Split Decision: Best Picture, Ever

Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!

This week’s question:

What is your favorite Best Picture winner of all time?

I’m very lucky. One of my favorite films of all time just happens to be a Best Picture winner. I can remember seeing Amadeus when I was at an age when such movies should have bored me. But the combination of historical fantasy, jealousy, rage, and high-pitched “hahahahahaha” was exactly up my alley. The humor in this movie is the best way I can describe what I find hilarious and I quote it almost every single day. But more than anything, I love how this movie (and the play it’s based on) explores mediocrity in the lives of creative people and how it can lead to fear and ultimately the destruction of everything.
The last sequence between Tom Hulce’s Mozart and F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri is one of the best in any movie I’ve seen. Mozart is dying, Salieri has orchestrated the whole thing, but the two of them are finishing Mozart’s Requiem mass. In that moment, Mozart is wildly dictating notes for Salieri to scribble down and he’s struggling to keep up. The soundtrack in this scene is playing the notes that Mozart has in his head and is feverishly trying to get out. In that moment Salieri forgets his heinous plot to work Mozart to death. He just can’t believe that he’s there, a part of this magic moment where great music is being created by a genius Salieri can’t help but love despite everything. It doesn’t matter if history didn’t happen that way, this movie makes me wish it did.
My runner-up Best Picture is Silence of the Lambs; maybe the start of my true crime obsession.
Chi-annnnnn-ti.  —Jill Malcolm

I’ll go deep and chose Marty from 1955. It is an unassuming gem and the kind of low-key character study I love: naturalistic, heartfelt, and bittersweet. Most Best Picture winers are impressive epics, and I love Love LOVE both Gone With the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia, but MARTY is different; it’s small scale, and unpretentious. It doesn’t have a Big Important Message. It’s the kind of film, like that Best Picture winner, Rocky, that won two decades later, that sneaks in and steals your heart.–Gary M. Kramer

I’m going to catch a lot of heat for this one, but if I’m being embarrassingly honest, Titanic kind of took over my life for several months in 1997.  I was enthralled by the sheer ambition of the project, let alone the behind-the-scenes story of its troubled production and rapturous, against-all-odds success.  Sure, the acting is melodramatic, but the film remains anchored (get it? Anchored?) in reality thanks to its unparalleled special effects. Titanic was also a pioneer in meme culture before it was even a thing, providing ample opportunity for loving parody, which extended its cultural impact for years to come. Ultimately, the film oscillates from guilty pleasure to genuine thrills, and even at over three hours long, I happily saw it three times in theaters and many more times once it hit DVD.  Titanic not only won Best Picture, but it was also nominated for 14 out of 17 eligible categories and won 11, tied with Ben-Hur and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for the most Oscar wins ever.  I’m not alone in this, right guys!? Guys??–Jeff Piotrowski

The correct answer is Rocky. Granted, there are plenty of Best Picture winners that I’ve never seen, but I can’t imagine any of them being better than Rocky. It’s got everything I love: boxing, mobsters, Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers, Philadelphia, melodrama, Frank Stallone. You name it.

Not only is the film a great underdog story — one in which the protagonist doesn’t win — but it runs parallel to Sylvester Stallone’s own underdog tale. We often forget that there was once a world where Stallone was a nobody, but that’s precisely how it was prior to Rocky. This film was his big shot, and he earned it through hard work and dedication. He wrote a script, sold it with the caveat that only he could play the lead, and the rest is history.
Fun fact: Stallone sold his dog in order to stay alive while shopping his script around town. Once the film was financed, he tracked down the dog and bought him back. This is the dog that plays Butkus in the movie. Squeeeee!
My second favorite Best Picture winner is Annie Hall, which also features a young Sly Stallone. His inclusion may or may not be related to my love for the film.Dan Scully

Oh, Rebecca (1940). No question. This Hitchcock classic is one of my favorites from the renowned director (if not my actual favorite, I go back and forth), for so many reasons. Its narrative is at once so romantic and so aggressively uncomfortable that you can never really relax throughout the duration of the film. Expectations are crushed, tensions run extremely high, and incredible performances are given by both Joan Fontaine and the inimitable Laurence Olivier. Not to mention the ending. My god, the ending.–Catherine Haas

No Country For Old Men, 2007’s Best Picture winner directed by The Coen Brothers, is my favorite film to have won the award. It’s also definitely the Best Picture winner I’ve seen the most times, so that might have something to do with it. I remember seeing this on the big screen and being fascinated by Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. I couldn’t stop thinking about that chilling performance and the chaos that character represents. Ten years and many viewings later, I’m only now becoming just as fascinated with Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss and Jones’ Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, two men that are not fit for this world. I get the impression they are two sides of a coin, a young man too brash to realize what the world has in store for him, and a man reaching the end of his life that can’t understand what the world had in store for him or why he had to endure it. The fact that this movie is so rewatchable, allowing it to continue to open itself up to me as I grow and learn is why I think it’s truly a great movie, and it says to me that it will stand the test of time.—Garrett Smith

I love con men movies, and The Sting might be the best of them all. A three-hander with Paul Newman and Robert Redford playing the two grifters and Robert Shaw playing the mark, the film is both masterfully acted and written. I’ve seen the film a few times, but I don’t even think I understand their actual plan (which is actually a strength of the film) and the first time I saw it as a young teen, the ending blew my mind because I was so invested in the characters. Combined with gorgeous 1930s production design and costumes, and a great ragtime soundtrack, it makes this my favorite film to take home the final award on Oscar night.

Some quick fun facts: Producer Julia Phillips was the first woman to be nominated and win for Best Picture. The script was found by The Fast and the Furious director Rob Cohen while he was working as a reader. Shaw’s limp in the film is real as he was wearing a leg brace during filming because he slipped on a wet handball court at the Beverly Hills Hotel the week before filming began. —Ryan Silberstein

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is best. A dope book made into a better film (don’t tell Ken Kesey. He hated the movie…. even though he never saw it. Legend has it… he was channel surfing one day, landed on a movie that looked interesting, realized it was his own book and turned it off. Bold.)

It’s a movie that tricks us into second guessing our definitions of good and evil, sane and insane, and everything in between. We side with a legitimate psychopath, because he’s one of the most charming, and full of life, characters ever captured. We root for our misfits and rally against the doctors and nurses who are working to help. We follow a fight for freedom, even if freedom kills us. The performances are next level and everybody you love is in it. It’s also wickedly funny and heartbreaking. It’s a roar of laughter and a panic attack. At what point in all of our lives are we sane or insane, inmates or orderlies. Which is the way to happiness?

Very close runner up: West Side Story. It’s Shakespeare. It’s a musical. It’s an okay musical turned into a perfect movie. They steal oranges while doing grand jetes. It’s all of my favorite things.–Jenna Kuerzi

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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