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 Lord of the Rings: Part 3. The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: Part 3. The Return of the King

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, triumphantly completed by the 11-Oscar-winning The Return of the King, sets out to show that Tolkien’s epic work, once derided as mere adolescent escapism, is not just fodder for the best mass entertainment spectacle ever seen on the big screen, but is also replete with emotionally satisfying meditations on the human condition. What is the nature of true friendship? What constitutes real courage? Why is it important for us to care about people living beyond our borders? What does it mean to live in harmony…

Film:The Lord of the Rings: Part 1. The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings: Part 1. The Fellowship of the Ring

Peter Jackson

Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is an epic adventure of good against evil, the power of friendship and individual courage. The saga centers around an unassuming Hobbit named Frodo Baggins who inherits a Ring that would give a dark and powerful lord the power to enslave the world. With a loyal fellowship of elves, dwarves, men and a wizard, Frodo embarks on a heroic quest to destroy the One Ring and pave the way for the emergence of mankind.

Film:The Lord of the Rings: Part 2. The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: Part 2. The Two Towers

Peter Jackson

Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship continue their quest to destroy the One Ring and stand against the evil of the dark lord Sauron. The Fellowship has divided and now find themselves taking different paths to defeating Sauron and his allies. Their destinies now lie at two towers—Orthanc Tower in Isengard, where the corrupted wizard Saruman waits and Sauron’s fortress at Baraddur, deep within the dark lands of Mordor.

Film:Gladiator (2000)

Gladiator

Ridley Scott

A big-budget summer epic with money to burn and a scale worthy of its golden Hollywood predecessors, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is a rousing, grisly, action-packed epic that takes moviemaking back to the Roman Empire via computer-generated visual effects. While not as fluid as the computer work done for, say, Titanic, it’s an impressive achievement that will leave you marveling at the glory that was Rome, when you’re not marveling at the glory that is Russell Crowe. Starring as the heroic general Maximus, Crowe firmly cements his star status both in…

Film:The Departed

The Departed

Martin Scorsese

Rookie cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) grew up in crime. That makes him the perfect mole, the man on the inside of the mob run by boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). It’s his job to win Costello’s trust and help his detective handlers (Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen) bring Costello down. Meanwhile, SIU officer Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) has everyone’s trust. No one suspects he’s Costello’s mole. How these covert lives cross, double-cross and collide is at the ferocious core of the widely acclaimed The Departed. Martin Scorsese directs, guiding a cast for the ages in a visceral tale of crime and consequences. This is searing, can’t-look-away filmmaking: like staring into the eyes of a con—or a cop—with a gun.

Film:Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ang Lee

Hong Kong wuxia films, or martial arts fantasies, traditionally squeeze poor acting, slapstick humor, and silly story lines between elaborate fight scenes in which characters can literally fly. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has no shortage of breathtaking battles, but it also has the dramatic soul of a Greek tragedy and the sweep of an epic romance. This is the work of director Ang Lee, who fell in love with movies while watching wuxia films as a youngster and made Crouching Tiger as a tribute to the form. To elevate the genre above…

Film:Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal Malik (Patel), an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”

But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika (Pinto), the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions.

Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible…[more]

Film:Chicago (2002)

Chicago

Rob Marshall

Bob Fosse’s sexy cynicism still shines in Chicago, a faithful movie adaptation of the choreographer-director’s 1975 Broadway musical. Of course the story, all about merry murderesses and tabloid fame, is set in the Roaring ‘20s, but Chicago reeks of ‘70s disenchantment—this isn’t just Fosse’s material, it’s his attitude, too. That’s probably why the movie’s breathless observations on fleeting fame and fickle public taste already seem dated. However, Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are beautifully matched as Jazz Age vixens, and Richard Gere…

Film:American Beauty

American Beauty

Sam Mendes

From its first gliding aerial shot of a generic suburban street, American Beauty moves with a mesmerizing confidence and acuity epitomized by Kevin Spacey’s calm narration. Spacey is Lester Burnham, a harried Everyman whose midlife awakening is the spine of the story, and his very first lines hook us with their teasing fatalism—like Sunset Boulevard’s Joe Gillis, Burnham tells us his story from beyond the grave.

It’s an audacious start for a film that justifies that audacity. Weaving social satire, domestic tragedy, and whodunit into a single…

Film:No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men

Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

The story begins when Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) finds a pickup truck surrounded by a sentry of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law—in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell (Jones)—can contain. As Moss tries to evade his pursuers—in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives (Bardem)—the film simultaneously strips down the American crime drama and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this morning’s headlines.

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