10 of My All-Time Favourite ‘Best Picture’ Oscar Winners

hero460_oscars There’s a little awards ceremony happening this weekend that recognises emerging talent in the film industry, colloquially referred to as the Oscars. If you know about film, you might have heard of it? In celebration of this grand occasion, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite winners in the Best Picture category.


12 Years a Slave (2013) 1915593

Unflinching, visceral filmmaking at its most powerful. 12 Years a Slave not only proved cinema as an art form of great integrity, but one of absolute necessity. Unlike 2005 Best Picture winner Crash, which despite being a good film, I felt was awarded the honour for all the wrong reasons, 12 Years a Slave thoroughly earned it’s place in a long and prestigious history. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so exhausted and shaken by a film, and if that’s not testament to it’s power, I’m not sure what is. The films it was up against that year were artistically adventurous (Her, Gravity, Nebraska), topically risky (The Wolf of Wall Street) and ideologically important (Dallas Buyers Club). But 12 Years a Slave was all of that combined. And then some. See full review here.

Titanic (1997)

titanic-movie-picture-11I’ve unashamedly harboured a profound, undying, unsinkable love for Titanic ever since I saw it at the age of 12, and became promptly besotted with Jack and Rose’s love story. Though with hindsight, it’s a little dated and yes, long, to me it represents everything momentous that cinema can achieve. In all it’s vastness and awe-inspiring production design however, the detail is never lost. We are with Jack and Rose every step of the way – engulfed, submerged and utterly lost in their tragic adventure. Every time I watch it (going on 14 times), I somehow think (SPOILER ALERT) Jack might just cling on this time slash Rose might just have the sense to budge over. At the time of it’s release it was the most expensive movie ever made, and continued to drown in superlatives as it bagged 11 Oscars and became the highest-grossing film, only to be ousted by another James Cameron blockbuster: Avatar.  I’m a romantic at heart, and Titanic taps into that notion. Oh sure, it’s corny and melodramatic and I’ll never not find it ridiculous just how many times Jack and Rose are forced back down into the lower decks. But I’ll also never regret investing 3 hours in a film that is so epically, painstakingly and beautifully constructed.

Forrest Gump (1994)

originalWho can fail to fall in love with Forrest Gump? In the unravelling of his story director Robert Zemeckis has created one of the most enduring, universal and magical films of its time. Indeed, of all time. The only other two real contenders that year were Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, but both took their time in receiving the same level of acclaim as Forrest Gump. It was the out and out winner if just for its sheer ability to touch even those irredeemably, unfathomably cynical.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) The-Silence-of-the-Lambs

This has crept in above the likes of Casablanca, The Godfather Part II and The English Patient because though it’s not a cinematic artefact, the creme de la creme of its genre, or a sweeping love story, it is an expertly-crafted and thoroughly terrifying psychological thriller that manages to incite fear some 20 years after its initial release. (Seriously, look at the picture to the right and tell me your spine isn’t shivering). Taking a leaf out of Hitchcock’s book, Jonathan Demme cranks up the tension to an unbearable degree as Clarice Sterling is forced to make an unlikely ally in Hannibal Lecter in order to capture spine-chilling, serial-killing Buffalo Bill. In blending the macabre with the masterful, Demme creates a film that simultaneously has you hiding behind a blanket/your hands/an unwitting companion and not wanting to tear yourself away.

Dances with Wolves (1990)

dances-with-wolves-8A somewhat nostalgic selection that recalls Sunday afternoons spent with my father watching movie classics (Field of Dreams, The Last of the Mohicans, The Great Escape, e.t.c). Traversing the American landscape with an astute and beloved eye, Kevin Costner is at his peak as both actor and director. As Lieutenant Dunbar immerses himself in the Sioux tribe – learning of their customs, language and traditions – we too are invited along to both marvel at, and sympathise with, the Native American people. It’s an ambitious and visionary piece of filmmaking that recalls and subverts the forefathers of its genre; at once romanticising the great open plains, but never falling back on racial polarisations or dichotomous stereotypes. Set during the American Civil war at a time of savage conflict and bitter rivalries, Dances With Wolves proved itself to be an antidote to the era’s brutalities – an elegiac saga, but one charged with passion and appreciation for its subject. A sublime, spectacular story and a Sunday afternoon well-spent.

