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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1932/33-1934)

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.

1932-1933

42nd Street

Cavalcade

A Farewell to Arms

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Lady for a Day

Little Women

The Private Life of Henry VIII

She Done Him Wrong

Smilin’ Through

State Fair

Analysis:

This is gonna be one of the two hardest articles I’ll have to write. Because there are 22 films in this one. And there will be 22 films tomorrow too. Actually, it’s gonna be rough for the next five days, pretty much. By the end I may just say “fuck it’ and rush through some of them. So forgive me in advance.

42nd Street is a classic musical. One of the classic musicals of all time. It’s a backstage musical, and its got that story of “chorus girl” goes in a nobody and comes out a star.

Warner Baxter is a broke director whose health is at risk if he continues to do his job who gets hired to put on a show. He needs this one to be a hit, or else he’s done for. Ruby Keeler comes fresh off a train to get a job in the chorus line. Baxter deals with all sorts of issues putting the show together until, the night before, when his star breaks her ankle. Enter Keeler, who has to go on and wow the audience. Take a guess what happens.

Great musical numbers directed by Busby Berkeley, and great pre-code innuendo. This is a classic among classics.

Had this been made a year or two prior, it might have won this award. Here, I’m sure it ended up as a second or third choice in the end. Honestly, I think it’s a better film than Cavalcade, and I think it’s clearly held up better. I don’t see why this isn’t more of a choice for most people. (Though I imagine it is.) Definitely a top two for me. The only real question is if I take it or something else later on.

Cavalcade is, in my mind, next to The Broadway Melody, the most forgotten Best Picture winner in history.

The film is about a rich British family and seeing famous events through their point of view. It begins as the husband is about to go off and fight during the Boer War. When he gets back, Queen Victoria dies. Then we follow one of their sons as he takes a honeymoon trip… on the Titanic. Then World War I. And eventually it ends with 1933, as the couple is old.

It’s fine. There’s not a whole lot to say in the way of a story. It’s based on a play and there’s a lot of interpersonal stuff. I don’t love it as a film. I’m not entirely sure why it won, though I guess it makes sense, since it’s classy and Noel Coward and all that. But I think it’s one of the weakest winners in history. Most people, if asked to list all the Best Picture winners, would be most likely to forget this one, I’d guess. And with good reason. It’s not overly great. Just pretty good. I don’t even think this would crack the top half of my favorite films in this category. Definitely not gonna be my vote. Jury’s still out on my thoughts of it as a Best Picture winner. That’s really what I’m curious to see about. I already know my vote is going elsewhere.

A Farewell to Arms is a big and classy adaptation of a classic novel. It’s a pretty good movie, too. I’m kind of surprised this didn’t win, considering it fits the mold of what a classical Best Picture winner would look like. Though I get it — they always thought of British stuff as classier and more superior during this era.

Gary Cooper is an American ambulance driver during World War I who falls in love with a nurse. That’s pretty much it. They fall in love and then the rest of the film is about them trying to make it through the war to be together. It… gets emotional.

It’s a good film. Frank Borzage directs is, which might account for that. It’s big and romantic and classy. Definitely not my favorite film in the category, but it rates top four for me. I think it’s solid. Definitely wouldn’t vote for it, but it’s a good film.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. Not many people know that.

This is one of the great prison films of all time. A classic. One of the essential films of the era, along with 42nd Street. This movie features one of the great endings of all time.

Paul Muni is a criminal sentenced to time on a chain gang (a la Cool Hand Luke). And the film is about his time there, as well as the awful conditions in which the men are kept. It’s basically a movie about the horrible treatment of prisoners. Muni deals with it as long as he can, but they treat the men so badly he’s forced to escape. He escapes and goes back to the city to live a normal life. He completely turns his life around and becomes a model citizen… until his past catches up to him. He tries to argue that he truly is rehabilitated, but the system doesn’t work that way, and he’s thrown back on the chain gang. Culminating in another escape and that famous final scene where he slips into the shadows. Great, great film.

