Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Oscar Yay's and Nay's: 1930

1930 Best Picture
Their vote: All Quiet on the Western Front
My vote: All Quiet on the Western Front

1930 Best Director
Their vote: Lewis Milestone, All Quiet on the Western Front
My vote: Lewis Milestone, All Quiet on the Western Front

1930 Best Writing Achievement
Their vote: Frances Marion, The Big House
My vote: George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson & Del Andrews, All Quiet on the Western Front 

The Academy rebounds from the previous year's disastrous Best Picture choice (The Broadway Melody) by properly acknowledging the best film of the year here. Not only is it a monumental technical achievement of the early sound era, it still stands the test of time today. I'm not entirely sure how Lew Ayres avoided being nominated for Best Actor, considering the large amount of nominees in the category (eight, three of them for two performances each). His performance as a youthful patriot lured to the battlefields of WWI and transformed into a sad, jaded veteran through his horrific experiences is not like the stage-bound work of other actors of the same period. The Academy wisely also awarded Lewis Milestone his second Oscar for direction; his only real competition was Ernst Lubitsch for The Love Parade, though Lubitsch would do much more accomplished work in later years. A misstep occurred by awarding the creaky men-in-prison melodrama The Big House the Best Writing award. While it is noteworthy for being the first award given to a woman in a filmmaking category, the film itself has more than its fair share of ludicrous moments that a better script would have smoothed out before going into production. In fact, the other nominees in the category suffer similar issues: Julian Josephson's Disraeli is dull and talky; John Meehan's The Divorcee takes unsatisfactory turns in its tale of infidelity; Howard Estabrook's Street of Chance is a cliched story warning against the thrills of gambling, old hat even by 1930. The three-man job on All Quiet on the Western Front, on the other hand, adapts the original book strikingly well and helps to make the film the first great war picture of the sound era. Its success would lead to other films of its type over the years, but few can compare to the original.

1930 Best Actor
Their vote: Lionel Barrymore, A Free Soul
My vote: NONE

This is, for my money, the sorriest bunch of Best Actor nominees in Oscar history. Not one of them gives a performance worthy of the gold statuette. First up, you have winner Lionel Barrymore. Barrymore was always one to go hamming, and I quite enjoy his later work in films made after he became wheelchair-bound. However I firmly believe Louis B. Mayer bought this Oscar for his favorite actor, who he kept under contract until his death despite not being a recurring box office favorite. His supposedly spectacular final courtroom scene, done in one take, Jackie Cooper nominated for Skippy and ignored for his much better performance in The Champ a year later? There is no justice. Richard Dix has always been a personality, not an actor, and his heroics in Cimarron are standard Dix. Fredric March's drunken antics in The Royal Family of Broadway are strictly in a supporting role, a category that had not yet been introduced, and further more he would do far better work. By the same token, Adolph Menjou's work in The Front Page is also a supporting job; Pat O'Brien, always so good, should have been nominated instead. Considering his competition here, I would have given him the gold. But any race that discounts James Cagney in The Public Enemy, Charlie Chaplin in City Lights, or Peter Lorre in M is already severely handicapped.

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