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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1927/28)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

Best Director, 1927-1928

Comedy

Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights

Ted Wilde, Speedy

Analysis:

On principle, I’m sticking with Milestone. But I don’t even need to do that, since I still liked his direction better. I don’t remember too much about Speedy, except it being a standard silent comedy (a Harold Lloyd one), and having some nice direction in terms of cars. I remember they mounted a camera on the hood of a car, so it made it seem like the POV of the car as it raced through traffic. That was nice. Otherwise, I don’t remember ever noting the direction that much.

Two Arabian Knights, on the other hand, I remember watching and going, “It’s clearly this.” Milestone is so easily the better visual filmmaker, the decision wasn’t close. Wilde is a comedy director, and made a good comedy, but Milestone – you can see actual filmmaking there.

Plus Milestone should have two, so that also is a bonus. But that’s not going to affect anything.

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The Reconsideration: It’s still Milestone.

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Rankings (category and film:

  1. Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights
  2. Ted Wilde, Speedy

The vote is Milestone. Milestone should have won. And if you’re into silent movies, maybe check it out, Two Arabian Knights. It’s not bad, and silent film is always fun to watch to see how they set up shots and stuff. Especially when it’s not generic silent filmmaking. And Speedy – if you’re a Harold Lloyd fan, check it out. Though I imagine most people only ever see Safety Last! and not much else of his.

My Vote: Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights

Recommendations: You probably don’t need to see either of them, but if you’re into silent comedy, Skippy is worth checking out and Two Arabian Knights is interesting as a silent film goes, and it’s a winner, so if you’re into what being a winner means, then that’s a reason to see it.

The Last Word: They made the right choice here.

Dramatic

Herbert Brenon, Sorrell and Son

Frank Borzage, Seventh Heaven

King Vidor, The Crowd 

Analysis:

Sorrell and Son remains one of my last five movies I haven’t seen of all these categories. I think it only exists as an unfinished print (pretty sure the last reel is missing too. Though I might not be. This one just might be in shitty condition) at AMPAS or UCLA (which are both like right here for me. I probably should just go and see them at some point). But I’ve yet to see it, so I cannot comment on its direction. Except to say – there’s really no way it’s not a distant third in this category, is there? I mean, you really have to be talking top notch direction for it to even make a second’s worth of a case in this category.

Seventh Heaven — I’m biased here. I’m sure I said it in the article, I’ll say it now. I love this movie. I think it’s incredible.

To rehash, since I should get into the habit of making these articles as contained as I can — Charles Farrell is a street cleaner in Paris. Janet Gaynor is a woman living with her abusive sister. He sees her one day as her sister is beating her in the street. He stops the sister, but doesn’t pay her much mind. But then he sees she’s about to kill herself, and stops that. A policeman comes and is about to arrest her, but Farrell, out of pity, says she’s his wife and not a vagrant. The policeman says they take that sort of thing seriously, so at some point over the next month, an officer will come by his house to make sure she’s really living with him. So he has to take her in until then, so he doesn’t get in trouble. And as they live together, they start to fall in love. It’s a beautiful segment of the film. And then eventually they get married and are happy, but then the war breaks out, and he has to go. And the rest of the film becomes (admittedly) kind of sappy about how love conquers all. The ending is pretty melodramatic, as far as silent film goes, but they build to the climax really well, and it works because it’s silent. It’s a real masterpiece of silent cinema.

The direction? I think it’s great. It’s legitimately great. Is it better than Vidor? Probably not. But I’m very biased toward this movie.

The Crowd — hands down, this is the class of the category. It’s such a classic film. Had this won the category, nobody would bat an eye. And it would have been one of the best decisions in the history of the category.

It’s about a guy who wants to be somebody important. He meets a woman and marries her. And we follow them, through the ups and downs. It’s a really important film.

In terms of pure filmmaking, this probably should have been the film that won.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration:

Vidor is clearly the best effort in the category and probably should have won. Borzage is a personal, sentimental favorite of mine. So I’m okay with either being the winner.

Also, it’s funny — going all the way back to the first Oscars, we see that they vote with their hearts. They like uplifting and not cynicism.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. King Vidor
  2. Frank Borzage
  3. Herbert Brenon (have not seen)

Rankings (films):

  1. Seventh Heaven
  2. The Crowd
  3. Sorrell and Son (haven’t seen)

My vote: I hate having to do this, but I’m taking Frank Borzage, Seventh Heaven. I don’t feel as bad, knowing he won.

Recommendations: If you’re really into film, you need to see both Seventh Heaven and The Crowd. Masterpieces of silent cinema. And if you can see Sorrell and Son, go for it, because it’s really hard to find. (And invite me!)

The Last Word: The Crowd and Seventh Heaven are essential silent movies and should be seen by all. Vidor is probably the one most people would say should have won here. I’m thoroughly okay with Borzage having won and think it was a good choice. To each his own. Hopefully I’ll come back and update this after having seen Sorrell and Son.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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