By Thomas Sellers Jr.
It’s Oscar time.
Those three words used to mean so much more years ago. Now the award show dedicated to honoring the best in motion pictures has taken a backseat since the invention of made-for-TV movies, streaming services and real-life dramas play out through social media.
The 91st Academy Awards will take place Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. And the night will conclude with the presentation of the Academy Award for Best Picture.
This honor has been given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since the awards debuted in 1929. This award goes to the producers of the film and is the only category in which every member of the Academy is eligible to submit a nomination.
The most prestigious honor of the ceremony, the Best Picture Award, can help a movie live in American folklore for decades like “Casablanca,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Midnight Cowboy.”
Confession time — I haven’t seen any of these classics. Actually as I composed my top 10 for the Best Picture winner of all time, I only watched 10 of these movies.
I love comedies and documentaries, and I prefer my movies under 95 minutes. So many of the past winners are the opposite of my taste in movies.
As of 2018, there have been 546 films nominated for Best Picture and 90 winners. And before the 91st winner is crowned Sunday night, I picked out my favorite 10 Best Picture honorees of all time.
1997: Director James Cameron
This movie can be summarized in about 10 seconds. Unsinkable ship hits an iceberg and goes down in the frigid waters. But Cameron was able to create a three hours and 15 minutes epic with action, romance and drama on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic. This is the standard for chick flicks. I could only sit through this film once. My payoff came in the quote, “I’m king of the world.” And the song “My Heart Will Go On,” lives on forever because of the great voices of Celine Dion and the love story of Jack and Rose.
1948: Director Laurence Olivier
Back in high school we had to read “Hamlet.” To my surprise this was one of William Shakespeare’s best works. I enjoyed the reading of the play in Ms. Sherry Woody’s class. Then we watched the master of Shakespeare films, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version. It took three days to conclude the viewing of the film in class. Each second brought the words to life for us.
But I found out there was a shorter version of “Hamlet” that actually won the Oscar 50 years earlier. So I checked out the British made film of the tragedy about the Danish prince who seeks vengeance.
1988: Director Barry Levinson
Star power cast? Check, with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.
Decent running time? Check, coming in at 2 hours and 14 minutes.
Unique plot and great storytelling? Check, with an amazing performance by Hoffman as Raymond “Ray” Babbitt.
When car dealer Charlie Babbitt, played by Tom Cruise, learns that his estranged father has died, he returns home to Cincinnati. Charlie discovers that he has an autistic older brother named Raymond. Their father’s $3 million fortune is being left to the mental institution in which Raymond lives. Motivated by his father’s money, Charlie checks Raymond out of the facility in order to return with him to Los Angeles. The brothers’ cross-country trip ends up changing both their lives.
You’ll laugh and cry throughout their journey. And if you are a teenager like I was watching this for the first time, you might do your best impersonation of Hoffman’s Raymond. “Definitely, definitely doing an impersonation.”
“In the Heat of the Night”
1967: Director Norman Jewison
I’m 37 years old, so when I hear “In the Heat of the Night,” I think of the television series starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard Rollins running from 1988 to 1995.
Then I found out “In the Heat of the Night” was first introduced to America in 1965 in a novel. A couple of years later a movie was made tackling Southern life, race relations and complex interactions of the police and community. “In the Heat of the Night” was a 1967 drama directed by Norman Jewison based on John Ball’s 1965 novel telling the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia. The legendary actor Sidney Poitier brought that character to life. “They call me Mr. Tibbs” becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi. Tibbs is arrested on suspicion of murder by Bill Gillespie, played by Rod Steiger. Gillespie is the racist police chief of the tiny town of Sparta. After Tibbs proves his own innocence, he joins forces with Gillespie to track down the real killer. Their investigation takes them through every social level of the town, with Tibbs making enemies as well as unlikely friends as he hunts for the truth.
“Shakespeare in Love”
1998: Director John Madden
Another Raleigh-Egypt High School viewing party, at least we got a field trip out of this one. I was so mad at my Pre-AP English Ms. Joann Hollenbach. Because you teach about Shakespeare doesn’t mean we have to go to the movies to watch an adaptation.
