Not all Best Picture Oscar winners are born equal

By EW Staff
Updated February 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

And the winner is … or is it? Every year one movie out of hundreds takes home Hollywood’s most coveted award, the Best Picture Oscar. And any picture that earns that lofty accolade surely must be flat-out great, right? Nonsense. The Academy sometimes goofs and gives the golden statuette to a less than sterling feature. (And then there are the now-classic flicks that didn’t even receive a nom — such as Some Like It Hot — but that’s another story.) So, to set the record straight at the commencement of this, the real millennium, EW offers this list of all the Best Picture winners from the last century ranked in order of artistic merit. Let the debates begin …

1 ‘The Godfather’

1972 Directed by Francis Ford Coppola Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino Nominations 10 Wins 3 Stiffest Competition Cabaret

If this were a list of the best movies, period, regardless of Oscar pedigree, Coppola’s Mob-family saga would still sit at the top. By sticking to his creative tommy guns and keeping his vision dark (literally as well as figuratively) right to the bitter end, Coppola turned pulp into the cinematic equivalent of great opera.

2 ‘All About Eve’

1950 Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter Nominations 14 Wins 6 Stiffest Competition Sunset Boulevard

No aliens, explosions, or snazzy special effects here. Just a bunch of talky sophisticates sparring, conniving, and backstabbing in one of the most sublime entertainments ever concocted. If only real life were this witty and well-written.

3 ‘The Godfather Part II’

1974 Directed by Francis Ford Coppola Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro Nominations 11 Wins 6 Stiffest Competition Chinatown, The Conversation

To follow The Godfather with a sequel that digs even deeper — and just as satisfyingly — into family karma must have taken a pact with the devil. Powerful beyond dreams but eternally damned, Michael Corleone matches Shakespeare’s tragic figures. This is also the first and only time a film and its sequel have taken home Best Picture Oscars.

4 ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

1962 Directed by David Lean Starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness Nominations 10 Wins 7 Stiffest Competition To Kill a Mockingbird

With its ravishing wide-screen desert vistas and Robert Bolt’s ambitious, literate script, Lean’s biopic is that rare Hollywood thing: an epic with a brain. It also helps that the enigmatic hero is played by an impossibly handsome O’Toole.

5 ‘On the Waterfront’

1954 Directed By Elia Kazan Starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint Nominations 12 Wins 8 Stiffest Competition The Caine Mutiny

Black and white and grimy, like a neo-realist version of a ’30s Warner Bros. gangster flick, On the Waterfront starts fast and never lets up. At the epicenter there’s Brando, all tics, scratches, and aside glances, crackling like emotional Morse code as he brilliantly transforms his Terry Malloy from dim-witted ”bum” to empowered ”rat.”

American Beauty

  • Movie
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  • 121 minutes
  • Sam Mendes