Rain Man (1988) tom-cruise-rain-man-1988

Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise as the polar opposite Babbitt brothers provide two compelling performances, in a sincere road movie of sorts. Thought-provoking without being didactic, Rain Man fostered a changing of societal perceptions towards autism, encouraging people to embrace savants rather than alienate them. Arguably simplistic and sentimental, this film is nevertheless illuminating, heartfelt and frequently hilarious. In a year that pitted it against Working Girl, Mississippi Burning, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Accidental Tourist, where the others are entertaining, Rain Man is enduring. I’ve been trying to correctly guess the number of cocktail sticks in a box ever since.

Ordinary People (1980) optimized-redford-hutton-ordinary

Ordinary though it may seem, therein lies the charm of Robert Redford’s suburban family drama. Searingly intimate, there are times this portrait of the unravelling Jarrett family feels more like a documentary. There are no sublime special effects or mind-boggling technical feats, Redford simply harnesses the power of the two greatest tricks of cinema – acting and storytelling. As the various foibles and conflicts of the characters are explored, Redford displays astonishing restraint, nuance and assurance, coaxing Oscar-worthy performances from his cast. The death of a son may have been dealt with repeatedly in cinematic terms, but perhaps never so extraordinarily. (Though it has to be mentioned, this was the same year Martin Scorcese’s boxing masterpiece Raging Bull was nominated and in both the categories of ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ I am surprised it didn’t win – had it, it would’ve most definitely earned a place on this list).

Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)

kramer3 Another humdrum family drama elevated by the standard of acting delivered within. This time Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep play a sparring couple in a bitter custody battle. Technically, there isn’t too much that warrants our curiosity, but when a relatively un-outstanding story manages to engage its audience and tug on your heartstrings, well then attention is deserved. Even the kid playing the kid is fantastic. What’s more, is that it’s quite unique in that it’s the mother who leaves the family in search of freedom and fulfilment and the father who’s left behind to pick up the pieces and juggle his family and a career. I also found myself not taking sides as dramatically as I had expected. Kramer Vs. Kramer fleshes out all of its main characters beautifully, in a way that’s believable and touching and doesn’t encourage you to pass judgment, but rather to empathise with a complex and painful decision. Despite the havoc that divorce wreaks, the film is a hopeful one, and all the better for it. Though I would still advise you to keep a box of tissues nearby.

The Sting (1973) 1973_the_sting_008

This is one of my all-time favourite films; let alone whether it was nominated, or succeeded to make good on that nomination. The Sting is irresistibly cool and seductive cinema at its finest, what’s more, it pairs up Robert Redford and Paul Newman, who in my eyes can do no wrong. It’s Chicago in the 1930s and the pair are con-men making their mark for the ultimate swindle. It’s sizzling, energetic storytelling – a crime caper in which the two leads are the kind of bad you root for regardless. There’s poker, period costume and laughs aplenty; its old-school razzle-dazzle Hollywood at it’s most bewitching.

The Godfather (1972)

godfather-brandoNo ‘all-time favourite’ list would be complete without The Godfather. This sumptuous family saga is what the words ‘timeless’ and ‘classic’ were made for, and Francis Ford Coppola achieved a feat that little do – he made a film dripping with both style and substance. Immersing himself in the sinister, yet loyal trappings of the Corleone family, he created the mother – or godfather – of all organised crime films. He defined a genre. As youngest son Michael Corleone resists his calling, with brutal consequences, the underbelly to the gangster world is unveiled in all its horse-beheading glory. With a magnificent cast that includes Marlon Brandon, Robert Duvall and Al Pacino, Coppola manages to both engage his audience – and dare I say it, elicit their sympathy – whilst simultaneously explicating the rampant violence as vengeance mounts upon vengeance. Transcendent, explosive filmmaking; an offer you’d be imbecilic to refuse.


