My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 21: West Side Story (Best Picture Ranking)

I usually cover the nominees and winners in more detail when I cover a certain year. Here in this ranking, I usually write little essays that only try to explain my general feelings. And I will also go into more detail about West Side Story someday but for now I feel that it would be needless to write another short review when I have already written one about it. So for now, I just would like to re-direct you to this entry.

Number 22: It happened one Night (Best Picture Ranking)

It happened one Night is another movie I expected to land much higher on this ranking but some other movies were able to push it down a little bit. But still, this is a magical and wonderful movie which became one of the most beloved classics of all time.

Basically, the movie follows the old knowledge that nothing can be more entertaining than the fight of the sexes. It’s clear from the first moment that Clark Gable’s journalist and Claudette Colbert’s arrogant heiress are made for each other and will ultimately end up together – but nothing could be more charming, romantic and amusing than watching these two figure it out for themselves. The script is extremely clever and gives the two stars a lot to work with while Frank Capra’s direction turns a lot of scenes that could have been very ordinary into true classics. Who can ever forget all the cars driving by Peter until Ellie decides to show him how to stop a car? It happened one Night has the honour of being a movie that is completely able to live up to its reputation – nothing seems overpraised or overrated, the whole movie keeps going with the right tempo, never too fast and never too slow.

But of course, in the end every romantic comedy depends on the two leads and Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert certainly don’t disappoint. Their chemistry is the biggest asset It happened one Night has and they both do much more than play the typical romantic leads. Clark Gable allows himself to be charmingly silly in his part while also keeping the integrity and dignity of this man alive. Claudette Colbert plays her arc believingly at every moment and step by step demonstrates how this spoiled heiress falls in love with this man she met on a bus. The interesting thing is, that while I think that Colbert and Gable carry this movie wonderfully, I always think that It happened one Night is a movie that as a whole is always better than the sum of its parts. All ingredients – the acting, the writing, the direction – are done wonderfully but only in combination with each other do they truly sparkle. This is also the reason why I would rate It happened one Night higher than the performances in it (but more about that later when I cover these acting years). Oh, and let’s not forget Roscoe Karns who is a riot as Shapelely.

Overall, It happened one Night is the kind of movie that makes you say ‘Can you believe this is almost 80 years old???’ simply because everything in it feels so modern, so alive and so energetic, especially compared to other movies and performances from this time. It’s a story that has been repeated countless times but basically never again would falling in love be so irresistible and perfect as it was here.


Number 23: The Hurt Locker (Best Picture Ranking)

The Hurt Locker is a powerful war movie that starts with the message that ‚war is a drug’. This message is personified in the character of William James, played with a wonderful mixture of childlike excitement and believable tension by Jeremy Renner. This way, The Hurt Locker does not only show the terror of a war against an unknown enemy but also the effect on the soldiers who have to fight it. And this way, director Katharine Bigelow managed to create a movie that is both a character study and a war movie and which presents its themes with a strong combination of shocking, horrifying but also spellbinding scenes.

As a movie about the present-day situation in Iraq, The Hurt Locker is not a war movie in the traditional sense – there is no clear presentation of ‘good soldiers vs. bad soldiers’. Instead, the American team in the centre of the story faces an enemy that could be everywhere and nowhere. For them, every civilian could be a terrorist, every friendly face could hide boundless hate. Katharine Bigelow was able to present this situation very believably and that way created a constant tension that dominates the whole picture from beginning to end.

As mentioned before, Jeremy Renner gives a very strong performance in the middle of the movie but he is also surrounded by a very strong cast. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty do wonderful work as James’s colleagues who fail to understand his motives. Overall, The Hurt Locker is an actor’s movie just as much as a director’s movie. The intense performances work in perfect harmony with Bigelow’s images of fast approaching cars, little dots in the distance that could be enemies or just something else or bombs hidden under a thin layer of dust.

The Hurt Locker is not a balanced movie – it focuses on the American soldiers and on their daily dangers. The people of the country they are occupying are mostly reduced to almost faceless killers – but it works in the context of the story since it underlines the problematic situation that the Americans face as they can never be sure who to trust. But the movie also makes sure to demonstrate that the Iraqi people suffer just as much from terrorism as the American soldiers. The scenes with a young, dead boy are almost unbearable and show that all boundaries of human behaviour have been crossed in this fight while another scene of a man who is forced to carry a bomb overwhelms the viewers with its open presentation of death and helplessness.

But The Hurt Locker achieves just as much of its greatness in the more quiet scenes as it does in its display of terror and fear. Especially through Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker demonstrates how these men are affected by the work they have to do. The simple shot of James, standing in a supermarket back home, looking at what seems like hundreds of different kinds of cereals perfectly shows his inability to return to what we would call a normal life, it shows that war has become a drug for him and he knows this drug might kill him but he needs it anyway.

Thanks to this central character and the fact that it doesn’t tell of a ‘conventional war’, The Hurt Locker becomes one of the most layered and fascinating looks at war, hostilities, mistrust and its consequences ever put on the screen.

Number 24: On the Waterfront (Best Picture Ranking)

On the Waterfront is among the most famous movies ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture – and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. It’s a gripping and dark tale about union violence and corruption among longshoremen, starring such accomplished actors as Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint and, of course, Marlon Brando.

