1930 is a year that’s memorable historically because it’s smack-dab in the middle of the transition to sound. The Jazz Singer comes out October 1927. Hollywood only starts getting into talkies in 1929, because it took them the first year to clear out the inventory and start new. The transition to sound is a fascinating era. Because first it’s all about showing films with sound. A lot of them are plays, with tableau staging and very theatrical stories and performances. Then slowly, as techniques begin to be developed and technology gets better (because remember, in order to shoot sound at first they had to keep cameras — which were very loud, as were the lights — stationary and had giant soundproof booths just to pick up everything), they start to get more advanced. By 1932, they’ve basically perfected the sound technology and are moving into narrative advancements.
But in 1930, you have an interesting mix of films that are just learning to use sound. Still a smattering of silents, but mostly talkies. And the talkies you see that do well here are of very specific genres: comedy, western, war, musical. The quintessential genres. You also see a very specific genre emerge: Pre-Code films. Now that Hollywood has the use of sound, they have much more leeway on dialogue. And they’re starting to go into some pretty dangerous territory, which will get them in trouble in a few years and lead to a self-censorship that prevented them from going into the subjects of sex and addiction and all that good stuff.
It’s an interesting year. There’s some good stuff in it. A lot of stuff that only works when you understand the era, but this year did give us an all-time great film. Like legitimate all-time, still holds up today, still one of the greatest films ever made. And the fact that it happened during the transition to sound is all the more impressive. (more…)
I have a very small list in terms of true directorial achievements throughout the history of film. Feature-wise… you start with Intolerance, and then you don’t really get anything until this movie. And then after this, there’s maybe… two more before 1970. But in terms of classical Hollywood, there are really only about four or five movies that are truly, to me, milestones of (American) film directing. And this is one of them.
Whenever this film would come up during the Oscar Quest, I’d say, “This film is so good, it could have won Best Director and Best Picture every year between the year it was released and 1939. No film could have beaten it. No directorial achievement was better than this one during that time. This was truly the greatest American film made for an entire decade. And even now, the film still holds up as a masterpiece that has not aged a day.
The film is based on what is now one of the most famous novels ever written, one we all read in school at some point, and was the highest-grossing movie of its year. So, through continued relevance (we’ve all watched this in school as well), and popularity and acclaim at the time of release (it did win Best Picture and Best Director), it’s the only film you can choose for 1930 as the film that defines its year. (more…)
Oh man, it’s the 30s.
Sadly, I think this is going to be my last decades list. It was fun while it lasted. I guess I could do the 20s if I wanted to, but… I don’t really want to. ’27 started the sound era, and 1930 is good enough for me. Plus I have another series of “top tens” I’m in the middle of (by director), and I really want to focus on those. That said, these lists have been so much fun for me, and they got me to see so many movies that I’d never seen (to the point where I’ve actually now seen about 80% of all the major releases of the 40s, 50s and 60s).
For those who don’t know, the way these lists have worked is, I go and list my ten favorite movies from each year. I also try to list ten more from each year as an 11-20. Originally I said I did it to give myself more options for when I revisited the lists a year, five years, whatever down the road, in case I decided I didn’t like a certain film as much anymore, the alternatives would be right there. Though mostly it’s become about sharing as many great films from these years as possible. I also, underneath the 11-20, created the “fun” lists, which would be extra recommendations (or, not, in the case of one decade) that were related to that specific decade. The 2000s, I actually had a list of what I thought the worst films of those years were, the Terrible Tens. The 1990s, I had the “Films of My Childhood.” The 1980s, I had the “Awesomely 80s Movies.” The 1970s were just great 70s movies, the “70s Recommendations.” The 1960s had “Out with the Old, In with the New,” with all the films representing “old” Hollywood and “new” Hollywood. The 1950s had the “Gems of the Studio System,” forgotten films of (mostly) major directors. The 1940s had “More Great 40s Films,” since people generally don’t delve too deeply into the 40s anyway unless they’re someone like me. This decade, I’m gonna keep it simple, like I’ve been doing. Just more great 30s gems. No need to get complicated.
All right friends. Once more, unto the breach: (more…)