In the first Oscars ceremony, there were essentially two different Best Picture categories. One was called “Best Unique and Artistic Picture,” which evolved into awards like Best Cinematography. What was originally called “Outstanding Picture” is what we think of today as Best Picture. Interestingly, there is no crossover between the awards, which seems to make Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, The Crowd, and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (which won for Unique and Artistic) would all be viable contenders for Outstanding Picture. I’d support adding The Crowd and Sunrise. Metropolis and Napoleon would seem to be clear possibilities here, and I’m constantly surprised that The Jazz Singer was ignored simply because of the impact (although I agree in terms of quality). The Last Command seems like it might belong, too. Oscar has rarely liked comedy and horror, which explains why we’re not talking about Speedy, Steamboat Bill Jr., and Laugh, Clown, Laugh. And before you ask, The Man Who Laughs would have been eligible the following year.
Weeding through the Nominees
3. Of the three movies actually nominated for this award specifically, The Racket is the one that I didn’t really like at all. It’s cool to see an early gangster film get this kind of respect, but as far as early gangster films go, it’s just not that good. I’d have liked to have seen pretty much everything in the paragraph above here before this one. Sure, in a way, it helps to validate that sort of drama, but if we’d had Metropolis or Laugh, Clown, Laugh, would that make science fiction or horror more valid for Oscar today? I’d rather have those validated.
2. Seventh Heaven is a film where I understand the nomination, but I also wonder if perhaps it should have been in the other category. After all, there is a sequence here where a camera moves up the entire height of an apartment building, showing us the lives of the people inside as they go about their day. It’s an unimpressive shot today, but in these early stages of the movies, it’s absolutely astonishing. It’s not a bad story, either, even if it does eventually fall into the sort of melodrama that the age seemed to love.
1. Based on the three actual nominees for this award, I’m satisfied that Wings was the right choice. In fact, if we combined the two categories into one (something I briefly considered), I would still put Wings on top, albeit with a much closer second and third. The story is a good one, even if it’s a bit melodramatic and even if it shoehorns Clara Bow into the narrative. The dogfighting sequences seem a decade or more ahead of their time, though, and are absolutely the reason this won…and based on the nominations should have. My ultimate choice, though, is different.
Of the movies that I think were eligible for this award, Metropolis is the one that I think remains the most worth seeing today and the one that has carried over to the modern age the best. Sure, it has its soupcon of melodrama, but it also is technically a wonder, especially for its time. That, and the story is pretty great and still relevant. It’s also possible that this, because of Oscar’s weird rules, wasn’t really eligible. If that’s the case, my favorite from the “year” of 1927 through the first half of 1928 is Laugh, Clown, Laugh.