Weekend Roundtable: Winners That Oscar Got Right

We may like to gripe around here about all the mistakes that the Academy Awards have made over the years, but we also have to acknowledge that, every once in a while, Oscar gets something right too. For this week’s Roundtable, we’re going to try a little positivity. Here’s our look at some Academy Award winners that actually deserved their acclaim.

The topic this week is not just limited to Best Picture winners (though a lot of the staff tended to go that route). Any Oscar category is fair game.

Aaron Peck

  1. Schindler’s List‘ – There’s really no contest for me here. The Oscars in 1994 got it right. Nothing was beating Steven Spielberg’s opus that year, and nothing should have. (The other films in contention were ‘The Fugitive‘, ‘In the Name of the Father’, ‘The Piano’, and ‘The Remains of the Day’.) ‘Schindler’s List’ is a beautiful, tragic, and transcendent movie that will live on forever as one of the greatest films in cinematic history. So many times we can look back on the Oscars and find movies that were maybe better deserving of a win, like ‘Pulp Fiction’ in 1995, or ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ in 1999. In 1994, however, I don’t think many – if any – people will argue with ‘Schindler’s List’.

Drew Taylor

  1. Annie Hall‘ – The Oscars get Best Picture wrong more than they get the category right, but there are rare examples of the Academy getting things really, really, really right. Let’s take the highly-contested win of ‘Annie Hall’ besting ‘Star Wars’ in 1978. Since then, nerds nationwide have been decrying the decision. From a technical standpoint, it’s hard to think of another film that changed the way that movies were produced and consumed in the same way that ‘Star Wars’ did. However, looking at the films movies side-by-side, a clear victor emerges. Woody Allen’s breathtaking ‘Annie Hall’ has so much to say about the human condition, about the way we remember relationships (and interact with those memories), and what it means to be a feisty New York Jew. The first ‘Star Wars’ wasn’t even the best film in that initial cluster (although, obviously, leaps and bounds above the dramatically inert newer films). And besides, how bad can you feel for a loser that has made hundreds of millions of dollars in the years that followed? Right.

Dick Ward

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King‘ – There are people out there who prefer “films” to “movies.” They’re the same people who hang out exclusively in the “Literature” section of Borders while ignoring the rest. They hate sci-fi and they hate fantasy. They also, apparently, vote on the Oscars. ‘Return of the King’ was the first fantasy movie to win for Best Picture, and it will probably be the last to do so for a good while. It was refreshing to see a movie so far away from the norm get recognized for being as good as it was.

Mike Attebery

  1. The Apartment‘ – I know it’s unpopular to say that Oscar got it right, but in looking through the list of Best Picture winners over the years, I have to admit that, more often than not, I think they did get it right. There have been a few recent winners that I’ve never agreed with. (Lookin’ at you, ‘Gladiator‘.) But really, most of the big winners have stood the test of time. One Best Picture winner I’ve always thought deserves more recognition is ‘The Apartment’. Billy Wilder’s film hit theaters the same year as ‘Psycho‘, but in my opinion, ‘The Apartment’ is the more skillfully written and timeless of the two films. As with many Wilder productions, it’s also a much darker project than viewers might initially realize. Corporate corruption, broken hearts, infidelity, family abandonment, suicide… All this in a “comedy”! Take away the styles and some of the tackier period decor, and this film could have been made yesterday. It’s just a great, great movie, one that perfectly distills Wilder’s bittersweet world view. (The man’s life story more than explains how that came to be. In fact, it’s a miracle he was as capable of seeing humor in the world at all after the tragic events in his own life.) There’s just one important question regarding this more than deserving Best Picture winner. Where is the Blu-ray?

