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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1935-1936)

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.

1935

Alice Adams

Broadway Melody of 1936

Captain Blood

David Copperfield

The Informer

Les Misérables

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

A Midnight Summer’s Dream

Mutiny on the Bounty

Naughty Marietta

Ruggles of Red Gap

Top Hat

Analysis:

Alice Adams is such a wonderful film. George Stevens, Katharine Hepburn. Really simple, too.

Hepburn is the daughter of a middle-class family. The kind you don’t really see in movies of this era. Everyone always had money and lived in nice houses. These people actually had to struggle to make ends meet. Her dad has been sick for years, but the owner of the factory where he works has kept him on payroll out of kindness. Meanwhile, Hepburn’s brother gambles everything away and is friends with black people (which is apparently a bad thing, according to society). One day, while at a dance, Hepburn meets Fred MacMurray, a rich guy. And just like Cinderella, he falls for her. She invites him home for dinner, which then leads to her and her family pretending like they’re sophisticated and have money, which naturally goes comically wrong. It’s really simple. The dinner goes wrong and the family’s livelihood is threatened, as is the budding relationship, and naturally it all works out well in the end.

This is a movie that would have been made about four years before this, but somehow ended up being made here. And it works. Really well. Not sure it feels like a Best Picture winner, but as a film, I love it. Definitely one of my favorites in the category.

Broadway Melody of 1936 is a filler nominee. Because there are 12 here, this is one of those extra two that just didn’t need to be here. (But how do you really feel, Mike?)

All these later “Broadway Melody,” “Gold Diggers” etc films all have the same progression. A bunch of people put on a show. Backstage musical sort of deal. The plot really doesn’t matter all that much. At least the specifics. They’re all the same. They’re cute, they’re fine, but this one is pretty unmemorable.

This is actually 12 of 12 in this category. I’d be surprised if this makes it higher than tenth for most people.

Captain Blood is Errol Flynn swashbuckling. A precursor to Adventures of Robin Hood.

Flynn is a doctor who gets arrested and sold into slavery in the West Indies. He’s bought by Olivia de Havilland. Eventually he and a bunch of other slaves steal a ship and become pirates. And they go on being pirates for a while. Eventually they capture de Havilland, and Flynn gets to be the one who purchases her. This is courtship in the age of piracy. And eventually all works out. Because apparently the French are worse than pirates.

This is a fun movie. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but I would call it a classic. Great stuff, lot of fun. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as Adventures of Robin Hood, but maybe I’m color biased. In terms of the category — middle of the pack. Maybe upper middle. But I’d vote for at least three or four other movies over this, so it’s not ever gonna end up the vote for me. Maybe some would have it top three and consider it, but it doesn’t feel like something that should have won. Maybe you could make a case for it, and I’d like to hear it, but for me — just a good nominee and not much else.

David Copperfield is a great magician. Those tricks he does? Genius.

Oh, this isn’t that? This is the Dickens? Right. Because David Copperfield wouldn’t be born for 20 years after this ceremony happened.

Fun story about David Copperfield the magician — when I was a kid… probably like 10… we went to see him at a show. I guess my family thought it would be fun. They don’t seem like the “magic” type, but I guess it was something we could do that would amuse us kids. Anyway, we were sitting in the absolute last row of the theater. And his finale at the time was this long story about growing up wherever, and never seeing snow. And the whole thing was about making snow appear inside the theater on the audience. And clearly it’s not much of a trick and not hard to do, but since we were in the last row of the theater, all I had to do was look up and I could see the fake snow being pumped out of the pipes in the back. And all I could think was, “What bullshit.” I was a fun ten year old.

That was also the show where my father kept pretending to flick the yarmulke off the Jewish kid sitting in front of us and all of us thought that was the funniest thing we’d ever seen. Pretty sure that would be considered a hate crime now, but when I was ten — high comedy. The 90s were a fun time. Anyway…

This is David Copperfield the novel. I’m not giving you a synopsis. Read a book.

It’s a big classy adaptation almost guaranteed to end up a Best Picture nominee. It would have made a terrible winner, and I’m glad they realized as much. But as a nominee it’s fine. This story isn’t one of my favorites of Dickens, and the film is just okay, so I’m pretty indifferent toward it as a whole. Definitely bottom three for me in this category, and I wouldn’t want to see it win at all. It just seems like a bad choice all around for Best Picture.

