Pop some popcorn and zip up your Oscar watchin’ pants, because the 83rd Academy Awards are this Sunday. To get us all in the proper cinematic mood, we’ve rounded up our five favourite tech-heavy Best Picture-winning flicks.
Around the World in 80 Days
Sure, its special effects are a bit quaint by our spoiled modern standards, but 1956’s globetrotting caper was perhaps the first to make technology—the hot air balloon—central to the picture. So it’s not the most advanced piece of technology, but Phileas Fogg’s adventure is only possible because of it. To approximate the view from the balloon, the film’s producers took advantage of Todd-AO—a special effects technique that projected scenery onto a giant curved screen.
A 2011 remake would probably have Fogg just checking in the various places around the world on Foursquare while lying on his couch.
The Greatest Show on Earth
Director Cecil B. DeMille’s opening narration says it all: “But behind all this, the circus is a massive machine whose very life depends on discipline, motion and speed…a mechanized army on wheels that rolls over any obstacle in its path…that meets calamity again and again, but always comes up smiling…a place where disaster and tragedy stalk the Big Top, haunt the backyards, and ride the circus rails…where Death is constantly watching for one frayed rope, one weak link, or one trace of fear.” Metal! Lights! Giant tents! Trains full of various sharp-toothed animals! Beyond its enormous (and technically ambitious) production values, this 1952 circus ode highlights the technological underpinnings of the spectacle—a show that’s just as much a feat of engineering as acrobatics and animal abuse.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
A hallowed classic. Alec Guinness, not being Obi Wan! But beyond being a cinema history jewel, David Lean’s 1957 winner is about blowing shit up. Namely, the (!) bridge on the River Kwai. The film follows the harrowing wartime engineering efforts of British POWs and commandos, as they struggle to build and subsequently destroy an enormous bridge. Technical ingenuity, both constructive and destructive, are at the fore. And if there’s anything that gets our geeky hearts beating quickly, it’s a tremendous explosion. And hey, the acting ain’t half bad either (ergo, Oscar).
Okay, just give me a chance to explain, here! It might be a bit hokey in retrospect—YOU JUMP I JUMP, RIGHT?—but if you sweep away all the melodrama and Celine Dion, Titanic is at its heart a film about humans and technology. Namely, the ways humans can really screw things up through technology. The Titanic still stands as a tribute to our hubris as users of tech, bad design, engineering audacity, and the limits of just how big and crazy we can create.
The Hurt Locker
Similar to Titanic, The Hurt Locker is fundamentally about the dangerous intersections of tech and the human mind. On the one hand, we have the terrible genius of the IED’s maker. On the other, the stoic, scientific approach of defusing. In the middle, we’ve got a person. It’s an incredibly tense film, and an ominous reminder that “technology’ isn’t a word with universally great connotations—not when you’re the one risking your legs being blown off.