Director Elia Kazan successfully created a very dirty and almost depressing atmosphere, a world of violence in which only the strongest survive. Right in the middle of this world appears Edie Doyle, a young, naïve, sweet but also determined woman who wants to find the killer of her brother who wanted to testify about the crimes at the waterfront. Eva Marie Saint’s delicate portrayal of this young woman shines like a ray of light into this dark world and she manages to perfectly hold her own against the more showy performances of her male co-stars. Karl Malden’s Father Barry is a wonderful creation and shows a man who is a man of God just as he is a man of the streets and knows about the realities of life. Lee J. Cobb turns Johnny Friendly, the union boss, into one loud and obnoxious character without ever becoming unbelievable. Rod Steiger gives the most touching and developed performance of the supporting players and he contributes just as much to the famous ‘I could have been a contender’-scene as Marlon Brando does. Which brings us right to the most celebrated performance in this movie – Marlon Brando’s combination of tough masculinity and surprising sensitivity has often been copied but never equalled. His display of Terry’s character arc is already an astonishing accomplishment but his ability to get completely lost inside the character makes his performance even more outstanding.

Elia Kazan tells a fascinating story of repression and fear, of the question ‘what is right and what is wrong?’ and of a world that has its own morale – the constant mention of the concept ‘D&D’ which refers to the fact that the men are ‘deaf and dumb’ when it comes to the mistreatments by Friendly and his gang shows how this group seems to exist in its own micro cosmos which cannot be understood by outsiders like Edie or the police. And so it takes one men from the inside to stand up against it even it means breaking this sort of honorary codex. Kazan and his actors portray this story with a startling realism. Basically, it’s the combination of a fight against injustice, a thriller, a love story and a human drama which turns On the Waterfront into a true masterpiece.

On the Waterfront is full of obvious and subtle symbolism, of gripping suspense and provoking actions, brought to life by the overwhelming talent behind and in front of the camera.


Number 25: Gandhi (Best Picture Ranking)

Another Oscar winner that has achieved a rather bad reputation as the years went on – or actually, even sooner. Right after the Oscars in 1983, complaints were loud and clear that the Oscar voters seemed to have confused their movie awards with the Nobel price. Personally, I disagree strongly since Gandhi may be a movie that intends to worship its title character but at the same time it is also a proof for the power of cinema and a testament to Richard Attenborough’s ability to capture the effects of Gandhi’s life with both an eye for detail and characters but also for the epic scale in which the story is set.

Like The Last Emperor, Gandhi tells of a historical figure without ever becoming a ‘moving Wikipedia-page’ but instead uses all the means of cinema to make the story and the legacy of the central character come alive in front of our eyes. Mostly this is owed to the casting of Ben Kinsley who is brilliant as Gandhi. He captures both the physical and the spiritual presence of a man everybody seems to know or at least has ideas about. He is also believable in the journey of this man from his days as a young lawyer in Africa to his final days in India. And even though Gandhi is, in its heart, a one-man show, every other cast member also does his/her best to bring all characters to full live. To be honest, Gandhi is in no way a surprising movie – as a biography and as an epic, it follows a predictable formula but what does this matter if the formula is such a success? It would be like saying ‘West Side Story is a predictable musical because people sing’. Some movies simply tend to follow a certain style but sometimes, this style is the key to the overall success. As a movie, Gandhi depends on all the time that is given to various events, to ideas and speeches. The movie itself states at the beginning that it is impossible to tell the whole life of a person (especially a person like Gandhi) in one movie but Gandhi does its best to combine as much as possible without ever feeling overly long or too rushed.

Gandhi manages to be a story that is inspirational, shocking, saddening and uplifting. It shows the complexities of politics, how the people in the colonies immediately began to fight each other after the English left and, most importantly, always treats Gandhi as a man – an extraordinary one maybe, but still a man.

The movie is also filled with scenes that underline that the times of the colonies aren’t as romantic and noble as a lot of movies often would like to present them. The scenes of the Amritsar massacre are a horrible reminder of the violence with which the colonial masters used to rule over the inhabitants of the countries. The almost never-ending fights against these colonial rulers are never shown in a way that tries to win the audience’s affection but Richard Attenborough constantly keeps a surprising distance to the events he presents and seems to focus more on the display of Gandhi’s life instead of personal comments.

Gandhi achieves to feel important without self-important. It’s an overwhelming epic in the tradition of the greatest work by David Lean – maybe more conventional but still fantastic.

Number 26: All about Eve (Best Picture Ranking)

I guess this may be the biggest shock in my ranking. Few movies have achieved such a following, especially on the Internet, where it is usually called one of the best, if not the best, movie of all time, featuring Bette Davis giving, for many, one of the best, if not the best, female performances of all time. Personally, I react to All about Eve the same way as I do to Bette Davis’s performance – I completely agree that it is brilliant, I just differ with others on the level of brilliance.

All about Eve, of course, tells the story of a young, ambitious actress who manipulates her way into the life of Broadway diva Margo Channing in hope to steal her next part right from under her nose. Margo Channing herself must not only deal with this young woman but also with her own insecurities that come from her realization that she is slowly becoming too old for the roles she is playing and maybe even for the man she loves.

