The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 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.
The Racket is about a group of gangsters who have bought of the police in their city, and the incorruptible officers who are trying to take them down. Same as The Untouchables, but for the silent era.
The film is fine, but of the three it’s clearly the forgotten one of the bunch. People don’t even know that they remade this movie in 1951. Howard Hughes produced this movie, and while I’m not so pessimistic as to suggest anything untoward, I have a feeling him being the producer of this movie had a lot to do with it being nominated. It just felt like the kind of thing that this newfound Academy thought would reflect well on them at that moment in time. Which I get. Unfortunately, this movie is nowhere near as good as the other two films on this list, as evidenced by how much better the other two films are remembered. I think this movie is pretty good, but not good enough to consider taking it over these next two nominees.
Seventh Heaven is one of my favorite silent films. It still holds up. You couldn’t remake it, because it’s too schmaltzy for today’s audiences, but for a silent film, this movie is great.
Charles Farrell is a street cleaner who believes he’s destined for better things. Janet Gaynor is a woman living with her abusive sister. One day, her sister follows her out into the street, attacking her, and Farrell saves her. The police, after arresting her sister, move to arrest her too. But Farrell, out of sympathy, lies and says she’s his wife. The police say, “Oh yeah? Well, we’re gonna come to your house at some point over the next 30 days, and if she’s not there with you as your wife, you’re both getting arrested.” So now she’s gotta move in with him. And it’s awkward at first, but eventually they find a way to live together. And then the cops come and they’re in the clear… only now, they’re pretty happy living together. So they continue doing so. And get married. But now… war breaks out. And Farrell’s gotta go off to fight. And, like most Farrell and Gaynor films (especially those directed by Frank Borzage), the film builds to a big emotional moment where the couple, who has been separated through fate, is brought together once again. Love conquers all.
This movie is incredible. If you can stand silent films and understand how this era of filmmaking works, you will love this movie. It’s so good. I get why it didn’t win. It’s actually kind of the opposite of what the Oscars would do now. Now, they like the focused drama and not the big budget “Hollywood film.” But at the first Oscars? It was all about “look at how much money and effort went into this movie.” Of course they weren’t gonna go for this. But I’ll tell you — this is my favorite film in this category and is probably gonna be my vote. That said
Wings is a movie that’s so good I’m actually questioning whether or not I should take Seventh Heaven. Because I love Seventh Heaven, but Wings is a hell of an achievement. It’s no All Quiet on the Western Front (more on that tomorrow), but it’s quite impressive.
The film is about two friends and rivals growing up in small-town America. They’ve both got a crush on the “girl next door.” They both end up enlisting to become airmen in the war. So we watch as they go through training and battle, and all that. Of course it builds to where one has to die and the other one ends up getting back home to meet the girl (who for some reason ends up overseas as a nurse as well for part of the film). It’s a crazy silent film plot, but the aerial scenes are incredible.
Also, look at this shot:
This did not simply win Best Picture because it was big and expensive and representative of what Hollywood wanted to put forward as the “best” they had to offer. Well, it didn’t just win because of that. It’s a real achievement in filmmaking as it stood for 1927. That said — it’s not my favorite film. So I’ll need to figure out how to gauge this voting. It’s the first year. The normal rules don’t apply. So we’ll see.
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The Reconsideration: The real reconsideration is whether or not I think the achievement of Wings is the film that should have won Best Picture at the first Oscars or if I should take what I feel is my favorite film and arguably the better film. Technically you want the film that wins this category (or both categories, or whatever they thought they were doing here) to be the one that best represents the best that Hollywood has to offer. I get why Wings won this. But would I take it? I probably should. But quite honestly, I love Seventh Heaven so much I’m gonna take that. I honestly don’t even mind if it wouldn’t hold up as well as Wings. Because looking at Wings, all I think is, “Would we really consider this such a great film if it hadn’t won Best Picture?” I don’t necessarily think so. I think there’d be a better argument made for it winning Best Picture if it didn’t than there is for Seventh Heaven winning when it didn’t. But I also think that Seventh Heaven won Best Director this year and seeing it win both would have made a whole lotta sense. And sometimes your favorite is your favorite and that’s just what you gotta take. I’m pretending like I’m voting in 1928, not in 2016 trying to pick for 1928. So I’ll take Seventh Heaven.
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- Seventh Heaven
- The Racket
My Vote: Seventh Heaven
Wings, as a Best Picture winner, should be considered essential by all film lovers. Anyone interested in film, film history, the evolution of film, should at some point see this movie. I’m not gonna say it’ll change your life. But I will say that if you are interested in silent film and the silent era — there’s some really cool stuff that happens in here, man. This is a must see.