The Informer is John Ford’s first masterpiece. (Some would say The Iron Horse. Sure. Let’s say first talkie masterpiece.)

Victor McLaglen is a poor Irishman who dreams of going to America. His friend is on the run from British soldiers and hiding out for months. They have a $20 reward for him. McLaglen winds up giving him up for the money, thinking it’ll get him to America and that he’d end up captured anyway. He then takes the money and goes out drinking. He starts to become increasingly wracked with guilt, just as others start to suspect that he was (insert title here). We watch as everything unravels for McLaglen. This is basically the story of Judas as told through the fight for Irish Independence. It’s awesome.

I wouldn’t argue if this had won Best Picture. It’s ultimately a film better suited as a winner in say, 1933, but it’s still a classic that holds up today. Is it the best film in the category? You might argue that it is. Is it my favorite? No. But it’s top three. I think a strong case could be made for this as a winner. You needn’t look any further than John Ford winning for Best Director (in what actually seems like a better job than it is. But still, it’s a solid effort all around) than justification for this being a decent Best Picture winner. Not sure I take it in the end, but it’s definitely right up there in contention more than almost anything else in this category.

Les Misérables is the first major production of the novel. They made a couple of short silents in the early days, and they made one in 1917, but this is the first talkie version and the first that anyone really remembers.

Fredric March plays Valjean and Charles Laughton plays Javert. In 1935, this was about as good as you can get for those characters. Unfortunately, storytelling being what it was… they couldn’t flesh out the story in any real way. (At least in America. The five hour French version from 1934 does a good job of that.) So it’s boiled down to Valjean being hunted by Javert. I really liked it. In terms of a film, it’s really entertaining, but it doesn’t do justice to Hugo’s work. So don’t judge it on that. Though I will say, the fact that it doesn’t get overly complicated should probably take it out of the running for Best Picture. Plus — the Oscars really have never relied on all-time classic literature as big winners. (Don’t say All Quiet… that book was only published a year before the film came out). The closest you get to an all-time kind of work that’s been around for a while is Hamlet, which I consider one of the strangest winners of all time.

This probably shouldn’t have won, but I do like it quite a bit. Definitely top five for me in the category, but would never be the vote no matter how many ways you slice this category.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. I tried this movie about three times and couldn’t get into it.

It’s about a company of lancers. Think of the John Ford cavalry films. The unit and all the different personalities and storylines and all that. Same deal, just different location. Here it’s India and the British. Though Gary Cooper stars. They call him a Canadian, since he sure as hell wasn’t doing an accent. There’s your typical father/son storyline (one of the men is the son of the company commander) and a villain we never see who is going to attack and force the men into action at some point. You know the whole deal. Men have to prove their worth, some of them die, and the fight goes on. If you’ve seen enough of these films, you know every bit of this, beat for beat. I think because it’s not a western and is about India is why I wasn’t able to engage.

Bottom three for me in terms of liking it, but I’d vote for it over a few of the others simply because the others just shouldn’t be Best Picture winners. Though since my liking it ultimately has to be factored it, it really wouldn’t make it any higher than like, ninth of the twelve nominees. Just not something I like. Would this make top two or three for anyone?

A Midnight Summer’s Dream is an adaptation of Shakespeare.

I’m not giving you a synopsis. You should know this play. I’m just gonna run down everything I remember about this movie — great camera tricks, fun tone, and Olivia de Havilland walking onto every scene as if she just came out of he trailer having had the best sex of her life. The wonderful visuals of this film put it near the middle of the pack in terms of my liking it and make it much more of a contender than this film had any right to be. I really like this movie a lot, but there’s no way I could ever vote for this. There are at least five movies I’d take over this straight up. This is a nominee better suited to all the technical categories than Best Picture. It just is.

Mutiny on the Bounty is kind of a famous film. I think you may know about it.

Charles Laughton is Captain Bligh, the tough/cruel captain of a ship who loves to punish his men for the slightest of infractions. Eventually his men, led by Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian, mutiny and cast Bligh and those loyal to him out on lifeboats. They take the ship and go live on Tahiti with the natives. Meanwhile Bligh, an exceptional sailor, manages to navigate himself back to land and to England, where he boards another ship and prepares to hunt down the mutineers.

