Dunking on Oxford Podcast Episode 1: Ranking all 92 Best Picture winners
It took 18 months and spanned two continents but I have finally finished watching every Academy Award Best Picture winner in order. Originally, I watched 92 movies starting in 1927 leading all the way up to the 2019 Winner, Parasite. When I started this venture back in the summer of 2018, I initially planned to finish this in about six months. As we can see things didn’t quite happen as expected. Six months into this rewatch I finally got my VISA to permanently move to the UK, so I had to pick up and move across the Atlantic and things began to slow down from there. A year later I am finally finished and ready to give my insights on over nine decades of film history.
A couple of things about my best picture rewatch. I tried to watch as many movies in the same format as possible. Most of my viewings starting out were finding things on different streaming sites and watching them alone, late at night, and on my computer. I tried to make each viewing as similar as I could so I could evaluate each movie on the actual merits of the film and not be as influenced by a changing environment. That all changed when I moved to the UK. Now instead of watching movies at midnight alone with my headphones in, most of them came in the middle of the day in the living room on a bigger tv. This really didn’t change that much but altered the viewing experience slightly for everything after The Apartment.
Another thing I originally tried to do was rank the best movie and keep my personal feelings out of the ranking. I tried to act like a film critic and not just come to the conclusion that I really like certain movies over others. I found out pretty quickly that this was not going to work. First of all, I’m not a film critic. I like to think I know enough about movies to tell the good from the bad, but personal feelings aside, I’m not really going to be able to tell you why The French Connection is a great movie, but All About Eve is just mediocre. I don’t know much if anything about filmmaking, but I do have strong feelings. They crept into these rankings early on and I began to just embrace it. So instead of this being a straightforward ranking of the absolute best movies, it is a mix of best movies and my favorite movies. You’ll see things like Forrest Gump that are ranked a little higher than they probably should be, but I have strong personal feelings about several of these movies and I couldn’t keep them out of my rankings altogether.
So without taking up much more of the page here are my official rankings. Some movies I hated, some surprised the hell out of me, and an overwhelming amount were just alright. Here we go.
94. Gigi (1958)
This movie features a song that’s basically about grooming little girls. As much as I tried to consider the era each film was released and or set, This will always be creepy and terrible.
93. My Fair Lady (1964)
There is nothing good about this movie. Audrey Hepburn is unbearable, Rex Harrison is just an asshole, the music sucks and the message is terrible. File this under the category of hasn’t aged well.
92. Crash (2005)
More like Crash and burn am I right?
Crash is by far the worst modern Best Picture winner. It basically insinuates that being racist is ok as long as you save someone from a burning car, or don’t sell immigrants locked in a van as slaves. One of the biggest surprises and worst wins of all time. Not much that could possibly redeem Crash.
91. Cavalcade (1933)
A silver lining is that Cavalcade is the second-best Titanic movie on the list.
90. Tom Jones (1963)
Oh wait, not that Tom Jones? Never mind then.
89. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Probably not a good sign that I think the 2004 Steve Coogan/Jackie Chan version is a much better movie than this Best Picture winner.
88. Marty (1955)
Trying to be charming but you just spend an hour and a half with this dude who just wants to date a nice girl. Marty would have been better as a 20-minute episode of a middle-of-the-road ’50s sitcom.
87. The Broadway Melody (1929)
You can tell the filmmakers hadn’t quite perfected the new technology of talking pictures yet. The sound quality is pretty bad, out of sync and you get a lot of static in the mics. Also, the story was horrible and the one sister is just ok that her fiance left her for her sister? Just bad all around even accounting for the year it was released.
86. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
It really was one of the Ziegfeld Follies.
85. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Two and a half hours of bad circus propaganda.
84. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
The fact that Dan Aykroyd was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in this might be the dumbest thing that has ever happened in the history of the Academy. This might be his worst acting performance that I’ve ever seen and he’s Dan Aykroyd.
83. Cimarron (1931)
The main character just kind of leaves everything behind every half hour and that made no sense so I will leave this movie behind.
82. All the King’s Men (1949)
Not to be confused with All the President’s Men, an actual good movie.
81. Going My Way (1944)
I think this was just an elaborate ruse to make a Bing Crosby song for a movie.
80. Oliver! (1968)
For whatever reason, it seems like a lot of bad musicals went on to win Best Picture while most of the good ones failed. Unfortunately Oliver! was one of the bad ones that won.
79. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
This beat Citizen Kane. Citizen Fucking Kane! Arguably the best movie ever made and this beat it. Must be a masterpiece…or it was pretty bad and the Academy still didn’t know what the hell was going in at this point.
78. Grand Hotel (1932)
I’m probably underrating Grand Hotel a little bit. It wasn’t too bad, but 1932 was still a little early for movies to really know what they were trying to do.