All about Eve is mainly a very wordy movie – but oh, what words! Director and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz created some of the finest dialogue in motion picture history and he was lucky enough to get a cast that not only did justice to these words but more than that, brought them to life and created ‘fire and music’ on the screen. Bette Davis gives the performance of her career and shows a woman who is used to being the centre of attention but also begins to sense that her prime is coming to an end. Celeste Holm sparkles as usual as her best friend who, unknowingly, is the driving force of the story – she introduces Eve to Margo, she makes sure that Eve gets a chance to star as Margo’s understudy. George Sanders leaves a big impression as the sharp-tongued theatre critic Addison DeWitt and Thelma Ritter makes the most of her little screen time. Unfortunately, Anne Baxter’s often too monotonous acting style prevents her from exploring the most important quality of Eve – her ability to fool the people around her – but she still is satisfying enough to prevent her performance from seriously harming the overall quality of the movie.

Because of the (mostly) fantastic cast and the almost magical way Mankiewicz develops the characters and uses the dialogue, All about Eve is both incredibly entertaining and almost thrilling despite the fact that the words always overwhelm the action. There is not much happening in All about Eve, it’s a simple story but Mankiewicz highlights how the characters react to this simple story, how all of sudden the lives of all group members change. All about Eve is neither a backstage drama in the classical sense nor a story about the world of show business but a quiet character study set in the world of the theatre.

To be fair, All about Eve also features one scene and one plot detail that will forever annoy me – the scene between Eve and Karen in Margo’s bedroom. Up to this moment, Eve has only worked as Margo’s secretary, she has told that she had acted a little bit in her home town but was terrible and that she is mostly a fan of the theatre. So, when Eve suddenly tells Karen that she isn’t very busy as Margo’s assistant and asks Karen as a favour to become Margo’s new understudy in a play on Broadway, everything suddenly turns into an incredibly awkward scene because never once does any character concern itself with the topic that it would be highly unusual to give a woman like this a job as understudy of the central character in a Broadway play. This aspect of the story which also influences the rest of the main story always bothered me rather very much but it doesn’t take away the excellence of the remaining movie.

So, I, too, agree that All about Eve is an overall brilliant movie and the fact that it didn’t make it higher on this list does not mean that I don’t appreciate it as much as others do but only means that I prefer 25 other movies a little bit more.

Number 27: The Last Emperor (Best Picture Ranking)

The Last Emperor is another one of those long epics the Academy loves to honour and Oscar fans like to complain about. Well, since I am a fan of these long epics it is no surprise that the movie made it this high on my list. The Last Emperor tells the story of Puyi, a young boy who was Emperor of China but only became a puppet in the hands of history.

The Last Emperor is like a little treasure chest which contains a miraculous look into a different time and place. Director Bernardo Bertolucci achieved the almost impossible task to create a movie which takes long periods of time for quiet observations, for the presentation of a time gone long ago but never feels slow. The beauty of the images he can create is so overwhelming that The Last Emperor becomes a fascinating kaleidoscope of colour and music but also fate and human emotions. The arrival of the young boy in the Forbidden City is a thrilling moment which Bertolucci uses to introduce the viewer into an unknown place and the cameras are able to catch all these fascinating aspects without ever turning the movie into a ‘moving encyclopaedia’. Because underneath all these images lies a very gripping story of a man who may have been Emperor but spent his life as a prisoner of China’s traditions and the change of the world.

Apart from Peter O’Toole, The Last Emperor doesn’t feature any Hollywood stars but the cast is still very strong. The different actors who play Puyi all work very well to show the insecurity, the arrogance, the despair and the determination of a man who wants to create his own fate but ultimately fails. Peter O’Toole, obviously, shines as the English mentor.

The cast creates some almost mysterious characters that live in a world of its own, separated from the rest of the world by high walls. It’s a splendid and epic film that still keeps an almost claustrophobic atmosphere by the closed area of the Forbidden City. Still, almost every second of the movie provides so many wonderful moments that nothing in The Last Emperor ever feels limited. Scenes like the sexual games between Puyi and two women under their silk sheets while a fire is slowly starting to change the colour of the room, Puyi and his new bride kissing while hands out of nowhere begin to undress them, Russian parachutists filling the sky right to the last moment when Puyi, as an old man, tries to convince a little boy that once he was the Emperor of China are of a stunning beauty.

The Last Emperor is able to tell a story of people conquered by history with the means of a private character study and a grand epic at the same time.


Number 28: Chicago (Best Picture Ranking)

If I would make a ranking of my favourite Best Picture winners, this one would certainly be in the Top 10. It might be the winner I have seen more often than any other and it still feels as fresh, funny and energetic as it did when I saw it in a cinema. Chicago tells the story of two murderesses that battle each other for freedom and fame in Chicago during the 1920s.

