Friday, November 20, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1928-1929

The Contenders:

The Broadway Melody (winner)
The Hollywood Revue of 1929
In Old Arizona
The Patriot

What’s Missing

This is such a strange Oscar “year,” so it’s only fitting that it’s the first one of these I do without having seen the entire docket. Truthfully, The Patriot is the film here I will never see, since there are no extant copies in existence, which is a damn shame. It’s also a year where the industry was naturally obsessed with talkies, even though talkies in general weren’t that great in these early years. The best movies from this era were still the silents. In fact, the only talkie I’d really consider strongly is Thunderbolt, which I liked better than all of the actual nominees that I’ve seen. If we can include silent movies, though, The Docks of New York would be a clear choice, as would Pandora’s Box. I’d also love to consider The Man with the Movie Camera as one of the great early experimental films ever made. Ultimately, though, the fact that Oscar essentially ignored silent movies for this year left out The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is pretty much criminal.

Weeding through the Nominees

N/A. Well, I don’t really have anything to say about The Patriot. From what I understand, it was a hell of a great movie, but we’re approaching a time where there won’t be anyone alive who has actually seen it. I’d love to suggest that it should be the winner, and if it was as good a movie as I have been lead to believe, it likely would have been my choice. But I can’t simply hand it the win when all I’ve seen is a still or two. It’s a damn shame, but what else are you going to do?

4. Of all the movies that have won Best Picture, The Broadway Melody is absolutely my least favorite. It’s a dumb film filled with dumb people who do dumb things, and Bessie Love is literally the only reason to watch this slog. It’s not a surprise that Oscar decided to go with something filled with music and dance for this Oscar—people started singing on film the moment we had sound on film, and that was a natural thing to celebrate. I just wish there were better choices than this dumpster fire.

3. I would imagine that in 1929, audiences loved Alibi a great deal. It has everything that an audience could want—there’s crime and prurient stuff and murder and detective work and more. The problem is that it’s very much a victim of the time in which it was made. What I mean is that it’s ridiculously simple and simplistic. You know precisely where this is going the moment it starts, and even the least aware audience member will be able to predict everything that happens minutes in advance. It uses sound well, but it doesn’t do anything else well.

2. The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is interesting in that it more or less brought many of Vaudeville’s stars to the masses. That’s really all this movie is—it’s a series of stage acts filmed and presented as a night out at the theater, but on celluloid. This is a case where the sum is truly less than the parts. Each individual act (or at least some of them) are fun and interesting as well as a snapshot of the time. As a whole enterprise, though, there’s a great deal here to be desired. It’s just not that interesting as a whole collection.

1. Based on the four movies I have actually seen, In Old Arizona is my pick. This is not a wildly enthusiastic choice for the top position, since this movie very much shows its age. What sets it apart from the other movies is the ending—it’s an ending that is surprisingly hardcore for the time, one that would not seem out of place today in an antihero-driven western. Sure, it’s basic and sure, it’s rudimentary in a lot of ways, but at least it does something interesting, and, unlike The Hollywood Revue, it has a plot. Still, it’s not going to be my ultimate choice, and in a year that really did have some worthy films, it shouldn't be.

My Choice

I’d honestly pick anything in my first paragraph as my winner here; all of those movies are better choices than the four available to be watched from this “year” of Oscar nominees. Pandora’s Box is the most interesting of these films in a lot of ways, but The Passion of Joan of Arc is an incredibly intense film experience, and one that should have been recognized and rewarded, regardless of the newness of talkies.

Final Analysis


  1. OK, I haven't seen any of the films nominated but to leave out The Passion of Joan of Arc, Man with a Movie Camera, and Pandora's Box... that's just fucking wrong.

    1. You don't really need to see any of them. The Broadway Melody is worth seeing only if you feel the need to see every winner. The Hollywood Revue is interesting in that it features performances from the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Joan Crawford, but it's pretty hit-and-miss. In Old Arizona is the best of these and has a really surprising ending, but is otherwise not worth going out of your way to see.

  2. Yikes this is a rough patch! Since The Patriot no longer exists my choice is really none of the above.

    The one I enjoyed the most is The Hollywood Revue but that's only because I'm an old movie head and the chance to see either silent stars who were on the cusp of extinguishing like William Haines and Karl Dane or getting ready to really break through like Crawford (although her "dancing" is a bit scary) and Norma Shearer was an irresistible attraction. But there is no there there.

    Alibi was unmemorable and I agree that The Broadway Melody is crap. Around the World in 80 Days is my least favorite Picture winner but Melody is just above.

    In Old Arizona was marginal, my biggest problem with it was that Edmund Lowe is so much more magnetic than our supposed hero Warner Baxter and outside the ending it's clunky and not terribly involving.

    I'd happily throw all of them out to make room for some combination of Beggars for Life, The Man Who Laughs, The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Wind, Man with a Movie Camera or Piccadilly. My winner however would be Pandora's Box.

    That's the real kicker, all these films were available and eligible and yet what they selected was so subpar.

    1. I don't have a serious objection to Pandora's Box winning, although I think the ending is very odd and misses tonally for me. It would probably be my second choice with The Man with a Movie Camera coming in third.

      I have Around the World in 80 Days third from the bottom, just above The Broadway Melody and Gigi.

  3. Wow, you are almost finished. I’d put Passion of Joan of Arc first, then Man with a Movie Camera, and then Pandora’s Box, which I felt was a bit sloggy in the middle. I hate Gigi with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. I hated it as a girl, I hated it as a teenager, and I hated it as an adult when I watched it again for the 1001 project. What a smarmy, plotless and rotting candy box of goo. I hated this movie so much I had a hard time with Chevalier’s early work such as Love Parade.

    1. If you include 2019 categories, I have 16 to go, so I'll be very close to done by the end of this year. And then it will be time to do something else. Don't worry--there are plans.

      I'm with you on Gigi. It's just so morally creepy that I can't deal with it.

  4. I know i should love Joan of Arc, but my pick would be The Docks of New York. I is my favorite Sternberg movie and a fantastic example of what could be done in a silent movie. It deserves some love.

    1. It's not a bad pick. It would be on my list of nominees, even if it wouldn't win.