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10 Must-See Movies to Watch That Won Oscars

The Oscars is designed to award the best movies from a given year, but we all know that can be a tricky proposition. Sometimes, they hit the nail on the head, but other times, their choices can feel a little bit out of step. At times, though, the Oscars get more flack than they deserve. Most of the movies that win Best Picture are pretty good, and many of them are better than that.

The movies on this list all won Best Picture, but they don’t have the reputation as definitive winners that something like The Godfather might. These movies are great, but they’re ones that you may not have seen or heard of already. Hopefully, this list will change that.

The Apartment (1960)

The Apartment
94 %
Genre Comedy, Drama, Romance
Stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray
Directed by Billy Wilder
Modern romcoms have relatively small ambitions, but The Apartment‘s genre conventions bely the complexity of its storytelling. Telling the story of a corporate drone who loans his apartment out to his bosses so they can conduct their affairs, the film is a sometimes tragic romance between this corporate drone and one of the women who uses his apartment. It’s a wonderfully acted film from beginning to end, and it has the kind of sharp script that doesn’t seem to really exist anymore. The Apartment is swooning and romantic, but it’s also dark, and it’s that balance that makes it work.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

The Bridge on the River Kwai
87 %
Genre Drama, History, War
Stars William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins
Directed by David Lean
David Lean won the Best Picture prize twice, and his first victory was eventually overshadowed by the towering achievement that is Lawrence of Arabia. Bridge on the River Kwai is not as grand in its ambitions, but its story of a regiment of British prisoners of war who are forced to build a bridge by their Japanese captors is beautifully rendered nonetheless. What’s striking, even now, is that this war epic is told through a few characters, each of which is given a remarkably vivid internal life that is much more complicated than the sides they’re on in the war.

The Sting (1973)

The Sting
83 %
Genre Comedy, Crime, Drama
Stars Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw
Directed by George Roy Hill
Robert Redford and Paul Newman were movie stars, goddammit, and The Sting gives them a great vehicle to be exactly that. The film tells the story of a young con man and a veteran who team up to take down a crime boss after the boss kills a mutual friend. There are plenty of complicated machinations at play in the plotting, but really, The Sting is just a great excuse for two great actors to play off of one another against a series of heists. The Sting is fun, and that’s what makes it so great.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Kramer vs. Kramer
77 %
Genre Drama
Stars Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander
Directed by Robert Benton
The strangest thing about Kramer vs. Kramer is that its central premise, which is that it’s weird for a dad to be a single parent, hasn’t aged particularly well. And yet, Kramer vs. Kramer is pretty delicate about that topic, and everything else it tackles. The film tells the story of a father whose wife walks out and unexpectedly leaves him alone with his young son. Kramer vs. Kramer is a movie of small moments, and one that has wells of sympathy for every character in its small ensemble.

Ordinary People (1980)

Ordinary People
86 %
Genre Drama
Stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch
Directed by Robert Redford
While it may have been a controversial Best Picture winner, in part because it won over Raging BullOrdinary People is a pretty excellent movie in its own right. The film follows a teenage boy and his parents as they deal with the aftermath of his older brother’s death. The movie works because it never trivializes grief, and it makes the ripples of a single shocking event feel utterly real. Ordinary People may not be extraordinary in the way Raging Bull is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a triumph in its own right.

Amadeus (1984)

88 %
Genre History, Music, Drama
Stars F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge
Directed by Miloš Forman
Some people see the 1980s as a strange time for the Oscars, when they were likely to reward incredibly bloated, self-indulgent films in Best Picture. That was true in some years, but some of those bloated Best Picture winners are actually major works from some of the best directors to ever live. Take Amadeus, a three-hour tale of Mozart told through the prism of one of his contemporaries who was great, but not great enough to be remembered for generations. Amadeus is a triumph about jealousy and anger and the horrible realization that other people are better than you, even at the thing you’re best at.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives
93 %
Genre Drama, Romance, War
Stars Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews
Directed by William Wyler
It may be hard to find a more overlooked Best Picture winner than The Best Years of Our Lives. The film tells the story of three World War II veterans who return home after the war and find that it’s difficult to reintegrate themselves into civilian life. It’s a story that’s been told dozens of times, but never more effectively than in this nearly three-hour epic, which concerns itself chiefly with the intimate moments in the lives of three men who are all returning to the same neighborhood. The Best Years of Our Lives is honest, emotional, and one of the best movies ever made.

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night
87 %
Genre Comedy, Romance
Stars Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly
Directed by Frank Capra
Comedies don’t really win major awards anymore, but that’s partially because they don’t make them like this anymore. It Happened One Night is a romantic comedy, but one with so many iconic lines and exchanges that you likely don’t even realize you’re sometimes quoting this movie. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star as a journalist and a spoiled heiress who find themselves on the run together. It’s a sweet, smart movie that may still be the greatest script that Hollywood has ever produced. It may be from the 30s, but it holds up.

Platoon (1986)

92 %
Genre Drama, War, Action
Stars Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp
Directed by Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone is a controversial filmmaker, but it’s hard to deny the sheer power of Platoon, one of the most important movies ever made about the Vietnam War. The film follows an idealistic young soldier who joins up, only to discover that his platoon is filled with in-fighting and there are no moral certainties in war. There are a couple of iconic shots in Platoon, but buried in between that iconography is a smart war movie about how terrible going to war always is, no matter what your intentions might be.

The English Patient (1996)

The English Patient
87 %
Genre Drama, Romance, War
Stars Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe
Directed by Anthony Minghella
The English Patient is the kind of movie the Oscars are notorious for rewarding, but it’s better than you might think. The film follows a badly burned man as he tells the story of his lost love, a married woman he met while mapping the African desert. The romance at the center of the film has some genuine sparks, and the expanses are beautifully captured. The English Patient is a wholly sincere romance, but the talented people behind the movie, from director Anthony Minghella to stars Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, make the whole thing sing.

Editors' Recommendations

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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