1938 is a year I will always consider weak, just because the Academy had an opportunity to grow past what they’d established already, and instead chose the safe route and give Best Picture to a film that too easy a choice. You Can’t Take It With You wins, which is an enjoyable film, but really not a step forward for the Academy. It’s not 1934 anymore. Frank Capra also won Best Director for it (talked about here).
The Best Pictures until this point were: two war epics, two musicals, a western, an ensemble prestige picture, a romantic comedy and three dramas (family, high seas/historical, and historical/biographical). They took a step in the right direction with It Happened One Night in 1934. Mutiny on the Bounty in ’35 wasn’t a bad choice. (I’d have gone for The Informer, but that’s me.) The Great Ziegfeld in ’36 is an easy winner. It’s big, cinematic, and everything that a Best Picture should be. After that, it seemed like they didn’t know what to do. The Life of Emile Zola was a weak choice, and seemed like them trying to continue the trend of historical dramas. And here, again it seems they didn’t know what to do, so they went back and tried to repeat what worked earlier. A lot of the decisions before the war ended seem that way. Apart from the easy choice films like Gone With the Wind, The Best Years of Our Lives — even Mrs. Miniver, they really don’t seem to know what to do, so they go back to earlier choices. So that’s why I don’t really like this year as a whole. Because a year starts with its Best Picture.
As for the rest of the year, Spencer Tracy wins his second consecutive Best Actor for Boys Town (which I talked about here), a performance I consider to be the single worst in the history of the Best Actor category, as well as the second or third worst decision all time in the category. It’s pretty horrendous. Then Best Supporting Actor was — you guessed it — Walter Brennan, for Kentucky, winning his second of three in five years. And Best Supporting Actress was Fay Bainter, for Jezebel, which is by default a good decision because she was nominated for Best Actress this year, and was really good there as well. So, in all, I probably only like two of the six decisions. And this category, I just disagree with completely. The only thing that I like about it is that this basically means that Scarlett O’Hara won two Oscars. That’s pretty cool.
BEST ACTRESS – 1938
And the nominees were…
Fay Bainter, White Banners
Bette Davis, Jezebel
Wendy Hiller, Pygmalion
Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette
Margaret Sullavan, Three Comrades (more…)