It’s an all-time great film. No one can argue with this having won Best Picture. You could prefer something else, but you can’t disagree with this as a choice. Top two for me, and it’s a prime contender for the vote. This movie is great.

Naughty Marietta is probably one of the extra two nominees this category had. Ten nominees, I’d say this is one of the most likely to be left off. And if it is on, it’s automatically ninth or tenth on that list. It’s straight okay all around. They legislated these films out in the years following this.

The story is about a princess who is arranged to be married. Only she doesn’t want to marry, so she trades places with a maid and gets on a boat bound for New Orleans. Though the boat gets hijacked by pirates along the way. But they’re rescued by mercenaries, and despite claiming she wants nothing of marriage, she falls for the head mercenary. And they sing to one another and stuff.

The most famous thing that came out of this movie / musical is the song “Ahh! Sweet Mystery of Life,” which you probably recognize from the title (or from its use in Young Frankenstein).

It’s got that opera-style of singing that I just can’t stand, that didn’t make it past this era, because no one really wanted to see that in movies. They wanted to see stuff like Fred Astaire. That’s the stuff that endured.

Ruggles of Red Gap is one of my favorite films of the 30s. People don’t really remember this one, but they should.

Charles Laughton (the fact that he didn’t win Best Actor this year despite having Captain Bligh and this performance is one of the great mysteries. I’m not upset that McLaglen had won, and Laughton had one already by this time, but still, when you look purely at performance, he was really great this year) plays a prim and proper butler (the Remains of the Day kind) who has served the same house his entire life. His master, while in America, loses him in a card game to some nouveau riche Americans. So now you have this mannered English butler working for some Americans. Refined vs. not refined. And naturally a lot of the jokes have to do with that. But ultimately this film is about Laughton coming into his own and learning how to do things on his own. He comes out of his shell, learns to be independent and stand up for himself. And it’s a really wonderful film.

I love this movie and I bet most of you will too. Did it deserve to win Best Picture? Probably not. Is it good enough to have? Sure. I wouldn’t be opposed to that. Is it better than Mutiny on the Bounty? No. Which is why I ultimately wouldn’t take it. But fuck, man. This movie is so good. If there’s one thing I would stress from 1935, it’s that you should see this movie. And I will be stressing that when we get to the recommendations portion below.

Top Hat is perhaps the best Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie. It’s probably between this, Swing Time and Shall We Dance. There’s really no wrong answer there.

Fred is a dancer about to put on a show. One night, while practicing in his hotel room, his dancing wakes up Ginger Rogers, who is staying below him. She comes up to complain, and he’s immediately smitten with her. He then proceeds to stalk her all around Europe. Through a case of mistaken identity, she thinks he’s married to her friend, even though that’s Astaire’s friend. And it’s a screwball, so things only get exacerbated at every turn. It’s a perfect film. This film has the famous “feather” dance, and also features the immortal song “Cheek to Cheek.” It’s so good.

It’s easily my favorite film in the category. The only thing I have to wrestle with is whether or not I want to vote for it. Which basically comes down to how I weight best vs. favorite vs. whatever criteria I have in my head as to what constitutes a Best Picture winner.

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The Reconsideration: All right, here we are. There are 12 nominees, so I’m gonna throw most of them out right off the bat.

Broadway Melody and Naughty Marietta — no. Generic musicals that don’t really stand out. Average fair.

David Copperfield, Les Miserables, Midsummer Night’s Dream — no. I can’t vote for stuff like that. They’re seminal works of literature that, in this case, were not turned into all-time classic films. The film needs to be truly exceptional in order for me to consider it for Best Picture. And while I really like Les Mis and Midsummer as films, I can’t vote for them. So they’re all out.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer I just don’t like, so that’s out too. And right there, we’ve halved our list.

With the remaining six, I don’t like Captain Blood over the others, so that’s out. Though it’s a fine film. Alice Adams is the weakest of the remaining ones, and while I love it, no for a vote. Ruggles also reluctantly comes off next too. I love it, but I just wouldn’t take it over the other three. Sucks, but that’s how it goes.

We’re left with what I consider to be the top three all-around films in the category: The Informer, Mutiny on the Bounty and Top Hat. How one votes from there, I have no idea. I’m gonna do my best.

