwelcoming land in its early half, and itâs downright suffocating by the time its main characters get inside the ring to exorcise their demons.
In a recent conversation with Slant, Grillo talked about his lifelong fascination with fighting, doing his own stunts, his Netflix documentary series Fightworld, and more.
Iâm curious to know if youâve had any off-screen experience with cage fighting.
I have been involved in combat sports from a very early age. I wrestled, boxed, did jujitsu, Muay Thai. Iâve been fascinated and drawn to combat sports all my life, and I have a great respect for the people who do them. Which is why I did Fightworld. And itâs a huge part of why Iâm involved in Donnybrook. I usually do my own stuntsâexcept something like jumping off a buildingâbut I do all my own fighting and the fight choreography as well.
I know from watching Fightworld that youâre a lifelong boxing enthusiast. What is the appeal of the âsweet scienceâ?
People have misconceptions about fighting. Fighting is violent, but so is football, where 300-pound guys run into each other at great speed. Being repetitively hit by a man of that strength and size, itâs like getting hit by a car. Itâs all how you look at violence. What amazes me, and it comes from my own experience, is to go one on one with someone in a cage, a ring, or on a mat; itâs you and the mental toughness you must have. As a boy, growing into a man, Iâve always been enamored by what it takes to be a warrior. Thatâs never gone away from me, and as Iâve gotten older, itâs increased. I love it. I love being hit and hitting people in a controlled environment. Itâs like playing chess with your fist and feet.
Thereâs a line early on in Donnybrook where a character says, âHow you fight is what counts.â How would you describe how you fight? I ask this because I thought about the line in Fightworldâs episode in Mexico: âYou take a punch to land a punch.â
What happens is youâre most vulnerable as a fighter when youâre striking or landing a punch. Thatâs when your bodyâs open. You have to understand that you take a punch to give a punch. Itâs a matter of how you place yourself and how you deliver it. Itâs a setup. Itâs me trying to put you in a position where youâre vulnerable, where I can land a punch, and impose my will. I can put you where you need to be, so I can be the most accurate [hitting you].
What is your personal style, or code, and how does it compare to Angusâs?
Angus, the way we portrayed him, heâs a brawler, an experienced barroom brawler, fighting to the death. I like to fight close, take shots, and feel the strength of the guy and grapple. I put a lot of myself into Angus, who is mean. Outside of the ring or cage, fighters are sweet and childlike. But thereâs something that switchesâand Iâm trying to figure out what that isâthat when they step in the ring, they become killers, and warriors. Itâs amazing.
Angus is described by a character as âthe devil.â Heâs relentless. Where do you think his rage and anger comes from? What made him so damned evil?
When Tim and I talked, I said this needs to be about unapologetic anger, whether itâs focused on his sister or a stranger. I donât want to judge or second guess the anger or violence, I just want to have it available all the time. Thereâs a scene that reveals his past and how Angus got the scar on his face, but Tim chose not to keep it in the movie. Angus was abused beyond the breaking point as a kid and that turned him sociopathic. Itâs fun to play that. You donât worry if the audience is going to like or not like you because you know they wonât like you.
I love how Angus is so imposing. He often gets too close to folks, invading their personal space, then makes them suffer. What decisions did you make in terms of how to play him? Your body language is particularly vivid.
That again was one of the things that I tried to portray. I love watching simian behavior. Iâm enamored by silverback gorillas, and how they control the other gorillas. So, I watched how Angus imposed himself which is getting close to people and being unnerving and intimidating by his closeness. When you come inside someoneâs space, their behavior changes completely.
I have to ask, given your impressive physique, how much weight training do you do? Do you have a diet or regimen I should follow?
I hate when actors in beautiful condition say they donât have a regimen. I work hard, box every day for two hours in the morning, and I do strength and conditioning with a coach. I eat only paleo: meat and fish, nuts, and vegetables. I live a monkish life with food and training. I couldnât live any other way. I am happy to be conditioned and in shape.
What are your thoughts about Donnybrookâs ideas about life and vulnerability?
This is a testament to Tim. When you play a bad guy and you donât find the space to be vulnerable and find levity, youâre a one-dimensional cardboard cutout of a bad guy. The audience needs to be empathetic toward Angus at some point, so you open a window to vulnerability that heâs a feeling human being. At some point, something must have happened to the guy that thereâs a little life left in him. Otherwise, heâs fake. Who gives a damn about a mustache-twirling villain? Thereâs nothing to connect to there. I need to do justice to Angus and have you feel bad for himâeven if itâs only for a minute.
What are your personal experiences with violence?
