The world is waking, fresh off another night at the Oscars. And, of course, there were disappointments, surprises and awards that went to movies about British things (there’s always a few).
Looking back on the Academy Awards through the years, we remember movies like Schindler’s List or Gladiator. These sweeping epics tend to be award (and audience) magnets, but there have been plenty of Oscar winners and nominees that have been forgotten or passed off as simple mass appeal-movies or were too quiet to garner a lot of attention.
And it can be easy, as a college student, to get stuck in the rut of Liam Neeson action movies and Nicholas Sparks novel adaptations to take the time and see a real, lasting classic. Here is a list of my ten favorite Academy Award-nominated films of the past few decades, all of which are worth your time, or, at least, a spot in your Netflix queue.
- Jaws – 1975. One of the original great blockbusters, Jaws won awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound, and John Williams’ supremely underrated score also took home the statue. This was Steven Spielberg’s first big movie, and he mastered the art of subtle terror in this shark-meets-boat-of-compelling-characters movie classic.
- Tootsie – 1982. In my opinion, this is the funniest movie ever made. Seriously. Dustin Hoffman, who tragically lost the Best Actor race to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi (a three-hour historical Oscar bait epic), becomes the female star of a soap opera in this film about the art of acting. Jessica Lange, Dabney Coleman, Terri Garr and Bill Murray round out one of the funniest, most talented casts from a movie in the ‘80s.
- Once – 2007. Okay, my wife made me put this in, but this hypnotizing movie about an Irish/Czech folk duo is simple in its beauty. The two musicians, who recorded the Oscar Best Song winner “Falling Slowly,” meet each other, make some music, and then part ways. This is not my favorite kind of music, but for some reason, I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the screen the entire time.
- Good Night, and Good Luck – 2005. Directed by George Clooney and starring David Strathairn as iconic newsman Edward R. Murrow, this PG movie looks at the news industry in the 1950s when Senator McCarthy and everyone who feared him were rooting out “communists” in all idustries. Strathairn, nominated for Best Actor, develops a dry-but-bold character that steals the show.
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – 2003. Nominated for 10 awards, including Best Picture, and winning Best Cinematography (well-deserved) and Best Sound Editing, this film about the British navy at the time of Napoleon stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, and their foils-as-friends dynamic drives the movie.
- Sense and Sensibility – 1995. Emma Thompson lost in the Best Actress race but won in the Best Adapted Screenplay contest. Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant are great, but it’s Thompson and a pre-Snape Alan Rickman who steal the show.
- On Golden Pond – 1981. With nine nominations, this movie is driven by Best Actor and Best Actress winners Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, who play an elderly couple still in love but confronted with changing ideas of family and mortality.
- WarGames – 1983. Nominated for Best Cinematography, Sound, and Writing, this Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy technological thriller could have been so corny but came out as one of the defining films of the 1980s. Though the technology in the film is dated, the concept translates well to modern times, and it’s just as thrilling now as it was then.
- Fiddler on the Roof – 1971. Set in 1905 Tsarist Russia, this musical (yes, musical) about Russian Jews in a changing world is the perfect combination of comedy, genuine acting and serious historical themes. The giant Israeli actor Chaim Topol, as the traditional and pious (but also charming and goofy) father of several daughters, rules the screen in this movie.
- An Education – 2009. Carey Mulligan, who you will see for many years to come in other Best Actress awards ceremonies, was nominated for her breakout role in this film about an intelligent British schoolgirl, old beyond her years, who wants to be an adult, but who doesn’t really understand the adult world.