Every year, the best and brightest of Hollywood meet together at one star-studded event to celebrate their greatest achievements. We are, of course, talking about the Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars.
They are, as intended, a great barometer for sorting the good movies from the bad. But choosing the best Oscar-winning movies of all time is quite a challenge. There have been almost 100 ceremonies since the award’s inception, and each one gives prizes to a couple of dozen movies.
01. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Talk about bleak victories… Michael Cimino’s Vietnam drama may not be an uplifting film, but that’s partly why it struck a chord with the Academy. One of only a few films to directly address the effects of the war, it’s a striking piece of cinema that cuts between the delight of American soldiers enlisting and the horrors they face once they’re at war. The Deer Hunter’s a haunting epic that boasts a stellar cast – led by Robert De Niro at the peak of his acting powers – and has the Russian roulette scene to end all Russian roulette scenes.
02. Unforgiven (1992)
You know how it goes. A cop on the verge of retirement is dragged into a life-changing case on his last day. Clint Eastwood’s 1992 western, Unforgiven, takes that idea and yanks it through the dust and grime of Big Whisky, a small town that’s witnessed some heinous activities.
At the top of his game, both in front and behind the camera, Eastwood gives one of his best performances as the grizzled – is he ever anything else? – William Munny, an outlaw who returns to finish one last job. It’s still a surprise that such a dark, violent fable managed to bag the Oscar.
03. Moonlight (2016)
There are few movies as heart-wrenching as Moonlight, a movie split into three distinct acts, each one focussing on a different time period in the main character’s life. With three different actors portraying Chiron/Black/Little, this could have been a total mess. But under Barry Jenkins’ masterful touch, each one works in perfect tandem with the other.
The result is perhaps the most emotional Oscar winner of the 21st century. Watching Chiron come of age while struggling to comprehend his own sexuality is heartbreaking. Then there’s his strained relationship with his mother, played beautifully by Naomie Harris. Have tissues on standby.
04. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Before playing Hawkeye in the MCU, Jeremy Renner played William James in Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq drama, The Hurt Locker. As a war-savvy vet, Renner’s Sergeant First Class heads up an explosive ordnance disposal team in Baghdad, eventually going off-mission to seek revenge for the murder of a young boy.
It’s through his maverick and often dangerous methods that the movie opens up its larger theme; how conflict truly affects soldiers. Plus, it’s the first Best Picture winner directed by a woman.
05. No Country For Old Men (2007)
One of the Coen brothers’ most ambitious efforts, No Country for Old Men plays like an updated western, ripe with dark, seedy undertones setting the scene for one hell of a mystery. Seeing as this is a Coen film, the story is told through the experiences of a regular joe who opts to completely ruin his life.
Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, the man in question, who discovers a bag of cash and decides, “I’ll keep it! Why the hell not?” Javier Bardem’s bolt gun-wielding psychopath Anton Chigurh answers that question for him, as one of cinema’s most menacing and fearsome villains.