This and 42nd Street are my favorite films in the category. I love them both.

Lady for a Day is the Frank Capra movie he could never crack. He made it twice, and it never quite worked either time. Great idea for a story though.

It’s about an old woman named Apple Annie. She sells apples on the streets of New York. She gave her daughter up years ago so her daughter had a chance at a future. Her daughter is now educated and engaged to a rich European man. She’s been writing to her daughter all these years, telling her she’s this wealthy socialite in New York and living this glamorous lifestyle. Her daughter finally writes back and says she’s engaged and that she’s coming to visit. Which puts Annie in a real bind. Her daughter is about to find out the truth — that her mother is a peasant. And the last thing she wants is to ruin her daughter’s chance at marriage and happiness. And especially she doesn’t want to ruin her daughter’s image of her. Fortunately, all those people she sells apples to decides to pitch in and help, in order to make her a (insert title here). And there’s a lot of comedy in everyone’s attempts to make this happen, and it all builds to the moment where they have to pull off the facade for just enough time to make it work. It’s Capra. You know where it’s gonna go.

It’s an enjoyable movie, but, as I said at the top, it doesn’t fully work. I don’t know why, but it just doesn’t fully come together. I like it but don’t love it. It doesn’t hit the heights that his later films would hit, but it’s a good step in that direction. Top four or five for me. One of those films you like but wouldn’t vote for. Every Best Picture category has those.

Little Women is one of the most famous novels ever written, so I think people generally know about this one.

They made it three times. All three had some major actresses in it. This one is Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Edna May Oliver, Jean Parker and Frances Dee.

It’s about the March sisters, and their daily lives and crushes on boys, etc, etc. Louisa May Alcott. Read a book, guys.

The movie is actually very good. Very entertaining, very engaging. Doesn’t feel like a Best Picture, nor would I vote for it as such. So we’re left with a good film that acts as a solid nominee for 1933 and not really anywhere else. Which is fine.

The Private Life of Henry VIII is about Henry VIII. Pretty simply. Charles Laughton is Henry VIII and we follow him just after the execution of Anne Boleyn all the way through to his final wife. Basically it’s just a revolving door of wives.

The movie’s very stagey and all about Charles Laughton’s performance. I think they’re still figuring this category out, otherwise I don’t get why this is nominated. Though it’s honestly not the strangest nominee in the category, so I don’t mind.

This is bottom of the pack for me. I doubt anyone actually votes for this.

She Done Him Wrong is the shortest Best Picture nominee in history. 65 minutes.

It’s basically Mae West suggestively throwing innuendos around for an hour. There’s a gangster boyfriend and Cary Grant is an undercover agent. There’s really not a whole lot here and I’m not sure how it got nominated.

Not my least favorite film in the category, but not far from it. Probably the last or second to last film I’d vote for and bottom three in terms of how much I like it. Very strange nominee.

Smilin’ Through is one of those films I just did not like. I remember being bored and feeling like it was such a monotonous movie. “A slow march toward death,” is my general recognition of this film.

Leslie Howard’s fiancée dies on the way to the wedding, killed by her jealous ex. He lives in a state of depression, while also communicating with his dead fiancée’s spirit. As you do. He then later adopts the woman’s niece, who naturally grows up to look exactly like his dead fiancée. And then there’s a love triangle between the niece, her best friend and another man (that other man coincidentally played by Fredric March, who is the ex-fiancé who accidentally killed Howard’s fiancée. Who also happens to be the son of that man). Howard gets involved in this triangle, refusing to let her marry the younger March character, etc etc. And of course he eventually lets the lovers marry, and dies, because the entire film is waiting for the sweet release of death so he could be reunited with his dead fiancée.

It’s not a bad film, just — man. Was this depressing to watch. Maybe if I went back to watch it, I’d like it a lot more. But here, my least favorite film in the category, and I’d only take it over certain others because I definitely wouldn’t want to see those win. Otherwise — nope. Never gonna happen. Not a fan of this one.

