Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1937

-Year in Summary/What Did Win-

Several firsts occurred at this year’s Academy Awards, such as Zola becoming the first film to net ten nominations, and Luise Rainer becoming the first actor to win more than one acting award, as well as consecutively. This would also be the first year the official Screen Extras Guild got to vote on all the nominees, which they’d have the power to do for the next eight years. Best Picture, though, would go to Zola, becoming the second biopic in a row to win the award.

-Ranking the Nominees-

One Hundred Men and a Girl

One Hundred Men and a Girl ends up in last place pretty much for being the most ‘nothing’ film of the myriad of nothing films that have been graciously chosen to fill out the still-expanded roster of Best Picture nominees, especially this year. It’s films like this one that I think have contributed significantly to my much slower pace as of late; I’m just tired of sitting through films like this, that are supposedly Best Picture material, when they are very clearly not, and not even getting anything whatsoever out of it on the other end. Films that are a complete slog to get through shouldn’t be anywhere near Best Picture, this included.

In Old Chicago

In Old Chicago falls into the category of Best Picture nominees that are clearly riding the coattails of previous Best Picture nominees. In this case, 1936’s San Francisco, the success of which sparked this film’s conception, creation, and commercialization. To say that this film wouldn’t have existed at all had San Francisco not been the success it had been is an absolutely massive understatement; the film doesn’t even really try and hide it, and films that exist entirely to be derivative are absolutely not what the best picture of the year should be.

Dead End

Dead End has a lot of soul to it, and by that I mean that the production value of the set/location, added to the pace of the script and the performances by the names of the picture, combine together to make a pervasive mood that the film keeps consistent through the whole running time. That, I think is the primary selling point of this one, and may even be why it got this nomination at all, considering there really isn’t any other reasons or selling points to this. While I liked it for its mood, there was no real story told here, and it’s very difficult to have a chance at winning Best Picture (i.e. being nominated) when your film doesn’t actually tell a story. There are exceptions, of course, but this is certainly not one of them.

Stage Door

-I’m actually a little surprised Stage Door ended up as low as it did, considering how I’d appreciated it when I watched it. But, re-reading my review, there’s really not a whole lot to this one aside from the rapid-fire pace of the dialogue and a couple of turns from supporting players. That, coupled with the feeling that the film’s shift in genre partway through, while effective for me at least, wasn’t part of the film’s intention, means that this is about as high in the rankings as this one is going to get.

Lost Horizon

-I feel I can legitimately say that Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s first real misstep in his career. The man imbues such a heart and soul to his pictures, and such a warm feeling of such, that it’s really no wonder he won three Best Director awards in the span of five years, especially considering the 1930’s. This, however, was simultaneously too much and not enough of a film to be a well-rounded picture, which as I said in my review was something I absolutely did not expect from Capra. I placed it in the middle of my ratings scale pretty much out of necessity, and that it ended up just below the fold of the expanded field in my rankings here is not too much of a surprise for me.

The Good Earth

-Now we’re getting into pictures that at the very least stand a decent chance at this award, and can do so without hunching down in their seats or looking around the room in embarrassment. The Good Earth has everything Best Picture would want to fill out the fold of its roster… on paper, that is. On the screen, I was actually a little taken aback at what a different kind of film it was compared to what Hollywood was known for making at the time. That it still got the nomination even with this was quite a pleasant surprise, but I’d imagine it ended up not winning this award for that same reason; it’s just too different a film to be an altogether and overtly entertaining one, and I’d have to agree with that particular line of reasoning.

The Life of Emile Zola

The Life of Emile Zola won this award, and I suppose I can understand why it did for late-1930’s standards. But, that would basically be what I’d be doing: supposing. While this was enjoyable, and effective, for several reasons, I wouldn’t place it on any higher pantheon than that. Simply put, I liked this, but there are better and more deserving films up for this award, so let’s keep this in the fold but look at those other films instead.