From the first opening moments to the last, Chicago provides terrific entertainment on all levels. A glittering, extravagant musical experience with some surprisingly dark undertones and are very biting story about the nature of fame and manipulation. In the centre is Roxie Hart, a naïve wanna-be singer who shots her lover after it turns out that he isn’t going to get her a job. Roxie’s desperation in jail soon turns into joy when she realizes that she is now much more famous than she ever dreamed to be. Soon she begins to rival Velma Kelly, a famous singer and murderer, who also wants to use her time in jail to make the headlines. The third main character in the tale is Billy Flynn, a sleazy but very successful lawyer who also enjoys the attention he gets when he is defending a celebrity. Richard Gere finds exactly the right tone for his role and makes his character both charming and off-putting. He may not have the greatest singing voice but all his songs are done very well. Catherine Zeta-Jones is the obvious professional in Chicago and her singing and dancing is absolutely first-class while she also creates a wonderfully bitchy and fame-hungry diva. Renée Zellweger is a joy to watch as Roxie Hart – she lets her be both naïve and manipulative and she perfectly portrays this character with big ambitions but little talent. Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly give subert support but also the actors in smaller roles, like Christine Baranski and Lucy Liu, shine.

A lot of the credit for Chicago must go to Rob Marshall who creates some of the most spectacular musical numbers ever seen. The idea of letting the scenes take place in Roxie’s fantasy was a brilliant idea that allows to create some incredibly dance numbers while the movie also finds some dark and disturbing moments in the ‘realistic’ parts of the story. From the cinematography to the editing and the choreography, Chicago is a pure fest for the eyes (and ears).

Chicago also has the benefit of being a musical where the story does not only seem of secondary importance – instead it makes some truly brilliant, amusing and shocking observations about the media and public opinion. When Roxie shouts to the audience at the end that she and Velma could not have done it without them it’s probably one of the most unmasking moments in the story – it shows how they manipulated the media and how the media manipulated the people and how the people manipulated the juridical system, how easy fame can be achieved and how easy it can be taken away again. The story may be set in the 20s but it works just as well today when people achieve fame for no obvious reasons until they disappear again. And when the only innocent inmate gets executed because nobody understands her (literally) and she isn’t able to play the game with the others, it becomes very clear how dark Chicago actually is underneath all the glitter and light.

Chicago manages to be entertaining, provoking, funny, bright, dark, clever, silly and sharp. Mixed with wonderful songs, the result is one of the most stirring movie musicals ever.

Number 29: The Best Years of our Lives (Best Picture Ranking)

The Best Years of our Lives tells a story that so often seems to be forgotten – what happens to soldiers when they return home from war? How does it affect their lives when they suddenly have to be back in ‘a normal society’? How did their families cope with the loneliness and how will they deal with the fact that some men have changed during the battles? The Best Years of our Lives uses three different characters to answer these questions.

There is Fred Derry, a good-looking soldier who was a bombardier in Europe. He married a woman a few days before he had to leave and basically returns to a stranger of whom he knows nothing about. Besides these difficulties in his private life he also has troubles to return into the working environment and he also suffers from nightmares of combat. Al Stephenson, on the other hand, comes back to his perfect home where his two perfect children and his perfect wife already wait for him and he can also immediately return to his perfect job at a perfect bank. But for Al things aren’t as perfect as they appear to be – he missed the most important years of his children’s lives since they are already grown-up and don’t seem to need their father anymore. He finds that people have gotten used to his wife being alone and he also has trouble to return to his old job since he sees things differently nowadays – and his constant need for a drink doesn’t help either. Homer Parrish is a young man who comes back to his loving family and his fiancée – but he lost his hands during the war and they have been replaced by hook prostheses. Homer has gotten used to them but he suffers very much from the fear that nobody else will ever get used to them.

These three different storylines are combined masterfully by William Wyler and this quiet character study is actually a gripping and touching story of three men struggling to return to their old lives while trying to find new ones at the same time. And this story is brought to life by a wonderful cast. Dana Andrews stands out as Fred Derry and it’s a shame that his performance was overlooked by the Oscars since he provides the major storylines and gives, by far, the most interesting performance. Harold Russell had never acted before and may have been used for this movie mainly because he was a real-life war veteran who actually lost his hands but his performance is absolutely wonderful and his portrayal of a man who doesn’t want to be pitied his entire life is very touching. Frederic March received the Oscar that Dana Andrews should have gotten and, even with my love for the movie itself, it remains a mystery how this happened – while he gives a very competent performance his character is constantly overshadowed by the others and his performance also never becomes truly outstanding. Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright as Al’s wife and daughter shine in their parts.

The three-hour long movie can be separated in three different sections that, unfortunately, vary in their degrees of excellence. The first hour that focuses on the return of the three men and their first days in their new/old life is movie magic and among the best that can ever be seen in this category. The second hour which begins to explore the life of the men in more detail is also still fascinating but the story loses a bit of its strength in the third hour when it puts the love story between Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright in the centre.

Overall, The Best Years of our Lives is a wonderful and extremely moving story that puts a new light on the life directly after World War II.

Number 30: The Deer Hunter (Best Picture Ranking)

8 years before Platoon the Academy had already given a Best Picture Award to a movie that concerned itself with the war in Vietnam. The Deer Hunter tells the story of a group of friends and the terror they face overseas. In some ways it is hard to categorize The Deer Hunter as an anti-war movie – because there is actually little war going on. The terror that the main characters face is being forced to play ‘Russian roulette’ when they became prisoners. This way, The Deer Hunter not necessarily focuses on the horror of war itself but rather on the horror that can happen during war when humanity and respect are replaced by hate and torture. Because of this, it becomes an extremely intense and gripping story that shows the misery and the sorrow that comes with war in a haunting and unforgettable way.

