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From Sam Mendes to Damien Chazelle: 5 films from Oscar-winning directors on Netflix

Martin Scorsese, when being presented with the Academy Award for Best Director for his 2006 directorial effort The Departed, jokingly questioned his fellow presenters and longtime colleagues Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg if they had picked the right winner: “Could you double-check the envelope?”

While Scorsese can rightfully consider himself to be slightly unfortunate to win the long-eluding award fairly late in his long filmmaking career; there’s most certainly no doubting the merit of the most prestigious and popular prize in the entertainment industry, The Academy Awards, and of those brilliant artists, as well as the films that have left themselves an indelible mark on the biggest of stages.

More popularly known as the Oscars, it has seen and subsequently honoured the greatest of cinematic works in history—and the people behind it. More recently, Bong Joon-ho’s South-Korean tragicomedy-thriller Parasite swept the 92nd Academy Awards, winning in four different categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. Joaquin Phoenix took home the prize for Best Actor for Joker, while Renée Zellweger won the Best Actress.

In this pandemic-infused year during which we have seen several film productions come to a screeching halt; Netflix has continued to add to its already impressive collection of films by importing several films from Oscar-winning directors to its repertoire.

We took upon the task to dive through and recommend five films by Oscar-winners you can check out on Netflix right now.

Five Films from Oscar-winning Directors on Netflix:

5. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood – 2004)

“The magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”

Immensely powerful and profoundly affecting, Clint Eastwood’s not-so-underdog tale of Million Dollar Baby is an example of cinema that is so unforgivably brutal and cathartic that it transports every single of its viewer in an inquiringly depressing trance, making us want to stand up and pursue our dreams with intensity and commitment that matches that of Maggie’s pursuit of her own undaunted vision.

Starring the holy trinity of Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman in leading roles, Million Dollar Baby most deservedly warrant a position among the greatest sport-drama’s of all-time. It follows the life of the troubled trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) who reluctantly agrees to train up amateur boxer aspiring to go professional Maggie Fitzgerald (played by Hillary Swank).

The film, which was remarkably in developmental limbo for several years, garnered seven nominations at the 77th Academy Awards; winning four of them: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor.

4. The Departed (Martin Scorsese – 2006)

“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.”

Marty’s rendition of Andrew Lau’s Hong Kong triad-crime thriller Infernal Affairs, starring an all-ensemble cast including muse Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg will always be foreshadowed by the fact that is was the film that finally got the much-acclaimed directorial great his deserved Academy Award for Best Director.

An epic crime tragedy accentuated with familiar elements all things Scorsese, it followed the parallel lives of an undercover cop and a mole in the police, as they attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston. Following the film’s success, he quipped: “This is the first movie I’ve done with a plot.”

“I just want to say, too, that so many people over the years have been wishing this for me, strangers, you know. I go walking in the street people say something to me, I go in a doctor’s office, I go in a…whatever…elevators, people are saying, ‘You should win one, you should win one’. I go for an x-ray, ‘You should win one’. And I’m saying, ‘Thank you’. And then friends of mine over the years and friends who are here tonight are wishing this for me and my family. I thank you. This is for you.”

The Departed, apart from getting Martin Scorsese his Oscar, also took home the prizes of Best Picture, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay Writing.

3. American Beauty (Sam Mendes – 1999)

“It’s a great thing when you realise you still have the ability to surprise yourself.”

Upon ‘looking closer’ at Sam Mendes’ debut feature: the brilliant satire of American middle-class notions of beauty and personal satisfaction in American Beauty, we inevitably realize that the film can be digested in numerous different way – all leading to distinct interpretations of the script that was initially written by Allan Ball being partly inspired by the media circus that accompanied the Amy Fisher trial in 1992.

An effervescent sleeper-hit throughout the US, American Beauty swept the Academy; winning Oscars for the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of advertising executive Lester Burnham—who has a midlife crisis when he becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter’s best friend—was especially praised, along with stunning turns from Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, and Chris Cooper.

Even after twenty years from its initial release, no other movie has influenced people quite like American Beauty has: the pathos, irony, suburban ennui, alienation.

2. La La Land (Damien Chazelle – 2016)

“This is the dream! It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting!”

Jacques Demy for the digital age; Damien Chazelle’s dazzling dream project La La Land was his idea “to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don’t always exactly work out, and to salute creative people who move to Los Angeles to chase their dreams.”  

An exuberant and delightfully gorgeous film starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and jazz musician, La La Land showcases the very real struggle and life problems that crop up as they pursue their respective dreams, all juxtaposed with a starry Los Angeles in the background. It received a leading six Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Production Design.

Director Damien Chazelle likened La La Land and compared his previous feature Whiplash to his own experiences as a filmmaker working up the Hollywood ladder: “They’re both about the struggle of being an artist and reconciling your dreams with the need to be human. La La Land is just much less angry about it.”

1. Birdman ( Alejandro González Iñárritu – 2014)

I don’t exist. I’m not even here. I don’t exist. None of this matters.

Iñárritu’s 2014 magnum opus Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is an astonishingly stunning work of existentialism and for ‘the search for meaning’ in the modern age articulated through the deteriorating mindscape of a washed-up movie star consumed by his artistic ego and who is inevitably heading towards an absurd end.

Michael Keaton—in a shot-in-the-arm role—played a fading actor Riggan Thomson, best known for his portrayal of a popular superhero who attempts to mount a comeback by appearing in a Broadway play. Restless and uncomfortable, this cinematic work is a dizzying, poetic masterpiece based on inequalities, ironies, and darkly comic self-awareness.

Also featuring Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan in important roles, Birdman was the most nominated and awarded film (along with The Grand Budapest Hotel) at the 87th Academy Awards—sweeping the top prizes for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography from a total of nine nominations.

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Arkadeep Mitra

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