|courtesy of collider.com|
|Silence of the Lambs (1991) |
The first "horror" film to win the Oscar (I would call it more of a suspense film), Brian De Palma's adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel won not only the big one, but Best Actor, Actress, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, too. The story of a young FBI agent-in-training tracking a serial killer who kidnapped a politician's daughter gives Jodie Foster one of her meatier roles up against Anthony Hopkins, whose work as the iconic Hannibal Lecter put him on screen for less than 20 minutes. But, his impact is felt throughout the rest of the film in the taught, mysterious crime thriller that still stands up as one of the creepiest films you'll ever see.
|Schindler's List (1993) |
Steven Spielberg tends to ease up his stories to appeal to the common audience. In 1993, he dove into one of the darkest parts of world history with Schindler's List, the dramatization of German businessman Oskar Schindler's growing concern for his Jewish workforce during World War II. He decides to turn his factory in a refuge for Jews. Spielberg's refusal to candy coat the narrative works incredibly well, especially with the lead performance from Liam Neeson and supporting turns from Ben Kingsley and the heinously evil Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth.
|Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) |
Let's be honest - this was an award for the trilogy, not this specific film. For my money, Fellowship of the Ring is the best of the three, but that doesn't take away from this third entry in Peter Jackson's brilliant take on the J.R.R. Tolkein fantasy series. The true definition of an ensemble film, the cast elevated an already sweeping story beyond what it could have been, making it more than just CGI and special effects. The film (and the genre) may not be for everyone, but you can't argue with the skill and detail it takes to create such a deep, layered adventure through Middle Earth and bring it to the screen.
|The Departed (2006) |
The great Martin Scorsese's first Best Picture winner was a return to his roots as a filmmaker. After years of pandering to the Academy (The Aviator, The Age of Innocence), he returned to the crime/mob themes, remaking the Hong Kong thriller Internal Affairs. Set in Boston and starring a litany of stars (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg), the film revolves around a mole within the police force and a police agent going undercover in the local mob. It's exciting and fast-paced, pulling some great work from the entire cast. It was great to see Marty finally get recognized, especially when it was a return to his gritty, realistic crime drama ways.
|No Country for Old Men (2007) |
In 2006, the Academy showed they had the gusto to go a little grittier, but it was nothing compared to how dark they went in 2007. The Coen brothers had long been a respected filmmaking duo, but had yet to win gold at the Oscars. Their adaptation of the heralded Cormac McCarthy novel won Best Picture, on top of a Supporting Actor nod for the brilliantly menacing performance from Javier Bardem. The story revolves around a hunter finding some dead bodies, heroin, and a bag of cash in the desert, only to find himself running from the police, a bounty hunter, and a psychopath along the Rio Grande. One of the more violent grand prize winners, it's also one of the most suspenseful and harrowing.
Not every film truly deserves the Oscar for Best Picture, but the ones above prove that it still means something. Below are a few more that just missed the list, but I would still consider some of the best from the last quarter century.
Just Missing the Cut:
- American Beauty (1999)
- Million Dollar Baby (2004)
- The Hurt Locker (2009)