9 Best Academy Award-Winning Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

Not one but two Oscars as well as a Golden Globe are among this movie’s never-ending list of accolades. It was the first Iranian film ever to get an Oscar and the first non-English film ever nominated for Best Screenplay. Originally titled The Separation of Nader from Simin in Persian, it homes in on the dissolving relationship of a middle-class couple from Teheran – and the unintended consequences of tragic events.

However, this film is so intense, well-acted, and well-written, it defies categorization. To be sure, the movie does offer a painful look at a deteriorating marriage. It’s also timely, dealing with the politics of theocracy, economic underdevelopment, and social alienation. It presents tense moral dilemmas without pointing a finger. If you’re curious to learn about the humans of Iran and, by cultural extension, the humans of the Middle East beyond the scope of global politics, A Separation is also for you.

But please don’t call it world cinema, because this is no Slumdog Millionaire. Above all, it is a searing portrayal of human conflict, relationships, and morals. It is an almost perfect depiction of how many bad people are simply good people running out of options.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Babak Karimi, Bahareh Riahi, Kimia Hosseini, Leila Hatami, Merila Zare'i, Payman Maadi, Peyman Maadi, Peyman Moaadi, Sahabanu Zolghadr, Sare Bayat, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Shahab Hosseini, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Rating: PG-13

American folk singer Sixto Diaz Rodriguez recorded two albums in Detroit in the 1970s, which he played live across the city, but never to critical acclaim or commercial success. Disappointed, he soon quit his musical career, bought a run-down house in the Motor City, and lived a simple life working in construction. So far, this sounds like the biography of many musicians that never quite made it, talented or otherwise.

However, a strange thing happened. By the mid-1970s, his albums were getting significant airplay in countries like Australia, Zimbabwe, and Apartheid-era South Africa, where he was soon considered a musical voice on par with the Beatles. While living a reclusive life in Detroit, Michigan, he unwittingly became a star on the other side of the globe. This engaged and visually appealing documentary by the late Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tells his story and spells out a fascinating footnote of global music history.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Clarence Avant, Craig Bartholomew Strydom, Dan DiMaggio, Dennis Coffey, Eva Rodriguez, Malik Bendjelloul, Mike Theodore, Regan Rodriguez, Rodriguez, Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy, Sixto Rodriguez, Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman, Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman, Stephen Segerman, Steve Rowland, Steve Segerman

Director: Malik Bendjelloul

Rating: PG-13

A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot - a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Alejandro Abelenda, Barbara Palladino, Carla Quevedo, David Di Nápoli, Fernando Pardo, Guillermo Francella, Javier Godino, Jose Luis Gioia, Judith Buchalter, Liliana Cuomo, Mariano Argento, Mario Alarcon, Pablo Rago, Pedro Kochdilian, Ricardo Darín, Rudy Romano, Sebastián Blanco, Soledad Villamil

Director: Juan J. Campanella, Juan Jose Campanella

Rating: R

A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman's clever writing and Spike Jones' unique style of directing, the film unfolds using "mise en abîme" as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage's performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bob Stephenson, Bob Yerkes, Brian Cox, Cara Seymour, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Curt Clendenin, Curtis Hanson, David O. Russell, Donald Dowd, Doug Jones, Gary Farmer, Gregory Itzin, Jay Tavare, Jim Beaver, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Judy Greer, Lisa Love, Litefoot, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Nancy Lenehan, Nicolas Cage, Peter Jason, Roger E. Fanter, Roger Willie, Ron Livingston, Sandra Lee Gimpel, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tilda Swinton

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: R

Ralph Fiennes plays a mild-mannered British diplomat in Kenya who is stunned by the news of his wife Tessa’s (Rachel Weisz) sudden death while in the company of another man. He sets off to investigate the suspicious death––and secret life–-of his late wife, within a tangle of personal betrayals, political threats, and corporate conspiracies. This film presents an exquisite contrast between Justin’s (Fiennes) gentle, contemplative demeanor and the progressively gripping details he uncovers; between rapturous romanticism and darkly corrupting interests. It’s a touching, smart, and suspenseful feast of a movie.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Anneke Kim Sarnau, Archie Panjabi, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, Donald Apiyo, Donald Sumpter, Gerard McSorley, Hubert Koundé, Jeffrey Caine, John Keogh, Juliet Aubrey, Nick Reding, Pete Postlethwaite, Peter King Nzioki, Rachel Weisz, Ralph Fiennes, Richard McCabe, Rupert Simonian, Sidede Onyulo, Teresa Harder, Thomas Chemnitz

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Rating: R

Man on Wire is a true technical masterpiece. You can almost feel the director telling the cameraman what angle to choose, or thinking about the questions that will generate the most resounding answers. However, this does not diminish the story this documentary tells one bit. It’s one that is glorious, riveting, and fun. It’s one where you feel like an insider to a world lived on and below wires, with high-stake risks. Hopefully the edge of your seat is comfortable, because this is where the movie will keep you till the very end.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Annie Allix, David Forman, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Mark Lewis, Philippe Petit

Director: James Marsh

Rating: PG-13

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Al, Annie Corley, Brett Rice, Bruce Dern, Bubba Baker, Catherine Mangan, Charlize Theron, Christian Stokes, Christina Ricci, Cree Ivey, Glenn R. Wilder, Jesse Stern, Jim R. Coleman, Kaitlin Riley, Kane Hodder, Lee Tergesen, Lyllian Barcaski, Magdalena Manville, Marc Macaulay, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Romonda Shaver, Rus Blackwell, Scott Wilson, Stephan Jones, Tim Ware

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: R

The Reader is a German-American drama from 2008, based on the best-selling novel by author Bernhard Schlink. The storyline begins with adult Michael (Ralph Fiennes) reminiscing about his adolescence in post-World War II Berlin and his fateful relationship with an older woman named Hannah (Kate Winslet). 15-year old Michael is beset by Scarlet Fever and helped off the street one day by Hannah. Taken into her care, they soon begin a passionate affair, quickly forsaking family and friends for every opportunity to ensconce themselves in a world of lust and desire. As their time together progresses, Hannah begins urging Michael to read to her daily—to which he draws from many classic novels and delights in their rich interchange. Hannah suddenly disappears from Michael’s life, however, only reappearing several years later when young law student Michael is stunned to find her facing a World War II war-crimes tribunal. Tied to a real-life series of trials against former Auschwitz employees, The Reader is a strikingly original and exceptionally well-made film that is recommended to those who appreciate sophisticated, emotionally mannered cinema.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexandra Maria Lara, Benjamin Trinks, Bruno Ganz, Burghart Klaussner, Carmen-Maja Antoni, David Kross, Fabian Busch, Florian Bartholomäi, Hannah Herzsprung, Heike Hanold-Lynch, Jeanette Hain, Jürgen Tarrach, Karoline Herfurth, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Block, Lena Olin, Linda Bassett, Ludwig Blochberger, Margarita Broich, Marie Gruber, Martin Brambach, Matthias Habich, Moritz Grove, Ralph Fiennes, Susanne Lothar, Sylvester Groth, Vijessna Ferkic, Volker Bruch

Director: Stephen Daldry

Rating: R

An extraordinary documentary full of drama, comedy and heartbreak. It follows two penguins, a couple, for a year as they migrate, give birth and face hardships and tragedy. It captures never seen before moments that stand as a perfect illustration of survival in particular and life in general. All in a very well crafted documentary that you will find both instructive and deeply moving. Won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Charles Berling, Fiorello, Jules Sitruk, Morgan Freeman, Romane Bohringer

Director: Luc Jacquet

Rating: G