Seventh Heaven is a film that everyone should see. Essential for true film buffs. I could show this film to anyone — even people who aren’t necessarily “into” film — and they’ll get something out of it. I could show this to a child and they could be interested in it. (Assuming they’d sit through and give it their attention.) This is a great movie that people need to see if they have any love of film.
The Racket — fine. Only if you’re into silent film and film history is this of any real interest to you. It’s fine, but most people don’t need to deal with this.
The Last Word: Wings is a fine winner, but I prefer Seventh Heaven as the better film. I don’t necessarily have a preference, and think they made a fine choice. It’s probably the choice that holds up better historically, but we also have history to help us here. I think Seventh Heaven might have been just fine as a winner. But we’ll never know. I think they both would look okay, but all things considered Wings is a fine choice as the first “official” Best Picture winner.
Unique or Artistic Production
Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness is an interesting film. They shot it documentary-style, entirely on location in Thailand. On that alone, I get why it’s a piece of unique and artistic production that was exemplary from this year.
It’s about a family who lives in the jungle. Mostly we see them going about their lives and also fighting wild animals that try to attack them. The guy fights a bunch of tigers and things and literally kills them on camera. It’s pretty insane. They staged a few events they didn’t get the first time, but most of it is legit real. Which makes it a weird docudrama mixture.
It’s a very interesting movie. Definitely the weakest in the category and the least remembered. Hard to take this over the other two films. Though I would say it’s definitely the most “Unique” film in the category. The Artistic part is up for discussion, and is probably why after this the two categories were combined into a single Best Picture category. But generally based on what I know this category as being, this is for sure the third choice in the category.
The Crowd is an incredible film. King Vidor. It’s one of those movies about the common man and his struggle to make something of himself and stand out from (insert title here). (You know, like La La Land.)
A man sets out to make something of himself and gets a job at a big company and marries the woman he loves. Things are looking up. And we follow as he and his wife have children, struggle to make ends meet, go through their ups and downs maritally, struggle with loss (of loved ones and jobs). It’s basically slice of life. We follow this family going through the struggles of the everyday person.
It’s a bold film for 1928. You don’t see them get this gritty at this time. It’s either highly stylized gangster stuff or more “Hollywood” style stuff that we’re used to seeing. It’s a great film, and I could see voting for it in the right situation. The problem is, while I like this film very much, this next film, I love. And that usually is where I end up going with the vote.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is a perfect film. Silent movie has many great films, and many interesting films, but there are few perfect films. The ones that translate even today to audiences. This is one of those films.
Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor are husband and wife in a small, rural town about an hour outside the city. They’ve never been to the city and live simply. A woman from the city has come into the town on vacation and has seduced Farrell and started an affair with him. She tries to get him to come back to the city with her, even tempting him to murder Gaynor so he can be free of her. His attempts to do this, and the following excursion to the city that he and she take are some of the best scenes in silent film history.
This movie is absolutely wonderful, and as good as The Crowd is, it’s hard to argue with this as a winner. This and The Crowd both, coincidentally, were two of the first 25 films selected to the National Film Registry, which is kind of like being in the first group of players selected into the Hall of Fame in the inaugural class. Big deal.
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The Reconsideration: It’s either Sunrise or The Crowd. Both are great films and would be tremendous winners, but my vote is Sunrise every time. It’s just so beautiful and so well made. There’s a big section of people who will take The Crowd because it’s more of a hard-hitting type of drama, and more “important” socially, whereas Sunrise is more of a personal type romance of sorts. That’s an argument that still happens to this day. I’m not gonna get into that. I’m gonna say, while they’re both worthy, my preference is for Sunrise, and that’s the film I will take, ten times out of ten.
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- Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
- The Crowd
- Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness
My Vote: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Sunrise is an essential film for anyone who loves film.
The Crowd is also pretty essential for film lovers. If you boiled the silent era down to 10-15 essential movies, this would be one of those movies. So I’d call it straight up essential for serious film lovers.
Chang is good, and worthwhile if you like silent movies (or like seeing movies where they straight up slaughter animals on screen. Not for the animal killing, I mean in that weird way where you’re like, “I can’t believe there was a time when this happened and nobody cared.” Like blackface). Definitely recommend, but really only if you’re into stuff from this era. It’s not all time essential for the casual film buffs.
The Last Word: Sunrise holds up. People still call it the “forgotten Best Picture winner.” The Crowd would have also been the same. I doubt Chang would have gotten that distinction, but you never know. I think they had two great choices here and made one of them. It happens to be the one I agree with most, so I’m happy.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)