Cinebuds review the Academy Award-winning Best Pictures of the 1930s
I like having an art project. Not a project where I make art, but one where I consume it. Near the beginning of this whole thing I watched the movie “The French Connection” which won the Academy Award in 1972. And I was on an article that had the list of winners. Almost right under it was “Midnight Cowboy” which won in '70. So I watched that. Having watched two Academy Award winning Best Pictures of the 1970s in one week it was a pattern that I was now incapable of stopping. My inner need to complete the task and take on the challenge took over. I finished the rest from the '70s that I hadn’t seen. Then the '80s, then the '90s. And finally I thought, “Aw screw it. Let's start at the beginning.”
So here we are, reviewing the Academy Award-winning Best Pictures of the 1930s. I have to say, watching them in line is a great experience if you are looking for a little project of your own. It’s kind of like a little film course of its own design. You see the trends, the techniques, and the actors take form and take over. Some of them are outright BAD. “The Life of Emile Zola” (1938) mostly takes place in French courtrooms, had only one possible outcome, and, after further reading, largely ignored the antisemitism that was at the heart of the actual event. It was not good.
Most of them are excruciatingly long. This is not so much of a surprise after watching the winners of the '70s and '80s seemingly rewarding whatever movie that year had the longest runtime, but these are particularly long. Not a single one is under two hours, and "Gone with the Wind" is nearly four. BUT the bad ones make the good ones better. 1937’s “The Great Ziegfeld” is one of the most ambitious, intricate, and surreal productions I have ever seen. There were entire scenes that played like dream sequences on stage with dancing dogs, lavish costumes, and as the Ziegfeld says himself, “Glitter! Glamour! And Glory!” 1930/31's “All Quiet On the Western Front” is a movie that you might have just assumed you’ve seen or understand the gist of it, but it is moving to see a movie portray the human toll of war in its time.
One of my favorite discoveries of this was following the work of Frank Capra. Like, Clark Gable or Joan Crawford, it was a name that I knew I should know, but never really understood until seeing all these movies back to back to back. Frank Capra is like a 1930s version of Judd Apatow. His movies had a lighthearted beat to them, with a familiar cast of characters, and in the end had something to say that was a bit more tender than meets the eye. I had never heard of “It Happened One Night” (1935) before this, but it really is, as far as I can tell, one of the first romantic comedies. And when I saw that he also directed 1939’s “You Can’t Take It With You” I knew I was in for a treat, and I was.
Following all of this has been a fun little project that’s given me something to look forward to every day, a challenge I’ve met, and something I’ve learned from. And it’s a lot less intimidating knowing that I have the time.