Honor roll: Academy Award® for Best Motion Picture

Each of these films has been nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Motion Picture. They are ranked by honors received.

Film:The Last Emperor

The Last Emperor

Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci does the nearly impossible with this sweeping, grand epic that tells a very personal tale. The story is a dramatic history of Pu Yi, the last of the emperors of China. It follows his life from its elite beginnings in the Forbidden City, where he was crowned at age three and worshipped by half a billion people. He was later forced to abdicate and, unable to fend for himself in the outside world, became a dissolute and exploited shell of a man. He died in obscurity, living as a peasant in the People’s Republic. We never really warm up to John…

Film:The Mission (1986)

The Mission

Roland Joffé

The Mission is director Roland Joffé’s fuzzy effort at an epic in David Lean style without David Lean’s sense of emotional proportion. In fact, Lean’s most important screenwriting collaborator, Robert Bolt, wrote The Mission, which concerns a Jesuit missionary (Jeremy Irons) who establishes a church in the hostile jungles of Brazil and then finds his work threatened by greed and political forces among his superiors.

Robert De Niro is briefly effective as a callous soldier who kills his own brother and then turns to Irons’s character to oversee…

Film:Witness (1985)

Witness

Peter Weir

When Samuel (Lukas Haas), a young Amish boy traveling with his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis), witnesses the murder of a police officer in a public restroom, he and his mother become the temporary wards of John Book (Harrison Ford), a detective who’s been assigned to solve the crime. After suspect lineups and mug-shot books yield nothing, Samuel, in the most memorable scene of the film, recognizes the murderer as a narcotics agent whose picture he sees in the precinct. Once Book realizes that the police chief is in on it, too, he whisks Samuel and Rachel back…

Film:E.T.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s 1982 hit about a stranded alien and his loving relationship with a fatherless boy (Henry Thomas) struck a chord with audiences everywhere, and it furthered Spielberg’s reputation as a director of equally strong commercial sensibilities and classical leanings. Henry Thomas gives a strong, emotional performance as E.T.’s young friend, Robert MacNaughton and Drew Barrymore make a solid impression as his siblings, and Dee Wallace is lively as the kids’ mother. The special effects almost look a bit quaint now with all the computer advancements that…

Film:Missing (1982)

Missing

Costa-Gavras

The peril facing a lone American amid Third World political turmoil is elegantly communicated in this important film from Costa-Gavras (Z), adapted by the director and Donald Stewart from Thomas Hauser’s nonfiction book. The key to its power onscreen stems from the decision not to center the action merely on the disappearance of Charles Horman (John Shea), but also on the search for him by his father Ed (Jack Lemmon)—and on Ed’s discovery of a son he never knew. The Oscar-winning script flows freely between that search and Charles’s earlier experiences in…

Film:Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola

In the tradition of such obsessively driven directors as Erich von Stroheim and Werner Herzog, Francis Ford Coppola approached the production of Apocalypse Now as if it were his own epic mission into the heart of darkness. On location in the storm-ravaged Philippines, he quite literally went mad as the project threatened to devour him in a vortex of creative despair, but from this insanity came one of the greatest films ever made. It began as a John Milius screenplay, transposing Joseph Conrad’s classic story “Heart of Darkness” into the horrors of the…

Film:Amadeus

Amadeus

Milos Forman

The satirical sensibilities of writer Peter Shaffer and director Milos Forman (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) were ideally matched in this Oscar-winning movie adaptation of Shaffer’s hit play about the rivalry between two composers in the court of Austrian Emperor Joseph II—official royal composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), and the younger but superior prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). The conceit is absolutely delicious: Salieri secretly loathes Mozart’s crude and bratty personality, but is astounded by the beauty of his music.…

Film:Kramer vs. Kramer

Kramer vs. Kramer

Robert Benton

Winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Actor, and Screenplay, Kramer vs. Kramer remains as powerfully moving today as it was when released in 1979, simply because its drama will remain relevant for couples of any generation. Adapted by director Robert Benton from the novel by Avery Corman, this is perhaps the finest, most evenly balanced film ever made about the failure of marriage and the tumultuous shift of parental roles. It begins when Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) bluntly informs her husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman) that she’s leaving him,…

Film:Hope and Glory

Hope and Glory

John Boorman

This winning 1987 epic written and directed by John Boorman (Deliverance, The General) serves as a picaresque and semi-autobiographical remembrance of a boy’s coming of age during the Second World War. Exhibiting a defiant and humorous take on life during the London blitz, the family of the young boy at the center of the story (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) is a close-knit and resilient bunch, undeterred in the face of the war and reveling in each other even as they hide from the incessant bombing. To be sure, there are some poignant moments in this…

Film:Hannah and Her Sisters

Hannah and Her Sisters

Woody Allen

Considered by many to be Woody Allen’s best film, even over Annie Hall. Hannah and Her Sisters follows a multitude of characters: Hannah (Mia Farrow), who plays den mother to her extended family; her sister Lee (Barbara Hershey), emotional and a bit of a flake, who’s involved with a much older artist (Max Von Sydow), who treats her like a child; and Hannah’s other sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest), a neurotic who feels incapable of managing her life. Hannah’s husband Elliot (Michael Caine) falls in love with Lee, which sets off a series of upheavals.…

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