Oscar-Winning Favorites: Performances And Films

In anticipation of the 86th Academy Awards, on this week's Out Now with Aaron and Abe podcast, we came up with the idea of going through our Top 3 favorite Oscar winners in regards to the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Picture categories.  It was quite the challenge, but also a lot of fun to put together.  While you can listen to what Abe, Mark Hobin, Mark Johson, and myself had to say HERE, I also decided to put together this post, which goes over my picks and adds just a bit of commentary to go with them.

The best thing to keep in mind is that this is all for fun and completely subjective.  I have not seen every Oscar-winning film in history and I am certainly no authority on this sort of thing, I simply wanted to go through the expansive list of winners and pick out the ones that I admire, respect, and/or love completely.  Obviously some of these picks are apples and oranges when it comes to ranking them and that certainly adds to why I have so many honorable mentions as well, but here we go with my favorites from the lists of Oscar-winning performances and films throughout Oscar history:

Best Supporting Actor

Honorable Mentions:

Walter Huston, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter (1978)
Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men (2007)
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (2008)

3.  Joe Pesci, Goodfellas (1990)

Joe Pesci made a career out of playing a certain type, but I never found it more effective than in Martin Scorsese's brilliant film, Goodfellas.  The Tommy DeVito character is a fireball of energy and a dangerous man to be on the wrong side of, but he is also a huge part of the dark comedy that makes Goodfellas such an enjoyable ride through the lives of criminals and murderers.  Obviously he is not a person to look up to, but he is certainly a character that made an impact in a humorous and at often times chilling sort of way.

2.  Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Quentin Tarantino found a hell of a way to introduce Christoph Waltz to American audiences.  Hans Landa is a mulch-lingual, very polite, yet ferocious force of Nazi villainy, with a knack for being ahead of the game at almost every turn.  Waltz embodied this character so effectively that it made it very hard to hate this person, as he was so deliciously evil and well spoken.  Several very tense scenes simply feature him talking with another individual, but Waltz had a great hand in making these sequences incredibly effective.

1.  Robert De Niro, The Godfather: Part 2 (1974)

This was an easy pick for me, as well as another one coming up later.  The Godfather: Part 2 is a film I would consider to be one of the best ever made and a huge reason revolves around the young Vito Corleone plotline.  A young Robert De Niro, who speaks almost entirely in Italian, does tremendous work in his role, which allows for a lot of attention to his reactions and mannerisms almost more so than the spoken dialogue seen in his performance.  Really, it is great work all around, no matter how you look at it.

Best Supporting Actress

Honorable Mentions:

Hattie McDaniel, Gone with the Wind (1939)
Eva Marie Saint, On the Waterfront (1954)
Rita Moreno, West Side Story (1961)
Meryl Streep, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Anjelica Huston, Prizzi's Honor (1985)
Cate Blanchett, The Aviator (2004)

3.  Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny (1992)

This is where I emphasize how much fun I wanted to have with a list like this.  Again, it is not about comparing any of these performances to others, I just want to lay out the ones that stick out to me.  Marisa Tomei's character in My Cousin Vinny is great.  Lisa is a perfect foil for Joe Pesci's Vincent Gambini, as she is allowed to not only match him with the quips, but show plenty of intelligence in a way that continues to contribute to the comedy of this film.

2.   Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardner (2005)

Fernando Meirelles' adaptation of the John le Carre novel is a movie I absolutely adore and there are many reasons for it, but one of the key elements is the way we see the relationship between Ralph Fiennes' Justin and Rachel Weisz's Tessa unfold, given that she is dead for most of the film, but still very much a presence.  Getting to learn more and more about Tessa, just as Daniel does, opens up the film to show how much in love these two really were, which allows the film to bring out a lot of emotion within the coldness of the corrupt corporation plot line, providing this film with its momentum.

1.  Tatum O'Neil, Paper Moon (1973)

Yes, I'm picking a 10-year old for the number one spot, as I think little Tatum O'Neil is fantastic in Paper Moon as Addie Loggins.  She has all the spunk she needs to go back and forth with her real life father, Ryan O'Neil, in a film that is one of my favorite con-artist movies.  Her attitude works well in this film and stands out as a very fine performance, especially given her young age.