The Informer, I actually don’t take here. I just don’t like it enough over the other two. I love Mutiny on the Bounty, and it’s a great winner. But I also really love Top Hat. So I’m just gonna vote for that. It’s no different than voting for a movie now that you know probably won’t win. That’s fine with me. I like what I like. And Top Hat is that for me.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Mutiny on the Bounty
  2. The Informer
  3. Top Hat
  4. Ruggles of Red Gap
  5. Alice Adams
  6. Captain Blood
  7. Les Misérables
  8. A Midnight Summer’s Dream
  9. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
  10. David Copperfield
  11. Naughty Marietta
  12. Broadway Melody of 1936

Rankings (films):

  1. Top Hat
  2. Mutiny on the Bounty
  3. The Informer
  4. Les Misérables
  5. Ruggles of Red Gap
  6. Alice Adams
  7. Captain Blood
  8. A Midnight Summer’s Dream
  9. Naughty Marietta
  10. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
  11. David Copperfield
  12. Broadway Melody of 1936

My Vote: Top Hat

Recommendations:

Mutiny on the Bounty is full stop essential. Everyone should know this. All around it’s a film you need to see. Iconic story, Best Picture winner, and an all-time classic. No excuse to not see this.

The Informer is essential. You gotta see it. It’s just one of those classic films you need to see. It’s incredible.

Top Hat is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Of the ten films they made together, I’d say at least four are essential, and this is for sure one of those four. Must see for all film fans.

Captain Blood is a classic. Errol Flynn swashbuckling. Not top tier essential, but it’s in one of those upper tiers. Definitely 30s essential, and probably in the top 500 or so essential movies. It’s something you should see if you love film.

Ruggles of Red Gap is a movie that’s vastly underrated, historically. One of the real hidden gems of the 30s. It’s not essential, but I cannot recommend this highly enough. It’s really terrific, and if you want a film that you are probably going to love, that you previously knew nothing about, this is one of those films.

Alice Adams is a great film. I love it. Great performance by Katharine Hepburn. It’s George Stevens. He makes good movies. Definitely worth seeing, 30s essential, otherwise high recommend.

Les Misérables is an all-time story. This is a good version of it. Not an end-all, be-all version. If you love the story, I would recommend this over some other versions, for sure. Not essential for anyone, really. Though if you’re gonna dig into the 30s, it might be worth seeing. Otherwise it’s just a solid recommend.

A Midnight Summer’s Dream is pretty great. Not essential all-time, but definitely worth a watch as one of the best Shakespeare movies ever made, and as a 30s film. The special effects here are quite revolutionary for its time. Very much worth seeing for those. Solid to high recommend.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is decent. Some people consider it a classic. I don’t love it, but I also won’t vehemently argue one way or the other about it. See it, don’t see it. Maybe it’s close to essential if you focus on the 30s?

David Copperfield is not a film I particularly like at all. It’s fine, and it’s worth watching if you care at all about the subject matter. But unless you’re deliberately trying to watch a David Copperfield movie or doing an Oscar Quest, it’s not really something I recommend all that much.

Naughty Marietta is a 30s musical with that opera-style singing. That’s not my cup of tea, but if it’s yours, go for it. As a film, it’s just fine. It has some amusing moments to make it worthwhile, but I don’t think you need to go out of your way to seek this out.

Broadway Melody of 1936 is fine. It’s a Broadway Melody/backstage musical type of movie. You’ve seen them before. This one doesn’t have Busby Berkeley doing the musical numbers, so there’s not a whole lot for to really recommend out of this unless you’re really into the 30s or the genre or catch it as part of a TCM marathon or something. You’re completely fine without it.

The Last Word: Mutiny on the Bounty is one of the more solid winners of all time. It’s a great choice. I prefer Top Hat, and would have liked to see that win, though I’m not sure it would have held up as well. The Informer might have held up, but there’s no way of knowing without it having won. I think they made the right choice all around here.

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– – – – – – – – – –

1936

Anthony Adverse

Dodsworth

The Great Ziegfeld

Libeled Lady

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Romeo and Juliet

San Francisco

The Story of Louis Pasteur

A Tale of Two Cities

Three Smart Girls

Analysis:

Anthony Adverse is actually where Tony Curtis got his stage name from. I honestly had no other introduction for this, and that’s always my go-to.

