-Year in Summary/What Did Win-
Several goings-on within the Academy happened this year, including a shakeup in the membership that led to the formation of the Screen Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild, as well as the statuette award being referred to as an Oscar publicly for the first time during this ceremony. There was also a highly amusing gaff by ceremony host Will Rogers upon announcing the winner of the Best Director Oscar, which if I end up going through Best Director I will detail, but for those who are still curious, you can check the Wikipedia page for this, the 6th Academy Awards.
Once again, the field of nominees for Best Picture was increased, this time to ten; thus, several more films that otherwise wouldn’t have seen a nomination ended up with another laurel to tout. This was also the last year the Academy would use an August-to-July qualification period for films, moving to simple calendar year eligibility the next ceremony, and thus the field of films eligible for this year was expanded to the end of December, making it a 17-month pool of films to draw from. Thus, there are quite a number of films that could’ve seen a nom; some that did, and some that didn’t. Evidently, the Academy still was wising up to this whole expanded-category deal, as they ended up giving the award to Cavalcade; perhaps being a British-set period piece detailing the history of a family against the expansive backdrop of a country’s own history was enough to win top honors back then, but… oh hell, it’s probably enough to still win (or get nominated for) top honors today.
-Ranking the Nominees-
-As much as I didn’t care for it, and saw the purpose of making and watching the film even less, I was a little surprised State Fair ended up at the bottom for me; not because it didn’t deserve to be there, but because I honestly thought some other film would end up in last. With this, though, you have a film that’s as tepid a watch as I’m sure it was to make, and with the expanded field, this seems even more superfluous a nomination. The Academy can easily lose this one.
-With my placement of She Done Him Wrong here instead of higher on my list, I’ve finally crossed that line that I’d hinted at crossing with last year’s fare; I’m going out of order in terms of the bare number rankings I’ve given the films in question. So, why is this lower than the next two films? For one reason: this is a vehicle for Mae West, and for almost no other reason should this have been nominated for Best Picture. It’s an amusing trivia bit nowadays, being the shortest film to ever be nominated for the award, but one single notable feature does not the best picture of the year make. This can leave the fold as well.
-Eventual winner Cavalcade has things going for it, both in the Academy’s eyes and as a film itself. However, everything it has going for it should be enough for the film to win Best Director, not Best Picture, and it did; Frank Lloyd did end up taking the honors for directing, which I would probably agree with. But nowhere is this the best picture of the year; it may be the most ostentatious, which is probably why it won, but that’s all. I’ll succumb to leaving it as a nominee if really pressed, but this shouldn’t have won; no way.
–Smilin’ Through suffers from a common malady with Best Picture nominees; it’s far too forgettable. I enjoyed the mystery angle of the film’s central premise, but aside from that and some lovely cinematography in the garden location of the film, I barely remember any of this. Re-reading my review of the film, I was surprised to recall that Norma Shearer was even in this, which is a very bad mark against this film if I completely forgot her presence despite her being top-billed on the poster. I could see arguments made either for or against this nomination, but I don’t know if I could come down on one side or the other.
-With 42nd Street, we have another example of a type of film I’ve reviewed that somehow gets nominated for Best Picture despite some gaping flaws, the largest of which is: it is technically not a well made film. I said in the Judging Oscar segment that featured The Big House that the best picture of the year needed to not only be entertaining, but well-done and accomplished as well, and in that, 42nd Street fails. This has charm, and a winning personality, and it’s about Broadway, which is as close to Hollywood as a film can get without being about Hollywood, so I can see the nomination through. But that’d be it.
–A Farewell to Arms provided me with another surprise placement in this ranking. I went into the film thinking it would potentially be in the top three of the nominees, and ended up on the other side wondering why it was as well-regarded as it was. It’s another ‘nothing’ film, with no real benefits or rewards other than the consistently standout direction of Frank Borzage, who didn’t even get nominated for Best Director with this, so where’s the love for this one (and the nomination) coming from? I really can’t say, and if I can say that about the nominee, it’s not the best picture of the year.
–Little Women finally crosses that threshold of films that I could reasonably see a chance that they could take home the top honors. Does that make Little Women the best picture this year? Nope; it wouldn’t get my vote, and I was surprised to find out it placed third in the actual overall vote for Best Picture. Maybe it’s just my natural resistance to the supposed charms of George Cukor, who did field a Best Director nom from this; aside from the cast, I had little else to praise the film for, and seeing other reviews and comments toward the film, I wasn’t as alone as I thought I’d be.
–The Private Life of Henry VIII was the first all-British production to be nominated for the big one, as well as the first to take home an Oscar; this time, for Charles Laughton in the lead role. While I’m glad that this was nominated, both for being technically a comedy nominated for Best Picture and for being a non-Hollywood film to net a nomination, I don’t really see this winning; comedies are certainly valid, but they don’t have that heft, that impact that dramatic films usually have that resonate with viewers, as well as Academy voters. It’s this that I think makes it so hard for a comedy to get a nomination, and even harder to see it through to a win, and Henry VIII doesn’t do enough to challenge that mindset.
-While Lady for a Day has a lot of selling points, from May Robson to the deft handling by both director and screenwriter to the admittedly schmaltzy mood, it wasn’t a clear winner in my mind; I said as much in my review, and looking back on it now, I think I can stand by my comments. That said, the somewhat lesser fare it was nominated against puts it here in my list, and considering how much I enjoyed the film and its selling points, I’m all right with that. Frank Capra may have jumped the gun for a Best Director win when the name was announced, but he and his picture certainly deserves to be among the nominees. I just wouldn’t give it the award.
-Considering my merely-moderate reaction to the film when I watched it for the 1001 list, I’m just as surprised as you that I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is ending up in the top spot. I rewatched it for this segment, and found my opinion of it hadn’t really changed… so why is this the best out of the nominees? If I were to wager a guess, it would be: it’s the most evenly constructed of the nominees, and still manages to be pretty entertaining even with the just-above-average technicals. I won’t go into the potential messages and morals that are at play with the film’s story and all that, but of the ten films presented here as official Academy nominees, I feel this is the best of the bunch.
-What Should Have Won-
Thanks to the extended qualifying period, there’s quite a few films that could’ve seen a nomination. Probably the most glaring omission to classic movie fans would be King Kong, though it would seem to be such a genre film that the Academy wouldn’t take notice… except that it ended up being the 3rd highest grossing film of the year. A similar fate befalls the highest grossing film, Queen Christina with Greta Garbo, which might get a nom over some of the actual noms but wouldn’t personally get my vote. I could see arguments made for both Love Me Tonight and Trouble in Paradise, though I’d personally argue that this type of film’s days shining in the light of the Academy’s sunbeams should be over by now. Still speaking of 1001 list films, 42nd Street got a nod while its twin films, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade, were left out. And on the comedic side of things, The Marx Brothers’ own arguable masterpiece Duck Soup was released, which with the extended field I could’ve seen getting a nom.
-What I Would’ve Picked-
For once, there is no clear-cut winner in my head as the best picture of the year. Of the nominees, I guess my vote would be forced to Chain Gang; of the missed nominations, it would either go to King Kong or Duck Soup, neither or which stood a remote chance with the Academy. Others will likely have some favorites of those I mentioned missed with the Academy, but for me, this was just a mild year all around.
-How Did Oscar Do?-
With the field expanding again, I still fail to see the solid point behind it, Academy. If you’re going to force yourself to nominate more films, make sure it’s a banner year before you do; otherwise, you get this ceremony’s fare. Next year, it’s up again to twelve, and something tells me I don’t have a lot to look forward to. Surprise me, Academy.