77. Out of Africa (1985)
76. The Lost Weekend (1945)
Says something about alcoholism, but I’m not sure it really says that much.
75. The English Patient (1996)
I’ll give it a little credit, The English Patient is trying so hard to be good, it just doesn’t get there. To me, it is the go-to melodramatic weepy drama with little substance and I just don’t really care about anything that happens in this movie.
74. The Artist (2011)
Won in a bad movie year. I get it was quirky and a modern silent film paying homage to the early days of cinema, but this seemed almost like a silent movie parody than an actual serious film itself. The dog was great though.
73. The Shape of Water (2017)
I remember really liking The Shape of Water when I first watched it a few years ago, but it really doesn’t hold up on the rewatch. I think if I heard Michael Shannon call the sexy swamp monster an asset one more time I was about to Michael Shannon my tv.
72. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen and Diane Keaton at their most neurotic is just not something that speaks to me personally.
71. The Last Emperor (1987)
The ’80s were probably the worst decade for Best Picture winners and The Last Emperor was one of the worst in a very up and down movie decade.
70. A Man for all Seasons (1966)
Robert Shaw as Henry VIII and fat Orson Welles should make for an all-time banger but ends up being one of the more forgettable period pieces on this list.
69. Terms of Endearment (1983)
The only endearing thing I have to say about it is that Shirley MacLaine might be the MVP of this list by the end of this blog.
68. Ordinary People (1980)
67. American Beauty (1999)
Just going to skip over it and erase Kevin Spacey from our collective memory.
66. Green Book (2018)
65. Coda (2021)
64. You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
Out of all 92 movies on this list You Can’t Take it With You is probably the one I forget about the most.
63. Patton (1970)
Thought it would be epic, turned out to just be long.
62. Chicago (2002)
She doesn’t dip beneath lasers in Chicago, but she does carry the movie.
61. Nomadland (2020)
Should have been a documentary.
60. Birdman (2014)
Actors acting about acting. That is fine but does get pretty annoying as the movie goes on.
59. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
An early World War II movie that focuses on a flower competition, only the British.
58. An American in Paris (1951)
I am the most disappointed in An American In Paris. I was really hoping to love it and thought it would possibly crack the top twenty when all was said and done. Instead, it was a pretty mediocre movie musical with pretty below-average songs, other than “I Got Rhythm”, sorry Gershwin. The final number went on for what seemed to be days and really made this free fall down the list.
57. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Solid entry from the early days. It fell into some of the same traps any other movie from the ’30s found itself in, but all in all a good adaptation.
56. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Marriage Story just 40 years earlier.
55. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Kickass iconic running song from a motherfucker called Vangelis. Other than that Chariots of Fire is about as bland as the British themselves.
54. Dances With Wolves (1990)
Probably second only to Jesus, Kevin Costner is our white savior and he saves the best for the Lakota people in Dances With Wolves. One of many on this list that is a beautiful, well-made film, with a lot of problems.
53. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
I will always regret not putting Midnight Cowboy in its rightful spot at number 69 on the list.
52. The King’s Speech (2010)
I’ve already given my feelings on the British.
51. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A classic of the high school classroom in the mid-2000s. I probably watched it more than any other movie for school. The ultimate version of several pretty good actors doing pretty good work.
50. All About Eve (1950)
All About Eve is regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time, but for me was just alright. The acting is superb with a great story and solid characters, but it all comes together in a way that just makes it pretty good and that’s fine.
49. Argo (2012)
To quote The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey, “Affleck is a lord”. Give him all the awards.
48. Wings (1927)
For the first Best Picture winner Wings wasn’t half bad. It was the only actual silent movie to win, not counting The Artist, and looks like it was ahead of its time.
47. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
If things were different I would likely have Saving Private Ryan in the top ten on this list, but we are here near the middle of the pack with one of the ultimate good, not great winners of all time. Affleck doing Shakespeare is what dreams are made of. If you haven’t noticed this is a very pro-Ben Affleck space.
46. The Hurt Locker (2009)
I liked it but wish it would have been a little bit deeper. It just seemed to skim the surface of the issues the soldiers were facing physically and mentally. A good movie that was close to being really great.
45. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
See number 44.
44. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
Gentleman’s Agreement and The Life of Emile Zola should probably be lower on the list but they are extremely woke for their era so I bumped them up higher.
43. Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood in a western, what more could you want?
42. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Sidney Poitier at the peak of his powers gives a powerfully intense performance. Most of what I remember about this movie is how awful the south is, which seems to be a theme throughout quite a bit of this list.
41. West Side Story (1961)
If they cut out Tony and Maria from the film this would be in the top 15 but the leads are easily the worst parts of the entire thing. Make it about Bernardo and Anita and you have one of the most interesting movies of all time. Too bad the focus is on the two people who have absolutely nothing interesting to say or do.