And there you have my list. Disagree at your behest. I could certainly have made an argument to include On The Waterfront, American Beauty, No Country For Old Men and The Artist, but these are the films I visit time and time again; for inspiration, for nostalgia, for pure enjoyment. This year’s nominees are:

American Sniper



The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything


Find out this coming Sunday which one will take home the historic accolade. I’ll be live-blogging every win, every false smile, every J-Law stumble right here.

5 Female Directors You Should Know…

The paucity of female filmmakers has almost reached the point of media saturation. It doesn’t take long to find statistics or editorials decrying the severe scantiness of a female perspective in the film industry. As well as being an all-white affair, this year’s Academy Awards are once again male-dominated, with zero women being nominated in the Directing or Cinematography categories. However, I would contend that it’s not because there is an actual lack of talented, insightful and masterful women helming films but rather fewer opportunities presented to them.

I was reading a piece in The Guardianthe other day about a film critic who is vowing to watch films only penned, or purposed by women. Her justification for including male-directed, but female-written film is as follows:

“A lot of times a woman will write a script and in order to get it made, she’ll need a male director. If she goes to a financier, as a female screenwriter with a female director, she will be turned down. But if you have a female screenwriter and a male director who has one or two films behind him – or even if it’s his debut – financiers are more likely to back a film by a man”.

And in that brief statement, Gates articulates the core issue. Gender discrimination in Hollywood is pervasive, and destructive. It’s like a community sitting atop a vast field of untapped oil, and being told it doesn’t exist – that those resources are somehow inferior, or less visible than the ones they have access to. That would be a massive squandering of potential, and quite frankly, ridiculous. Yet the difficulty women have making movies, or making money making movies, is often viewed as ‘just the way it is’.

Here to prove that point – that it’s not a lack of female directors, but a lack of opportunity – are 5 up-and coming or established directors who are doing their thing, and doing it quite brilliantly. Of course there are plenty more that deserve your curiosity, but these are the ladies currently capturing my attention…

5. KKat+Coiro+Case+Premieres+Tribeca+Film+Festival+a1ZquC2imW_lat Coiro

With three feature-length projects under her belt in as many years, Coiro is perhaps the most prolific director of my selection. Her films And While We Were Here, (which I review in my last blog post), Life Happens, and A Case of You, often focus on the difficult choices that women are faced to make, such as between career and family. The critical response to her films has been mixed, however her female leads are all intriguing, flawed but ultimately likeable people that don’t necessarily have their shit all figured out. Particularly interesting in A Case of You is how the male lead (playing by the affable Justin Long) is the one trying to change, and mould himself to lure his love interest, which is so often the other way around in romantic comedies directed by men. Her films are in turn delicate, nuanced, witty and beautifully realised. And While We Here particularly showcases an artistic vision and her potential as a director of great potency.

In_a_World_poster4. Lake Bell

If you haven’t see In A World… steal a friend’s Netflix password immediately. It’s hilarious and relevant, and reveals actress Lake Bell to not only be a great comedic performer, but also a very astute director. It’s a satirical piece that charts a young woman’s attempt to compete in the male-dominated world of voiceovers and Bell never misses a beat nor an opportunity to underscore the double-standarded nature of the entertainment business. In A World… is a pacy and well-crafted feature length debut for Bell, and one that has me incredibly, insatiably excited for her collaboration with Noah Baumbach for her next project The Emperor’s Children. 

