Best Picture Winners by Year – Part Two

This concluding entry about every movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture doesn’t need the four-paragraph intro that Part One did. All you need to know is that the list begins with the 1970’s – generally believed to be the best decade for quality filmmaking – that my all-time favorite movie is on the list, and that after March 4, 2018, another movie will join this list.

(Also, films in italics are especially worth watching. Read on.)

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Ten More Great Screen Biopics (11-20)

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I recently watched an interesting pair of biopics that make for companion pieces of sorts. The first, “Unbroken,” a 2014 WWII drama directed by Angelina Jolie and taken from the book by Lauren Hillenbrand, reintroduces the world to Louis “Louie” Zamperini, the Torrance, CA-born long distance runner who made a splash at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 before joining the war effort, crashing into the Pacific, and spending two years in a Japanese POW camp. The second film, 2016’s “Race,” details the struggles of Ohio State graduate and African American track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at those same Berlin Olympics – a new world record that made one Adolf Hitler none too pleased.

The two films complement each other in several ways. First, in “Unbroken,” we see a brief glance at the face of a black athlete in Berlin, and are supposed to assume that this is Owens. Second, both films depict, in that timeless sports drama tradition, the triumph over adversity and the struggle against impossible odds. Third – and a detriment to both films – they “whitewash” later aspects of their characters’ lives. The takeaway from Hillenbrand’s book was that Zamperini dedicated his post-WWII life to God. This fact earns barely a mention at the end of Jolie’s film. As for Owens, he battled the IRS for much of his post-Olympics life, but that subplot didn’t make the final cut of “Race.” If that small detail doesn’t make for the most exciting of dramas, it at least grounds the athlete in Everyman reality. Zamperini and Owens were just people, same as the rest of us.

A good sports drama will show us what made its subject such a remarkable athlete. A great sports drama will complement – or at least counter – the character’s physical accomplishments with humanizing (or, in the case of “Raging Bull,” the best sports biography, dehumanizing) subplots. Only boxing films seem to get it right.

My work was cut out for me last month when I came up with a top ten list of biopics – movies about the lives of real people. How do you depict a life on screen? And who is to say what makes a life worthy of having a movie made about it? Several of the films I came up were larger-than-life epics. Adventure films like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Patton” earned a few places on the list. Others, like “Frida” and “The Imitation Game,” revolved around artists and inventors. One, the aforementioned “Raging Bull,” focused on a truly gifted – but truly monstrous – human being.

But there are more than just ten good stories out there. Here are ten more great screen biopics:

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Top Ten Screen Biopics

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I recently watched the film “Mr. Turner,” a biopic from director Mike Leigh about the last 25 years in the life of British seascape painter HMW Turner. Although I love art, I must confess that I wasn’t too familiar with Turner’s work, as the majority of his collection is housed inside the Tate Britain, a museum that I have yet to visit. The movie suggested that Mr. Turner (played by Timothy Spall) was always composing art in his mind, and that he failed at most other aspects of life, including relationships, until he finally settled down with a widowed innkeeper late in life. The “script” for the film was conceived by Leigh yet was comprised largely of dialogue improvised by the cast during rehearsals prior to shooting. The result is a long movie of vignettes, some of them funny, linked by some of the most painterly cinematography I’ve seen in a film in a long time.

Naturally, I started thinking. What are the best screen biographies to come out of Hollywood, or out of cinema in general? The aforementioned, at times aimless “Mr. Turner” wouldn’t quite make the cut, but the “artist” category no doubt produced at least one-half dozen contenders in a single sub-genre. Ditto for the categories of actor/actress, singer/musician, athlete, politician/war hero, physically/mentally challenged, etc.

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