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The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1932-1933

This is gonna be a quick one. Most because — fuck, I hate this year. I really, really do.

This is an Academy year where there was little-to-no interesting nomination whatsoever. Of the ten Best Picture nominees, I’d say there are — maybe two, worth voting for. Maybe a third. Of all the acting nominees, I’d say I enjoyed one of them (but even that was out of obscene love for the film).

For recap purposes, Cavalcade won Best Picture (which meant the Director pair-up was inevitable). It’s a British drama about a family between New Year’s 1890-something and 1933, and we see them going through all the major events of the early 20th century, as well as seeing their kids grow and all that. Decent film and all, but — let’s put it this way — of all the Best Picture winners, this is the only one with fewer than 1,000 votes on IMDB. No one even remembers this film. Of all the Best Picture nominees, I guarantee that this is the most forgotten of the bunch (next to The Life of Emile Zola). Oh, and Charles Laughton won Best Actor for The Private Life of Henry VIII (look at all the Brits — this is how cinema was back then. British meant respectable), and Kate Hepburn won Best Actress for Morning Glory. That’s that starmaking role I was telling you about when I went over it. Yeah, weak all around, this year.

BEST DIRECTOR – 1932-1933

And the nominees are…

Frank Capra, Lady for a Day

George Cukor, Little Women

Frank Lloyd, Cavalcade

Capra — In a country in the middle of the Depression — 1933 was about where the peak was, wasn’t it? Like 33-35? — Frank Capra was like Steven Spielberg circa 1993 — he could do no wrong. His films were exactly what the country wanted to see — working class men and women in light comedies, which hinted at the Depression but were ultimately uplifting tales about people overcoming obstacles with the help of friends and all that. Saccharine, is the word. Placebo effect. Of course, some of Capra’s films are absolutely brilliant, as we all know — Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s A Wonderful Life are classics beyond measure — and some of his films — like this one — have very good stories, but, are not quite brilliant films. Then there are others that just plain aren’t so great. But, still, you have to hand it to the man for giving the country exactly what it needed at the time, as well as being a comedic version of Frank Borzage.

If you remember from yesterday, Frank Borzage is the kind of filmmaker that can tap straight into your emotions. His films, though, are mostly dramas. Capra’s are mostly comedies. Still, though, you can’t tell me that when Capra works, he doesn’t elicit emotion. Just try not feeling something when Jeff Smith is in the middle of his filibuster, or when George Bailey gets the help he needs to save the bank. Capra knew how to rile up emotion.

Anyway, this film is about the poor apple seller, who gave up her child to give her a better life. She’s been raised in a convent all her life. And now, she’s written her mother to tell her she’s coming to visit her before she gets married. And the mother, while writing her back, not wanting to embarrass her daughter, says she’s a rich woman and is the toast of the town, and will greet her with a huge party. Problem is, she’s a poor apple seller. So, since it’s a Capra film — everyone is willing to lend a hand, because they like her. A gangster friend chips in to help, and another rich acquaintance does a Pygmalion and gets her all dolled up, and everything goes off without a hitch (ultimately, anyway). It’s one of those sweet tales that makes you feel better about human existence and makes you think everything is gonna be all right.

Now, for the direction — it’s nothing fantastic. Capra was never really a director who made things look great stylistically (yet he has two Directing Oscars). His strength was really in the story. So, if the story isn’t executed flawlessly, then the directing doesn’t seem as great. And here — the film kind of works, but not totally. I think even he thought it didn’t quite work because he remade this film as his final film — Pocketful of Miracles. Which, we’ll be talking about when we get to 1962, because Peter Falk was nominated for it. But, here, it’s fine and all, but, a Best Director effort this is not.

Cukor — Here’s a film that actually surprised me. I hadn’t really ever seen or read Little Women — any version of it. Which is strange, considering the 1994 version is Oscar-nominated, and the 1949 version has Liz Taylor in it. You’d think I’d have at least seen one of them. And even the book — not my cup of tea. I knew what I needed to know — one of them dies at the end. The rest of it is them growing up in the 19th century. All marriage proposals and family problems and whatever. Do not care, in the least.

But, when I watched this version, I actually got through it okay. I was surprised at how well-shot it was. The colors were very crisp (which, admittedly could be because of a very good remastering, but still, good is good), and there was a nice color grading throughout the whole thing. Whites, grays and darks were very well-defined, which is something I’m really not used to seeing in old movies, because, nowadays, the copies end up looking like shit. So you rarely see things as crisp as, say a Third Man. So, the movie earns style points on that. As an adaptation, however, I really don’t care. It meant nothing to me. I respected the film for not boring me and making me feel like the 100 minutes was well-spent. Otherwise, this is one of those films I’d look at and go, “Yeah, it’s fine, but, no vote.” Ditto.

Lloyd — I guess, by default, this one wins. It’s a family drama, lots of passage of time, worrying about wars and shit. You know. I really don’t care. I’m not going to try to talk about something I can care less about. It’s a fine effort, and whatever. None of these were really outstanding. If I’m voting for the man, I vote Cukor. But, this is the wrong film to vote for him for, so, Lloyd becomes the vote. That’s how weak this year was.

My Thoughts: I guess we vote for Cavalcade. Because — why not? There really is no choice here, so, if I had to choose, let’s go with the Best Picture winner. Really, really don’t care though.

My Vote: Uhh — Lloyd.

Should Have Won: No preference. Really could care less about this list.

Is the result acceptable?: Uhh, sure. Cukor got an Oscar eventually. Sure, he got it at Kubrick’s expense, but, really, the only thing winning this award was the film winning Best Picture, and this was the only one gonna do that. It’s fine. Weak year. No one cares.

Ones I suggest you see: Whichever. If there’s any year to skip, make it this one.

Rankings:

3) Capra

2) Cukor

1) Lloyd

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