Best Screenplay

[8] Writer/director Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt) takes us on a trip through California wine country with two middle-aged college buddies in Sideways, based on a novel by Rex Pickett. Paul Giamatti plays a divorced junior high school teacher suffering from depression and anxiety whose dream of becoming a published author is about the only thing keeping him going. Thomas Haden Church is a somewhat …

[6] George Cukor directs Katharine Hepburn as Jo March in one of the earliest screen adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a chronicle of the lives and loves of four sisters growing up in New England during the Civil War. There’s intrinsic nostalgia and sentimentality to the storytelling, but Cukor never lets the film become maudlin. That’s largely owed to Hepburn’s contribution. The then-controversial …

[8.0] Stanley Kramer (Inherit the Wind, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) directs an impressive roster of talent in this dramatization of four Nazi judges on trial for war crimes in occupied Germany. Spencer Tracy leads the cast as the American judge summoned to preside over the case. While considering passionate arguments from the prosecution (Richard Widmark) and defense (Maximilian Schell), he spends his evenings developing …

[8.0] Jimmy Stewart gives a career-defining performance in this Frank Capra classic about a celebrated boy scout leader (Stewart) who gets chosen to fill a deceased senator’s seat in the U.S. congress. His party assumes Stewart will be a doting yes-man, seriously underestimating his sense of duty and patriotism. When he introduces legislation that conflicts with a corrupt land deal, the party tries to take …

[8] Joaquin Phoenix stars in writer/director Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance about a divorced man who falls in love with a computer operating system. Her takes place in a not-so-distant future in which society has become increasingly reliant on technology to fulfill our emotional needs. Phoenix’s operating system, named Samantha and voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is constantly evolving. Like a human being, she learns from trial …

[7.0] It’s 18th century France and everyone’s the Vavavoom de Floofenberg dressed to the nines and powdered like a doughnut. Yes, Dangerous Liaisons is one of those dreaded costume dramas. But like any good one, if you strip away the gilding and highfalutin language, it’s really a tale as old as time — modern, even. Glenn Close is a horny, devious widow who employs her …

[5.0] George C. Scott’s charisma is the best thing Patton has going for it. The film is a pastiche of the famous (and infamous) army general’s career through World War II, including his successful invasion of Sicily, media blunders resulting in military reprimand, and his eventual aid in the fall of the Third Reich. The film initially paints Patton as a hard-ass who gets the …

[7.0] A pair of New York city narcotics cops try to bust a big heroin deal being brokered between suspected mobsters and a French connection. But one of the cops, ‘Popeye’ Doyle (Gene Hackman), has a history of recklessness and threatens to lead his partner (Roy Scheider) down another dangerous rabbit hole in his obsessive pursuit of the drug dealers. Based on a true story …

[6] Maestro Billy Wilder directs Ray Milland as a drunk writer circling the drain in the multi-Oscar-winning The Lost Weekend. Milland’s character is supposed to begin recovery on a long holiday weekend with his brother (Phillip Terry) and gal pal (Jane Wyman), but after he steals money to spend at his favorite bar, he gets drunk and misses their departure time. Things get progressively worse …

[7] Writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) won his first two Academy Awards for writing and directing this drama about three wives who reflect on their marriages when they learn a fourth woman has just left town with one of their husbands. Mankiewicz can always be relied upon for great dialogue and pitch-perfect casting. All six principles (the fourth …

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