I grew up in a tough place and have been in many fights in different circumstances. Iâm not proud of it, but it was who I was. I grew up in an aggressive environment, with my family and my father. I was an aggressive person. Now Iâm a father with three kids and married, so I worked stuff out. Itâs not hard for me to go to those places and also be vulnerable. My children havenât experienced anything negative from me or their mother, so Iâve broken the chain.
Donnybrook is an art film. Iâve been tracking you since your early soap opera roles, modelling gigs, and episodic TV. Then you became an action film actor, making Hollywood and Chinese blockbusters. Now youâre headlining and producing indie films like Wheelman. What are your thoughts on this path?
I have kind of followed a trajectory thatâs opened a lot of doors for me. I took things that I thought I could do a good job in. Now, partnering with Joe Carnahan, Iâm making Boss Level with Mel Gibson. Next is Once Upon a Time in Staten Island, with Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale. In the next few years, people will see me in a new light. Six films Iâve done are departures for me. I just made a western set in Oklahoma in 1865. People are asking me to work with them because they know I have versatility.
Angus has, shall we say, a funny definition of success. How do you define your success? Has it been a fight?
It started with Warrior. More and more filmmakers wanted to work with me after that. Now I have a production company and I have three movies coming out this year. Itâs all accumulation, and people trust me to come in. They called me to play this guy in 1865 in Oklahoma! Iâm an Italian guy from New York who plays action roles, but they say they saw my edge. Itâs all shits and giggles to me. Iâm having a ball. I feel blessed every day. Iâm not looking to be super-famous. I love doing this kind of work. Hopefully, it will continue.
Interview: Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck on Never Look Away
The filmmaker discusses his relationship to art, the influence of Elia Kazan on his work, and consulting with Gerhard Richter.
In 2010, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck followed up his Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, about Stasi officers monitoring the lives of East Berliners, with the big-budget Hollywood production The Tourist. The film, a light-hearted romantic thriller starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, did well at the box office but was ravaged by critics. As a jovial von Donnersmarck told me late last year: âIf youâre a critic and you went to a restaurant and you were in the mood for steak and you got even the best tiramisu in the world, youâre probably going to say, âThatâs not what I ordered.â But I hadnât been taking orders.â
Now, the German filmmaker has served up something a little closer in spirit to The Lives of Others. His latest, Never Look Away, is a three-hour epic that spans three decades of German history as it tracks the life of a young German artistâKurt Barnert (played as an adult by Tom Schilling)âwho grows up in Dresden under the Nazis, comes of age under the East German communist regime, and eventually finds his artistic voice in West German DĂŒsseldorf.
When von Donnersmarck was in New York to promote Never Look Away last year ahead of its Oscar-qualifying run, we spoke about his relationship to art, the influence of filmmaker Elia Kazan on his work, and the connections between Kurt Bannert and the manâs real-life counterpart, celebrated German visual artist Gerhard Richter.
What is it about Gerhard Richterâs life that inspired you to make Never Look Away?
I was looking to make a movie about human creativity. Iâm always struggling to find a positive way to look at life and all the terrible things that happen to all of us. I think that art can help us with that challenge. One of the reasons that we find art so enjoyableâbe it a great movie or a great paintingâis because it shows us that life is worth living. Those songs about pain and suffering and heartbreakâwhy is that still something we really like to hear? Itâs because we see that someone has been able to take joy in the feelings associated with this somehow.
At first, I was looking for a way of telling this through opera. I had this idea of a composer whose whole life is terrible: full of heartbreak, rejection, financial hardship, and all that. And then he goes home and turns it all into these beautiful arias and you find everything transcended on the big stage and in that beautiful way that operas are done. I thought it would be very interesting to juxtapose that, but I didnât find a story there.
Then I found one element from the life of Gerhard Richter. It was a really a very difficult life. There was the tragedy of his aunt being murdered by the Nazis, and he had done a beautiful painting of this woman holding him as a little child before she was killed. But what is now knownâwhat the investigative journalist JĂŒrgen Schreiber only uncovered in the early 2000sâis that the father of the woman Richter ended up marrying was one of the perpetrators of the Nazisâ so-called euthanasia program. I thought this was an interesting starting point for a movie: to tie together the tragedy of his youth and childhoodâlosing his aunt and experiencing the destruction of his home townâwith his positive future, namely finding a woman he loves. Somehow itâs inextricably linked through the relationship with her father. I thought I could build a story thatâs truthful and explore these issues.
Youâve said that you were influenced by something from director Elia Kazan.
I read his autobiography about five times, because I think itâs the best book about filmmaking. I even thought for a while about turning it into a film or series, because itâs so rich in terms of what he lived through. In the book, Kazan talks about his collaboration with artistic geniuses like Marlon Brando, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. He says that he feels that their artistic talent is the scab thatâs formed over the wounds that life has given them. I think itâs a beautiful analogy because you can stretch it pretty far. If the wound is still open you canât create art. If the scab is over a big wound, you can create great art. And if the wound opens up again, due to some great trauma, you arenât going to be able to create any more.