The Deer Hunter is often criticised for its apparently racist presentation of the Vietnamese soldiers – but personally, I see this as a single incident and not as representative for the whole Vietnamese people. The Deer Hunter tells a story of horrible incidents that change the lives of the main characters forever – because of this, it’s a movie that makes a rather broad statement in regard to a narrow scope. It puts a few characters in the middle of its actions to demonstrate how inhumanity comes with every war.

The Deer Hunter is also a movie that defies various conventions – a very long opening part that seems to have no real connection to the later plot and a sudden change of action right into the battle field are certainly rather unique but it works very well in this movie. The opening part, the long wedding sequences and the trip in the mountains bring all the main characters closer to the viewer and so make the later sequences much more haunting. Of course, all this might also have been done in another way but it’s mostly thanks to the immensely talented cast that the first hour of the movie feels so genuinely relaxed and honest – there lies a certain fascination to watch these characters, see how they live their lives and how they seem to have no real idea yet about what they will encounter in Vietnam. Robert De Niro is first-class in an absolutely exhausting part and brought a combination of strength and sensitivity to his role that few other actors could have. Christopher Walken matches this performance at every step and his Oscar was richly deserved. John Savage and John Cazale also give unforgettable performances while Meryl Streep showed right from the beginning of her career that she could turn every part into something really special.

The sudden change from the quietness of the mountains in Pennsylvania right into the terror of the war is another extremely effective part of the story – suddenly and without warning we see civilians being killed and hear explosions and gun-fire. There is a constant feeling of intransigence that dominates the movie – all the brutality and horror seem to go on forever.

It’s a controversial movie, for sure – and I have a feeling that this is exactly what the makers were going for. Personally, I consider it a very strong tale that combines a character study with an almost epic presentation of how the scenery of war can destroy every bit of humanity.


Number 31: From Here to Eternity (Best Picture Ranking)

From Here to Eternity is Fred Zinnemann’s classic about the life in a military base in the Pacific shortly before the Japanese attack in 1941. It's one of the movies I was expecting to get a much higher position when I started this ranking and its position now is the proof just how strong this category is.

From Here to Eternity is one of the movies that almost everybody knows simply because of one scene – Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing passionately on the beach while the waves surround them. But this movie has much more to offer – a complex and captivating look in the structure of the military and the private life of two soldiers.

From Here to Eternity is also famous for another aspect – the resurrection of Frank Sinatra’s career. His Oscar-winning portrayal of Private Maggio helped him to establish himself as a serious and talented actor. But strangely enough, his is actually the least memorable performance in the talented cast – while he does bring some humour to his role, he mostly fails at the dramatic challenges and his final scenes lack much credibility. But not only Frank Sinatra benefited from his part in the movie – also the other four principle actors saw their chances. Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed showed their versatility by playing against type while Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift continued to prove themselves as talented character actors. Overall, the cast of From Here to Eternity is easily the movie’s biggest asset but while they all give (more or less) great performances, they all owe this to the wonderful screenplay which presents every actor with a carefully constructed character.

The most interesting part of the plot presents Montgomery Clift’s character Prewitt who refuses to join the military boxing team and has to endure a lot of bullying by the other soldiers. The only bright spot in his life is his relationship to Laureen/Alma, a young woman entertaining the soldiers in a private club. Montgomery Clift and Donna Reed develop a wonderful chemistry in their scenes and constantly show the sexual longing in their characters even though they are very quickly forced to play ‘husband and wife’. Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr add a completely different relationship to the movie as their love affair is rather marked by a desire that seems to combine lust and hate at the same time. Both storylines work extremely well and perfectly harmonize with the male characters’ lives at the military station.

From Here to Eternity shows 4 characters who all suffer from loneliness – especially the women even though Karen is married while Alma is constantly surrounded by men. Their relationships give them a little more to hope for but it soon becomes clear that Prewitt and Waren are soldiers, first, last and always as Miss Brodie would say. From Here to Eternity is mostly a character study set in a time when the horror of war suddenly arrives on this innocent island.

The war sequences are thankfully never overdone since the movie does not primarily focus on the war itself but again uses it to show the affect it has on its main characters. I especially appreciate the way the movie presents the beginning of the war – instead of immediately seeing Japanese airplanes, the soldiers at the station first begin to hear loud and strange noises. It’s a surprisingly heart-stopping moment even though the audience is already aware of what’s happening.

In some ways, From Here to Eternity could have been nothing more than a military soap opera but the acting, the writing and the direction by Fred Zinnemann turned it into a wonderful, almost epic adventure.


Number 32: Million Dollar Baby (Best Picture Ranking)

After Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby was Clint Eastwood’s second triumph at the Oscars. It tells the story of female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald who convinces a reluctant Frankie Dunn to train her – Maggie’s natural talents help her to get straight to the top until a tragic accident changes her – and Frankie’s – life forever.

Million Dollar Baby is a beautiful, quiet character study that mostly revolves around Frankie and Maggie. Both are lonely souls, rejected by their relatives, struggling to get ahead. Clint Eastwood staged this story in a very dark environment – shadows hide the character’s faces, people appear out of the dark. It’s a very gloomy story that even in Maggie’s most triumphant moments keeps a very quiet and intimate atmosphere. It’s the strength of the performers and the wonderful use of music of cinematography that creates this wonderful aura that dominates this movie and it’s to Clint Eastwood’s credit that he was able to build and keep it for the entire running time.

