There’s something special about the Oscars. They’re an imperfect system, but they give a true sense of history. It’s a way to honor films and to give a sense about what was important during that time. It’s fun to root for films and try to outguess the Academy. With all of its flaws, I still love the Oscars. My friends Keith Jackson and Kenny Jones are right there with me. So we decided to embark on a difficult project: We are going to go back and watch every single Best Picture nominee starting in 1927.
After we finish a set we recorded our discussions as a free podcast that will soon be available on iTunes. To coincide with tonight’s presentation I thought I’d talk about the first grouping.
Now the first year of the Oscars was weird in several reasons. There was no ceremony and just five judges decided the winners. Also they had two categories for the same award. There was Best Unique and Artistic Production and Best Picture. It’s still unclear on why this was done, but it was quickly abandoned in its next year. So these were the nominees from 1927/1928:
All the films in this year were silent and this was an interesting time for cinema. Some directors were able to embrace this unique storytelling device and others weren’t. This is sadly one of the latter as this crime drama is overwrought with title cards and overreliance on the original play. Despite some fun moments, this movie doesn’t work because the conflict between the cop and the robber doesn’t make sense.
This movie is more of the cliché Oscar movie. There is an unconventional romance juxtaposed with a tragic war. A lot of the emotional weight works because the lead actress, Janet Gaynor, is just wonderful. Certain moments feel dated, but the impressive production techniques keep you in it.
Wings – WINNER
This one still has a hint of popularity today. It is because its flying sequences are still amazing. The story is too simple; two guys in the same city become fighter pilots while being involved with a silly love triangle. The war scenes are great, but the melodrama is too hokey. I’ll never be able to forget the jaw-dropingly bizarre “bubbles” sequence.
Best Unique and Artistic Production
This is such an odd, but enjoyable movie. It’s a documentary of sorts, but it’s edited to make it more of a fictional storyline. It follows a small family in the jungle who have to deal with the wild animals to disrupt their life. The movie is entertaining but can’t be taken seriously with the over-the-top title cards and “dialog” from one of the monkeys.
King Vidor made this one and he really was one of the best directors during the silent era. His camera movements and shots are comparable to ones from today. Unfortunately this all that is worth seeing from this movie. The Crowd follows a jerk that wants more out of the world and whines when he doesn’t get it. The film wants you to sympathize with him, but I found it difficult.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans - WINNER
This movie is a masterpiece. If I can only recommend one silent film, it would have to be this one. There are almost no title cards. Instead the movie is able to move the story forward naturally and intelligently. It is about a nameless husband who is considering murdering his wife for the new woman in town. What follows is a passionate story of lust and love. The leads are incredible, including (once again) the brilliant Janet Gaynor. It’s heartbreaking and perhaps perfect.
To hear more of discussion of these films, you can check out our podcast. It’s entitled And the Nominees Are. The first three episodes will be uploaded to iTunes this week and then the rest will come out on a staggered schedule. You can learn more about the podcast at www.atnapodcast.com. As of Sunday, the website is bare but as the week goes on there will be a lot more information on it.