40. Rain Man (1988)
Your classic pop Oscars fare akin to Forrest Gump. Rain Man is a classic with Tom Cruise at his most sleazy and a great performance from Dustin Hoffman. Some could argue it should be towards the bottom, some may complain it’s not higher, but I think 40 is a good spot for a pretty solid all-around film.
39. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Another relatively disappointing entry. Not to say that it wasn’t good but I was probably most excited for No Country For Old Men as it was one of the only best picture winners in the 2000’s that I had never seen before. What I had heard about the Coen brothers’ movie had me saving a spot in the top ten for it. I was left wanting a little more from the movie and while it was good, it was still somewhat underwhelming.
38. Spotlight (2015)
It seemed like a surprise and a mistake when it won, but the years have been pretty good to Spotlight. It’s a good journalism drama that maybe doesn’t quite get to the level of All the President’s Men.
37. Hamlet (1948)
Olivier doing Shakespeare, it’s going to be pretty good (But never as good as Minkus).
36. From Here to Eternity (1953)
Very, very dramatic but in a good way this time. It has everything you want in a ’50s drama from a brooding leading man, affairs, and Frank Sinatra being a wiseass. Probably one of the more forgotten about Best Picture winners from the golden age, but a worthwhile endeavor.
35. Gladiator (2000)
Confused? Me too. I don’t even really love Gladiator that much, but still couldn’t put it any lower on my list. We live in a random and chaotic universe.
34. The Sound of Music (1965)
Who doesn’t love singing Austrian kids thwarting Nazis? The music is timeless and still gets stuck in your head even 55 years later.
33. Rebecca (1940)
One of the best twists in a movie I have ever seen. Of course, only the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock could pull this off in 1940.
32. Amadeus (1984)
Always a Salieri, never a Mozart. Amadeus embodies whatever the ’80s were the best of any Best Picture winner during the decade.
31. The Best Years of our Lives (1946)
The ultimate World War II version of “what happens when soldiers come home from war”. It features a groundbreaking performance by Harold Russell, an actual veteran who won an Oscar for his performance.
30. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
I totally thought this would be trash but it turned out to actually be good. The characters are expertly crafted and it is one of the most gut-wrenching entries on the list.
29. Rocky (1976)
A tad too melodramatic but everyone loves an underdog which is why Rocky is undeniable. From the birth of the training montage to its many subsequent sequels, Rocky morphed from a movie we didn’t know could go the distance, to one of the biggest franchises of all time.
28. Gandhi (1982)
Pretty much your classic biopic. It has a great performance from Sir Ben Kingsley as Gandhi and is basically the ’80s version of Lincoln, a long and pretty good movie that you will likely never watch again.
27. Braveheart (1995)
(Me to Braveheart critics)
Braveheart is good, just let me have this. As of writing this, I am a 28-year-old white man, it’s a sin for me to not like Braveheart so just let it happen. Obviously, there are huge flaws with the movie and it’s not the actual 27th best movie on this list, but we can look the other way can’t we?
26. Forrest Gump (1994)
Similar to Braveheart, I love Forrest Gump. I grew up with it, it is essentially my childhood in a movie. Again a flawed movie but I could not forget about my feelings for it, feelings that I will never separate from this film.
25. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Dev Patel + Who Wants to be a Millionaire is the best, most random idea for a movie and I wish I had thought of it.
24. The French Connection (1971)
Don’t fuck with Gene Hackman. The French Connection kicked off and inspired the gritty cop dramas that took over the rest of the ’70s.
23. Moonlight (2016)
As much as it still pains me that Moonlight actually beat La La Land for Best Picture, you can’t deny that Moonlight is a great movie. Hopefully, it begins a much-needed change in Hollywood and the Academy Awards.
22. Ben-Hur (1959)
The chariot race is one of the greatest scenes in movie history and Ben-Hur will always be a classic of epic proportions.
21. Titanic (1997)
Titanic is a great movie even with its flaws. The story may not make a ton of sense, and some of the characters need work, but you can’t deny the technical and overall movie-making achievements of Titanic. It overcomes its flaws to become a classic film experience. It also gave us peak Billy Zane which is most important.
20. The Departed (2006)
The Departed is one where I had to let my personal feelings get in the way. As a movie, it should probably rank somewhere in the middle, but it kicks ass and I love it so I put it in the top 20.
19. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Fantastic early war movie that follows young German soldiers during World War I. You could have told me that it was made 30 years later and I would believe you. Still some early-era sound and picture issues, but it rises above its technical limitations.
18. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
12 Years A Slave is one of the best movies of the last decade. It pushes right up next to being an absolute all-time great movie and probably should have won twice as many Oscars as it did.
17. It Happened One Night (1934)
The first best picture winner that actually felt like a finished, modern movie. It was well ahead of its time and the chemistry between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert was amazing.
