The Front Page
This is such a disappointing collection collection of nominations for Best Picture. Movies from August 1, 1930 through July 31, 1931 were eligible, which leaves out some classics to the next year, like M and some pre-code joys like Night Nurse. Films that were nominated for other Oscars but not this one include Min and Bill and The Criminal Code, both of which I like as much or more than all five nominees. The Blue Angel was available, and absolutely better than everything on the list, even if Oscar wasn’t ready for foreign movies at this point. Oscar also wasn’t ready for horror movies, leaving out both Dracula and the Spanish-language version of the same. But why did Oscar dislike gangster classics like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy? And while talkies were still new and exciting for people, was City Lights really worth ignoring?
Weeding through the Nominees
4. As mentioned above, I really wanted to put Cimarron in last, but I simply couldn’t. Part of the reason is that there really is a great sequence in this film. The land rush at the start of the film is a truly great film sequence, especially for the time in which it was made. It’s also mildly remarkable for having a much more progressive view of women than you might expect for this era. Everything else about the movie is not worth your time, though. It’s loud, dumb, brash, and arrogant…much like its lead character.
3. That East Lynne has managed to reach third place is rather surprising. This is a depressing and melodramatic film that is probably what passed for a tear-jerker 90 years ago. Today, it’s a gloopy, syrupy mess of a film that has no business being talked about in the same sentence as pretty much everything I mentioned in the first paragraph above. In fact, it’s actually surprising that there were two nominated movies I liked less than this one. Oh, I suppose it’s not terrible, but it doesn’t rate anywhere close to good.
2. The Front Page has the benefit of at least having an interesting story that is worth seeing. It has against it the problem that, a few years later, it was remade as His Girl Friday, a version of the story that is superior in every possible way. Had I seen this in 1931, it might well have been my choice for Best Picture. Now, with the knowledge that something so much better was coming nine or ten years down the road, it’s hard for me to see this as anything but a pale rough draft of an eventual classic.
1. For the five nominations, I’m giving this to Skippy, and it’s a very unenthusiastic endorsement. However, it’s really the only one of the five nominations that I really liked, even a little. Skippy hasn’t aged well, but it’s still a decent film with a really solid child performance from Jackie Cooper. I wouldn’t really want to give the Oscar to Skippy, though, and had I been an Oscar voter at the time, I’d have been really tempted to write something in…and probably would have.
Anything I mentioned in my first paragraph with the possible exception of Min and Bill would be a better choice than any of the five nominations. I’d be very tempted by Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, and I’d have loved the chaos of seeing either (or both!) versions of Dracula nominated, but ultimately, City Lights should have clearly won this.