Awards season is upon us! Here’s a fun little exercise – what was really the best film for every year of the Academy Awards? I’ll admit I’m slightly re-imagining the Oscars since they really are awards for American films primarily. I’ll try to keep to that and only select a foreign films sparingly, although that will be tough to keep to in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The following is my opinion, and it’s just a fun exercise since I realize Hollywood people do not have magical powers to veer into the future and never have. Today 1927-1950:
1927 – Winner: “Wings & Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans;” Should Have Won: “Metropolis.” It’s close and critics love Murnau’s Sunrise, but Metropolis was ultimately more influential.
1928 – Winner: None; Should Have Won: “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” The Oscars took a bit to grow into their format, as there were two winners in 1927 but none in 1928. Dryer’s masterpiece is a landmark of cinema, however, and quite possibly the pinnacle of silent film.
1929 – Winner: “The Broadway Melody;” Should Have Won: “Man with a Movie Camera.” I did my research since the Sight and Sound Poll came out, and Man with a Movie Camera is one of the first demonstrations of the potential of film as an artform completely separate from the theater.
1930 – Winner: “All Quiet on the Western Front;” Should Have Won: “All Quiet on the Western Front.” They don’t always get it wrong that Academy, and in 1930 they awarded the Best Picture to the first realistic portrayal of warfare committed to celluloid.
1931 – Winner: “Cimarron;” Should Have Won: “M.” Fritz Lang invented the police procedural in M, and fans of CBS shows have been thankful every since.
1932 – Winner: “Grand Hotel;” Should Have Won: “Grand Hotel.” What were the Hollywood Golden Age films like? This one is considered a good representative.
1933 – Winner: “Cavalcade;” Should Have Won: “Duck Soup.” The Academy hates comedy, but with the Marx Brothers being as influential as they were, the film considered their best deserved more recognition.
1934 – Winner: “It Happened One Night;” Should Have Won: “It Happened One Night.” Another old Hollywood classic that people still enjoy today, and one of Capra’s best.
1935 – Winner: “Mutiny on the Bounty;” Should Have Won: “Mutiny on the Bounty.” 1935 wasn’t a particularly notable year in film so I’ll defer to the Academy’s judgement.
1936 – Winner: “The Great Ziegfeld;” Should Have Won: “Modern Times.” Florenz Ziegfeld’s ultra-mega-huge celebrity had a lot to do with this biopic’s success, but Chaplin’s masterwork belongs in this spot.
1937 – Winner: “The Life of Emile Zola;” Should Have Won: “The Grand Illusion.” The Grand Illusion is possibly the greatest pre-war French film. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” is a close runner-up.
1938 – Winner: “You Can’t Take it With You;” Should Have Won: “The Lady Vanishes.” It’s close but Hitchcock’s first great film trumps Capra’s fourth or fifth.
1939 – Winner: “Gone with the Wind;” Should Have Won: “The Wizard of Oz.” I could produce a long list detailing why the Wizard of Oz is a better film but I don’t have that kind of time.
1940 – Winner: “Rebecca;” Should Have Won: “The Grapes of Wrath.” And likewise to 1938, John Ford’s masterpiece trumps Hitchcock’s eighth or ninth best film.
1941 – Winner: “How Green was My Valley;” Should Have Won: “Citizen Kane.” Duh.
1942- Winner: “Mrs. Miniver;” Should Have Won: “The Magnificent Ambersons.” Orson Welles should have gotten two Oscars in a row, as many critics and historians feel Ambersons is almost equal to Kane.
1943 – Winner: “Casablanca;” Should Have Won: “Casablanca.” Double Duh.
1944 – Winner: “Going My Way;” Should Have Won: “Double Indemnity.” A bit of a surprise going down the list and not seeing this one.
1945 – Winner: “The Lost Weekend;” Should Have Won: “Children of Paradise.” This wouldn’t have happened in 1945 but Children of Paradise deserves its due if only for the seemingly insurmountable conditions during which it was made. “Rome, Open City” is a close second.
1946 – Winner: “The Best Years of Our Lives;” Should Have Won: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t appreciated until years later when it was revived by television.
1947 – Winner: “Gentleman’s Agreement;” Should Have Won: “The Lady from Shanghai.” Orson Welles had already angered everyone in Hollywood by this point in his career, so this one got predictably shut out.
1948 – Winner: “Hamlet;” Should Have Won: “Bicycle Thieves.” Due respect to Sir Lawrence Olivier but the Academy awarded the wrong foreign film best picture in 1948.
1949 – Winner: “All the King’s Men;” Should Have Won: “All the King’s Men.” 1949 wasn’t a banner year for movies so I’ll defer to the Academy.
1950 – Winner: “All About Eve;” Should Have Won: “Rashomon.” All About Eve is a good movie, but the effect of Rashomon on how movies are made can’t be overstated.
Join us for Part 2!
(c) D.G. McCabe