State Fair is a great film. There’s literally no plot to this movie, and that’s why I like it so much. I love when movies have no plot. Especially in this era. They stand out so much.

This is about a family that goes to the (insert title here). That’s it. Each family member does different things at the fair. Pa’s in the largest hog contest. Ma’s in the best pie contest. Sonny’s playing carnival games. And Janet Gaynor, the daughter, falls in love. That’s the film. We watch them go to the fair. Stuff happens. It’s great.

love this movie. I really do. Would not have been a good Best Picture winner in the least, but I like it enough to give it a shot. I’d say probably third favorite, maybe fourth or fifth for a vote. Love the film, shouldn’t have won.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: To start — we’re gonna eliminate half the list. Don’t like Smilin’ Through, wouldn’t vote for She Done Him Wrong, The Private Life of Henry VIII and Little Women. So four off the top.

Of the remaining six — I really wouldn’t take Cavalcade, so that’s off. Lady for a Day — like but wouldn’t vote. State Fair, love, but wouldn’t vote for either. So we’re now down to three — Farewell to Arms, 42nd Street, I Am A Fugitive from a Chain Gang.

Of those three, I wouldn’t take A Farewell to Arms. It sounds good as a winner, but I wouldn’t take it. So no.

It’s either 42nd Street or I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. I’d be okay with either, and both are the right amount of classic to have held up. 42nd Street feels like the most “Best Picture” type of choice, but I think my preference is I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. I like how gritty it is and how well they tell the story. These years, I think it would have held up pretty nicely. It would have been seen as a really bold choice. But I don’t think they were in the business of making bold choices at this point. So I get it. But that’s gonna be my vote. Were this 1933, I’m not sure what I’d do. It might be 42nd Street.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  2. 42nd Street
  3. A Farewell to Arms
  4. Lady for a Day
  5. State Fair
  6. Cavalcade
  7. Little Women
  8. Smilin’ Through
  9. The Private Life of Henry VIII
  10. She Done Him Wrong

Rankings (films):

  1. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  2. 42nd Street
  3. State Fair
  4. A Farewell to Arms
  5. Lady for a Day
  6. Little Women
  7. Cavalcade
  8. She Done Him Wrong
  9. The Private Life of Henry VIII
  10. Smilin’ Through

My Vote: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Recommendations:

42nd Street is essential. Straight up essential for all film buffs and historians. If you boiled the 30s down to a handful of essential films, this would be on that list.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang would also be on that list, and is an essential film for film buffs. No ways around that. It’s a classic.

Cavalcade is essential only because it’s a Best Picture winner. But even then, one of the five least essential Best Picture winners of all time. Maybe even second least essential, next to The Broadway Melody. But, it’s a Best Picture winner and that means something. As a film — solid. Worth a watch. Not overly great. If you didn’t know it was a Best Picture winner, you’d probably come out and go, “That was fine.”

A Farewell to Arms is big, classy and kind of essential. Not really, but it’s like, 30s essential. If you were to focus on the 30s, this would be essential. All time — just a solid recommend. Worth a watch because it can be seen by people who aren’t necessarily into this era and they could get something out of it. That’s about where it is. I definitely recommend seeing it.

State Fair is a film I highly recommend. If you watch a lot of 30s movies, this will be a real nice change of pace for you. It’s so likable and fun. I really love it and think people should see it.

Little Women is great. An essential book turned into three good films. I prefer this one, though the 1949 and 1994 versions are both also very good. You should see one of them. This one on its own gets a solid recommend all around.

Lady for a Day is Frank Capra. He’s his own brand of essential. Though most of his films — you can tell which are and which aren’t essential. This one is right in between. It’s no Broadway Bill, but it’s also no It Happened One Night. It’s closer to It Happened One Night than it is Broadway Bill, though. So there’s that. It’s an enjoyable film. Solid recommend as a film and a high recommend for the 30s as a decade. Worth a watch for sure. This is Capra getting close to perfecting his magic.