Captains Courageous

-I do try and rewatch films I’ve seen previously for each year of this segment, but man was I surprised again at my rewatch of Captains Courageous; this is a really good film. Maybe it’s the charms of Spencer Tracy, or the skills of director Victor Fleming, or the script, or the maritime setting; I really don’t know what it is about this film that makes me like it so much. I’ve heard plenty about what a snot Freddie Bartholomew is in this role, but for me, that’s his character, and that people dislike him so much in this is a testament to how well he pulls it off as an actor, not to mention that he comes away at the end of the story very much changed, which is the mark of a good story well told. That’s what this is, principally: a good story well told, and had it not been for two other films, I could’ve seen this dark-horsing this award.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born has the distinction of being the first all-color film up for the big one, and I think that casts a bit of an unfair shadow over this film. Even if this had been shot and released in black-and-white (instead of merely having the color taken out of it, for example), it’s still a really solid picture, and echoing similar feelings towards films like Grand Hotel, this just feels like a Best Picture winner to me. So why’s it second? Well, keep reading, and I’ll get to that.

The Awful Truth

-I try to be as objective as I can be in these rankings, which (as should go without saying) is a lot harder than it seems. Case in point: this year. I’ve tried to keep these ten films in order of what I can realistically figure is the overall best picture of the year, but sometimes, something happens; you watch a film, or rewatch a film, and it’s just so enjoyable that you’re overcome with subjective emotions as to how and where to actually place it in a rankings such as this. The Awful Truth may not be the best story told this year, or the most even or solid, but, considering its intentions as a comedy, what it isn’t it more than makes up for with what it is: absolutely, genuinely hilarious. In this case, this year, screw objectivity; this picture right here is getting my vote, mainly for being the most fun I had with any of the ten nominees even despite my already having seen it. That’s a winner right there.

-What Should Have Won-

Looking through 1937, there’s not a whole lot that jumps out at someone, but there’s enough to potentially replace some of the lesser fare that got a nomination this year. A big miss for me, and famously for its director Leo McCarey as well, is Make Way for Tomorrow, though given how misunderstood it was when it was released I can see why it didn’t actually get in. Grand Illusion was released this year, but not in the States until next year, when it was nominated, so that one can wait till then. I could see a case being made for Stella Dallas as well, especially over some of the actual nominees. Undoubtedly the biggest miss, however, is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, though the Academy would partially rectify this mistake the following year with an honorary award for Walt Disney for the film, but its omission this year is still pretty glaring.

-What I Would’ve Picked-

As I said, at least for this year, screw objectivity; The Awful Truth is getting my vote.

-How Did Oscar Do?-

There’s some winners and some losers here, Oscar, both this year as a whole and in what you nominated, which is something I get the distinct impression I’m going to end up saying about almost every year up through when the category is finally shrunken down. C’mon now, let’s see you wow me.


4 thoughts on “Judging Oscar: Best Picture 1937

  1. I’ve seen 8 of the 10 films … and I completely agree about The Awful Truth being the best! Except (maybe) for Suspicion, I think it’s Cary Grant’s best movie.

  2. My rankings were quite different. I’m that rare bird who isn’t enamored of The Awful Truth, for instance. Given a completely clear field, though, my winner is Stella Dallas, which wasn’t even nominated.

    Oh, and not to cause strife, but North by Northwest is not just Cary Grant’s best movie, it’s the best movie ever made.

  3. Overall it looks like Oscar is doing a far better job than in previous years. I think about half the field get a positive comment. That is progress.
    I agree with you on The Awful Truth. That is the only movie of 1937 that I from time to time take out to watch again. Captains Couragous and Stella Dallas would be my runner ups.
    I found Life of Emille Zola a triffle boring. It just has not aged that well. Its handling of the background of the Dreyfus affair is also scandalous. Intead I would place Make Way for tomorrow as number four.
    Snow White? Somehow it just does not cut it for me as a best picture. It deserves a lot of other accolades but not that one.

  4. So many I haven’t seen – One hundred men and a girl, In old Chicago, Dead end, Stage door, Lost horizan, The good earth, A star is born…

    Among the ones I can have an opinion about, I’d give my vote to Snow White or Make way for tomorrow, with Stella Dallas as a strong contender. I didn’t like the tone of The awful truth, and neither Captains courageous nor The life of Emile Zola struck me as something special.

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