A woman marries Claude Rains. She is pregnant from another man, the man she really loves. Rains kills the other guy. The woman dies in childbirth. Rains abandons the child at a convent. The boy grows up to be Fredric March. By chance, he ends up working for his actual grandfather, a wealthy merchant. He ends up marrying Olivia de Havilland and going off on a bunch of adventures. His grandfather dies, and, after realizing March is his grandson, leaves him a bunch of money. Only the grandfather’s housekeeper is Claude Rains’ wife, who stands to inherit all the wealth if March doesn’t come to claim it.

It’s a pretty good movie. I liked it. It gets weird at the end. de Havilland is fucking Napoleon and is an opera singer. Like I said, weird. It feels a bit too overdone and undercooked to be the vote. I’m fine with it as a nominee, but that’s about it. It maybe hits the middle of the list, but more than likely it’s leading the pack of the bottom half of the nominees. It just doesn’t feel like a winner, especially next to some of the others on this list.

Dodsworth is perhaps the underrated gem of the 1930s. Nobody remembers this film, and no matter how much I, and other people, claim it needs to be seen, this really doesn’t have the stature it should.

Walter Huston plays a self-made millionaire who worked hard for thirty years and is now retiring early. He takes his wife on boat trip to Europe. As they sail, he realizes he doesn’t truly know who his wife is. He’s simple and unassuming, and she has the airs of a society woman. She wants to meet people and be known. He wants to see the sites and enjoy life. She goes off, flirting with counts and things and having affairs, while he meets an American divorcee who accompanies him to all the places he wants to go. Eventually he leaves the trip early and his wife stays. He goes back to his kids, whom he also doesn’t recognize (they seem to have all these different priorities and can’t see the world in front of their faces), knowing his wife has basically left him. And he has to decide what life he wants. It’s a beautiful film.

This movie is legitimately good enough to not only be the vote in this category but also to have been a winner and held up historically. It really is. I might vote for this. It’s that good.

The Great Ziegfeld is a biopic of Florenz Ziegfield, famous for his follies. It’s a three hour biopic with ten giant musical numbers interspersed throughout.

William Powell plays Ziegfield, and we follow him from his early days as a carnival barker, through his first marriage to Luise Rainer, to his second marriage to Billie Burke (the actress who played Glinda, played here by Myrna Loy), all the while creating his follies and becoming the biggest producer on Broadway.

It’s a really good film, and it feels like a Best Picture winner. It’s big and expensive, and it’s a likable movie with great actors giving great performances. It’s top three in the category for sure, but I feel like the thing holding this back for some people is — do people really like this movie enough to vote for it? I actually do. The only question is if I take it over the other movies I like a lot. But I feel like this is a movie that looks good as a winner, but going back and watching the films, is this the choice for most people?

Libeled Lady is a William Powell and Myrna Loy film. Which automatically makes it better than most other films. Because they’re the best. Oh, and it has Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow. For that added special something.

Spencer Tracy’s newspaper prints a story that Myrna Loy, a socialite, is a home wrecker. The story turns out to be untrue, and she sues them for libel. Tracy then hires William Powell, a womanizing reporter, to make the story true. He’ll seduce Loy and his wife will catch them, and voila. Only problem, Powell’s not married. So Tracy has Powell marry his fiancée, Harlow. And hilarity ensues. Naturally everything works out in the end.

It’s a really good movie. They’ve made some masterpieces, Powell and Loy. This isn’t a top tier one, but it’s on par with where Mr. Deeds Goes to Town ranks among Capra’s stuff. It’s up there.

This shouldn’t have won Best Picture, though because it’s fun and I like it a lot, it’ll make it to near the top of the list. But ultimately it won’t make it past a fifth choice here. It can’t. It’s not good enough to be a winner.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is the second of the Frank Capra “perfect” films to make it on this list. He won two years prior with It Happened One Night and won his second Best Director Oscar with this one.

The worst thing about this movie is that there are some people who only know it as the Adam Sandler remake. Which makes me sad.

Gary Cooper is Longfellow Deeds, a happy small-town guy who stands to inherit a fortune. So (insert title here) to get that money, all the while the men on the board of the company of his uncle try to find ways to keep the fortune under their control. Mostly by showing him to be crazy. It’s an all-time classic.

