A bold cinematic statement of rebellion, Warren Beatty's 1981 Hollywood masterpiece Reds challenges mainstream political thought on every level. The winner of three Oscars and nominee for nine more, the film perhaps would have made a more indelible mark on the Academy were it not for the release of bourgeois flock Chariots of Fire and On Golden Pond that very same year. Yet awards do not make the movie; Reds stands out on its own merits.

Starring Beatty as pinko-journalist John Reed and Diane Keaton as his feminist writer wife Louise Bryant, the film simultaneously portrays both the high point in early American Communism and the difficult but affectionate pairing of Reed and Bryant. In the lead-up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, communist sympathy is abuzz in New York's bohemian Greenwich Village. Activist Reed falls for the more soft-spoken Bryant, but they clash over whether his friends take her work seriously, and she falls into an affair with influential playwright Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson, more literate than usual). Bryant and Reed bounce in and out of love, but their shared passion for workers' rights and social justice forges a bond that cannot be broken.

As if its compelling plot is not enough, Reds also challenges traditional notions of good filmmaking. Beatty's camerawork is straightforward and spare, preferring to call attention to the characters and the fascinating documentary footage ("witnesses" from the American communist movement) interspersed between scenes. Though the movie inches past the three-hour mark, it remains unfailingly engaging up to the last moment. The performances are marvelous: Beatty and Keaton have never been better, and Maureen Stapleton (as influential Lithuanian anarchist Emma Goldman) gives a memorable, if brief, Oscar-winning turn. Rarely does American cinema have the bravery to address the power and potential of communism, but when it does, as in Reds, it succeeds with flying colors.