Clint Eeastwood is certainly a limited actor and succeeds only in a certain type of role but Frankie Dunne fits him like a glove and he gives probably the most developed and multidimensional performance of his career. He perfectly knows how to use his stern face and slowly shows more and more layers behind this façade and his chemistry with Hilary Swank is the foundation on which the whole movie is build. Hilary Swank herself gives the strongest performance in the picture – her Maggie is a dreamer and a fighter at the same time, desperate for acceptance and love. Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman provides wonderful support and proves once again that nobody does voice-overs like him.

Million Dollar Baby achieves to be both extremely moving and very entertaining. The combination of boxing scenes and human drama works extremely well, even if the focus is always on the characters. Boxing itself plays an important part in the story but at the same time it always seems to be only the basis for the emotional aspects. Boxing brings Maggie and Frankie together, boxing is their life and ultimately their defeat. Eastwood manages to bring the characters very close to the viewers at the end which also makes the final scenes of the movie so moving.

There is need for some criticism: the script and Eastwood’s direction do tend to present a too simple ‘good vs. bad’- structure in the story. Maggie’s family couldn’t be more stereotypical just like Billie ‘The Blue Bear’, the boxer who will bring Maggie down. Especially compared to the almost saint-like Maggie, these characters stand out drastically. I have to admit that all this does work in the context of the story – the fate of Maggie makes it easy to sympathize with her but these characters leave a bad taste in my mouth whenever the movie is over. There is also some criticism regarding the ending of the movie – but I disagree that it sends a wrong kind kind of message. Maggie isn’t supposed to be a symbol but instead makes a decision that feels right for her – and if this is her decision there is no reason to criticise it.

Overall, Million Dollar Baby is a haunting, moving but also entertaining drama that achieves to connect with the audience on a very personal level thanks to the two central characters.

Number 33: No Country for Old Men (Best Picture Ranking)

Just like The Departed finally brought Martin Scorsese an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture, No Country for Old Men finally brought both of these Oscars to the Coen brothers one year later. Like most of their movies, No Country for Old Men mixes violence with dark humour and complex characters with various stereotypes. And like most of their movies, No Country for Old Men does it marvellously.

It’s a very effective crime thriller that puts together three unusual characters. Llewelyn Moss, a reticent man who happens to find two million dollars in the dessert, Ed Tom Bell, a sheriff who realizes that he doesn’t understand the world he is living in anymore and Anton Chigurh, a killer who wants the money back. Thanks to the writing and the acting, all these three different characters are able to make their storylines extremely absorbing and the Coens find exactly the right balance to handle these characters in the plot of the movie. Josh Brolin gives a great performance as Llewelyn, making him both smart and naïve and he knows how to carry the main plot of the story. Tommy Lee Jones’s tired face and body are a perfect match for the character of Sheriff Bell and he turns his observations about the absurdity of today’s world into very poignant moments. The most celebrated cast member is Javier Bardem who steals the show as the mad hitman – his Chigurh is one of the most fascinating yet menacing characters to ever hit the screen. In the role of Llewelyn’s suffering wife, Kelly McDonald also gives a highly moving performance (he final moments with Bardem are truly perfect) and also the other supporting players fill their parts with the usual eccentricities that one would expect from the Coens.

No Country for Old Men does not only offer various violent scenes – but also a lot of tension. The gunfight between Llewelyn and Chigurh at night in the hotel and then on the streets is a heart-stopping moment and the Coens constantly keep the high tension in the flow of the story. What’s probably most unusual about No Country for Old Men is that the Coens defy various ‘rules of moviemaking’ – nothing in the story seems to follow the usual formulas, from the solution between Llewelyn and Chigurh right to the final moments that come so sudden and unexpected. I admit that these aspects rather annoyed me the first time I watched the movie but a second (and later third) viewing showed me how much more there is to discover in the story and the characters.

The Coens also know perfectly how to add a certain amount of humour that isn’t subtle or smart but still never feels out-of-place – Carla Jean’s mother yelling ‘I got the cancer’ may be not funny for her but it’s still so absurd that it’s a hilarious scene. Maybe the word ‘absurd’ describes the world of the Coens best – it’s a world filled with slow-witted and smart people who constantly clash and where violence is a constant theme. It’s a constant mix of realism and satire, of comedy and thriller and the Coens know how to handle these aspects perfectly.


Number 34: My Fair Lady (Best Picture Ranking)

My Fair Lady is probably one of the most famous movie musicals of all time but it was already one of the biggest hits of all time before that – My Fair Lady broke all records on the Broadway stage and became the longest-running show of its time. So, it was a wise decision by the movie makers to stay as faithful to the stage adaptation as possible (which itself was based as faithful as possible to the original play by George Bernhard Shaw – except, of course, for the ending which was based on the 1938 movie starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller but Shaw was one of the screenwriters for this version so basically, My Fair Lady stayed faithful to Shaw as much as possible).