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

  1. Black Narcissus‘ – ‘Black Narcissus’ remains, after more than sixty years, a breathtakingly gorgeous film. Its Academy Award wins for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography are well-deserved. The seductive beauty of India isn’t merely a backdrop; it’s one of the driving forces of the film’s story and very much a character in its own right, largely to blame for the mental unraveling of its convent of young nuns. ‘Black Narcissus’ does an extraordinary job conveying the colossal scope and natural majesty of the Himalayas. It’s all the more impressive that this was accomplished through matte paintings, forced perspective, and an incomparable visual eye, with virtually every last frame of the film shot on a British soundstage. The three-strip Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff continues to mesmerize these many decades later. Despite the great strength of the film’s incisive script and outstanding performances, it would have been almost unrecognizably different without Cardiff’s talents. The craftsmanship behind the ambitious visuals is nothing less than staggering. Despite the many years that have passed since the film was first produced, its visual effects work doesn’t look dated in the slightest. The matte paintings hold up marvelously even under the revealing eye of Blu-ray.

Josh Zyber

  1. L.A. Confidential‘ – Hold on a second, didn’t ‘L.A. Confidential’ lose Best Picture to ‘Titanic’? Indeed it did, and that’s an argument for another day. However, Curtis Hanson’s mesmerizing period mystery did take home a Best Adapted Screenplay consolation prize that was incredibly well-deserved. The script by Hanson and Brian Helgeland does a remarkable job of distilling James Ellroy’s labyrinthine crime novel down to the essential elements of the story. It’s brilliantly structured, with what seems at first to be a complete beginning, middle and end all before the half-way mark, at which point the film spins off on a major plot shift and builds an even more compelling three-act arc. There’s not a wasted moment or line of dialogue in the whole thing. The result is a perfect sort of adaptation, one true to the spirit and intentions of its source material but unafraid to make major changes to the sacred text in order to allow the film to develop and flourish as its own distinct piece of art.

Nate Boss

  1. Christoph Waltz – What a coming out party! Before ‘Inglourious Basterds‘, how many of you knew about this actor? Very few, since his filmography has more German in it than David Hasselhoff’s music fan club. Director Quentin Tarantino introduced us to Waltz in stunning fashion, with one of the most captivating, complex characters in some time, topped off with a superb performance. Waltz didn’t play Col. Hans Landa, he became the tri-lingual Jew hunting Nazi villain.
  2. American Beauty‘ – 1999 has to be one of the greatest years in cinema, bar none. Run down a list sometime of the films released that year, and you’ll find some very memorable pieces of work. The Best Picture winner was definitely the best of the bunch, even if it wasn’t by head and shoulders. Sure, the shopping bag in the wind is pretentious, but ignore that one minute of film and realize every other scene can be considered among its best. Superbly acted and directed, they don’t come much better than this.
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman – Christian Bale may get accolades for losing, gaining, losing, gaining, and losing weight to fit his roles, but has he ever turned into a wimpy gay diminutive writer named Truman Capote? Didn’t think so. When you think about Hoffman, you think of a burly, sweaty dude – the guy who “sharted.” Yet here he is, forty pounds lighter and completely unrecognizable in voice, mannerism, or appearance. ‘Capote‘ is a film to watch solely due to the conviction of its lead actor, a role so different from his norm that it’s almost scary.

Those are our picks. Now tell us yours in the Comments. We know that there must be at least one Oscar winner that you agree with. Maybe a Best Actor or Actress, or a particularly great score? How about a great foreign film or documentary that really earned its trophy? Let us know what you think.


  1. Chase

    I love several of their picks, but my biggest gripe with the academy awards is definitely when they picked No Country for Old Men over There Will Be Blood for best picture. I still cant believe that happened

  2. RBBrittain

    I don’t think anyone can argue about Schindler’s List, LOTR:ROTK or Silence of the Lambs being the right calls. Some of the others, however, seem sarcastic to me; only diehard Woody Allen fans could say with a straight face that Annie Hall was better than Star Wars.

    • Josh Zyber

      I’m not a die-hard Woody Allen fan. I like some of his things but not others. And I do love the first Star Wars. However, I honestly think it’s undeniable that Annie Hall is a much better written, better acted, and just generally smarter movie than Star Wars.

    • Shayne Blakeley

      Ignoring the sequels and culture Star Wars spawned, simply comparing the two films, Annie Hall no contest.

    • I’ll happily argue about ROTK. It’s a good movie, but it was worse that the two films that came before it and DIDN’T win Best Picture. It’s like if GODFATHER III won Best Picture and the first two got ignored.

