The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1938
1938 feels like a “motions” year. One of those ones where you just feel the Academy going through the motions. The Oscars feels a lot like Hollywood itself a lot of the time. That is, they find a formula that works, or one they like, and they ride that formula for a while until they transition to something else. You notice it with the type of films they make, and in their Best Picture choices as well. You really can notice a pattern in what they nominate and what they vote for.
I’ve already said that 1928-1933 were the Academy figuring itself out. I’d also say that 1934-1938 were the Academy counteracting the Depression. Of course, as is always the case with AMPAS, you’ll see the standard “Oscar” picture thrown in as well, as well as a choice that defies all logic. But, there are choice years that really point out what the “trend” was at that point in film history. This is a huge reason why I love the Oscars. You can really get a snapshot of what the prevailing trend in — well, not Hollywood overall, but, this portion of it.
So, 1938. You Can’t Take It With You wins Best Picture. Now it’s perhaps thought of as a weak choice. And unlike most of the years they consider poor choices, this one isn’t directed so much at the quality of the film but rather at how “safe” a choice it was, and how generic a Best Picture it is. And that’s the reason I see it as part of the “Depression” trend, because, after this year, Hollywood transitioned to the “war” picture era, 1940-1946. It feels like when someone pulls back to reference a joke that was funny the first three times it was referenced, but now it feels as though people are going through the motions. Sure, it’s funny, but lets not beat it into the ground. (more…)