Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1929/30

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

The sound era was still burgeoning, still trying to blossom, but the year in film did have a handful of nominees to offer as sacrifices to the studio heads who were still trying to decide the Oscars for themselves, as opposed to the new rule of one vote to one member each. This year’s nominees would see many first timers of what would be familiar Oscar perennials, such as the biopic and the war film, as well as a well-thought-out musical comedy. In the end, the war film would win out, becoming the first film to win both Best Picture and Best Director, in what would become a common occurrence at the Oscars.

-Ranking the Nominees-

The Big House

-It actually makes me a little sad to put The Big House last on this list, but there are a number of problems with the film that, even though I liked the film as a whole, I had to take into account. If the best picture of the year isn’t just the most entertaining, but also the most well done and accomplished film on the technical side, then The Big House is bopped out of the running immediately; technically, this is not well made, even if the film decides to blow the rest of its budget in the climax of the film by going all out with it. I liked the film, but Best Picture is asking for a little more than this brings to the table.


-A similar problem befalls Disraeli, which I suspect was nominated largely for George Arliss, as well as being a biopic, a genre that would always, and will always, win big points with the Academy. Technically, the film is nothing to brag about, but it has its moments, particularly when everybody gets the hell out of the way and lets Arliss do his thing in whatever way he chooses to do it. A film with a strong central performance would be another typical Oscar film in the years to come, but in most cases then, and in this case here, it’s not enough to win the top prize.

The Love Parade

The Love Parade suffers from one main problem in this race: it’s good, but it’s just not good enough. Amusingly enough, if this had come out and been nominated the year before, either in place of or alongside The Broadway Melody, I could see this one winning; that’s how poor of a year the Oscars had just had. Here, though, there are actually a couple of nominees that have some actual cases to make for the title of Best Picture of the Year, and Ernst Lubitsch’s creampuff of a film, though a smartly engineered creampuff it is, is not one of them.

The Divorcee

-Here, we see the first hints of a film that may actually have the chops to walk away with the award and not be scoffed at for doing so. The Divorcee surprised the heck out of me, not only with its star, who did very well in a role she almost didn’t get, but with how polished and complete a film it was, and thus the viewing experience it ended up being. It’s short, don’t get me wrong, and had the film added maybe another five minutes or so to the ending, it might’ve been even better, but it’s still a really good film with what it does have, which is a lot more than I was expecting. Had the Academy not nominated one other film, this could’ve reasonably won the top prize.

All Quiet on the Western Front

-Unfortunately for the prior film, the Academy did nominate this one, and in the face of the sheer accomplishment Lewis Milestone achieved, it had no choice but to give it the big one. War films are a dime a dozen nowadays, and you can alternately thank or lay all the blame for that squarely on the feet of All Quiet on the Western Front; this became the benchmark, the stone template from which all other war films would follow for at least the next 60 years, and rightly so. Upon my rewatch for this segment, I did notice the acting was sometimes hammy, as custom for the period, but the realism of everything else does succeed in drowning that out for the most part, and the accomplishment of the film as a whole is so staggering for the era when it was made that it still holds up to this day. In the case of All Quiet, Oscar did right by this one.

-What Should Have Won-

For this part of my Judging Oscar segments, I actually go through the Wikipedia article for that qualifying year in film, to see if there’s anything I might’ve forgotten or missed completely that might’ve warranted a nomination, or perhaps a win, in place of the actual nominees or winner. In this case, there’s nothing that is better than All Quiet on the Western Front, and my efforts in looking were that much more misguided in my attempts to. Greta Garbo’s first talkie Anna Christie might’ve warranted a Best Picture nom, considering how much love it did end up getting at the Oscars, but I haven’t seen it to say for certain.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

All Quiet, over and over again.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

Some of the noms may not have held up as good as some of the other ones, but for the most part, you’re back on track, Oscar. Now let’s see if you can escalate the level of quality on that track from here on out.


4 thoughts on “Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1929/30

  1. I’ve seen all of these except The Divorcee, and with that placing second, I’m now looking forward to it.

    That said, it would have to be something staggering to topple All Quiet on the Western Front, which remains one of the great anti-war statements of cinematic history.

    • It won’t topple All Quiet, but if you go into it in the mood for a decent pre-Code film with a liberal amount of subtext, it’ll be worth your time at least.

  2. I saw Anna Christie and it is absolutely a decent movie. Much less sappy than the usual Garbo fare and in my book only topped by Ninotchka. Despite that it does not reach All Quiet to the socks.
    You have to keep in mind that the sound technique is still new and under development and yet All Quiet employs so many of the filming techniques developed in the twenties that the advent of sound seemed to have flushed away. With all quiet we are finally back to the filming quality we had gotten used to pre-sound.

    • Well said. I think that was my problem with the previous year’s nominees; they all seemed to have forgotten almost wholly how to make a good film in favor of implementing sound, instead of just implementing sound on top of everything that makes a good film a good film that was learned in the silent era. All Quiet is absolutely a case of a great film that added sound while not at the expense of good or great filmmaking, and it shows drastically when compared to the other nominees.

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