      • Couldnt disagree more, ROTK was way more dramatic and epic than both Fellowship and Two Towers, we arent talking best book adaption here, but hey its all opinion and in mine, ROTK deserved everything it got…amazing movie from start to finish, to me thats one of the best and most deserving Oscars out there, the fact that Fantasy finally got noticed, was successful outside of the basement/D&D crap that its always made fun of for, yeah I was a happy camper this day 🙂

  3. BostonMA

    Silence of the Lambs for sure. one of the few times the AA got IT ALL right.

    another definite “right” is 8 1/2 winning Best Foreign Language Film, and perhaps The Godfather winning Best Picture (although it NOT winning Best Director is ludicrous)

    DDL for There Will Be Blood to counter my post from last week, and Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, as the two performances are the two best from the past decade in my opinion.

  4. Going to break this up into categories:

    Best Picture:
    All About Eve
    The Godfather
    The Godfather Part II
    The Silence of the Lambs
    Schindler’s List
    Million Dollar Baby

    Best Actor Winners:
    Gene Hackman – The French Connection
    Marlon Brando – The Godfather
    Robert DeNiro – Raging Bull
    Anthony Hopkins – Silence of the Lambs

    Best Actress Winners:
    Diane Keaton – Annie Hall
    Katharine Hepburn – On Golden Pond
    Meryl Streep – Sophie’s Choice
    Jodie Foster – Silence of the Lambs

    • BostonMA

      good call on De Niro for Jake LaMotta..maybe the best performance ever.

      but i gotta disagree on Gene Hackman for The French Connection. sure he was good but how was his performance different than anything else he ever did?

      • Ian Whitcombe

        Well, aside from I Never Sang For My Father, Hackman didn’t have a lot of noteworthy roles prior to 1971.

        Taking his entire career in consideration, his role in Mississippi Burning was probably one of his best.

        • BostonMA

          yeah i know that his role in The French Connection was pretty much his first full blown, Gene Hackman role but compared to Brando in The Godfather a year later it’s pretty undeserving.

      • nate boss

        heresy, yo. heresy. it is a SUPERB performance, a memorable character, and the only reason the film is still remembered as vividly as it is, instead of swept aside like many other crime actioners of the era.

        • BostonMA

          eh..i guess i see differently than most. it’s intense, and surely hard-working, but nothing extraordinary for me. true that his performance is one of the big reasons for why The French Connection is still remembered but just as equally important is William Friedkin’s direction, which is more important IMO.

      • Well, you can’t compare ALL of Hackman’s work…just his work up to that performance. I was also basing my “votes” against the other nominees in the category, as opposed to EVERY performance in the respective year. That said, I still think it’s a great performance.

  5. Truthfully it’s my opinion that the LOTR: ROTK Oscar was predetermined. It was an award for the entire trilogy rather than just the one movie. Sure the one movie got it, but it seemed like the Academy was saying, “Ok, now that this is all done and over with let’s cap this whole thing off with an Oscar.” It was almost as if the other movies of that year were going up against LOTR Trilogy as a whole, rather than ROTK as an individual movie.

  6. Jane Morgan

    ‘Shakespeare In Love’ deserved to win Best Picture, because of its uniqueness.

    Written by Tom Stoppard, who has already secured his place as one of the greatest playwrights of all time, ‘Shakespeare In Love’ falls into a rare category.

    Well-Written Films That Have Been Nominated For Best Picture.

    Most Best Picture winners win because of their direction. Of the last fifty years, only three BP winners were exceptionally well-written.

    I know that most film lovers side with the more visually interesting movies, because of the nature of the medium, but whenever a real sharply-written movie takes home the big prize, it’s a step forward for the profession.

    That why most critics are rooting for ‘The Social Network’ to win Best Picture. Because all critics are writers, even if they don’t write scripts. And we all root for the home team.

    • Tom Stoppard was the best thing about the movie, but he was a hired gun. I’ve only read a couple of things by Stoppard, but after having done so I began to recognize some recycled tropes in Shakespeare in Love.

      Recycled Stoppard, however, trumps 99% of everything else on a Best Picture list.

