It’s hard to follow up 1939. But 1940 makes a real go of it. This is, while not in 1939 territory, an exceptionally strong Best Picture list. And the decisions they made this year were really strong too. Which is a bit of a shame, since it’s sandwiched between the strongest year in film history and the biggest Best Picture screw job in Academy history.
Rebecca wins Best Picture, which isn’t a great decision based on the category, but is lessened by the fact that the film that should have won Best Picture, The Grapes of Wrath, won Best Director for John Ford (talked about here). If John Ford didn’t win Best Director, then we’d be talking about how weak a choice Rebecca is (if some people don’t already do that). It’s a great film (and a Hitchcock, which is what leads people to defend it so vehemently), but it’s just not on the level The Grapes of Wrath is. And the split does help alleviate some of that tension (kind of the way the Shakespeare in Love/Saving Private Ryan split does), because at least then you can say, “Well, at least they recognized one was superior, but they just preferred the other.” So I can accept it. Jane Darwell also won Best Supporting Actress for The Grapes of Wrath (talked about here), which is awesome, since she is the “Ma” of cinema. Best Actor this year was Jimmy Stewart for The Philadelphia Story (talked about here), which is the most blatant makeup Oscar perhaps in the history of cinema. It’s terrible. He should have won the year before this. But, it gave him an Oscar, and for that, it’s okay. Even though he did beat both Charlie Chaplin and Henry Fonda, depriving Chaplin of an Oscar and delaying Fonda’s win for 41 years. Best Actress was Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle (talked about here), which I love as a decision. Joan Fontaine, to me, gave the best performance, but Rogers was likely to never have another shot at winning, so I support the win (plus Fontaine got her makeup Oscar the year after this anyway. For a Hitchcock again, no less). And Best Supporting Actor was (surprise, surprise), Walter Brennan, for the third time in five years, for The Westerner (talked about here). This was actually the strongest of the three performances he won for (in a terribly weak category too), so he deserved it.
Overall, 1940 is a strong year, and anything weak about it is actually alleviated in context. Jimmy Stewart shouldn’t have won, but he should have won the year before this, so it’s understandable. Ginger Rogers never had another shot at an Oscar, so the win makes sense. And Rebecca isn’t as good as The Grapes of Wrath, but Grapes of Wrath won Best Director. So, to me, 1940, while not being a standout year, is still a damn good one.
BEST PICTURE – 1940
And the nominees were…
All This, and Heaven Too (Warner Bros.)
Foreign Correspondent (Wanger, United Artists)
The Grapes of Wrath (20th Century Fox)
The Great Dictator (Chaplin, United Artists)
Kitty Foyle (RKO Radio)
The Letter (Warner Bros.)
The Long Voyage Home (Argosy, Wanger, United Artists)
Our Town (Lesser, United Artists)
The Philadelphia Story (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Rebecca (Selznick, United Artists) (more…)