-Year in Summary/What Did Win-
The unions took their toll on the Academy, with membership dropping to a scant 40 members, along with the studios’ insistence the Academy be financially responsible for the ceremony this year. Still, with the Best Picture field remaining at twelve nominees, there was plenty of chances of all types of films to get some love at the Oscars, of which this ceremony was officially the first in which the award statuettes themselves were called by that name. Frank Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty took home the top prize, being the last film to date to win Best Picture and no other category. This was also the second, and last, year that write-in nominations were allowed, which gave way to the first and only write-in winner in the Cinematography category.
-Ranking the Nominees-
–Naughty Marietta can leave the fold immediately. I only had a passing tolerance for One Night of Love, whose coattails this film seemed to be riding to a nomination for this award, so with this having absolutely nothing that even that film did okay on, I was left aghast that this had even managed the nomination. If you’re ever curious as to how an early-Hollywood-era musical can take things too far, watch this film; that’s all that need be said. In a field of ten nominees, this shouldn’t have made it, and really, it shouldn’t have even with twelve.
–The Lives of a Bengal Lancer suffers from numerous maladies, the prime one being: it only gets by, and does nothing more than that. I opined in my review for this about at what point does a Best Picture nominee serve as being only good enough, and this film is an excellent example of that mentality; it’s okay, and some might even consider it good given the right push, but it’s not great, and it’s absolutely not the best picture of the year.
-As much as Alice Adams has going for it, it has one big thing that definitely doesn’t; it’s unlikable. Well, okay; the film itself can be likable for being fairly well made, and for having Katharine Hepburn in one of her better performances. Other than that, though, this was cringeworthy in every respect of the term. And yes, that it was is pretty much the point, but that still doesn’t make it pleasurable to watch, and while a Best Picture winner doesn’t necessarily have to be pleasurable, for me, it should at the very least be entertaining. Any way you look at it, though, there are better films from this year contending for the prize.
–David Copperfield is ending up where it is largely because I do have a little respect for the film; it’s fine, but any more or other compliments from me would be drawing blood with a syringe. This also feels like a nomination that was only earned because of the expanded field, and while George Cukor does tend to be pretty prevalent in the annals of Best Picture, I personally can’t really agree with his repeated presence in the category; his films are mostly just okay, and that to me shouldn’t mean it’s one of the best pictures of the year.
-I’m in a bit of a quandary with Top Hat. On my first viewing of it for the 1001 list, I seemed to enjoy it enough, and I checked it off without any troubles. Problem is, now that I’ve seen other Astaire-Rogers films I haven’t enjoyed, like Swing Time and The Gay Divorcee, I don’t know which way I should fall in regards to this one. What I ended up doing was placing Top Hat in my list for this segment, along with the other two 1001 films that I rewatched for this segment to get a clearer picture on, and added the other nominees either above or below it accordingly. Now, Top Hat isn’t exactly supposed to be a benchmark film by my standards, but at least I didn’t hate it nearly as much as the Astaire-Rogers film from last year, so there’s that.
-While there was one major reason I ended up liking Broadway Melody of 1936, that being Eleanor Powell and her world-class tap skills, there was actually quite a bit to appreciate about the film, mostly that it had a great stage presence and a production value that was well-utilized. Still, if you manage to not be taken by what charms the film does have, then besides Eleanor Powell, there really isn’t very much else to this one. I can appreciate the nomination, but there are still better films here.
–A Midsummer Night’s Dream is notable for its magical cinematography, which won it the only write-in Oscar winner in history, and a well-utilized Felix Mendelssohn score. Does that make it the best picture of the year? Not really, or rather, it shouldn’t, and it doesn’t do so here. Shakespeare will have plenty of opportunities to win this award, and future contenders will be better overall pictures than this one was.
–Ruggles of Red Gap is that rare comedy nominated for this award, and also gives Charles Laughton one more out of three chances to star in a Best Picture winner this year, which is pretty exemplary. But, I would say that Laughton’s other two films up for this year’s award are better, and while I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, it still didn’t feel like it had done enough to actually win the award. Leo McCarey will have a few more chances at this, so this will mostly serve as a ground-breaker for his future awards contenders. Still, it’s funny, so it’s worth a watch at least.
-I went into The Informer expecting it to contend for the top spot in this segment. I came out of it wondering why it was as highly regarded as it was. I’ll be completely honest; I’m only placing it here because of John Ford and the production itself; otherwise, this would probably have ended up below the fold for me. That may not be all that fair in a Best Picture ranking, but I did feel like the production itself was well done, even if the film itself had barely enough content to justify its own meager running time.
–Les Miserables, on the other hand, impressed me more than I thought it would. Though the primary reasons to see this over other adaptations are Fredric March and Charles Laughton, that doesn’t mean this is a poor picture, because it’s definitely not. While other films in the running this year have plenty of style and not enough substance to win the award, this one is the other way around; there’s enough substance here to easily carry the film, even if the production itself seems somewhat timid. That in and of itself is why this ended up as high as it did, and I’m actually pretty fine with that.
–Captain Blood has a lot going for it, mostly that it’s pretty darn entertaining, as well as well made, with the final battle scene being a particularly standout example of well-utilized production value. Heck, director Michael Curtiz came in second in the voting for Best Director, despite not being on the official ballot. Does that mean it should win Best Picture? In the ideal world conjured up by the general moviegoing populace, quite possibly; the Academy has gotten a lot of flack over the years for not nominating popular entertainment, especially well-made and received pictures, let alone having such films win the big one. Unfortunately for Captain Blood, there are other films this year that are not only better made and more entertaining, they also had a more substantial impact with the Academy.
-Other potential nominees aside, this was absolutely Mutiny on the Bounty all the way. I know a lot of it is probably my love for seafaring/exploration films, but for me, this was the best made, most entertaining, and most substantive film of the field. Even rewatching it for this segment, I still had more fun than with a majority of the other nominees, and that will almost certainly get my vote for best picture of the year every time I can manage it.
-What Should Have Won/What I Would’ve Picked-
While my vote would still have likely gone to Mutiny on the Bounty, there were a few misses among the nominees, even with the large field. The biggest miss in the fold was almost certainly Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, though Hitch would finally get some love a few years later. Greta Garbo’s vehicle Anna Karenina probably could’ve wrangled a nom over some of the actual nominees, considering how successful it was commercially and critically. And while she won an Honorary Oscar the year before, I’m surprised a Shirley Temple film didn’t manage to net a nomination, but maybe her films weren’t seen as weighty enough to contend with fare like The Informer and Les Mis.
-How Did Oscar Do?-
The top few nominees aside, this whole expanded category thing has to go away, Academy. You’re not at the point yet where there are more than enough worthy films to justify it, and my being forced to sit through at least half of the nominees this year only emboldens that fact. Next year, it’ll be merely ten instead of twelve, but I’m not holding out too much hope that it’ll mean that you’ve completely come to your senses.