    • Alex

      Shakespeare in Love was up against Saving Private Ryan and Elizabeth, both of which were vastly superior films. My faith in the Academy was shaken to the absolute core (and it’s never fully recovered, LOTR notwithstanding) by Gwyneth Paltrow’s win over Cate Blanchett. And then to add insult to injury, it steals Best picture away from two far better movies. Shameful.

      Now, given the topic of conversation, that same Academy Awards ceremony bestowed a well-deserved Best Director on Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan.

      For the one that the Academy absolutely got right, I have to pick Best Original Screenplay for “Good Will Hunting”. I know it’s fun to rag on Ben Affleck, but that really is a spectacular script, full of warmth, humor, insight, and reality. Truly, that was the best choice that year.

      • EM

        The Academy’s voting procedures are set up in such a way as to make it fairly easy to award the trophy to a candidate that is nevertheless widely disfavored among Academy members.

        For simplicity’s sake, I’ll illustrate with a race between three candidates—never the case with Best Picture, but it does apply to some other categories, and the principle does hold for races with more than three candidates.

        Suppose the voting for the three candidates goes like this:
        • Candidate A: 33%
        • Candidate B: 33%
        • Candidate C: 34%

        Of course, Candidate C wins with a plurality. Let’s further suppose that A’s supporters also really like B (maybe they rate A as 10 out of 10 and give B a 9), and B’s supporters really like A (they rate B a 10 and give A a 9), and both A and B’s supporters really revile C (a big fat zero). And let’s suppose further still that Candidate C’s supporters have a lot of admiration for A and B (giving a 10 to C and 9’s to both A and B). Clearly, A and B have far more widespread popularity among Academy voters than C does, and indeed C is considered execrable by a landslide—but C still wins.

        In a ten-way race for Best Picture (like this year’s), the winning film could be utterly disliked by more than 89% of the voting membership. But that’s show biz.

      • Jane Morgan

        ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Elizabeth’ were both vastly inferior to ‘The Thin Red Line,’ and if I had to choose between Malick and Stoppard, I would side with Tommy Boy seven days of the week and twice on Wednesday.

        But you’re right about Cate Blanchett. I love her more than my own children. And Gwyneth Paltrow has the acting chops of Paris Hilton.

        • Alex

          I know I’m going to get reamed for this, but I can count the number of movies that I’ve walked out of on one hand. “The Thin Red Line” was one of them. Perhaps it was because I was in High School, perhaps it was because I had spent that morning taking the A.P. Physics exam and my brain was mush, or perhaps my heart is simply two sizes too small, but I found the movie intolerable. I thought it was pretentious, overly stylized, and drawn out beyond belief. It had one-dimensional characters that, honestly, I had a hard time differentiating from each other. It had shameless cameos from actors who were miscast just so that they could say they were in the film (I’m looking at you, George Clooney) and so that the cast list on the poster could have some big names. All in all, it remains my least favorite movie of all time.

          P.S. I even stayed until the end of Ghost Rider.

          • You arent the only one, I shut this off not very far into the movie, thought it was absolutely terrible and boring crap….cant hold anything to Saving Private Ryan, which IMO is why it won the Oscar 🙂

          • BostonMA

            i thought TTRL was an absolute bore after viewing #1 as well but i highly recommend a second viewing down the line when the time feels right.

            it is a SUPERB film, nearly missing the masterpiece mark due to a couple pacing issues and a few hiccups.

            oh and the shameless cameos you described was actually Malick having to cut down the picture’s length considerably. ALL of Lukas Haas, Viggo Mortensen, Gary Oldman, Jason Patric, Bill Pullman, Mickey Rourke, Martin Sheen, and Billy Bob Thornton scenes were cut from the finished cut, so you can imagine how much more time Clooney may have had if Malick’s grasp matched his reach.

          • Jane Morgan

            You guys are the majority.

            Most mass audiences can’t stand ‘The Thin Red Line.’ And I respect the consumer hate. For me, it’s the only Malick film I like. I loathe the rest of his.

            I put ‘The Thin Red Line’ in the same category as ‘Baraka.’

            It’s not a movie. It’s film poetry.

  7. I like American Beauty quite a bit, but it’s a big movie running on a sitcom engine. A father mistaking his son rolling a joint for a sexual act wouldn’t be out of place in “Two and a Half Men.” The slut is actually a virgin; the homophobe is a closeted homosexual. These reveals were both pretty obvious and devoid of nuance.

