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Past Times

Aberdeen movie director ranks the best Oscar-winning movies of all time

Graeme Strachan
Ara Paiaya alongside Spike Lee.
Ara Paiaya alongside Spike Lee.

Aberdeen native Ara Paiaya grew up watching the biggest stars of the film world walking the red carpet at the Oscars.

This lifelong movie buff always dreamed that one day he would be working alongside some of those actors that have walked the aisle in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.

He did.

The 45-year-old has worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including Golden Globe-winner Mickey Rourke; Reservoir Dogs actor Michael Madsen; Blade Runner and Kill Bill actress Daryl Hannah; and the original Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno.

He said: “I always enjoy watching the Oscars with all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood actors – larger than life – set against the backdrop of a magical world.

“Who would know I would later be directing these actors in my own genre films?”

Ahead of this year’s Academy Awards, we asked him to pick his favourite films to win a Best Picture alongside five Oscar-worthy movies that never won an Academy Award.

The Godfather (1972)

He said: “The Godfather is one of the most important, influential, quoted American movies ever made. It is a rarity; mass entertainment that is also an excellent movie art. Brando’s Don Vito is a vulnerable hood.”

Best Actor for Brando, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture in 1973.

Rocky (1976)


Boxing drama Rocky won Best Picture in 1977 against a brilliant cast of contenders which included All the President’s Men and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

Paiaya said: “Centred around Stallone’s character: half-articulate but funny, gruff but good-hearted. After a heartfelt performance, Sly delivers some cracking punches literally and emotionally.”

Unforgiven (1992)


“A gritty revenge film, dealing with the psychological effects of taking life, marks Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood’s return to the genre that made him famous.

“Unforgiven is a masterfully realised work,” said Paiaya.

The film won four Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Director for Clint Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Film Editing for editor Joel Cox.

Braveheart (1995)

“Evokes Scottish history in a vivid style with polished aesthetics, quotable speeches and bravura camerawork,” he said.

“A grand cinematic adventure with enough blood to make a black pudding.”

At the 68th Academy Awards, the film won five awards, including Best Picture.

Gladiator (2000)

The former Milltimber PS pupil said: “Russell Crowe anchors 2000’s Gladiator with an expressive performance to give life to the epic-scale film. Visually thrilling, technically astonishing and emotionally engaging, it is monumental movie-making.”

This American historical epic film, starring Russell Crowe, released in 2000, was directed by Ridley Scott and won five awards, including Best Picture.

Life and times of a movie maker

Ara Paiaya with Mickey Rourke. Image: @ara_paiaya

Paiaya, whose family are originally from Armenia, grew up in Milltimber.

He said: “My passion for cinema and filmmaking started at an early age back in the 80s.

“Still, at primary school, I would watch 80s legends such as Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Lou Ferrigno.

“Later in the 90s, Michael Madsen, Jeff Fahey and Gary Daniels.

“I loved watching action movies.”

His love of film was rooted in his early childhood experiences of going to the movies in Aberdeen including the Odeon in Holburn Junction and the Belmont Filmhouse.

“I was also a huge fan of the cinema of Hong Kong, specifically the works of Bruce Lee, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and John Woo.

Bruce Lee was a hero of Ara Paiaya growing up. Image: Shutterstock

“These films inspired me to pick up a camera and start making movies.”

From 1994, he started making films as a secondary school pupil.

Paiaya left Milltimber PS and attended Cults Academy for six years before graduating with a BSc (Hons) Computing Degree from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

As a writer, director, producer, stuntman and actor, there seems to be very few things Paiaya doesn’t excel in and he’s been described as a one-man movie-machine!

Among his early work was the 25-minute martial arts movie, Dubbed and Dangerous, which was shot in and around Aberdeen and premiered at the Belmont in 2002.

Paiaya took the lead role and his high-kicking screen debut where he did all his own stunts saw him wage a one-man war on the criminal underworld.

Ara and Michael Madsen work together during a scene from one of his movies. Image: @ara_paiaya

Sequels followed and he took his trilogy of small films on the road to Hollywood.

He said: “I never looked back and have since completed 10 films at various budget ranges some even starring Oscar-nominated Hollywood actors.

“I have also met and spent personal time with all my childhood heroes and even cast most of them in my own films!”

So what films should have won a statuette?

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)


Paiaya said: “The most influential and controversial sci-fi films of all time. Beautiful, majestic film. Which is relevant now more than ever.”

The Wrestler (2008)


Paiaya said: “Mickey Rourke gives an outstanding performance in The Wrestler. A heart-wrenching, rewarding drama.”

Goodfellas (1990)

He said: “Hard-hitting and very stylish.

“This is a classic gangster film. Brash and brilliant.”

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Paiaya said: “The most influential film of the 1990s. A cinematic masterpiece.

“Non-linear story telling at its best.”

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)


He said: “Amazing ballet style of martial arts set against beautiful mythical storytelling and scenery.”

What are his Oscar links?

Mickey Rourke starred in Skin Traffik which was produced and directed by Paiaya and featured Daryl Hannah, Eric Roberts, Michael Madsen, Jeff Fahey and Gary Daniels.

“Mickey is a raw unfiltered character and talent,” he said.

“He has proved that in numerous films and is my favourite non-action actor.

“Oscar-nominated actor Eric Roberts starred in one of my action feature films. He is a great all-rounder but really shines in villain roles in my opinion.

“Angus Macfadyen, co-star of Braveheart, is also the lead in one of my films.

“Oscar-winner Spike Lee once interviewed me about one of my action movies in Cannes for a CNN special.

“Oscar winner Richard Halsey won Best Film Editing for the movie Rocky starring Sylvester Stallone. He also edited one of my comedy feature films.”

Paiaya still lives in Aberdeen and is currently developing his new slate of films.

What’s his message to those looking to follow in his footsteps?

He said: “Don’t give up on your dreams as they do come true.

“I know because I have lived it!”