Mike’s Top Ten of 1938
1938 is the first year where Technicolor really burst off the screen. The first all-color film was in 1935. And for the next two years, Hollywood was still getting used to telling stories with a full palette. There’s a whole interesting lesson to be told about how it all worked, but the quick version is — for a while they felt that people might get overwhelmed if they put too much color out there, so they muted themselves for the first couple of years. You see a lot of the movies of 1936 and 1937, and all the colors are very subdued and made to look utterly realistic, to the point of falling into the background in a lot of cases.
But you get to 1938, and Hollywood just let loose. The color bursts out on the screen the way it was intended to. The colors are vibrant and pop off the screen in ways they never really would again. (Unless of course you were Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.) It’s a fun time. First they mute them, then they go all out, and then everything settles down into a balanced norm.
The other great thing about 1938 is that this is the era where the screwball comedy is firmly entrenched and they’re just churning them out. So there’s a bunch of great ones all over the late 30s. This year has what might be the greatest one ever made. (more…)
The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1938
I don’t like 1938. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, it feels like a year where the Academy said, “We don’t know what to do…well, what worked for us before?” and went with that.
You Can’t Take It with You wins Best Picture and Best Director for Frank Capra (talked about here). It feels like they were trying to recapture that 1934 magic. It feels weak and insincere. Best Actor was Spencer Tracy for Boys Town (talked about here), which I consider the single weakest Best Actor-winning performance of all time. Not the worst decision of all time, just performance that won. Best Actress was Bette Davis for Jezebel (talked about here), which I also don’t like but can sort of accept. And Best Supporting Actor was Walter Brennan for Kentucky (talked about here), which is pretty weak and feels like them saying, “What do we do? Well, we like Brennan, let’s vote for him.”
And this category — this one I actually like. Mostly because it’s weak, and because Fay Bainter was also nominated for Best Actress this year, and I feel the two performances easily add up to one award. And this one was the right one, I felt.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1938
And the nominees were…
Fay Bainter, Jezebel
Beulah Bondi, Of Human Hearts
Billie Burke, Merrily We Live
Spring Byington, You Can’t Take It With You
Miliza Korjus, The Great Waltz (more…)
The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1938
I don’t much like 1938 as an Oscar year. It feels like a series of cop outs and weak choices. Almost like them saying, “We don’t know what we should do, so let’s do what we did before. That worked.”
Example 1: You Can’t Take It With You wins Best Picture out of a relatively weak set of nominees. It seems like the Academy, when faced with a French (Grand Illusion) and British (Pygmalion) film as potential winners (those two were clearly just as good, if not better, choices), they got nervous and said, “Well, It Happened One Night was a good choice, let’s do it again!” They also gave Frank Capra Best Director (talked about here), which makes sense, considering the Best Picture choice.
Example 2: Best Actor was Spencer Tracy for Boys Town (talked about here). It seems, faced with giving this to James Cagney for a performance in a gangster film (or Leslie Howard for Pygmalion), they balked and said, “Well, we gave it to Spencer Tracy last year, let’s do it again!” (This is the single worst Best Actor-winning performance of all time.)
Example 3: Best Actress was Bette Davis for Jezebel (talked about here). It seems, when faced with giving Wendy Hiller an Oscar (or Norma Shearer a second one), they decided, “We gave one to Bette Davis. That worked. Let’s do it again!”
And then Best Supporting Actress was Fay Bainter, also for Jezebel, and this was actually a good decision. Bainter was nominated for Best Actress as well, and was a well-respected actress. That one worked. And then there’s this category, which, again, feels like them not knowing what to do, and going, “Well, we gave it to Walter Brennan once before. That worked. Let’s do it again!”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1938
And the nominees were…
Walter Brennan, Kentucky
John Garfield, Four Daughters
Gene Lockhart, Algiers
Robert Morley, Marie Antoinette
Basil Rathbone, If I Were King (more…)
The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1938
1938 is a year I will always consider weak, just because the Academy had an opportunity to grow past what they’d established already, and instead chose the safe route and give Best Picture to a film that too easy a choice. You Can’t Take It With You wins, which is an enjoyable film, but really not a step forward for the Academy. It’s not 1934 anymore. Frank Capra also won Best Director for it (talked about here).