    Mr. and Mrs. Burnham are excellent characters, and Kevin Spacey and Annette Benning fill them out perfectly. It is a gorgeous film with great, great moments throughout, but it’s an Oscar choice I can’t get behind. I would have picked The Insider instead, or even the unnominated oddball Being John Malkovich.

  8. that1guypictures

    It won every award it deserved, and still got robbed. There should have been 2 best actor awards that year. Abraham & Hulce are phenomenal here!

    • EM

      The Academy did and does have two awards for best lead actor, as well as two for best supporting actor; but they are segregated on sexist criteria.

    • BostonMA

      i’ve never understood why people find Amadeus to be so great. i think it’s one of the worst movies of the 80s. i cannot comprehend people’s love and extremely high regarding of it.

        • BostonMA

          hahaha coming from a man who considers The Shawshank Redemption to be “a mediocre TV movie of the week with a better-than-average cast going through the motions.” 🙂

          not to get off topic, but i’m very curious as to what examples there are of me saying crazy things. please let me know (seriously, i’m very curious [i’m not being sarcastic or anything…i’d really like to know..add another smiley]).

          • Josh Zyber

            We debate movies around here. It’s what we do. Sometimes we get passionate about it.

            I don’t have a problem with BostonMA thinking that Amadeus is overrated. But if he’s going to take a pot-shot that it’s one of the worst movies of all time, I’d expect a little elaboration on that train of thought.

          • BostonMA

            Josh, i didn’t pot shot the film and state that it was one of the worst movies of all time. i said that I (personally) THOUGHT that it was one of the worst movies of the 1980s.

            now, looking at that now, it seems a tad extreme. i completely hated the movie. i wanted to gauge my eyes out. it was BEYOND boring, and i could not stand Mozart (as a character in the film), and wish he died in the establishing shot instead of nearly three hours later.

            still though, the above is more related with not keeping me entertained vs. actually being a terrible movie, so what i will now say is that for me, personally.., it’s one of the least best films I HAVE seen from the 1980s. i’m sure there are several films up the ream of BATTLEFIELD EARTH that are much below the mark of Amadeus but the main point i’ve been trying to make is that i just do not understand the passionate love for that film, quite similar in fact to your position on Gladiator. 😉

          • BostonMA

            oh also i forgot to add this to my above post but Josh, i’d honestly like to know what other examples there are of me saying crazy things. i know i once was a bit of an ignorant noob, but that was a good time ago..i’m just very curious, and i don’t mean it in a dick way at all.

          • Josh Zyber

            I’m just teasing you a little, Bos’. I don’t keep a scorecard. I’ll be sure to let you know when I find something crazy you’ve said. 🙂

            And I think you should revisit Amadeus in a few years, the way you did for The Thin Red Line.

          • BostonMA

            haha ah alright. i figured that..i was thinking about how i should revisit Amadeus again while i was typing my last post out too and when thinking about the great success that viewing #2 of TTRL was, it sounds like a good idea.

            but Jane’s post has got me somewhat torn. 😀

  9. Twonunpackmule

    I find The Thin Red Line to be one of the worst films that I’ve seen. I should of walked out of it, but was seeing the film with my Aunt. Which, it seems after the credits rolled, she had the same desire to leave early as I did.

    Then again, I didn’t like Saving Private Ryan either. It has a fantastic opening. I felt SVP only got attention because of the wonderful D-Day opening, and the stylized cinematography of Janusz Kaminski – whom I got to meet – but felt that at times it was too stylized. I didn’t even fully know that Ted Danson was in the film until the credits. Which, one can argue that might be the point. However, you throw someone in my face, and make me guess who it might be, then for a vast majority of time I’m going to be guessing who I just saw. It was annoying.

    Anyway, I hate the The Thin Red Line for the reasons I dislike all of Malick’s films. They are pretentious pieces that serve only those that share his view point. He’s not a “changer” or a person who puts up an argument. He’s a person that merely waters the plants.

    If you put his films on mute, and couple it with Mozart – 😉 – then perhaps one could get something more out of it.

    Rock me, Amadeus.