These were the 3rd Academy Awards, and this was really the point where Hollywood figured it out. The first awards were just laying groundwork, and the second was sort of a period of chaos, since after the first awards, Hollywood had to shift from one style of filmmaking (silent) to another (sound). Here was really the first year where Hollywood started getting sound down pat. It shows. The films, of course, were not perfected yet, but they’re definitely a marked improvement from the films of 1928-1929. You see more complex sound design, and more dialogue. The films of the year before this were more silence than dialogue. Here, they were able to tell stories.
The great thing about this year is that this was really the first year where there was a quintessential “Best Picture.” (Grand Hotel was the first “Academy” decision.) All Quiet on the Western Front is the total package. It’s a big, epic picture. Classy, based on a novel. And it also happens to be one of the greatest achievements ever put to film. The reason for that is — when you see what films of this era looked like (and watch the other nominees to see what I’m talking about), what Lewis Milestone (who won Best Director for the film, talked about here) was able to accomplish with sound design and staging and camera movement — I said it in that Best Director article, but this film is one that, were it made at any point in the first eleven years of the Academy Awards, it would still be better than just about every other film nominated. It’s incredible. And this was an important film for the Academy because it did also establish the classical “Oscar” film (which we really wouldn’t see again until maybe Grand Hotel and then for sure with The Great Ziegfeld). There wouldn’t be another slam dunk winner until Gone With the Wind.
The other winners this year were George Arliss as Best Actor for Disraeli (talked about here), which makes sense (it’s the kind of role that would win Best Actor), and Best Actress was Norma Shearer for The Divorcée (talked about here), which also makes sense, given that she was an actress who would basically become the first lady of Hollywood and was a huge star in the 30s. So, in all, it’s a very solid year, and really the first that you can point to as being representative of the classical Oscar decisions.
BEST PICTURE – 1929-1930
And the nominees were…
All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal)
The Big House (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Disraeli (Warner Bros.)
The Divorcée (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
The Love Parade (Paramount) (more…)