30 Years of Best Pictures

By Bill Anderson 

billanderson601@yahoo.com

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Iíve seen lots of lists on Internet newsgroups over the years, and I have to admit Iím a sucker for them. I donít know why -- sometimes they annoy me, especially when the author provides no context for a list. (And sometimes they make me laugh out loud, especially when the author of a list of 100 of the so-called "greatest" films of the century becomes indignant when his judgment is questioned.) I think these lists arenít exactly meaningless -- they give some insight into at least one personís thought process, and that can be interesting. Lists can be fun. SoÖsince itís a rainy Saturday morning (October 6, 2001) and my other plans appear to be shot for the day, Iím going to attempt a project Iíve been thinking about for a while -- Iím going to take a look at the past, oh letís say 30 years of nominees for "best" picture Academy Awards, and offer one manís opinion.

Clearly lots of smart people (Hey, theyíre members of an *Academy*) at one time or another thought every single one of these films belonged on a list of "best" pictures. But now that Iíve looked over the list, Iím incredulous. Sure, there are some great films here, but there are plenty of dogs, too. Whatever were these people thinking? Hindsight: The Greatest Gift Of All.

What does it mean to be a "best" picture? It all depends on your definition of "best," and there are plenty of definitions around. So for purposes of this list only, hereís mine: A "best" picture is one that will transcend its time -- that will remain popular and will resonate with audiences for years to come. I donít know if we have yet produced a film that will be for motion pictures what "Hamlet" is for the stage, but there are lots of films out there with staying power. "Birth of a Nation" is still hanging around after nearly a century, more as an appalling historical curiosity now than an entertainment, but there it is. And Iíll guarantee that if we havenít blown ourselves up by 2039, people will still be enjoying films from that incredible year 100 years before.

So hereís my premise: Some films that have been considered "best" will be around for a long long time, and others will fall (or already have fallen) off the popular radar screen. Letís see how often the Academy hits the mark in its annual list of "best" pictures:

Films marked with (*) won their yearís Academy Award for Best Picture.

1971

A Clockwork Orange
Fiddler on the Roof
* The French Connection
The Last Picture Show
Nicholas and Alexandra

Not a bad year. Picture Show has its aficionados, but itís not a film most people remember fondly. Fiddler is a musical with memorable songs, so thatíll keep it going. Nicholas and Alexandra was good, but itís practically forgotten already. French Connection is a film of its time -- popular then, but new generations wonít care at all. Best picture of 1971: A Clockwork Orange -- timeless. 1971 Academy Score: MISS

 

1972

Cabaret
Deliverance
The Emigrants
* The Godfather
Sounder

Cabaret will stay around because it has some decent songs. Jr. High teachers will keep Sounder alive. The Emigrants is forgotten already. Deliverance is unforgettable, but to be considered best a film mustnít make one think of pig squeals. The Godfather is the best film of 1972, and ranks among the best films of all time. 1972 Academy Score: HIT

 

1973

American Graffiti
Cries and Whispers
The Exorcist
* The Sting
A Touch of Class

A Touch of Class? Never heard of it. Cries and Whispers? Be honest: you donít like it, and you donít know anyone who does. (In fact, the only Bergman film youíve *ever* enjoyed is The Seventh Seal, and youíre not about to go out and rent that one any time soon, are you?) I like American Graffiti -- in fact, itís my favorite from 1973 -- but thatís mainly because I am about George Lucasís age and while I really, really relate, I suspect itís not a timeless film. I loved The Sting when it was released, but I donít care *at all* whether I ever see it again. So that leaves The Exorcist, which was recently re-released to modern audiences that laughed at it, or so Iíve heard. I didnít bother to go. So what was the best film of 1973? UmmmÖ..American Graffiti, I guess. That stunned feeling after high school must be semi-universal, and maybe future generations will have better taste in music than I give them credit for. 1973 Academy score: MISS

 

1974

Chinatown
The Conversation
* The Godfather Part II
Lenny
The Towering Inferno

Tough, tough year for picking "best." Holy cow. Letís start with the easy ones:
Towering Inferno -- BWAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Lenny -- forgotten film.
And that leaves us with three of the greatest films of all time. The Conversation is incredible, but Iím afraid itís underappreciated by all but fellow film-lovers -- most people just say "huh?" when you mention it. It meets the criterion of being a film that will last, but stillÖ..Now weíre down to two. Chinatown is one of my favorite films of all time, butÖwell, letís see. If Chinatown were on HBO at the same time Godfather II were on Showtime, which would I watch while taping the other? I'd watch Godfather II. 1974 Academy score: HIT