The plot of My Fair Lady is probably as famous as its catchy tunes – the arrogant Professor Higgins tries to make a ‘lady’ out of the common flower girl Eliza Doolittle by teaching her ‘proper’ English. It’s a long and difficult journey until Eliza passes a test at a ball where people mistake her for an Hungarian Princess – Mission accomplished! But what will happen now? Will Eliza start her own shop or will she marry Freddy, a young man hopelessly in love with her? Or will she and the Professor discover their feelings for each other?

My Fair Lady not only stayed faithful to the stage production regarding the plot. George Cukor also staged the movie like a play very often – a risky move that could easily distract the viewer but it paid off wonderfully. A lot of the sets look like sets – but they know it. They don’t try to be completely real but they are still done with the most love for details and that way are among my favourite art direction ever. Just as splendid are the costumes that range from plain and simple to ‘Oh my God, how big is that hat?’. Especially the scenes at the horse race show the theatre roots of the production but again, the whole choreography could have looked awful on the screen but amazingly, it worked.

Also taken right from the Broadway stage was Rex Harrison in the part of his life as Professor Higgins. After having already won a Tony for his performance, he also collected a well-deserved Oscar for his unforgettable portrayal. Julie Andrews, the Eliza Doolittle of the stage, did not only lose the Tony (to Judy Holliday who was an expert in triumphing over famous performances) but also the part of Eliza in the movie – the casting of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle is as controversial today as it was in 1964. It’s probably one of her most disliked performances but for me, Audrey Hepburn is simply splendid and did complete justice to her role. The transformation from the common flower girl to the refined lady is believable and presented in a very entertaining way and both Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison work together wonderfully. Stanley Holloway shines as Eliza’s father while Wilfrid Hyde-White and Jeremy Brett offer great support. Mona Washbourne also stands out as Mrs. Pearce. Only Gladys Cooper disappoints a bit which has more to with the limits of her role – why she received an Oscar nomination for talking to Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn for a few minutes will forever remain a mystery.

My Fair Lady is perfect entertainment on every level – from the visual aspects to the performances to the legendary score which includes so many wonderful melodies, from ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely?’ to ‘I could have danced all night’ to ‘The snakes in Spain travel mainly on a plane’, eh, I mean ‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain’. It’s also one of the few musicals with a truly developed plot that doesn’t feel like a bridgeover between the songs but instead drives the whole production. It may be too old-fashioned for some (staying faithful to the stage production also meant a very static presentation) but for me, it’s a wonderfully entertaining jewel.

Number 35: All the King's Men (Best Picture Ranking)

All the King’s Men is a movie that actually shouldn’t be as good as it is and it even contains various flaws both in the plot but also the visual presentation but somehow the story of Willie Stark and his rise to power is still an extremely powerful and memorable account of the corruptive nature of politics.

The simple truth is that, from a technical point-of-view, All the King’s Men more resembles a B-movie than an Oscar-winning production. Cheap art direction, disjointed editing, poor close-ups, exaggerated dialogue, an unrealistic shooting, sudden changes of characters, too many simplifications and much more should basically result in a forgettable production – but somehow, All the King’s Men survives all these flaws. No, it doesn’t only survive them, instead if uses them to create its own aura, it’s own style and uses this style to tell a maybe too overdone but still gripping story.

All the King’s Men is a movie with a very powerful core, sometimes surrounded by a certain, over-the-top style. The way Stark’s guys shot a man at the end seems right out of an old Western while a scene of somebody throwing a stone through Stark’s window and then completely disappearing two seconds later despite the fact that there is no place to hide in front of Stark’s house certainly stretches credibility. And one could make a drinking game out of the character of Anne Stanton: take a glass whenever a man grabs her shoulders and she turns her head from left to right to left to right like a nervous shark – but be careful, you will be very drunk at the end of the movie! All the King’s Men is also filled with the kind of constructed dialogue you would rather expect in a cheap remake of Double Indemnity – the kind of dialogue that doesn’t seem real but rather as a part of the film noir-environment, only in All the King’s Men it doesn’t really connect to the realism of the story.

So, the question is: why? Why such a good position? Well, as I wrote, somehow All the King’s Men makes these flaws a part of its overall greatness and underneath it all lies the thrilling story of a simple man who is corrupted by his own power. Broderick Crawford gives the performance of his career in this part and his Willie Stark is both menacing and appealing, a perfect presentation of a man that can fascinate the people while delivering threats at the same time. Sure, his change of character is too sudden – the soft-spoken, quiet and shy man from the beginning makes the later scenes hard to understand and the movie’s solution that Stark suddenly changed during one speech is, again, lacking credibility but Broderick Crawford’s fascinating talent for loud speeches combined with the way the plot presents a man who swore to change the country for the better only to end up being a power-hungry despot makes the whole plot still incredibly absorbing. Joe Ireland turns his character into the movie’s conscience, a man who first admired Stark and then began to see his flaws. But it’s Mercedes McCambridge who steals the movie from everyone else with her unique and domineering portrayal of Stark’s secretary, a woman who fell for Stark just like everyone else and then had to find out that she, too, was just ‘another’ woman.

Like a lot of movies in this ranking, All the King’s Men mostly benefits from the ideas behind the movie – it shows how fast a man in power can create his own myth and violate the laws he is supposed to protect. More than that, it shows how the weapons of modern media help him to get most of the people on his side, how believes and ideals can be changed in the light of political power. All the King’s Men’s sometimes B-movie style helps it to achieve a very fast execution, the story constantly moves forwards without seeming too rushed. As I said, the flaws of the movie somehow become part of its greatness.