I think that if we look at life in the right way we can, at any given moment, use everything that ever happened to usâboth positive and negativeâto be our best selves in that moment. And in art that becomes especially visible. So, I thought it was interesting to take on [as a subject] an artist whoâd experienced the bombing of his home city and the death of countless friends and who transcended that trauma by doing beautiful paintings of bombers and and by having the aunt who was murdered gloriously memorialized in a beautiful picture of her holding him as a child. Itâs fascinating. I think with every trauma that we experience we can decide to lay down and crumble, or we can decide to overcome it and make something of it.
Kurt is taken as a young boy to see the Nazi âDegenerate Artâ exhibition by his aunt. Did you think it important to recreate the art works that were destroyed?
Those paintings only exist today as little black-and-white photos, so I thought that if we worked with the artistsâ archives and put substantial effort and money into recreating those paintings exactly as they were, or as close to what we imagine they were, there would be a kind of triumph thereâas if the Nazis hadnât really destroyed them.
Is it true that your own interest in art was also sparked at an early age?
I remember my very first art exhibit in Berlin. I had lived in New York until I was eight. My father was an executive with Lufthansa Airlines; we were actually among the first people to live on Roosevelt Island after it was no longer called Welfare Island. So, when we moved to Berlin, my mother took my brother and me to this contemporary art exhibit called âZeitgeist.â It was art from all over the world, but mainly from America and Germany. As I child, I hadnât been really exposed to contemporary art, so it was kind of shocking to see, for instance, that Joseph Beuys had done this giant heap of clay in the entranceway. That was art. It was kind of wild. This was 1982, and the building where the exhibition was held still had substantial war damage, and the Berlin Wall was right next to itâand suddenly it was really interesting to see that the German artists were being shown next to American ones like Andy Warhol and Frank Stella. I wouldnât say that I loved [all of] the art there, but I thought about it and was amazed by it. I think a lot of modern art is about shifting your perspective on something. In a way, I think thatâs almost a definition of what a work of art today is. Does it change your way of seeing the world a little bit? Thatâs what this did for me.
Did you consciously choose to show how ordinary peopleâs lives get caught up in the polarizing ideologies of their times?
I thought an interesting way to explore that would be through art. The Nazis had a very clear idea as to what they wanted their art to look like. Then came the communists, whose goal was to have a completely different kind of art. But from todayâs perspective, sometimes itâs hard to know what was communist art and what was Nazi art because itâs so similar. I think if any government has an idea of what art is supposed to be like, art is already lost. I thought it was interesting to show this artist who the Nazis and the communists tried to shape and who is now in the West and can do whatever he wants. But itâs hard to shake all that off. Then he comes to the realization that the only way [to find his own truth] is to look deep, deep within and work from the inside out. I always like stories where you have an intimate personal story in the foreground and the whole thing is mirrored on a political level in the background. I think Germany underwent something similar. Itâs a country that created such unimaginable horrors and it had to somehow redefine itselfâto truly and completely change.
Just as the Stasi perpetrators in The Lives of Others disappear into society after the Berlin Wall comes down, the former Nazi SS doctor in Never Look Away survives the succeeding political regimes unscathed.
Yes. Gerhard Richterâs father-in-law died in 1988 in his 90s. He was a very respected doctor who had never been brought to justice. Unfortunately, thatâs the sad historical truth. A lot of people arenât punished for their crimes. But if we focus on that weâd go crazy. If we focus on friendship and tolerance and love and truth, thatâs its own reward. If our enemies focus on domination, wealth and power and all that, in a way their lives will be quite poor. Itâs one of those things that we have to train ourselves toward: looking at the world so that we donât get so incredibly disappointed and frustrated and upset with the injustice of it all.
Did you consult with Richter on this film?
I wrote to him and said I had an idea for a film and Iâd like to use elements from his life and that it would help me to get more details from him. He was game for that and we spent many weeks together. I talked to him a lot. He let me record countless hours of conversation and we went to places from his youth and childhood in Dresden. I donât think he would have told me all the things he did if I had been writing a biography, or making a biopic. He knew that I was using his life as inspiration for my own story. Thatâs kind of how he works himself. Heâd do a paintingâlike the one he did of Jackie Kennedy after her husband was murderedâand he would put his own thoughts and feelings into it. He wonât exactly do a translation of that photo. I read him the script just so he wouldnât be surprised by anything, but he said he emotionally didnât feel up to watching it. I understand that a little bit. Iâd probably feel the same way if something was made about my life. Either itâs too far away from my life or itâs too close, and both would be painful. So maybe the film is made for everyone except him!