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15 Best Oscars Lineups of All Time

Looking back at the Academy Awards’ most rock-solid ‘Murderers’ Row’ nominee rosters

Best Oscars Line-up

Everett Collection (3)

Arguing about the Academy Awards is as much an American passion as watching the movies they honor, and there’s not a single film fanatic out there that won’t argue about why X should not have won over Y, or moan over how their personal pick for the year’s real Best Picture (or Actor, or Actress, or … ) of the year wasn’t even able to score a nomination. We still get into knock-down, drag-out fights over Dances With Wolves winning over GoodFellas back in 1991. For real.

But some years, Oscar gets it very, very right. We’ve gone through nine decades of history and selected the finest “Murderers’ Row” lineups of nominees for each of the six major categories — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. Consider this the Oscar for Best Oscars.

Oscar; All Star Categories; Line-up

Glory (1989) Directed by Edward Zwick Shown: Denzel Washington


Best Supporting Actor, 1989

Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing), Dan Aykroyd (Driving Miss Daisy), Marlon Brando (A Dry White Season), Martin Landau (Crimes and Misdemeanors), Denzel Washington (Glory – winner)

Icon-in-the-making Denzel Washington winning his first Academy Award (this was his second nomination). Actors of a certain age Danny Aiello and Martin Landau handing in searing performances in arguably the best movies from two of the best directors New York ever produced. (Feel free to slap an asterisk on Woody Allen, of course.) Throw in a nod for SNL veteran Aykroyd and star-turned-supernova Brando and you have one of the widest-ranging slates in Oscar history.

Oscar; All Star Categories; Line-up

THE GRIFTERS, Annette Bening, 1990. ©Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection

Everett Collection

Best Supporting Actress, 1990

Annette Bening (The Grifters), Lorraine Bracco (GoodFellas), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost – winner), Diane Ladd (Wild at Heart), Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves)

Between Bening's con woman, Bracco's mob wife, and Ladd's wicked witch, the roles involved in this year's Best Supporting Actress slate top the "characters you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley" competition. While they laid it all on the line in films involving criminality that ranged from the sordid to the surreal, Goldberg gave up her defining performance as a Patrick Swayze – possessed medium (no, really!), while McDonnell made an impression despite the limitations of the inexplicably acclaimed Kevin Costner epic Dances With Wolves. (Chalk it up to experience that paved the way for Battlestar Galactica's President Laura Roslin and you're good to go.)

Oscar; All Star Categories; Line-up

CAPOTE, Bob Balaban, Bruce Greenwood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2005, © Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett Collection

Everett Collection

Best Actor, 2005

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote – winner), Terrence Howard (Hustle and Flow), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck)

It's impossible to look at this year's Best Actor slate and not wonder what might have been. Hoffman and Ledger are now lost to us, and for a while it seemed like Howard and Phoenix might have been headed that way as well, though by very different paths. Here, each of them turned in top-notch work (though Hoffman and Phoenix would hurdle over that high bar together in The Master a few years later), leaving the always watchable Strathairn to play straight-man to a top-notch tortured-artist quartet.

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