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12 Times Oscar Got It Right

The best Best Pictures, the most deserving directors, and the actors and actresses who really earned those Academy Awards

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Fifty million Twitter timelines can't be wrong: Award shows effing it up is half the reason we watch in the first place. But when an art form's top honors are actually bestowed on the most deserving recipients, it's like getting a thrilling glimpse into a world where quality, or at least Hollywood's version thereof, trumps commerce. With the 85th Academy Awards on their way, we're opening the envelope and honoring some of the best Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress winners below. Whether acknowledging a star in the making, conferring a capstone on a legendary career, or bucking tradition for an achievement that couldn't be ignored, these are a dozen examples of Oscar going where he belonged.—Sean T. Collins

Gramercy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Frances McDormand, ‘Fargo’ (Best Actress, 1996)

With a name like a Simpsons character, a rural-cop gig that involves negotiating the competing demands of morning sickness and people who put people in woodchippers, and a voice like—well, frankly, we'd never heard a voice like that in the movies before—Frances McDormand's Marge Gunderson made for unlikely Oscar bait. She won because she ably embodied the idea her frequent collaborators the Coen Brothers were trying to get across: It's easy to be awful to each other, so it's hugely important to be decent instead. "And it's a beautiful day."

Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

Halle Berry, ‘Monster’s Ball’ (Best Actress, 2001)

We'll start with the embarrassing historical fact: No other African American has won the Best Actress trophy. And there's an argument about how the Academy genuinely rewards black victimhood that needs to be made, too. None of that should take away from Berry's achievement in this role, uncomfortably raw with grief and lust and the countless damages of a life lived in accommodation of the unreasonable demands made on it by an unjust and uncaring world.

Courtesy The Weinstein Comany

Jennifer Lawrence, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (Best Actress, 2012)

A star is born. When she's not busy holding down one of the biggest action-movie franchises of all time or turning red-carpet footage into a self-effacing stand-up comedy routine, newly minted megastar Jennifer Lawrence excels in serio-comic roles like the world-weary young widow whose symbiotic relationship with a bipolar Bradley Cooper helps nurse them both back to some semblance of mental health. Oscar loves a good coronation.