The Private Life of Henry VIII is only essential for Oscar buffs. It’s enjoyable enough, but it’s not overly great. Very stagey. Not my favorite film. Generally remembered because it won. Moderate recommend for people only focused on either the Oscars, the 30s, or Charles Laughton. Otherwise you’re probably fine without it.

She Done Him Wrong is Mae West. It’s fun, it’s an hour, and is basically her throwing double entendres around and Cary Grant showing up. Fine, moderate recommend, and a very easy watch. Moderate recommend, though you’re 100% fine without it. People interested in film should maybe see one Mae West movie at some point, but other than that, you’re fine.

Smilin’ Through is a movie I don’t love very much, so I only give it a light recommend. It is interesting on several levels, and I should probably give it another shot at some point. Either way, not something that’s really essential in any regard. So it comes down to whether or not you think you’re gonna like it.

The Last Word: I don’t think they made a great choice, because who really remembers Cavalcade? If A Farewell to Arms won, you could understand it based on the history of Best Picture winners. 42nd Street is probably the film that holds up best all around, since it’s a great film that’s a classic and sort of fits the vibe they’re going for in this era. I think I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is also really great and would have been a really solid winner for 1933. It would have fallen back as one of the more forgotten winners, but pretty much anything that won would have done that. It would have fell into that Cimarron category — acceptable for its year, but mostly forgotten all-time. They just happened to make a decision that’s been utterly forgotten along with the film. So I’m not a huge fan of it. I think there’s a better choice here all around, from a historical perspective and a populist perspective.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1934

The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Cleopatra

Flirtation Walk

The Gay Divorcee

Here Comes the Navy

The House of Rothschild

Imitation of Life

It Happened One Night

One Night of Love

The Thin Man

Viva Villa!

The White Parade

Analysis:

The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a film that I entered into with certain expectations, and came away pleasantly surprised.

The only thing I’d ever heard about this was that Charles Laughton always felt this was his best performance and that he unfairly didn’t win an Oscar for it. Coming between an Oscar win and an iconic performance as Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, that was intriguing to me. I didn’t quite know what the film was about, but it’s actually quite interesting.

The film is about the romance between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, but it’s structured around the home of the Barretts, run by a domineering Laughton. All his children are adults and none are married. Elizabeth is the oldest child and is getting over a bad illness. Laughton runs all his kids’ lives and does pretty much everything he can to keep them under his thumb. All the kids are afraid of him and are forbidden to marry. And it’s about Elizabeth falling in love with Browning and working up the courage to stand up to her father.

I like the film quite a bit, actually. Really strong acting, and actually quite engaging. In this category… well, let’s be honest. It’s never going to contend for me. But in an objective world, this does contend for a vote. It’s one of the top five or six movies in the category. Really solid. But I think we all know how most people are gonna vote and especially how I’m gonna vote. So let’s not waste time on this.

Cleopatra is pretty self-explanatory. You know the four-hour Elizabeth Taylor version? This is that, only in 1934 and starring Claudette Colbert. And only 100 minutes.

Same story. Cleopatra meets Caesar. Hiding in a rug. All that stuff. They fall in love. He gets murdered. Enter Mark Antony. Same story as the other one just more compressed and more 1934.

This might have won Best Picture in 1932 or 1933. Here, it feels a bit too little too late. It’s good, but doesn’t accomplish much more than being a good film. Middle of the pack in terms of quality and for a vote. I like the film, but I wouldn’t take it.

Flirtation Walk is a fun musical that doesn’t amount to much in the end.

Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler star. They were the stars of all those backstage musicals. Gold Diggers, etc. He’s an enlisted man and she’s the colonel’s daughter. They date, it causes issues, but then they put on a show and everything works out. Very early 30s musical. There are dozens of these of this era.