I like this film a lot. It’s not my favorite Capra film. This is one of those situations where, were it in a different year, no way I take it. But in this year, there’s not really a #1 film in the category, so it does contend for a top three spot and is heavily considered for a vote. But I’m not sure I love it enough in the end for it to actually be the choice for me. But we’ll see. Anything’s possible.

Romeo and Juliet is only the most famous play ever written. You probably know it.

This is MGM’s big budget version, and they put all the stars and money into it. Of course it ended up here. It’s decent enough. I’m not gonna claim that it’s truly any good. It’s fine. It’s a perfectly decent version of the story. It feels like the 30s. If it wins, it goes down as one of the biggest yawn-inducing winners of all time. All around — maybe an eighth choice? It wouldn’t even cross my mind to take this movie. Just — no. That’s my reaction to this. No.

San Francisco is a film I like a lot. It’s… half generic and half fantastic. And I somehow like all of it.

The first half of the movie is a bit of a love triangle of sorts. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy are best friends. Gable is a gambler and Tracy is a priest. You see these relationships a lot in these early movies. Angels with Dirty Faces is the same thing, only from a gangster standpoint and not a musical one. Gable falls for Jeanette MacDonald, a singer. She is good enough to do great things. But Gable is jealous and controlling. He makes her stay as the singer of his bar to keep business up. He’s worried about her leaving him. Tracy counsels her and warns him about his behavior. And this whole thing plays out until… the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 hits. And boy oh boy. This movie goes from musical drama to disaster movie real fast. The special effects are top notch for 1936. I was truly impressed by what they did with the latter half of this movie.

I can see why it could be seen as a little disjointed by some. The second half of the movie is much better than the first. The first borders on — actually, you know what a good comp is? Hacksaw Ridge, from just this past season. People agree the second half of the film is the better half, and people have varying opinions about the first half.

I like the film as a whole, but if there’s anywhere I’d look to vote for it, it’s in Best Director. But like Hacksaw Ridge, it ends up about middle of the pack or so for a vote. Like it, but wouldn’t take it.

The Story of Louis Pasteur. Well… that about takes care of my job.

It’s about Pasteur’s discovery of a cure for anthrax. Pretty standard biopic fare. Paul Muni had a string of these. One of them actually wins the year after this.

The movie’s pretty middle of the road. You can like it, but there’s really nothing overly special about it. It, much like The Life of Emile Zola the year after this, would be a forgettable winner. Not a great choice. Even liking it, this is at best a seventh choice for me. No reason I would ever want to take it. I like it, but like doesn’t get you a vote.

A Tale of Two Cities. So you see, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. That’s called clinical depression.

Anyway, this is Dickens. Another one so famous I don’t need to give you a synopsis. This is one they haven’t really adapted all that much. It never quite turned into a classic film. All the others have definitive film versions. This one, not so much.

The movie was completely forgettable to me. It was there. It was an adaptation of the novel, and it was fine. Nothing really stood out for me, and you guys at this point know my hesitance toward voting for these types of movies for Best Picture. It ends up basically ten of ten all around for me. Didn’t particularly care for it and wouldn’t vote for it. Something’s gotta be #10.

Three Smart Girls is the film that became The Parent Trap, in a lot of ways. It was also Deanna Durbin’s first movie.

Durbin leads a trio of sisters whose father is about to remarry. They don’t like the new wife, so they plot to get their father back together with their mother. You can guess where it goes from there. With songs.

The movie’s fine. Perfectly charming. Though it immediately becomes bottom two in this category. No matter how many ways I look at it, this doesn’t get to the top half of the contenders. This is a good 30s movie that really doesn’t need to be a Best Picture winner. It doesn’t even really need to be a nominee. But it’s here. So good for it. But there’s no way I’m voting for this.

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The Reconsideration: This one actually ends up being pretty easy. I’ve said that I do not vote for overly famous literary adaptations unless they’re truly exemplary. So Romeo and Juliet, A Tale of Two Cities and Anthony Adverse are out from the jump. Three Smart Girls is just okay, so that’s out, and The Story of Louis Pasteur is a serviceable biopic and nothing more. So that’s out. And right there, we’ve halved our list.