 

1975

Barry Lyndon
Dog Day Afternoon
Jaws
Nashville
* One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

I hate Cuckooís Nest and I canít imagine anyone really wanting to watch it. Nashville was interesting and I want to see it again, but there was a lot not to like. Dog Day will always appeal to some folks, but not very many, and certainly not me. Barry Lyndon looks just great -- Iíd like to have a still of every scene to hang on my wall. But Ryan OíNeal? Give me a break. So that leavesÖ.well, of course. "Jaws" does look surprisingly dated, doesnít it? But it is lodged in the popular culture and won't disappear for a long, long time. 1975 Academy score: MISS

 

1976

All the President's Men
Bound for Glory
Network
* Rocky
Taxi Driver

Presidentís Men and Network were wonderful films, but I think theyíre stuck in their time and are unlikely to appeal much to future generations. High school history teachers might recommend Presidentís Men occasionally, but even this old Nixon hater has little interest anymore. Come to think of it, Bound for Glory might even have a place in high school history classes. So that leaves me wondering which film will live in popular culture longer, Rocky or Taxi Driver? Since the question isnít "which film is better," that leaves me with a sad answer -- Rocky. 1976 Academy score: HIT Argh.

 

1977

* Annie Hall
The Goodbye Girl
Julia
Star Wars
The Turning Point

The only time in my life Iíve ever left a theater convinced a film would win the Academy Award was after seeing Annie Hall. It just had Oscar written all over it. And I actually liked Goodbye Girl, but I wouldnít insult you by recommending it. Julia and Turning Point were semi-popular, but who cares? So letís see, of these five films, which one has been released and re-released and re-re-released, and re-re-re (etc.) and special editioned and sequeled and prequeled and I suppose you get the idea? Using my criteria for this list, Star Wars was the best film of 1977, and pretty much any other year too. 1977 Academy score: MISS

 

 

1978

Coming Home
* The Deer Hunter
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Midnight Express
An Unmarried Woman

Of these five films, which one is most likely to continue turning up on TV and proving popular at Blockbuster? Tough call -- the real answer is "none of the above." But since Iím making myself pick, I sayÖ.wellÖI liked Deer Hunter (once only!) and Coming Home was touching, but the only real answer isÖ.Heaven Can Wait. But I can tell you with some confidence, 100 years from now *nobody* will remember that one, and all the others will have faded too. 1978 Academy score: MISS

 

1979

All That Jazz
Apocalypse Now
Breaking Away
* Kramer vs. Kramer
Norma Rae

I keep getting the giggles when I see that asterisk beside Kramer vs. Kramer. If ever there was a "major motion picture" that fell into a black hole of obscurity, that one's it. Breaking Away was delightful, but few remember it. Norma Rae is on few peopleís list of favorites; same with All That Jazz. Anybody want to argue that Apocalypse Now, while not exactly a favorite of mine, wonít be around for a while? Hands down it was the best film in this group. AndÖif you want to see a really good film, check out the documentary on the *making* of Apocalypse Now. 1979 Academy score: MISS

 

1980

Coal Miner's Daughter
The Elephant Man
* Ordinary People
Raging Bull
Tess

Three of the films on this yearís list serve as excellent examples of movies that generated lots of hype and then fell off the popular radar screen. Iím not talking about Tess -- you donít even remember Tess. Iím talking about Coal Minerís Daughter, The Elephant Man, and Ordinary People -- especially Ordinary People. Once major -- now minor. As for Raging Bull, well, I must admit I do not like the film at all, but I do acknowledge quality when I see it. This one will last and last and lastÖ. 1980 Academy score: MISS

 

 

1981

Atlantic City
* Chariots of Fire
On Golden Pond
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Reds

Remember now, when I say "best" in this list Iím talking about films that will continue to generate positive audience response year after year -- films that will live for generations in the popular culture. Do I need to point this one out to you? I mean, give me a break! It sure ainít Chariots of Fire! OK, Raiders, silly. 1981 Academy score: MISS

 

1982

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
* Gandhi
Missing
Tootsie
The Verdict

Anybody around here watched Gandhi lately? Missing? The Verdict? Anybody even remember there was a film titled "The Verdict?" OK, Tootsie remains semi-popular, but címon. E.T. is the one that people will continue to watch, though I thought at the time and I continue to believe that anyone who says E.T. will be as popular as "The Wizard of Oz" has a screw loose. E.T. is already looking dated. But based on this listís premise, it was the best film that year. 1982 Academy score: MISS

