Among the many Best Picture nominees that have graced the Academy Awards over the years, plenty have stayed in constant rotation in the libraries of movie lovers and remain part of the filmgoing conversation today. However, there are also plenty of 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 a few films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that deserve a first look, or a second or third if it's been a while since you last paid them a visit.
Where to Watch: Criterion Channel
Classic Hollywood doesn’t come much more glamorous than this 1932 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. Nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, the film went on to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
One of Hollywood’s great mind-twisting romantic melodramas, this 1942 Mervyn LeRoy film 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 likely won’t see coming. Nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Actor.
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 1966 comedy about a New England island community that's turned upside down when a Soviet submarine gets stuck off their coast. Nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing for J. Terry Williams and Hal Ashby, when the soon-to-be influential director was a film editor. The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming made a star out of Alan Arkin, who shines here and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his work. Arkin would go on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in 2007's Little Miss Sunshine.
In between directing 1972's The Godfather and 1974's The Godfather Part II, Francis Ford Coppola directed 1974's The Conversation, a taut mystery thriller about 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. The film is a potent example of a haunting '70s paranoid thriller. The film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and went on to receive three Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound.
Once a mainstay in classrooms for decades along with the Newbery Medal-winning William H. Armstrong novel from which it was adapted, this moving 1972 family drama is about a poverty-stricken married couple, played by Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield, during the Great Depression. Their lives as sharecroppers offers invaluable lessons for their young son. This Martin Ritt film received four Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Actor.
John Huston’s late career comeback featured many highlights, among them was this darkly hilarious crime comedy where a mob hitman, Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson), falls in love with Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner), a fellow assassin. 1985's Prizzi's Honor received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor. Anjelica Huston took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her unforgettable performance as Maerose Prizzi, Charley's former flame.
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. The film features a stellar cast, including Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, doing some of their finest work. 1988's Working Girl received six Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Griffith, Best Supporting Actress for Weaver, Best Supporting Actress for Joan Cusack, and Best Original Song for Carly Simon's "Let the River Run." Simon went on to win the Oscar for her infectious theme song.
Where to Watch: Amazon
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 decades. Brenda Blethyn plays a working-class woman in East London who finds out that the Black daughter she gave up for adoption, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, is researching her family tree following the death of her adoptive parents. 1996's Secrets & Lies received five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress for Blethyn, and Best Supporting Actress for Jean-Baptiste.
Based on the true story of a tobacco industry whistleblower and the tense showdown that erupted on 60 Minutes, this stylish Michael Mann drama features a stacked cast, including Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, and Christopher Plummer. As an examination of the dangerous relationship between corporations and the media, 1999's The Insider still remains chillingly relevant. The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Crowe.
Before she became a major star and an Oscar winner for 2012's Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence grabbed the attention of viewers — and received 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. In addition to being nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress, 2010's Winter's Bone was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for John Hawkes.