Best Actor

Honorable Mentions: 

Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Gregory Peck, To Kill A Mocking Bird (1962)
Gene Hackman, The French Connection (1971)
Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Geoffrey Rush, Shine (1996)

3.  Daniel Day-Lewis, (tie) My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), Lincoln (2012)

I do not feel bad about cheating a bit here, as Daniel Day-Lewis has proven himself to be one of the best and most versatile actors of all time.  If I really had to single out one of these three tremendous performances, I guess I would pick his Daniel Plainview character from There Will Be Blood, but it matters little, as the actor is a force to be reckoned within seemingly any role that he takes.  Because of that, I say he needed to be represented on this list.

2.  Marlon Brandon, On The Waterfront (1954)

I could have cheated twice and had Brando here for The Godfather as well, but it really is On the Waterfront that stands as the essential Brando performance for me.  Brando's work as Terry Mallow, the has-been boxer standing up for what is right, is one of the greatest film performances of all time and it was properly awarded with an Oscar, making him more than just a contender.

1.  Robert De Niro, Raging Bull (1980)

Arguably Martin Scorsese's best film (it's frankly a toss up for me, between Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and this film), the story of boxer Jake LaMotta is an impeccably well made film that features a towering and fully committed performance by Robert De Niro, who not only transformed his body for the different stages of LaMotta's life, but even became an amateur boxer for the sake of immersing himself in the role.  This would matter little if there was not a performance on screen to match the commitment, but this film features another one of the great screen performances of our time.

Best Actress

Honorable Mentions:

Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night (1934)
Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind (1939)
Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Jodie Foster, Silence of the Lambs (1991)

3.  Diane Keaton, Annie Hall (1977)

I tend to prefer the Allen-Keaton films, as far as leading ladies go in films starring Allen and Keaton was at her finest in Annie Hall.  While I may be one that prefers Manhattan over Annie Hall (and Crimes & Misdemeanors trumps both), Keaton is no doubt wonderful in the role of Annie, who is crafted well by both Allen's screenplay and what Keaton put into the character.  

2.  Faye Dunaway, Network (1976)

In a film that is great satire all-around, Faye Dunaway is just one of the many who are game to really dig into the wicked vibe of this story.  I love the energy that she brings to the role of Diana Christensen and the ruthless nature that comes with the position of head programmer that she is in and how she manages it.  It is a great performance all around in a film that is swimming with them.

 1.  Frances McDormand, Fargo (1996)

Providing more than just a funny accent, McDormand exudes a level of confidence that makes the Marge Gunderson character both immensely likable and a very good police officer.  The fact that we get a great look at her marriage only adds to the strength that is seen in this character and the great work done by McDormand to bring her to life.  She is funny, outspoken, and one of the best of the many classic characters the Coen Brothers have given us over the years.

Best Picture

Honorable Mentions:

Casablanca (1941)
In The Heat of the Night (1967)
The French Connection (1971)
The Sting (1973)
Unforgiven (1992)
No Country for Old Men (2007)

3.  On The Waterfront (1954)

In putting this post together, it basically made me realize how much I love On the Waterfront.  I do, indeed, find the film to feature a tremendous lead performance from Brando, with stellar supporting performances as well, but the film, in general, is constructed in the kind of way that gets you to see what makes a true Best Picture winner.  The right story, direction, and performances (among other aspects) have all combined to make a film that is marvelous to behold and stands up easily to the test of time, which is what provides it with such high regard from myself.

2.  The Godfather (1972)

All of my thoughts on the previous pick are basically echoed here, with the added point that I have seen The Godfather a ridiculous amount of times and it never gets old.  It already stands as one of the greatest films ever made, but it somehow finds a way to never be tiresome to watch.  Between the epic storyline, the plethora of memorable moments and performances, and very quotable nature of the dialogue, The Godfather stands out as another perfect example of what a great best picture winner has to offer.

1.  The Apartment (1960)

It almost seemed like I was finished, and yet, despite the massive amount of praise I have just bestowed upon On The Waterfront and The Godfather, I will still lean on Billy Wilder's The Apartment as my favorite Best Picture winner of all time.  All three of these films are near-perfect classics.  The Apartment is very different from these other two films, but the warm performance from Jack Lemmon, the complex work from Shirley MacLaine, and the way this film balances comedy and tragedy really all add up to making something special.

Obviously there are plenty of films I did not list and the rankings I have chosen hardly mean anything.  Again, I could really go on and on about plenty more Oscar winners that I have not mentioned, let alone all the great films, classics, and masterpieces that never won any Oscars, but this was really just a fun exercise gave me more focus on some of these classic, Award-winning films that I really appreciate.  Who else has favorite Oscar-winning films that they would like to share?

Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


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