This is the first entry on my quest to WATCH EVERY BEST PICTURE NOMINEE EVER!!! This entry covers the 5 nominees for the 3rd Annual Academy Awards ceremony which took place on November 5th 1930 and featured films initially released between August 1, 1929 and July 31, 1930. Those films are:
Universal – 2hr 32min
DIRECTOR: Lewis Milestone
NOTES: Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. • Lewis Milestone won Best Director for his efforts. • A sequel was made; The Road Back(1937). • After disrupting showings of the film in Germany, the Nazi party under Adolph Hitler eventually banned the film altogether.
PROS: Incredible battle scenes complete with gore and documentary-esque camera angles. A precursor to Saving Private Ryan and many others. • Poetic imagery that would be maudlin if it weren’t so affective. • An anti-war message that feels progressive even today. • Louis Wolheim(as Katsczinksy) really shines.
CONS: Strange acting choices from the lead, Lew Ayres. • Melodramatic to the max.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: Leonard Maltin over on YouTube
MGM – 1hr 27min
DIRECTOR: George Hill
GENRE: Prison Flick/Revenge/Corruption of Justice
NOTES: The screen writer Frances Marion paid several visits to a prison and interviewed inmates in order to make the dialogue and details as accurate as possible. She won the Oscar for Best Writing Achievement. • The ubiquitous Douglas Shearer(brother to Norma) won the award for Sound Recording(which was a brand new category this year).
PROS: Wallace Beery is just flat-out awesome! I can’t watch him without thinking of the gangsters on Looney Tunes. He’s totally believable as a murdering convict and yet you are drawn to his loyal quality and code of ethics. In my opinion he should have won Best Actor this year. • Some smooth camera moves and nice pre-Kubrick-esque framing at times. • A nice dramatic turn for Chester Morris who I found to be pretty hammy in The Divorcee (also from this year). • A stuttering comedic inmate. Stuttering characters seemed to be all the rage in the 30’s. It’s no wonder then how Porky Pig emerged(speaking of Looney Tunes) • A pretty critical look at the prison system and it’s flaws.
CONS: The face-off at the end is an impressive display of early sound design but ultimately an editing mess and a bit over the top.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at Pre-Code
Warner Bros. – 1hr 27min
DIRECTOR: Alfred E. Green
GENRE: Biography/Slice of Life/Stage to Screen
NOTES: This was George Arliss’ 4th turn at portraying Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. All versions are based on the stage play which Arliss originally performed on Broadway in 1911. He reprised the role for the play’s revival in 1917, and also for the silent film version in 1921.
PROS: George Arliss is an old pro and it shows. A charming and witty performance.
CONS: Pretty boring. It’s basically the play transferred to the screen. • The camera remains static the entire time as the majority of the film takes place in a drawing room. • Without any real knowledge of Benjamin Disraeli, this becomes a recommendation for the completists only.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Edward Copeland over at eddieonfilm
MGM – 1hr 24min
DIRECTOR: Robert Z. Leonard
GENRE: Romantic Drama/Scandal/good pre-code example.
NOTES: Based on the book Ex-wife by Ursula Parrott. • Norma Shearer won Best Actress for her performance here. This made her and her brother Douglas the first siblings to be nominated for an academy award in the same year.
PROS: Norma Shearer… grrrr. • Lots of pre-code-ness (e.g., blasé attitude to divorce, revenge sex, drunk driving, etc.) • Some nice understated moments like, a certain missed phone call, and the whole “playing the field” montage towards the end.
CONS: Lots of schmaltzy dialogue. • Generally overacted.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Danny over at Pre-Code
The Love Parade (1929)
Paramount – 1hr 47min
DIRECTOR: Ernst Lubitsch
GENRE: Musical-Comedy/good pre-code example
NOTES: Adapted from the French play Le Prince Consort. • A film of firsts: Lubtisch’s first “talkie” and his first musical(obviously). Quite possibly the first musical(at least how we think of them today). Jeanette MacDonald’s first film and her first of four pairings with Chevalier.
PROS: Funny! In that Marx Brothers screwball, breaking the 4th wall kinda way.(The Marx Brothers’ first film, The Cocoanuts came out this year as well) • Jeanette & Maurice have great chemistry. She has a certain “down to earth” quality that I kinda fell in love with, and Chevalier is one charming bastard, even at a young age. • Lupino Lane and Lilian Roth as the “common couple” show off their impressive physicality in their musical numbers. • Lubitsch’s command of sound, in his first sound picture no less, is possibly the most surprising aspect of this film. Feature length sound pictures had only been around for a little under 2 years. Sound effects, synchronized singing on separate sets(filmed simultaneously!), and an overall clarity make this film one of the earliest triumphs of the new technology.
CONS: Slows down considerably in the 2nd half • The Queen(MacDonald) has quite the reversal at the end, basically losing all her strength which she carried through the whole movie. It is intentional and probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously given the light-hearted nature of the film. Those types of reversals are also common during this period.
BETTER REVIEW THAN MINE: from Owen Erasmus over at Letterboxd
Did the Oscars get it right?
As much as I loved The Love Parade(get it?), All Quiet On The Western Front is really far and above it and miles above the other films. Both in it’s message which is loftier, and it’s imagery which is still affective 86 years later. Despite some clunky acting it truly set the bar for battle scenes and contains almost every trope you’ve come to expect from a war film. It was the first film in Oscar history to win both Best Director and Best Picture.
Here are some favorably reviewed films which were eligible that year but weren’t nominated for Best Picture. I compiled the list from various sources and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they were snubbed or not. Have one to add? Let me know and I’ll list it. The ones I’ve seen are marked with an asterisk:
Applause* – dir. Rouben Mamoulian
A propos de Nice* – dir. Jean Vigo
Borderline – dir. Kenneth Macpherson
City Girl – dir. F.W. Murnau
The Dawn Patrol – dir. Howard Hawks
Earth* – dir. Alexander Dovzhenko
Hallelujah! – dir. King Vidor
Juno And The Paycock* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Ladies Of Leisure – dir. Frank Capra
Lucky Star – dir. Frank Borzage
Murder!* – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Pandora’s Box* – dir. G.W. Pabst
People On Sunday – dir. Robert Siodmak/Curt Siodmak
That Night’s Wife – dir. Yasujirõ Ozu
Under The Roofs Of Paris – dir. René Clair
Walk Cheerfully – dir. Yasujirõ Ozu
The White Hell Of Pitz Palu – dir. Arnold Fanck/G.W. Pabst