It’s a filler nominee when you look back on it. Never gonna be the vote, and really only gets on here because we have 12 choices. In a pure Oscar sense, this is the weakest choice they had. You give this category to enough people, this film will get exactly less than 1% of the entire vote. It’s a fun musical and nothing more.

The Gay Divorcee is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Their first great film together.

Ginger is a woman whose husband refuses to give her a divorce. So she makes to hire a guy to pose as her lover, so that way her husband can catch them together and be forced to divorce her. Only she mistakes Fred Astaire for that guy. So she takes this unassuming guy up to her room for this charade he knows nothing about. Hilarity and song and dance ensue.

It’s one of their more screwball efforts, and it’s really funny. I love this film a lot. Give this to me a year before this and it’s the vote hands down. But here, the competition is too stiff, and there is one truly perfect film in the category and another that is perfect but not as widely recognized as such. It’s third choice at best. Great, but unfortunately not a contender.

Here Comes the Navy is a James Cagney comedy. Another one of those that would never be nominated except in a year with so many nominees.

The plot is — he joins the navy because he’s like, “Man, I can do that. That’s easy.” And of course he realizes he has to actually work hard in order to be a good sailor. That’s it. First half, him slacking off, second half, him being a good sailor.

It’s fun, but this shouldn’t have been nominated. Bottom two in terms of “should have won” and in terms of a fit, but in terms of pure entertainment value, it’s not bad.

The House of Rothschild is a film that has a pretty good reputation and if you do some digging into the Oscars (as I did when I first started), you’ll see a lot of people who think very highly of this film and think it should have won. I think it’s generally thought of as the film that came in second place here, though I may be wrong on that.

It’s about the Rothschild family. They start as money lenders and grow into the biggest banking empire of the 19th century. Mostly it’s about how people were anti-semitic against them. No one wanted to borrow money from Jews but they had to, because they’re the only place who would lend to anyone.

I found it pretty boring when I watched it, but I’m due to go back and see it again. Not that it would affect my vote at all, but it would be nice to give it another shot on a pure ‘liking it’ level. Even if I turned around and really liked this movie, it would be no better than a fifth choice here for me.

Imitation of Life is the original film that was later remade into the Douglas Sirk film. Very similar, but with some marked differences.

Claudette Colbert (in her second of three Best Picture nominees this year) plays a widow who hires a black housekeeper who comes to her door in need of work. Their daughters become good friends and they become good friends. Colbert’s husband was a syrup salesman, and it just so happens, the housekeeper is really good at making pancakes. (Yes, Aunt Jemimah. That’s the marked difference.) So they team up and create a really profitable business together.

The real story isn’t that — it’s about their daughters. The housekeeper’s daughter is light-skinned, so she starts passing as white, and has a problem with the fact that her mother is black and tries to hide her mother and distance herself from her mother. The story is very touching. I prefer the Sirk version because it really kills you with that climax. But this version is very good for 1935.

No shot at all that I’m gonna vote for it, but it’s top five for me. Might have even been a decent winner in another year. Here, no way it holds up better than the actual winner, but it’s a great film.

It Happened One Night is a perfect entity. One of the essential films for all time.

Claudette Colbert is a spoiled heiress who wants to marry a playboy. Her father says no, so she runs away. This is huge news, so all the newspapers are out looking for her. Clark Gable stumbles upon her at a bus station. He’s just drunkenly quit his job after fighting with his boss. He promises his boss an exclusive for a huge payday. He introduces himself to her, pretending to not know who she is, and accompanies her on a bus trip up to New York so she can “marry” her playboy. Of course, along the way, they fall in love and all that.

It’s a classic romantic comedy and it’s a perfect film. It’s everything you want out of a Best Picture winner and it’s the film that probably should have won this category. Give this category to a hundred people and this wins at least 70 percent of the time, I’d imagine. It’s hard to argue with this as a winner.

