The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1936
This is another one of those years where the Academy established what they really consider to be a Best Picture. The Great Ziegfeld has everything you’d expect to see in a Best Picture. Though they were still figuring things out, despite that. Until this point, Best Picture and Best Director only synched up three times, which is the opposite of how we know it to be nowadays. (And it wouldn’t start synching up until 1941, with only 5 of the first 14 Best Director winners synching up with Best Picture.) It seems as though they were still equating Best Director with Best Screenplay at this point (since you’ll notice that a lot of the Best Director winners had stronger writing in their films than they did noticeably superior direction. With exceptions, of course), which explains how they could give Best Director this year to Frank Capra for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (talked about here). That film isn’t so much well-directed as well-written, especially next to something like San Francisco or even Dodsworth and The Great Ziegfeld. But even so, at least they knew, for the most part, what they were doing with Best Picture.
This year was also the first year in which the Supporting Categories were introduced. The first Best Supporting Actor Oscar was given out, which went to Walter Brennan for Come and Get It (talked about here), which — who better to be given the first Supporting Actor Oscar than Walter Brennan? Even though they were still figuring out what “supporting” actually meant here. The category was insanely weak. And the first Best Supporting Actress winner was Gale Sondergaard for Anthony Adverse (talked about here), which I don’t much agree with, but, just like the pre-1934 years, you can’t really fault them, since they didn’t yet establish the category. You can tell they didn’t really know what constituted a supporting performance, since they gave Best Actress to Luise Rainer for The Great Ziegfeld (talked about here). Her performance is definitely what we’d consider nowadays to be a supporting performance, even though she was good in it.
The other winner was Paul Muni as Best Actor for The Story of Louis Pasteur (talked about here), which seems too much like a rush to get Muni a statue, since William Powell and Walter Huston had much better years (and performances) than he did (plus, he could have easily won the year after this for The Life of Emile Zola, which would have helped legitimize that film as a Best Picture winner).
In all, though, 1936 is a strong year. One of those years with several potential winners in most categories. That’s always a good year to have.
BEST PICTURE – 1936
And the nominees were…
Anthony Adverse (Warner Bros.)
Dodsworth (Goldwyn, United Artists)
The Great Ziegfeld (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Libeled Lady (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Columbia)
Romeo and Juliet (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
San Francisco (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
The Story of Louis Pasteur (Warner Bros.)
A Tale of Two Cities (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Three Smart Girls (Universal) (more…)