The Best Pictures until this point were: two war epics, two musicals, a western, an ensemble prestige picture, a romantic comedy and three dramas (family, high seas/historical, and historical/biographical). They took a step in the right direction with It Happened One Night in 1934. Mutiny on the Bounty in ’35 wasn’t a bad choice. (I’d have gone for The Informer, but that’s me.) The Great Ziegfeld in ’36 is an easy winner. It’s big, cinematic, and everything that a Best Picture should be. After that, it seemed like they didn’t know what to do. The Life of Emile Zola was a weak choice, and seemed like them trying to continue the trend of historical dramas. And here, again it seems they didn’t know what to do, so they went back and tried to repeat what worked earlier. A lot of the decisions before the war ended seem that way. Apart from the easy choice films like Gone With the Wind, The Best Years of Our Lives — even Mrs. Miniver, they really don’t seem to know what to do, so they go back to earlier choices. So that’s why I don’t really like this year as a whole. Because a year starts with its Best Picture.
As for the rest of the year, Spencer Tracy wins his second consecutive Best Actor for Boys Town (which I talked about here), a performance I consider to be the single worst in the history of the Best Actor category, as well as the second or third worst decision all time in the category. It’s pretty horrendous. Then Best Supporting Actor was — you guessed it — Walter Brennan, for Kentucky, winning his second of three in five years. And Best Supporting Actress was Fay Bainter, for Jezebel, which is by default a good decision because she was nominated for Best Actress this year, and was really good there as well. So, in all, I probably only like two of the six decisions. And this category, I just disagree with completely. The only thing that I like about it is that this basically means that Scarlett O’Hara won two Oscars. That’s pretty cool.
BEST ACTRESS – 1938
And the nominees were…
Fay Bainter, White Banners
Bette Davis, Jezebel
Wendy Hiller, Pygmalion
Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette
Margaret Sullavan, Three Comrades (more…)
The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1938
1938 is such a weak year. It’s like the Academy, having the chance to make bold choices, got nervous and went with the sure thing. How can it be falling into its own stereotype when it’s only 11 years old? You Can’t Take It With You wins Best Picture. It’s a fine film, a really great one, but is definitely not a Best Picture winner. Frank Capra wins his third Best Director trophy in five years. 1934, 1936, and this one. Did he need it? Absolutely not. I talked about it here. It’s really strange the Academy went with the film, especially when The Adventures of Robin Hood, Pygmalion and especially Grand Illusion were also up for Best Picture.
Best Actress this year was Bette Davis for Jezebel, winning her second Best Actress trophy in four years. I’m a big opponent of this decision. I’ll talk about it eventually. Definitely not a fan. Fay Bainter wins Best Supporting Actress for the film, which is a very good decision, for both legitimizing the category and also because she was nominated for Best Actress this year, so that was a good choice. And Best Supporting Actor was — guess who — Walter Brennan for Kentucky. This was his second of three, winning every other year out of five, just like Frank Capra.
So, I consider 1938 a failed year. They had a chance to really do something interesting, then took the safe choice. We really shouldn’t be surprised. The Academy will often take the safe choice. Oh, and did I mention? I consider this specific category to be the SECOND WORST BEST ACTOR DECISION OF ALL TIME. How’s that for a lead in?
BEST ACTOR – 1938
And the nominees were…
Charles Boyer, Algiers
James Cagney, Angels with Dirty Faces
Robert Donat, The Citadel
Leslie Howard, Pygmalion
Spencer Tracy, Boys Town (more…)
The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1938
1938 feels like a “motions” year. One of those ones where you just feel the Academy going through the motions. The Oscars feels a lot like Hollywood itself a lot of the time. That is, they find a formula that works, or one they like, and they ride that formula for a while until they transition to something else. You notice it with the type of films they make, and in their Best Picture choices as well. You really can notice a pattern in what they nominate and what they vote for.
I’ve already said that 1928-1933 were the Academy figuring itself out. I’d also say that 1934-1938 were the Academy counteracting the Depression. Of course, as is always the case with AMPAS, you’ll see the standard “Oscar” picture thrown in as well, as well as a choice that defies all logic. But, there are choice years that really point out what the “trend” was at that point in film history. This is a huge reason why I love the Oscars. You can really get a snapshot of what the prevailing trend in — well, not Hollywood overall, but, this portion of it.
So, 1938. You Can’t Take It With You wins Best Picture. Now it’s perhaps thought of as a weak choice. And unlike most of the years they consider poor choices, this one isn’t directed so much at the quality of the film but rather at how “safe” a choice it was, and how generic a Best Picture it is. And that’s the reason I see it as part of the “Depression” trend, because, after this year, Hollywood transitioned to the “war” picture era, 1940-1946. It feels like when someone pulls back to reference a joke that was funny the first three times it was referenced, but now it feels as though people are going through the motions. Sure, it’s funny, but lets not beat it into the ground. (more…)