16. The Apartment (1960)
Probably the most pleasant surprise during my Oscars watch. I assumed it would be some often forgotten about middle-of-the-road ’60s comedy/drama. Instead, it was one of the most captivating movies on the list. Basically Jack Lemmon in Mad Men.
15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
An absolute masterpiece. Jack Nicholson at the height of his powers and surrounded by all-stars like Danny DeVito and a young Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Almost everything about this adaptation of the novel is flawless.
14. The Sting (1973)
You can’t deny Paul Newman and Robert Redford anytime they share the screen together. These two titans have arguably the best chemistry of any screen duo and it seems like they have the most fun too. The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are two of the most fun watches of all time.
13. Platoon (1986)
A great war movie that delves deep into the horrors of war and what it can do to people. A psychological look at war on par with Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, Platoon reminds you time and time again that war really is hell. Platoon also really stands out in a decade of uneven winners, making it the best winner of the ’80s by a large margin.
12. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
I guess we have hit the run of great war movies that have won the Academy’s top prize. The Bridge on the River Kwai is another film commenting on the psychology of war and showing what can happen to even the best-intentioned soldiers when they are tortured. Maybe with this movie as high on the list as it is, I’ve finally come around on the British.
That’s it, blow it all up.
11. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Probably the best-acted movie on the list outside of The Godfather franchise. Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, Meryl Streep, and John Savage all knock their performances out of the park. The Deer Hunter is the quintessential “what happens when you come home from war” movie ever made, taking what The Best Years of Our Lives did with WWII and placing the struggle in the midst of the Vietnam War. I am still haunted by this movie every time “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” comes on.
10. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The definition of the word epic if not quite the most rewatchable movie ever made. Shot for shot Lawrence of Arabia is a contender for the most beautiful movie on this list. Everything about it works except when you get to Alec Guinness playing Prince Faisal. It really is sad that older great movies have these types of controversies, staining them for the newer generations.
9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is probably the pound-for-pound best trilogy ever made. It perfectly encapsulates the greatest fantasy books ever written. While I’m probably doing what the academy did in 2004 and crowning the entire series instead of just Return of the King, so be it, Lord of the Rings is just too great and important to me to leave outside of my top ten.
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs is the tightest best picture winner ever. At just under two hours the movie doesn’t waste a second of your time. The last movie to go five for five and win for Best Picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay at the Academy Awards.
7. Parasite (2019)
This could be recency bias at play but Parasite is the newest winner and already among the all-time greatest. Parasite’s surprise win over 1917 was also one of the most exciting and well-deserved upsets in Academy history. A modern masterpiece that could shoot even higher up the list in the future.
(I promise I will wrap this up soon. Dear god it’s finally almost over.)
6. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Yes, it is long, dramatic, maybe a touch racist, and all of the other criticisms that you’ve probably heard about Gone With The Wind over the last 80 years, but it is still an all-time great movie.
5. On the Waterfront (1954)
On the Waterfront is everything you want in a classic Hollywood movie. A great director (Elia Kazan) at the peak of their powers directing a young iconic actor in a tour de force performance (Marlon Brando). 65 years later On the Waterfront remains a pillar of filmmaking.
4. Schindler’s List (1993)
The only movie on the list that made me cry, Schindler’s List is a raw look at the horrors of the Holocaust. Beautifully and respectfully done by Steven Spielberg, the ending of Schindler’s List gets me every time.
3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
The Godfather: Part II is arguably the best movie ever made, so why is it only third on the list? Because the top two are both also regarded as the greatest movies of all time. While Part II may be the better achievement in filmmaking, I do slightly rate it behind the original for a few reasons. I prefer Vito and Sonny Corleone as characters to new additions Frank Pentangeli and Hyman Roth and even young Vito. It is a masterpiece that takes the Corleone saga to new depths.
2. Casablanca (1943)
Casablanca is the classic movie to beat all classic movies. One of the most quotable movies ever it is unforgettable scene after unforgettable scene. Humphrey Bogart is that guy in one of the most iconic movies ever. Everything that came after has in some way been inspired by Casablanca.
1. The Godfather (1972)
In my opinion, the greatest movie ever made and I don’t think it is particularly close. The Godfather is the perfect blend of flawless direction, storytelling, acting, writing, tension, and excitement. Possibly the best ensemble cast ever assembled, The Godfather unleashes the talents of some of the greats including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, John Cazale, and Diane Keaton among about a dozen other greats. It perfectly chronicles Michael Corleone’s meteoric rise from mild-mannered war hero to ruthless mafia don. Almost 50 years later no other movie has eclipsed The Godfather as the greatest movie of all time.
So there you have it. A list that I made up only to entertain myself. I hope you’ve enjoyed the thing slowly making me go insane for the last year and a half. There will be a podcast adjoining this blog coming next week.