One Night of Love is the movie that had the most nominations this year, and a movie that at the time was (seemingly) a big deal. Now, this joins the pack of the movies in this category that nobody knows.

Grace Moore is an aspiring opera singer who starts working with a famous vocal coach. And the film is about him pushing her hard and being a very stern teacher. He makes her great. She falls for him, but he refuses to admit his feelings for her until the end of the movie. One of those.

If there’s one genre of movies that doesn’t hold up past the 30s that I just can’t get into, it’s the “opera’ musicals. The one with opera-type singing in them. They just don’t work outside of their era, and this, to me, is the foremost example. The story is fine, the film is fine, but it just didn’t resonate with me whatsoever and it didn’t hold up over time at all. I’d be real curious to see if anyone loved this enough to take this in the current day. I look at this and think they dodged a bullet. This could have ended up one of the worst winners of all time.

The Thin Man is a perfect film. An absolute perfect film. Full disclosure, it’s my favorite film of all time, so there’s that. But it’s also perfect.

An inventor goes missing and his daughter wants to find out what happened to him. She hires Nick Charles, a famous detective, who has retired and married an heiress, Nora. Nick would rather drink and spend his wife’s money. Nora would like to see him on the case. He insists he’s not taking the case, yet no one believes him. And despite his best efforts, he finds himself embroiled in the case, leading to a dinner party where he gathers all the suspects and walks through what happened and names whodunit. It’s… amazing.

I’ve already said it’s my favorite film, so I’m not even gonna pretend like I won’t vote for it. I’m objective enough to know it didn’t need to win, but that still doesn’t change my feelings.

Viva Villa! is a biopic of Pancho Villa, but done in 1934. Almost forgotten, and I constantly forget it myself when I go back to this category. I’m constantly like, “Oh yeah, this happened.”

It’s a decent film. Wallace Beery plays Villa. It’s not, in my mind, as good as Viva Zapata! Different subjects, but to white people, it’s all the same, isn’t it?

I wasn’t a fan of if because it’s whites playing Mexicans, feels super racist, and feels like them whitewashing Mexican history. And all of that just felt icky to me. Plus the film just wasn’t that entertaining. So I look at this and immediately throw it to the back of the pack. I couldn’t support this having won.

The White Parade is a movie I’ve seen! Which is impressive since it’s one of the last five movies I’d been unable to find long after the Oscar Quest was originally finished.

Took me five years, but I managed to get to UCLA and see both this and The Barker, leaving me with only three films left. Fortunately, none of them are Best Picture nominees, so I’ve now officially seen every Best Picture nominee (that isn’t lost) ever.

This is about a bunch of women training to be nurses. And we pretty much follow them (mostly one, Loretta Young) through their training until the day they graduate, or whatever the term is.

It’s a decent film. Very 30s. Not great. Not even close to something I’d vote for. Trust me — even without seeing this, you can probably guess that it’s not something that would get voted for by most people.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I think we all know how this one’s gonna go down by now.

It Happened One Night is a great decision and one of the better Best Picture winners of all time, when put into context. It absolutely should have won Best Picture. However… The Thin Man is my absolute favorite movie of all time, and I’m going to vote for it no matter what. That’s just how it is.

The Gay Divorcee and Imitation of Life are two films I liked a lot. In another year they’d merit more consideration. But really, when your favorite movie of all time is nominated for Best Picture, you have to take it. So that’s where we’re at here.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. The Thin Man
  2. It Happened One Night
  3. The Gay Divorcee
  4. Imitation of Life
  5. Cleopatra
  6. The Barretts of Wimpole Street
  7. The House of Rothschild
  8. Here Comes the Navy
  9. Flirtation Walk
  10. One Night of Love
  11. Viva Villa!
  12. The White Parade

Rankings (films):

  1. The Thin Man
  2. It Happened One Night
  3. The Gay Divorcee
  4. Imitation of Life
  5. Cleopatra
  6. Here Comes the Navy
  7. Flirtation Walk
  8. The Barretts of Wimpole Street
  9. One Night of Love
  10. The House of Rothschild
  11. Viva Villa!
  12. The White Parade

My Vote: The Thin Man

Recommendations:

It Happened One Night is one of the 100 most essential American movies ever made. There is not anyone who purports a love of film who should have not seen this.

