A good movie will draw you into the world it has created and make you feel part of it. So much so, that there’s a chance you’ll leave the theater after with a bit of an adrenaline rush. Maybe the latest Bond flick has you feeling like you can be the next 007. Maybe an over-the-top car chase has you pressing on the gas pedal and drifting like a pro. Maybe the story of a talented musician has you thinking you could pick up a guitar and strum a perfect rhythm.
Most of the time we’re left with wanting more. We want something similar, yet new at the same time. You don’t want to watch the same film again, you want to watch something that pairs nicely.
Here at ScreenAge Wasteland, we know the annual Academy Awards ceremony is on TV tonight. Maybe you’re excited to sit through three hours of bad jokes and boring speeches, but if you’re not (and we don’t blame you), we have the answer. We have selected six previous Best Picture winners that you can watch instead of the 94th Academy Awards on ABC. We guarantee you won’t be disappointed with these nominees.
Opening monologue over. (Cut to commercial in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…)
The Sound of Music
1965 Best Picture Winner (38th Academy Awards)
I love horror movies. I also love musicals. I am large, I contain multitudes. I grew to love them, rather than enjoying them from childhood, and I probably saw The Sound of Music a half a dozen times before it finally ‘clicked.’
But click it does, and the heavily edited story of The Trapp Family Singers is one that continues to entertain audiences 57 years after its release. The movie is potent mix of beautiful scenery, classic love story, catchy songs and social commentary. (The Trapps fleeing the Anschluss, the annexation of a small country by its larger, militarily belligerent neighbor, is a sadly topical note these days.)
Robert Wise, who directed one of the best horror movies of all time, 1963’s The Haunting, in between winning Oscars for musicals (West Side Story and The Sound of Music), has a deft hand – making scenes sweet and endearing without (tastes may vary) overbalancing into saccharine stickiness, while adding just the right elements of drama and gathering darkness. (The original director for the film was actually William Wyler, who would instead go on to direct the proto-slasher film The Collector. No, I can’t stop making connections to horror films, why do you ask?)
The Sound of Music is the perfect escape from a time of troubles, with lovely landscapes, a classic romance and songs that are hard to forget. Despite the dark notes there IS a happy ending, something we all can enjoy. It’s also a great film to watch instead of the Academy Awards.
The Godfather Part II
1974 Best Picture Winner (47th Academy Awards)
The Godfather is an all time classic hands down. And making a sequel to it may have seemed like a crazy idea at first, but Francis Ford Coppola pulled of something amazing with this film. He managed to tell two stories at once. One a prequel to the first and the other a sequel. Crazy, right?
First off you have the follow-up of the first set in 1958 following Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as the new Don of the Corleone family. He just wants to protect the family business in the aftermath of an attempt on his life. The prequel part of the film shows the journey of his father, Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), leaving his Sicilian childhood to the founding of his family enterprise in New York City.
Both parts of the story are equally as intriguing and culminate into one of the greatest sequels ever made. It’s no wonder this one won Best Picture (the first sequel to ever do so) just like its predecessor. And in all honesty, as much as I love the first, it may even be the better film of the two. The third one is garbage, but on day I’ll watch the new FFC Directors’ cut or whatever it is called and see if it improves it.
1976 Best Picture Winner (49th Academy Awards)
George Lucas is often credited with single-handedly changing the outlook of Hollywood films from one of cynicism to optimism, but in between the carefree American Graffiti in 1973 and the buoyant Star Wars (aka A New Hope) in 1977 there was another small film that bucked the New Hollywood trend of nihilism and despair.
Like Star Wars, Rocky seemingly came out of nowhere. Its budget was tiny, its writer and leads were unknowns; and like its fictional protagonist, the film was a total underdog. And like Star Wars, against all odds, Rocky was a smash hit.