Amma Asante3. Amma Asante

Belle might be better known for launching EE Rising Star nominee Gugu Mbatha-Raw into the spotlight, but behind her confident, multi-faceted performance is Ghanian-British director Asante. Tackling the slave trade – especially after awards-sweeper 12 Years a Slave – in an original and sensitive way, is no mean feat, but it is one that Asante achieves with the deft of a director considerably more experienced. This is her first big-budget film, after her smaller 2004 debut A Way of Life, which won a handful of awards and lots of praise. Powerful, poignant and intelligent, Belle is a mischievous, and much-needed divergence from traditional period costume-dramas and one that has me hoping it doesn’t take Asante another 10 years to release a film.

fid131102. Haifaa Al-Mansour

Al-Mansour is from Saudi Arabia, a country where extreme restrictions and limitations are placed on the female population; where they aren’t allowed to wear certain clothes, drive cars or compete in sports, let alone direct a groundbreaking and thought-provoking film. But against these curtailments of her freedom, that’s exactly what Al-Mansour did with Wadjda in 2013, a courageous, endearing and important film that picked up several awards nominations on the film festival circuit. Al-Mansour is to make the cross over to Hollywood with a Mary Shelley biopic, in which Elle Fanning is slated to star in the titular role. Let’s hope she continues to push boundaries upon arrival.

BN-FZ257_ava2_DV_201412111612591. Ava DuVernay

If there’s one name you should remember from this year’s awards season, its Ava DuVernay. Though she just missed out on a Best Directing nomination for her Martin Luther King biopic Selma, she has done something arguably much more admirable – broken through the glass ceiling. Historical films such as this are predominantly the reserve of a male director and it’s rare for a woman to be charged with detailing the events surrounding one of the most important victories for the Civil Rights movement, as spear-headed by the most important figure of the Civil Rights movement. And yet she does it in blistering, gutsy and and complex style. She’s got filmmaking verve by the bucketload, and shows great amounts of restraint and intelligence in her formal approach. DuVernay might not pick up any awards, but she should win herself a legion of fans and cement her position as a talent to take serious note of.

Review: Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher, US, 2014. DIR. Bennett Miller. Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller

In Cold Blood, the novel penned by the captivating Truman Capote, and the subject of Bennett Miller’s directorial debut Capote, is a title that could just as easily apply to his third feature Foxcatcher. As we bear witness to a power struggle between three men, something menacing and elegiac weighs heavy in the wintry air, as if Miller is mourning a bye-gone America.

steve-carell-is-unrecognisable-in-first-image-from-foxcatcher-143170-a-1377071676-470-75Heir to the titular Foxcatcher Farms, John E (Eleuthère or ‘Eagle’) du Pont of the excessively wealthy ‘du Pont family’ shuffles about with an air of awkwardness, entitlement and cold-blooded detachment. There is something distinctly reptilian, and thoroughly disturbing about Steve Carell’s breathy and stilted portrayal of the eccentric billionaire and his manipulative involvement in the US Olympic wrestling team. And whether or not you come to the cinema informed of the real story – though it’s perhaps best enjoyed without a trip to Wikipedia (especially considering the historical timeline has been edited and condensed) – an atmosphere of foreboding and slow-burning devastation will threaten to suffocate.

That the Schultz brothers; Dave and Mark – Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum respectively, have already won their Olympic Gold Medals for wrestling in Los Angeles 1984 tells you a little about where the story is heading. Triumph has been sampled, and the colour palette and mood of the story indicates that the aftertaste will be one of bitterness and sorrow. Mark has descended into a hollow, if brutish, shell of a man reduced to staring at his medals and hoping to relive his former glory. Dave, on the other hand, is settled with his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids in Colorado and like a gentle-giant seems the more emotionally stable and amiable of the two.


It comes as little surprise then, that Mark Schultz is so easily lured to du Pont’s Foxcatcher farms, in search of reassurance, validation and self-belief. Alongside the hefty pay-cheque, he is seduced by du Pont’s sprawling, if meaningless, meditation on patriotism, hope and victory. What masquerades as the ultimate American Dream, quickly descends into an American nightmare. Moved onto the farm, Mark finds himself under the volatile scrutiny of du Pont, himself failing to live up to the expectations of Foxcatcher’s steely, wheelchair bound matriarch (the ever regal Vanessa Redgrave). The landscape itself is isolated, perpetually covered in mist and somewhat akin to a haunted house, certainly not giving off a welcoming vibe.