The Thin Man is an essential film for film lovers. And anyone who reads this website, because it’s my favorite film of all time, and clearly I don’t take this stuff lightly. But actually it’s one of the best films of the 30s and an all time classic, so actually it’s legitimately essential in its own right. I’m just pushing harder for it because I love it so much.

The Gay Divorcee is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. If that’s not essential enough for you, I don’t know what is. It’s also a great film. They made ten movies together. At least four of them are essential. This is one of the certain four. Any film fan should see at least two Fred and Ginger movies and probably four. It’s like Chaplin. You just see his movies because they’re so good and you’re watching people who are the best at what they do.

Imitation of Life is a pretty classic story. I think the 1959 version is more essential than this one, but for the 30s, I’d say this is pretty essential. I think it’s both a good film and a fascinating watch in terms of how it deals with racial issues in the 30s, an era not known for its hard-hitting social commentary. (Sure, the Pre-Code films would deal with taboo subjects, but not the way this movie does.) I think it’s worth a watch. High recommend for the 30s and a solid recommend overall. Worth a watch.

Cleopatra is a good film. Of course watch the Elizabeth Taylor version instead of this one, but this is a nice companion piece. It’s like (and we’re gonna get to this tomorrow) watching a 30s version of Romeo and Juliet. You know the story, and it’s about the way they tell it and the era in which its told. I find that fascinating. Do you? If not, you’re probably okay skipping this movie. It’s only recommended strongly for fans of 30s films. Otherwise it’s not particularly essential, historically.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a really solid film. Highly recommended for the 30s and a solid recommend overall. Great performances here out of Charles Laughton and Norma Shearer. Not essential, but very good.

The House of Rothschild is a movie people seem to like a lot. Some would consider it essential. I’m pretty ambivalent about it. Light recommend. Moderate recommend for the 30s. Maybe it’s more essential than that, but

Here Comes the Navy is a fun comedy. And James Cagney. Worthwhile for that. Otherwise a decent 30s movie, not of any particular note. Moderate recommend on entertainment value if you like 30s movies or Cagney movies. Not essential in the least.

Flirtation Walk is a fun “put on a show” musical. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. If you like them, it’s probably worth it. Otherwise, just decent. Light to moderate recommend if you like 30s movies or these kinds of musicals. Not something anyone truly ever needs to see.

One Night of Love is not a movie I like all that much. Standard plot, standard execution. Opera-style singing. Not my thing. Maybe worthwhile if you’re super into the Oscars, since it was the most nominated film of 1934. Otherwise — ehh. It’s almost forgotten now and not something I could ever see being an essential movie. So it’s up to you, really. If it sounds interesting, go for it.

Viva Villa! is not something I recommend. 30s era Hollywood-izing of Mexicans. These almost never go well. I’ve heard that some people think it’s good, but I’m not gonna be the one who recommends this. It’s pretty forgotten and just isn’t my speed at all.

The White Parade is almost impossible to find. You gotta go to UCLA in order to see it. If you’re that dedicated, then go for it. This is one where it’s entirely on you whether or not you want to see it. You’ll know if you’re the type of film buff that wants to see this movie. You either have the drive to seek it out or you don’t. It’s definitely not required viewing for anybody. Which is why it’s on you to decide if you want to seek it out.

The Last Word: It Happened One Night is one of the better winners of all time and it’s pretty inarguable as a winner. And I say that despite The Thin Man being my favorite movie of all time. But the best choice is the best choice. Shit happens.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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2 responses

  1. What are the three films you have left?

    April 4, 2017 at 3:18 pm

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