Among the many Best Picture nominees that have graced the Academy Awards over the years, plenty have stayed in constant rotation in movie lovers’ libraries and remain part of the filmgoing conversation today. However, there are also many jewels that, for one reason or another, don’t quite enjoy the same familiarity and reputation as some of their better-known nominated (and winning) companions. Here are 10 films nominated for Best Picture that we think deserve a first look, or even a second or third if you haven’t paid them a visit in a while.
The same year Francis Ford Coppola won big at the Oscars with The Godfather Part II, he also released this taut, haunting thriller about modern surveillance and a criminal conspiracy. Gene Hackman has one of his best roles as the audio expert who uncovers a crime that puts his life in jeopardy, and the result is a potent example of ’70s paranoia filmmaking.
Based on the true story of a tobacco industry whistleblower and the tense showdown that erupted on 60 Minutes, this stylish Michael Mann film features a stacked cast including Russell Crowe (who was nominated for Best Actor his performance), Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer. As an examination of the dangerous relationship between corporations and the media, this one still remains chillingly relevant.
John Huston’s late career comeback featured many highlights, among them this darkly hilarious tale of mob hit man Jack Nicholson, who falls in love with a fellow assassin, Kathleen Turner. Anjelica Huston took home a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her unforgettable performance as Nicholson’s former flame. It’s still a crime movie quite unlike any other.
One of Hollywood’s great mind-twisting romantic melodramas, this one is tough to describe without issuing a major spoiler warning. Just know that this adaptation of James Hilton’s popular novel features a highly unorthodox love story involving Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, amnesia and a mid-film plot turn you won’t see coming.
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
Before he directed numerous Oscar-winning films, including the classic In the Heat of the Night, Norman Jewison proved he had comedic chops with this hilarious comedy about a coastal New England community turned upside down when a Soviet sub gets grounded in its own backyard. The film also made a star out of Alan Arkin, who shines here and would go on to win an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine.
Secrets & Lies
Though it was a significant indie hit in its day, this endearing drama from director Mike Leigh hasn’t really gotten its due in the subsequent two-plus decades. Brenda Blethyn plays a working-class mom who finds out that the Black daughter she gave up for adoption, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, is researching her family tree—with major ramifications for all the immediate relatives.
Classic Hollywood doesn’t come much more glamorous than this cinematic fever dream from director Josef von Sternberg, who was at the height of his pre-Code powers here with a visual love letter to star Marlene Dietrich. You could hang almost every frame on the wall like a painting. The magnetic Anna May Wong also gets a chance to shine brightly in this story of love, deception and international intrigue aboard the titular train.
Once a mainstay in classrooms for decades along with the Newbery Medal-winning source novel, this moving drama is about poor married sharecroppers, played by Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield, whose life in the Great Depression offers invaluable lessons for their young son along with his loyal dog. The film was also nominated for both of its lead performances and for Adapted Screenplay, and it’s still a perfect choice to watch with the whole family.
Before she became a major star and an Oscar winner for Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence grabbed the attention of many viewers—and her first Best Actress nomination—with this atmospheric and finely observed mystery-drama about a teenage girl looking for her missing father in rural Missouri. Anyone who saw this when it opened knew she’d be destined for great things ahead.
Mike Nichols’ uplifting workplace comedy also works perfectly as a rallying cry for breaking the glass ceiling, with Melanie Griffith enjoying one of her strongest roles as a bright secretary forced to take drastic measures when her idea gets stolen. Carly Simon won an Oscar for her infectious theme song, but the film also features a stellar cast, including Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, doing some of their finest work.
Miracle on 34th Street
For extra credit viewing as we approach the holidays, we recommend Miracle on 34th Street. Even the most casual movie buffs know all about this one but very few remember it as an actual Best Picture nominee.
Nominated for a total of four Oscars and a winner for Supporting Actor Edmund Gwenn as the unforgettable Kris Kringle, this Christmas classic has lost none of its charm as little Natalie Wood finds her natural skepticism tested by a most unusual department store Santa.