This year's Oscar race for Best Picture is a close one; you can examine each movie's odds for winning with the Best Picture Breakdowns I've been featuring this week. For this week's Movie Night, I thought I'd take a look back at some very different Best Picture winners through the ages. So take the guesswork out of picking which movies to watch this week; all three of these are solid winners.
It Happened One Night
This classic comedy has a most delightful, old-timey premise. Stubborn socialite Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) marries her sweetheart, only to learn her controlling father is having the marriage annulled. Tired of living under his thumb, she runs away to New York. Along the way she meets the dashing reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who secretly detects a great story in the socialite's scandal. The two journey together: He offers her protection, while she provides him with plenty of material. Of course, they first can't stand each other, and then can't stand to be apart — predictable, but also surprising in parts. Interestingly, Gable's performance in this film earned him his only Oscar win ever. He and the rest of the cast, along with the entertaining plot and excellent direction made for Best Picture gold at the 6th annual awards ceremony in 1935.
To see the other two,
This movie took the top prize (and a smattering of other awards) at the 1974 Oscars, but the highly entertaining caper is set in 1930s Chicago. The film follows a pair of con men (Robert Redford and Paul Newman, looking hot as ever in fedoras) as they hatch a complex scheme to scam a local bigwig using a phony racetrack setup. With a plot as jaunty as the Scott Joplin-dominated soundtrack, The Sting is full of surprise twists and turns that have provided inspiration for countless other caper movies. As far as Best Picture winners go, it's a pretty small-scale movie, but if you watch it, you'll understand how it was easily the best-made movie that year.
Silence of the Lambs
It is highly unusual for the Academy to pick a horror film as Best Picture, but the clever and thrilling way this story unravels — combined with stellar performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins — made this movie too good to resist at the 1992 awards show. Foster plays young FBI trainee Clarice Starling, who is trying to locate a missing woman assumed to be in the clutches of a crazed killer. Clarice turns to another psychotic killer for help: the cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). She needs to get close enough to Lecter for him to trust her without falling under his manipulative spell. The gradual story development builds suspense until the climactic ending, at which point most viewers are curled up in a tight ball. The end result is a film so satisfying that several sequels — and recently, an unfortunate prequel — have followed.