Libeled Lady I like a lot (alliteration), but it isn’t the vote and shouldn’t have won. San Francisco is a solid film, but I like the technical aspects of the film more than I like the film as a Best Picture vote. And Mr. Deeds, while great and iconic — I don’t like it enough to take it. Plus the idea of three of Capra’s films winning Best Picture (not that my vote means that, it’s just the idea of it) doesn’t sit well with me.

I’m left with two films I like a lot — Dodsworth and The Great Ziegfeld. I feel like The Great Ziegfeld is the winner that holds up the best, but maybe I say that because it won. My preference is to Dodsworth, and I feel like I should always go with the choice I liked the best and feel most comfortable with. We’re out of the woods in terms of setting up the category, so I’m free to basically vote as I please, in my mind. And my preference is to Dodsworth, so that’s my vote.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Dodsworth
  2. The Great Ziegfeld
  3. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  4. San Francisco
  5. Libeled Lady
  6. Anthony Adverse
  7. The Story of Louis Pasteur
  8. Romeo and Juliet
  9. Three Smart Girls
  10. A Tale of Two Cities

Rankings (films):

  1. Dodsworth
  2. The Great Ziegfeld
  3. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  4. Libeled Lady
  5. San Francisco
  6. Anthony Adverse
  7. Romeo and Juliet
  8. The Story of Louis Pasteur
  9. Three Smart Girls
  10. A Tale of Two Cities

My Vote: Dodsworth

Recommendations:

The Great Ziegfeld is a Best Picture winner, which makes it a certain degree of essential. It’s definitely essential for the 30s, and a great film on top of that. Plus it’s a William Powell and Myrna Loy film. If you love movies, there’s no reason not to see this one.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is an all-time essential film. You should know that by the title alone. (And if you’re one of those people who’s only seen the Adam Sandler version, that makes it doubly essential.)

Dodsworth is one of the great hidden gems of all time. It’s absolutely incredible and criminally underrated. For my money this is an essential film for anyone who loves movies. This film is so beautiful and so well-made — you owe it to yourself to see this movie. It’s a masterpiece.

Libeled Lady is William Powell and Myrna Loy. If that doesn’t do it for you, then I’ll raise you Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow. If that doesn’t do it for you then I don’t know what else to tell you. Very high recommend.

San Francisco is half an engaging movie and half, “Holy shit.” The first half is a perfectly fine movie that would have gotten a moderate recommend. It’s the second half that makes me give this a high recommend. Those disaster scenes are absolutely incredible and some of the best special effects you’ll see for this time period. Definitely worth seeing.

Anthony Adverse is pretty good. As far as literary adaptations from this decade go, definitely above average. Solid recommend, though not essential. (Though, Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland and Claude Rains… solid cast.)

Romeo and Juliet is Romeo and Juliet. The versions you need to see are the Zeffirelli and the Luhrmann. Everything else is negotiable. This is a fine 30s version of the story. If you love the story or the decade or the actors, go for it, otherwise there’s no need to feel required to see this. It’s just okay.

The Story of Louis Pasteur is essential for Oscar buffs, otherwise just a solid 30s biopic. Worth it for fans of Paul Muni and fans of pasteurization.

Three Smart Girls is fun. Not essential. If you like 30s movies, it’s worthwhile. Moderate recommend. It is worth it as a sort of companion piece to The Parent Trap.

A Tale of Two Cities is okay. I don’t love it. Consider it like David Copperfield from 1935. If you’re into the novel, go for it. Or if you like the actors or whatever, go for it. Otherwise it’s just okay and not particularly essential in any way. It’s the novel itself you should read. The movie is just ancillary.

The Last Word: This is a good choice. It’s possible another good choice could have been had. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, on its own, could have been a good winner. Though putting it in the context of history — Capra winning in ’34, ’36 and ’38? (He won Best Director all three of those years already.) It just makes them look weak. They’re all fine films, but I don’t think it’s a good look for them. So I’m glad that didn’t win, even though it would have been a fine winner in terms of pure quality. I think the only other shot you may have had at a decent winner, historically, is Dodsworth. But I doubt that would have ever happened. Ziegfeld is a good choice, even if it’s one of the lower tier winners, historically, in terms of being remembered.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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One response

  1. Great Post ! I have read your other posts which are really informative for Oscar movie. Thanks for sharing

    April 5, 2017 at 11:22 pm

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