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Best Of Netflix: Oscar Winners Past

Director Jim Sheridan‘s My Left Foot tells the true-life story of Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), an Irishman who went on to become a celebrated author, painter and poet — despite having severe cerebral palsy that left him with no physical control over any part of his body except for his left foot. Day-Lewis is quite incredible as Christy, bringing an intense physicality and raw emotion to a performance that must’ve been at least ten times more exhausting for him to pull off than it is for the audience to watch (he apparently broke two ribs by being in the hunched-over position for so long and, in true Daniel Day-Lewis style, often refused to come out of character); Sheridan and Day-Lewis also deserve credit for not portraying Brown as simply a victimized angel, often showing him to be a selfish and emotionally manipulative man. Brenda Fricker is also excellent as Christy’s strict and fiercely proud mother, Bridget, who insisted on raising Christy at home with her other children. Based on Brown’s own autobiography of the same name, My Left Foot vividly recreates working-class Dublin pre-, during and post-World War II, bringing a sense of gritty realism to what in many ways is a rather oddly whimsical tale. Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and winner of two: Best Actor (Day-Lewis) and Best Supporting Actress (Fricker)..


“Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” Patton isn’t so much a movie as it is a vessel for the force of nature that was General George S. Patton, here channeled through a truly astonishing and intimidating performance by a force of nature in his own right, George C. Scott. Director Franklin J. Schaffner’s film follows the WWII tank commander’s career from his stationing in North Africa through the invasion of Germany and into the fall of the Third Reich; even when a battle wasn’t being fought, Patton was always at war — indeed, it was his seething temper and his habit of not always following orders that led to him being relieved as the post-war Occupation Commander of Germany. Scott won the Oscar for Best Actor, but he refused to accept it, proclaiming — in true Patton style — a dislike for the voting process and the idea of acting competitions in general; additional Oscar wins include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Art Direction.


After all, you’ve got to pick a pocket or two! Director Carol Reed’s rousing, mischievous adaptation of the British stage musical (based, of course, on Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist) tells the story of a crafty orphan (Mark Lester) who runs away from an orphanage and joins a group of street-smart youngsters trained to be pickpockets by a vagabond mentor named Fagin (Ron Moody). Oliver! is a blast from start to finish, with songs including “Food, Glorious Food,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “Consider Yourself” “Oom Pah Pah” and the show-stopping “I’d Do Anything”; Lester is terrific in the title role, as is Moody as the wily Fagin, a role that was turned down by Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole and Dick Van Dyke. It’s odd to see Oliver Reed (who plays Fagin’s mean-spirited associate, Bill Sikes) in such a “family-friendly” film before becoming gonzo filmmaker Ken Russell’s go-to male muse, though we suppose him being the director’s nephew has something to do with his casting. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Sound and the Special Academy Award for Choreography; Oliver! is also the first G-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, with the winner the following year, Midnight Cowboy, being the first X-rated film to receive the award.


Director Bruce Beresford’s seemingly quaint redemption tale transcends to the realm of American myth thanks to Horton Foote’s emotionally complex screenplay and a first-rate performance by Robert Duvall as Mac Sledge, a country western singer looking to bury the sins of the past and find hope for the future. Mac’s drunken wanderings lead him to a Texas roadside motel run by Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), a beautiful young widow raising her son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard), all on her own; Mac’s promise for a new life as a surrogate husband and father is soon threatened when he’s reunited with his ex-wife, fellow country singer Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley), and his estranged 18-year-old daughter, Sue Ann (Ellen Barkin), which opens a closet that’s chock full of skeletons. Tender Mercies rated poorly in test screenings, which caused Universal to release it to a limited number of theaters with little publicity; the subsequent word of mouth must’ve been something strong, as the film went on to receive five Oscar nominations a good ten months after its release, including Best Picture, and won two: Best Actor (Duvall) and Best Original Screenplay (Foote). This remains Duvall’s only Oscar win to date, but if you had to pick just one, it’s definitely a good ‘un.


This dark and witty showbiz drama stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, a Broadway star suffering an existential crisis at just turning forty; her emotional vulnerability (and bruised ego that could use some stroking) leaves her susceptible to the charms of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a young and seemingly humble up-and-comer whom she takes under her wing but who’s actually scheming to take her place. All About Eve could be seen as something of a 60-years-earlier companion piece to Black Swan, another film about the trials and tribulations of “theatre people” that scored a Best Actress win for Natalie Portman; even though Davis was nominated but didn’t win for her performance, Roger Ebert considers Margo Channing to be her all-time greatest role — we can’t think of any reason to disagree. All About Eve was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture, Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders); it’s also the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for Best Actress; Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress).


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