But the two hours and 17 minutes look into the world of William Shakespeare and those times was secretly cool. As my friends Eric, Rosheay, Chris, Danny and I ate at the Bartlett Applebee’s afterward, we made jokes about the movie. Then I realized our insults sounded more like compliments. Then it dawned on all of us, we were learning. Hollenbach and her teammate Woody got us again. They made us enjoy learning about a boring subject.
The movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes was about a fictional relationship between William Shakespeare and a young woman who poses as a man in order to star in one of his plays. Suffering from writer’s block, Shakespeare is in need of a new muse. He soon finds inspiration in the form of a beautiful female aristocrat, but her daring determination to act in his play puts their already forbidden relationship on even more dangerous ground.
“12 Years a Slave”
2013: Director Steve McQueen
I am not a big fan of slavery movies. They tend to follow a similar script of pain, torture and bigotry. I’m not in a hurry to pay my money to reflect on such a sad period in history. But I understand these stories need to be told in order to give us an understanding of things today. I pray we’re all growing and heading in a positive direction from movies like “12 Years a Slave.”
In the years before the Civil War, Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a free black man from upstate New York. He is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. Then Northup is subjected to the cruelty of one slave owner played by Michael Fassbender.
Northup finds unexpected kindness from another slave owner, as he struggles continually to survive and maintain some of his dignity. Then in the 12th year he has a shot at freedom.
“The Silence of the Lambs”
1991: Director Jonathan Demme
This movie has a Memphis connection. That was one reason I checked it out. But the performance and quotes of Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Hannibal Lecter lived up to the hype. I could try to breakdown the plot that also featured Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, a top student at the FBI’s training academy, but I would rather share my favorite quotes from the movie.
Lecter: “Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude.”
Lecter: “The tragedy is not to die, but to be wasted.”
Lecter: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
Lecter: “Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real.”
1972: Francis Ford Coppola
Simply a three-hour masterpiece. The two following sequels were just as epic. But you have to go with the beginning of this wonderful trilogy. This mob drama is based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name. It focuses on the powerful Italian-American crime family of Don Vito Corleone played by Marlon Brando. When the don’s youngest son, Michael, masterfully portrayed by Al Pacino, reluctantly joins the Mafia, he becomes involved in the inevitable cycle of violence and betrayal.
This movie is not for children or those with a sensitive stomach. It is hard hitting and action packed. But that is the backdrop to a wonderful story and great acting.
1994: Director Robert Zemeckis
Full of history!
I love “Forrest Gump” brought to life by our generation’s greatest actor Tom Hanks. In maybe the best year for movies made, “Forrest Gump” ruled 1994 at the box office, screens and our hearts. Gump was a slow-witted man from Greenbow, Ala. He is supported financially and spiritually by his beloved mother, played by Sally Field. Once Gump leaves the comforts of his home, he takes us through many wonderful, historic journeys. For more than two hours, you are taken on a trip through the eyes, heart and memory of Forrest. Meanwhile, all three are focused on the love of his life, Jenny.
While never giving up on the girl he fell in love with on a bus going to elementary school, Forrest narrates us on memory lane on the gridiron as a college football star, fighting in Vietnam and captaining a shrimp boat in honor of his friend, Bubba. You’ll laugh and cry watching this movie. It hits all the emotions time and time again.
1976: Director John G. Avildsen
Eight movies later, I feel like Rocky Balboa is my beloved uncle. When we last saw Rocky he was passing the torch to Adonis Johnson-Creed, the son of his former rival, Apollo Creed. “Creed II” was the best movie of 2018 by far.
It all began back in the bicentennial year of the United States with the gold-standard “Rocky.” Sylvester Stallone brought to life an icon in Rocky Balboa. Rocky was a small-time boxer from working-class Philadelphia. Now there is a real-life statue of Rocky in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Rocky receives the chance of a lifetime when he is chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers. This serves as the backdrop to us getting to invest in characters like Balboa, Creed, trainer Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), Rocky’s future wife Adrian (Talia Shire) and his pal Paulie (Burt Young).
Over five decades, the story of Rocky has blossomed into a part of Americana. Just think, it all came from the brain of Stallone after watching white boxer Chuck Wepner giving a strong effort against the legendary Muhammad Ali in 1975.
From that small moment in boxing history, we were blessed with a monumental movie series.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.