And though Du Pont’s sponsorship proves initially successfully – under a training regime started by Dave’s guidance – with Mark winning the 1985 World Championships, their relationship soon unravels into something tempestuous, uncomfortable and physically destructive. A corruptor and leech, disguised as a mentor, du Pont gradually changes from a supportive father figure, to a manipulative stain on Mark’s history. Subsequently, Mark too makes the tragic decline from champion to cocaine-snorting rent-boy (their relationship has contentious homoerotic undertones).


John du Pont is marked by physical weakness and mental instability, a man that has bought his way into the inner circles of sporting society and certainly doesn’t belong there. There are moments he appears little more than a spoiled brat, stomping his feet and firing his pistol anytime he doesn’t get his own way. Indeed, when Dave Schultz initially refuses his six-figure offer to join the farm, he looks utterly bewildered by the concept. Carell is unrecognisably sinister in the role and will no doubt pick up an Oscar nomination for this career U-turn.

Like a strange combination of Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter, du Pont’s lurking in the shadows and mind-game trickery makes for an unpredictable and maniacal villain; a ticking time bomb that could explode at any time.

Tatum and Ruffalo, however, are never overshadowed or intimidated by Carell’s indefatigable performance, bringing dynamism and nuance to the fold. Tatum is hulking and sullen, bristling with skittish machismo and pent-up anger – there’s even something a little bull terrier about him; robust, muscular and not as handsome as we’re used to. He relies on the steadying hand and wise logic of his older brother, whilst simultaneously desperate to escape his shadow. In an early sparring practice together, Mark inflicts a bloodied nose on Dave, perhaps not altogether unintentional, but with calm determination it is Dave who achieves the final athletic blow. Ruffalo gives the kind of measured, empathetic and assured performance we have come to expect of him, and considering the climax of the story it feels a shame we don’t spend more screen-time in his presence.

Foxcatcher-movie-articleThe narrative attempts to evenly distribute time between this oddball trio, and only marginally succeeds at doing so. Dave is the supportive pillar upon which his younger brother depends, brought in to join the Foxcatcher training program when Mark spirals out of physical shape. But it is Mark and John who form the ultimate focus of the story. They are the two in need of salvation and whose struggle is most outwardly depicted. As tensions rise to insurmountable heights, Dave is caught in the crossfire between the man hell-bent on control and the brother trapped in his grasp. It makes for a gripping, if uneven story.

Penned by E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, all the plot points required for a taut psychological thriller are present, but any emotional investment in the story is missing. We never spend enough time with each character or excavate past their surfaces to form a meaningful connection. Mark is angry, John is mad, and Dave is normal, and whilst their head-butting, body-slamming ménage a trois spells out compelling – if dour – viewing, I never felt the loss or tragedy that is at the heart of the story.

Perhaps this is a result of Miller’s hushed, restrained direction. The action occurs in the midst of distilled, almost torturously silent scenes of repression and rage. Miller has snapshots of brilliance, as the characters are forced to confront themselves and their demons – particularly a scene where Mark reacts badly to a wrestling loss in a hotel room or John releases a stream of horses onto his property. These are scenes potent with achingly poignant symbolism, and Miller proves deft at saying more in that which is left unsaid. Yet there is also something so oppressively bleak and ambiguous about the direction, that even the wrestling scenes provide little release. Ambiguity is perhaps the only way to explore a story as muddled and murky as this, nevertheless, the emotional damage of the characters and density of the plot can weigh heavy on the audience, to the extent, that whilst it’s an admirable cinematic feat, it’s certainly not an enjoyable one.


Shot by cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Let Me In) in a subdued, wintry colour palette, Foxcatcher simmers with disappointment and disillusionment. Ultimately, the state-of-the-art training facility proves to be a prison for all three of its characters, and the sport that bred their success also inspires their undoing. Instead of ‘giving America hope’, John du Pont exacts a crime which only creates despair.

Verdict: A chilling parable of unchecked ambition and moral corruption. With three virtuoso performances at its core, and under Bennett Miller’s steady guidance, this is a mesmerising and haunting awards contender.