Rocky is undeniably a great film on its own merits. But the timing of the movie has to be taken into consideration when you think of the impact it made. Americans were still reeling after the assassination of a beloved president and the impeachment of another (not so beloved) president, two wars (at least one of which most Americans didn’t seem to want), social instability, gas shortages, inflation, institutional corruption, crumbling infrastructure, urban decay, rising crime rates, and just general uncertainty about the future.
The American people, George Lucas has often argued, were desperate for good news.
And though Rocky’s ending is less conventional than Star Wars’s fairytale ending, the story of Rocky Balboa, from its inception to its creation, is one of perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. (Seriously, if you’ve never heard Stallone tell the story of what he went through to get Rocky made, you need to go do that.) It’s a message people were ready to hear. To the tune of a 225 million dollar box office haul (against a 960 thousand dollar budget). Americans flocked to see Rocky, and critics (and the Academy) loved it too.
2022 is probably as good a year as any to hear Rocky’s message of perseverance and hope. A happy ending—or at least the one we picture in our minds—isn’t guaranteed, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. So if you’re skipping the Academy Awards this year, give Rocky a shot.
The Silence of the Lambs
1991 Best Picture Winner (64th Academy Awards)
It’s always fun when the Oscars actually get something right. Silence of the Lambs sweeping five major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay) at the 64th annual ceremony is one of those instances. It probably should’ve won for cinematography and editing as well – but I guess that can be a discussion for another day.
The dominance of Silence of the Lambs at Hollywood’s biggest night is both a testament to the film’s greatness as well as an odd relic of a bygone era in the movie industry. Movies like Silence of the Lambs don’t seem to be as plausible in today’s cinematic landscape. The marriage of blockbuster and prestige filmmaking isn’t as common a notion as it once was (Dune might be the closest thing we’ve gotten in recent memory). We used to celebrate cinematic achievements like Silence of the Lambs with both box office dollars and awards season praise; deservedly so on both fronts.
Silence of the Lambs is a rare blend of insanely technically proficient, massively culturally significant, and challenging yet accessible. It’s everything that a movie should be. It’s a reminder of the majesty that can be accomplished through film. And its Oscar wins are a reminder of how to properly recognize those accomplishments.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2003 Best Picture Winner (76th Academy Awards)
It’s difficult to focus solely on the concluding chapter of Peter Jackson’s masterpiece for this entry, but focus I must. Because The Return of the King is the only movie out of The Lord of the Rings trilogy that won Best Picture, although the first two films were nominated in their respective years – and probably could have easily won as well.
If you have the time, pop in the entire trilogy and enjoy your Sunday spent in Middle Earth. Heck, go for the extended versions as well! But if you have other things to do today, then at least make time to sit down and watch the fantastic ending to what is arguably the greatest fantasy adventure of all time.
Frodo, Samwise, and Gollum are getting ever closer to Mordor to destroy the Ring of Power in the fires of Mount Doom, but the ring has begun to affect Frodo… as has Gollum’s manipulations. Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, reunite with Pippin and Merry while they gather an army to battle Sauron.
The entire trilogy is a magnificent tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, but what is so wonderful about The Return of the King, is that it never loses the momentum created by the first two films. It’s a true spectacle with thrilling battle sequences, incredibly special effects that still hold up amazingly well today, and an emotionally impactful conclusion. The Return of the King is the more action-based film of the trilogy, but it never overwhelms the heart of the story. If you’re wanting to watch one of the best movies to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars – and one of the best films of all time – that’s going to be The Return of the King.
2015 Best Picture Winner (88th Academy Awards)
Many people don’t believe Spotlight should have won Best Picture that year, so it’s worth a rewatch to gain a new appreciation. It’s possibly the greatest journalism movie of all time, rivaled only by All the President’s Men. There’s a terrific tension as the news team has to go against the absolute power of the Catholic church. It’s bolstered by wonderfully subtle performances that really make the Spotlight team feel real.
Those are just six alternatives to tonight’s Oscars ceremony. What will you watch?