 

 

1983

The Big Chill
The Dresser
The Right Stuff
Tender Mercies
* Terms of Endearment

This is getting tougher as I go along. Iím supposed to like Big Chill because thatís my generation, but when I get together with friends from college, frankly, we donít have sex. Maybe thatís why Iíve never been able to relate to the film, soundtrack or no soundtrack. Tender Mercies appeals to discerning film lovers, but those people are pretty much eliminated from consideration by the premise of this list. Anybody who liked Terms of Endearment surely has come to her senses by now. (Heh). The Dresser? Donít think so. That leaves The Right Stuff, which also happens to be my favorite film on the list. Even though I may be letting my personal preference sway my judgment here, I actually do believe people will continue to watch this one. Itís opinionated and it doesnít exactly present all the facts accurately, but it amazes me in the way it paints a picture of a time and place in our history. It may not be hugely popular now, but I think it has a strong chance of being "re-discovered" in future generations. The best film of 1983 was The Right Stuff. Academy score: MISS

 

 

1984

* Amadeus
The Killing Fields
A Passage to India
Places in the Heart
A Soldier's Story

Amadeus was good, but Tom Hulce and his American accent just didnít work for me, no matter how hard I tried. The other films in this yearís list are good, but only one of them will be watched again and again by large numbers of people -- Places in the Heart. Itís a jewel. 1984 Academy score: MISS

 

1985

The Color Purple
Kiss of the Spider Woman
* Out of Africa
Prizzi's Honor
Witness

I donít care what you think of any of these films, only one of them keeps showing up over and over again. And deservedly so. Hands down, Witness was the best film of 1985. Academy score: MISS

 

1986

Children of a Lesser God
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Mission
* Platoon
A Room with a View

Weíre getting closer to the present day, and Iím remembering less about the films. Whatever could this mean? Forget the other four, if you havenít already, Platoon was the best film of 1986. Academy score: HIT

 

1987

Broadcast News
Fatal Attraction
Hope and Glory
* The Last Emperor
Moonstruck

All riiiiightÖ.now this is a list of good films, except for the one that got best picture. The Last Emperor looks good, but who cares? You know Fatal Attraction will be a favorite for years -- not one of mine, but I recognize that lots of people enjoyed the thrills. Broadcast News *is* one of my favorite films, though. And I liked Hope and Glory, though I think the majority of people I know donít care anything about it. But Moonstruck is a movie for the agesÖ.I can watch it again and again. Iím not a New Yorker, Iím not Italian, I donít have a big family, I mean thereís not much in this film I should be able to relate to. But I love it -- it makes me believe in spite of everything that Iím a romantic; that Iíd recognize Cosmoís Moon if I saw it. Moonstruck is one of the best films ever. 1987 Academy score: MISS

 

1988

The Accidental Tourist
Dangerous Liaisons
Mississippi Burning
* Rain Man
Working Girl

Even though Working Girl features a great song over the opening credits, I canít say that I like any of these films. But lots of people like Rain Man, soÖ.1988 Academy score: HIT

 

1989

Born on the Fourth of July
Dead Poets Society
* Driving Miss Daisy
Field of Dreams
My Left Foot

One of these films, and *only* one of these films, will continue to live generation after generation. And I ainít talking about Driving Miss Daisy. As long as thereís baseball in America, as long as fathers continue to have sons, weíll share Field of Dreams with people we love. Whatís that? You didnít *understand* it? Well I didÖand youíre an idiot. 1989 Academy score: A SWING AND A MISS

 

1990

Awakenings
* Dances With Wolves
Ghost
The Godfather, Part III
GoodFellas

I caught Dances With Wolves on cable some years ago and to my huge surprise, I enjoyed it. But have you heard of anyone watching it lately? Seen it on the late show? I thought not. Awakenings shows up more often than Dances with Wolves, though I donít know why. Godfather III should never have been made, though it would at least have been watchable if Sophia werenít in it. GoodFellas is another Scorsese masterpiece and deserves to live on and on. But Iím going to stick to the premise of this list -- what film will continue to show up over and over again because, presumably, people just love it? The best film of 1990 was Ghost. Did I say that? 1990 Academy score: MISS

 

