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Memorable Best Picture Oscar Winners


A friend of mine once suggested a movie's greatness can be measured by how much you think about it after seeing it, along with the way it lingers in your memory over time. I'm not sure if I agree with this, but it's an intriguing idea. The movies here aren't necessarily my favorites of the Best Picture Academy Award winners, but they are all films I've found memorable for various reasons. I've organized this list in reverse chronological order by year of theatrical release.

'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003)

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Especially when considering all three films together as a single work of cinematic art, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a dazzling achievement. I especially admire how Tolkien's novel comes to vivid life on the screen. The Return of the King is particularly memorable because it has more emotional impact than the first two movies in the trilogy, and it's my favorite of the three.

'Schindler's List' (1993)

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Schindler's List won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Steven Spielberg). Also, it ranks ninth on the American Film Institute's list of 100 greatest movies. I've always been a big admirer of Schindler's List. I regard it as a masterpiece of world cinema. To my way of thinking, Schindler's List is memorable because this movie brilliantly captures experiences representative of those of millions of European Jews during the Holocaust.

'Platoon' (1986)

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Platoon won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Oliver Stone). Platoon is a violent, dizzying, disorienting, brutally realistic depiction of the horror of war. The film's narrator, Private Chris Taylor, is a patriotic young man who volunteered to fight in the Vietnamese War, but everything he knew and believed in before coming to Vietnam is challenged. To my mind this movie is memorable because I feel that this is Oliver Stone's most personal and moving film.

'The Godfather' (1972) and 'The Godfather: Part II' (1974)

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Both The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II won Best Picture Oscars, and I like to think of them as a single long film telling a great father-son tale. The father (Marlon Brando as the older man, Robert De Niro as the younger) is the patriarch who builds a family business—a crime business!—that in due course is taken over by the son (Al Pacino). But what makes the story so resonant for me is the striking contrast between the lives and times of the father and son.

'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962)

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Lawrence of Arabia chronicles the adventures of eccentric Englishman T.E. Lawrence, who rallied the Arabs to fight the Turks during World War I. I've thought about this movie often because it's one of the most cinematic films I've ever seen, while at the same time it creates a nuanced character study of the enigmatic, complex Lawrence. I'll never forget Peter O'Toole's intense performance in the title role—he is the very embodiment of obsession.

'On the Waterfront' (1954)

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On the Waterfront won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director (Elia Kazan), and the acting in the movie is at such a high level that five actors (Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, and Lee J. Cobb) received Oscar nominations for their performances. This movie has always lingered in my memory both because of the superb acting and the screenplay's story of love and redemption set against the gritty backdrop of labor union corruption and violence.

'From Here to Eternity' (1953)

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Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, From Here to Eternity is a powerful portrait of Army life for American soldiers stationed in Hawaii on the eve of World War II. From Here to Eternity has lingered in my memory for many reasons including the emotional power of its story about the talented misfit who is accidentally killed by the organization he loves, and the movie has a pair of stories of doomed love thrown in for good measure.

'All About Eve' (1950)

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All About Eve won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay (Mankiewicz again), and Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders). I've often thought about All About Eve because of its superb screenplay, with arguably the sharpest dialogue in any movie, and its richly developed characters. The most memorable character in the film is Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis in one of her very best performances.

'Casablanca' (1942)

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Casablanca has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. I've not only thought about this Best Picture winner often, I've seen it repeatedly. Casablanca is a terrific love story, but I think its emotional punch ultimately comes from its World War II political backdrop. Every time I see the movie's bittersweet ending, I feel uplifted because of the personal sacrifices the characters make for the greater cause of democracies working together against totalitarianism.

'Gone With the Wind' (1939)

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I've seen Gone With the Wind many times, and this unforgettable movie has lingered in my mind over the years. I find GWTW memorable for a variety of reasons including its strong story, lavish production values, and the dazzling star power of its leads, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. I think the tale of the self-centered, thrice-married Scarlett O'Hara (Leigh) being romantically obsessed with an unavailable man for years is a fascinating one.
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