Overall, All the King’s Men is an exciting, provoking and shocking story that hasn’t lost its power.

Number 36: Hamlet (Best Picture Ranking)

One of the biggest upset winners ever in this category, Hamlet is Laurence Olivier’s presentation of Shakespeare’s probably most famous drama – a story about murder, mistrust, insanity, jealousy and the end of an entire family.

The names Laurence Olivier and William Shakespeare almost seem to belong together – no other actor has left such a distinctive mark on the work of the world’s most famous poet and so it is only fitting that the only Shakespeare-adaptation to win the award for Best Picture was directed by Olivier and starred him in the title role as the melancholic Prince of Denmark. I have to admit that my knowledge about Hamlet is limited and that I haven’t seen any other production of the play nor did I ever read it – I know that Olivier cut out some prominent characters but I still feel that Olivier knows so much about the play, about its structure, about its content and all this knowledge turned this movie version into a fascinating character study.

The biggest challenge for an actor in a play by Shakespeare is to do justice to his language without forgetting that this language also serves the plot – so they have to find the right balance between highlighting the beauty of Shakespeare’s words while also creating believable characters. And it’s no surprise that the entire cast succeeded under the direction of Olivier. Olivier himself has no problems to lose himself in the part of Hamlet and his soft voice works in perfect harmony with the delicacy of the character. Olivier obviously enjoys himself immensely and might be a bit…too much sometimes but his long monologues, his facial work and his body movement still leave a lasting impression. Jean Simmons shines in the infamous part of Ophelia and her descend into madness is both heartbreaking and frightening to watch. Eileen Herlie, although 12 years younger than Olivier, gives a wonderful performance as Hamlet’s mother while Basil Sidney impresses with his portrayal of King Claudius.

The movie contains a wonderful dark and gloomy atmosphere – Olivier’s use of shadows and lights sets the whole tone for the story and finds a perfect way to accompany this dark and gloomy story. Olivier also directed Hamlet in a way that assured to the audience that, underneath all the poetic language, was actually a thrilling and modern plot that didn’t lose anything of its fascination. The thirst for revenge and Hamlet’s willingness to destroy everything and everyone for it is presented in a very affective way. Especially the scenes of the play with which Hamlet wants to confront the new King are done very thrillingly – the way the camera moves around the spectators, showing the back of the King’s head and all the others looking at him, is certainly outstanding.

Olivier found a perfect way to bring this story to the screen and present all the darkness and human imperfection with a gripping visual style while all the actors did more than justice to the complexities of their parts.

Number 37: Platoon (Best Picture Ranking)

Platoon is Oliver Stone’s gripping and devastating look at the war in Vietnam. It combines all the ‘classical’ elements of an anti-war movie – brutality, inhumanity and meaningless deaths. As the title character says, hell is the impossibility of reason – and there is certainly no reason in war. It’s not the old ‘us vs. them’ that is slowly destroying the spirit of the men but also the differences that arise between themselves. This way, Oliver Stone effectively showed that the times of ‘good vs. evil’ are over and that this impossibility of reason slowly affects everybody.

As a movie, Platoon mostly benefits from the images it presents and the themes it touches. The almost never-ending battle sequences at the end, the almost heart-stopping scene when the enemy soldiers are becoming visible in the dark or the upsetting moments when the American soldiers raid the village – Oliver Stone couldn’t have found a better way to portray the inhumanity of war and how there are no winners in a fight like this.

Platoon excels during these scenes and Oliver Stone directs them with a tight grip on the proceedings, constantly presenting more and more almost unbearable images to the audience. Unfortunately, Platoon suffers in some other parts – especially the plot. The story of the naïve, inexperienced soldier who comes to Vietnam by his own choice only to see that fighting for you country isn’t as glamorous as it usually presented is certainly a captivating approach and the character also serves as the guide through the story but very soon the differences between two Sergeants turns exactly into what Platoon had avoided so far – the clichéd ‘good vs. bad’. It’s certainly an interesting concept to show how the forces are divided by inner problems and how the tension of the war affects the soldiers but Tom Berenger’s Sergeant Barnes turns into a caricature much too soon. The other major problem of Platoon is the casting of Charlie Sheen in the central part – obviously Charlie Sheen wasn’t always the crazy lunatic he is today and he started his career as a promising new star but he still lacks too much talent to carry the story on his shoulder. His limited facial expressions, his inability to create depth in Chris beyond the written word destroy a lot of his scenes and let Platoon lose some of its effects.

Still, Platoon is a movie that shows the horror of war very believably without ever trying to find a softening angle. Especially the scenes in the village are a shocking presentation of how almost every human being can be turned into a bestial monster – killing people for fun, trying to rape little girls, destroying houses and acres is something that most of these men would never do under normal circumstances but Oliver Stone shows how everything seems possible in the face of war without ever trying to make these actions excusable. Oliver Stone mostly presents a straight-forward story and leaves it up to the viewers to decide for themselves what they are seeing and how it affects them.

Overall, Platoon is a very strong and haunting look at the terrors of war – so strong that it even overshadows some major problems regarding the plot and the acting.