1991

Beauty and the Beast
Bugsy
JFK
The Prince of Tides
* The Silence of the Lambs

Technically JFK is a masterpiece; historically JFK is a lying piece of trash. If this film lives on, itíll be because people continue wanting to believe there was more to a presidential assassination than there actually was. Killing a president is a big deal -- gotta be more to it than a pathetic little lone gunman, we insist on it. And that paranoid slimeball Oliver Stone gives it to us. I can only wish this one would disappear. But whether it lives or not, it sure ainít gonna be a "best" picture on *MY* list. So look at those five pictures -- which one is viewed over and over again, day in and day out, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future in homes throughout the world? The best film of 1991 was Beauty and the Beast. 1991 Academy score: MISS

 

 

1992

The Crying Game
A Few Good Men
Howards End
Scent of a Woman (1992)
* Unforgiven

The Crying Game was great -- but I have seen it only once and never want to see it again, even if I think the last scene and the closing credits music are supremely hilarious. Once you know the secret, whatís the attraction? Of the other four films, only one is worth mentioning -- the one that ranks among the best Westerns, even the best films, ever made. The best film of 1992 was Unforgiven. Academy score: HIT

 

1993

The Fugitive
In the Name of the Father
The Piano
The Remains of the Day
* Schindler's List

OK, even though I enjoyed The Fugitive lots more, Iíve got to admit that the film from 1993 that people will remember years from now is Schindlerís List. 1993 Academy score: HIT

 

1994

* Forrest Gump
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption

 

So youíre a Shawshank fan? Forrest Gump is one of your favorites? You laughed and you cried at Four Weddings? Guess thereís no accounting for taste. Oh, címon -- which of these five was a stunning, breathtaking, whirlwind of a movie, unlike anything youíd ever seen before and one you immediately wanted to see again? No, not Quiz Show. Jeez. The best film of 1994 was Pulp Fiction, and itís gonna be around a long long time. 1994 Academy score: ROYALE MISS

 

1995

Apollo 13
Babe
* Braveheart
The Postman (Il Postino
Sense and Sensibility

Postman and Sense & Sensibility will be forgotten soon, and Braveheart is just not that good. I donít care what you say, I canít imagine future film-lovers will place Braveheart high in the pantheon. Apollo 13 was a great entertainment as well as a record of American history, and will likely remain in the public consciousness. Itís hard to say this, though, but between Apollo 13 and Babe, the film Iíd pick as most likely to remain popular is Babe. And that was a mighty tough decision. 1995 Academy score: MISS

 

1996

* The English Patient
Fargo
Jerry Maguire
Secrets and Lies
Shine

I hated Fargo, but look at the competition this year. Good grief, what a bunch of losers. Fargo was the best of the bunch, and the 1996 Academy score is a MISS.

 

1997

As Good As It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential
* Titanic (1997)

I didnít hate Titanic, but using any other criteria I canít imagine it appearing on a list of my "best" films. Still, As Good as it Gets was forgettable, the Full Monty was wretchedly boring, Good Will Hunting even more so, and that leaves "L.A. Confidential to compete with Titanic as a film people will be watching in large numbers years from now. Gotta be honest here, even if Iím gonna gag. The best film of 1997 was Titanic. Academy score: HIT (ĎScuse me while I puke.)

 

 

1998

Elizabeth
Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
* Shakespeare in Love
The Thin Red Line

Judging these films without a few years for reflection is becoming very difficult. I loved Shakespeare in Love, but I gotta admit itís a piece of fluff compared to Private Ryan and Thin Red Line. Elizabeth and Life is Beautiful will be forgotten. My intellect tells me Thin Red Line is a "better" film, but I gotta be consistent: Private Ryan has staying power. The best film of 1998 was Saving Private Ryan. Academy score: MISS

 

1999

* American Beauty
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense

American Beauty was a fine film, but I donít want to see it again, and I doubt that many other people do either. Easy to admire, uninteresting to watch again. Look at these films -- you know thereís only one that people are going to come back to, even if they do know the surprise ending. Theyíll want to spring the surprise on people whoíve never seen it before. I think. SoÖthe best film of 1999 was the Sixth Sense. Academy score: MISS

 

2000

Chocolat
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovich
* Gladiator
Traffic

This little exercise is becoming practically impossible now, without some time for reflection. My best guess is that Gladiator will be totally forgotten in a few years -- it is so ugly and stupid. Traffic is forgettable, and definitely so is Erin Brockovich. Nobody EVER cared about Chocolat. So sureÖCrouching Tiger was the best film of 2000. Academy score: MISS

 

Well, that was fun, but it sure took a lot longer than I thought it would. The sunís come out, and now itís a beautiful Saturday. Time to get up and get out and Ö see a movie?

Bill Anderson

Oh, total 3-decade Academy score? 8 hits, 22 misses. Not much of an Academy, huh?

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