There are literally hundreds and hundreds of Oscar winners in the history of the Academy Awards, but what are the films that truly deserved their place in history?
As our countdown to Monday’s Oscars continues, film critic Rhett Bartlett takes a look at the 10 most outstanding Oscar winners in history from a variety of categories.
Some you will know well, but maybe not why they have been chosen for this list, others will be a revelation.
Best Picture – Schindler’s List
Defeated: In The Name of the Father, The Fugitive, The Piano and The Remains of the Day
Schindler’s List is as perfect as a film can be.
Director Steven Spielberg’s interest in the story of Oskar Schindler came from Australian author Thomas Keneally’s 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark.
The cast of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Liam Neeson is outstanding. Combine that with the documentary style camerawork from Janusz Kaminski, and the score from John Williams (with violin from Itzhak Perlman) and you have a cinematic experience that is powerful and unforgettable.
On Oscar’s night it took home seven awards, including the big ones of Director, Picture, Editing and Adapted Screenplay, yet, surprisingly, it failed to win a single acting award.
Best Original Score – Chariots of Fire
Defeated: Dragonslayer, On Golden Pond, Ragtime and Raiders of the Lost Ark
Just thinking about the score to the 1981 historical drama conjures up images of slow motion footage. Vangelis’ tune uses a modern 1980s electronic sound to represent the feelings of nostalgia and hope from the 1920s.
Of the nominees it defeated, only Raiders of the Lost Ark’s theme would be instantly recognisable to readers, which in any other year would most likely have won.
To this day Vangelis’ tune appears at sporting events, as part of musical montages, and was used to great effect during the 2012 Olympic Games, most notably with Rowan Atkinson on piano at the Opening Ceremony.
Best Editing – Jaws
Defeated: Dog Day Afternoon, The Man Who Would Be King, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Three Days of the Condor.
Verna Fields’ editing of Jaws is even more remarkable when one considers the production issues that plagued the film. With a shoot initially scheduled to take 55 days, it ballooned out to 159 days thanks to a mechanical shark that kept failing, seasick cast members and a budget that went $US5 million over.
Often Fields had little footage to work with, but also reconstructed several key scenes that Spielberg had marked for comedic touch and turned them into terrifying moments.
Consider this, we never see the shark until halfway through the film. Up until then, our fears have all been constructed through the music and her editing.
Best Visual Effects – 2001 A Space Odyssey
Defeated: Ice Station Zebra
Still powerful to this day (even if we aren’t too sure what is going on).
From the use of front-projection in the opening scenes, to the slit-scan photography in the later ‘Star Gate’ sequence and finally the powerful image of the Star Child at the film’s end – Kubrick and his team created a visual experience which still holds us bewildered over 40 years later. It is the only time Stanley Kubrick won an Academy Award.
Best Actress – Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba
Defeated: Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Julie Harris and Susan Hayward
Who is Shirley Booth? I can hear you ask.
Undoubtably one of the less remembered Best Actress winners, yet her performance in the 1952 drama Come Back, Little Sheba is outstanding.
And so it should be, considering she had played on stage the role of a wife soldiering on in life, trying to reclaim her youth, in amongst a marriage consumed by alcoholism.
Shirley won a Tony Award for her performance, which she easily transposed onto film two years later.
No one could play the sad, yearning housewife who tries to get through the day with a smile, quite like she could. But stage was her calling and as such, Shirley Booth only made four more films.
Best Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot
Defeated: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman and Robin Williams
Of the three Oscars Daniel Day-Lewis has won, nothing is superior than his role as Christy Brown, the Irishman suffering from cerebral palsy.
The on-set stories are legendary. Day-Lewis stayed in character through the entire shoot, replicating Brown’s writing and painting with his foot.
On Oscar’s night the film picked up Best Actor as well as Best Supporting Actress for Brenda Fricker for playing his mother.
On reflection, one could argue, using any scene from the film, that his is the finest acting performance to ever receive an Academy Award.
Best Song – Over the Rainbow from Wizard of Oz
Defeated: Gulliver’s Travels, Second Fiddle and Love Affair
It only takes around five minutes before we first hear what would later becomes Judy Garland’s signature song.
Thank god the Oscars recognised the beauty and simplicity of this song. A universal film requires a universal tune, and neither have lost their lustre after 75 years.
In decades to come the Recording Industry of America would vote it the song of the century, the American Film Institute would call it the greatest movie song of all time.
Not bad for a tune that was initially cut from the film after a preview screening , for ‘slowing down the picture’.
Best writing, story and screenplay – Sunset Boulevard
Defeated: Adam’s Rib, Caged, The Men and No Way Out
The language of Sunset Boulevard came not from a novel or a play but from the minds of Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M Marshman Jnr.
When placed in the hands of Gloria Swanson’s faded movie star role of Norma Desmond – we have a collection of scenes and sayings that are terrifying, memorable and true.
From ‘All right Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up’ to ‘I am big, it’s the pictures that got small’ – Sunset Boulevard is a ghoulish look at fame and the fading star.
If only Swanson herself won on Oscar night as well – for it seems no one else could have delivered those wonderful words like she did.
Best Supporting Actress – Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker
Defeated: Mary Badham, Shirley Knight, Angela Lansbury and Thelma Ritter
At the age of 16, Patty Duke won the Academy Award for almost an entirely mute performance.
She had played Helen Keller on stage for an astonishing 719 performances over three years. The following year the play was brought to the screen with the same director (Arthur Penn), and the two main players (Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke).
For 106 minutes, the two performances are as perfect as anything captured on screen before. The final scene tugs at the heart and inspires at the same time.
Best Animated Short Film – Paperman
Defeated: Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels and The Longest Daycare
On Oscars’ night, when the category of Best Animated Short Film is presented, most people watching at home take the opportunity to go to the toilet or have a cigarette break.
And because the category rarely is mentioned in any Oscar lists, I feel compelled to bring your attention to an outstanding animated short film from the 2013 Oscars, Paperman.
It runs around seven minutes and tells the story of a young accountant who falls in love at first sight with a woman.
Paperman is a mixture of traditional animation and computer animation, and you’ll instantly fall in love with it.
Rhett Bartlett is s respected Melbourne-based film critic.