The Best Picture Race In Review: The 1930s

Ah, the 1930s. America was mired in the Great Depression. FDR was plotting to pack the courts. In Europe, leaders were trying to ignore what was happening in Italy, Spain, and Germany. As for the Academy, it was still growing and developing and finding itself. With people flocking to the movies and the promise of an escape from reality, the Academy Awards went from being an afterthought to a major cultural event.



East Lynne

The Front Page


Trader Horn

Won: Cimarron

Should Have Won: This is a tough year. None of the nominees are really that great. The two main contenders were Cimarron and Trader Horn but neither one has aged particularly well. Of the film that were nominated, The Front Page probably holds up the best. The best of the film eligible for these split-year Oscars — Little Caesar and The Public Enemy — were not nominated for Best Picture.



Bad Girl

The Champ

Five Star Final

Grand Hotel

One Hour With You

Shanghai Express

The Smiling Lieutenant

Won: Grand Hotel

Should Have Won: Of the nominees, Grand Hotel deserved its victory. If only Frankenstein had been nominated!

1932 — 1933


42nd Street

A Farewell to Arms

I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang

Lady For A Day

Little Women

The Private Life of Henry VIII

She Done Him Wrong

Smilin’ Through

State Fair

Won: Cavalcade

Should Have Won: Cavalcade is one of the more forgotten best picture winners and for good reason. It’s just not that interesting. Of the other nominees, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang is the most powerful and 42nd Street is the most entertaining. In the end, my vote would have gone to 42nd Street. The original King Kong was eligible but not nominated.


The Barretts of Wimpole Street


Flirtation Walk

The Gay Divorcee

Here Comes The Navy

The House of Rothschild

Imitation of Life

It Happened One Night

One Night of Love

The Thin Man

Viva Villa!

The White Parade

Won: It Happened One Night

Should Have Won: Oh wow. I really love The Thin Man but seriously, nothing beats Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night. For the first time this decade, the Academy got it right.


Alice Adams

Broadway Melody of 1936

Captain Blood

David Copperfield

The Informer

The Lives of Bengal Lancer

Midsummer Night’s Dream

Les Miserables

Mutiny on the Bounty

Naughty Marietta

Ruggles of Red Gap

Top Hat

Won: Mutiny on the Bounty

Should Have Won: Mutiny on the Bounty isn’t bad but my vote has to go to Top Hat, a film that is pure joy.


Anthony Adverse


The Great Ziegfeld

Libeled Lady

Mr. Deeds Go To Town

Romeo and Juliet

San Francisco

The Story of Louis Pasteur

A Tale of Two Cities

Three Smart Girls

Won: The Great Ziegfeld

Should Have Won: The Great Ziegfeld is a good example of a film that won because it was big. It was a spectacle. It overwhelmed audiences and voters with how overproduced it was. Seen today, it’s entertaining but overlong. My vote would have gone to the far more low-key (but also far more intelligent) Dodsworth.


The Awful Truth

Captains Courageous

Dead End

The Good Earth

In Old Chicago

The Life of Emile Zola

Lost Horizon

One Hundred Men and a Girl

Stage Door

A Star is Born

Won: The Life of Emile Zola

Should Have Won: The Life of Emile Zola isn’t a bad film but it’s not the best of the nominees. Dead End features one of Humphrey Bogart’s best pre-Casablanca performances and The Awful Truth is a classic screwball comedy with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. In the end, my vote would have gone to The Awful Truth.


The Adventures of Robin Hood

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

Boys Town

The Citadel

Four Daughters

Grand Illusion



Test Pilot

You Can’t Take It With You

Won: You Can’t Take It With You

Should Have Won: Damn. As much as I hate to vote against any movie starring Jimmy Stewart, there’s no way that I can take You Can’t Take It With You over either The Adventures of Robin Hood or Grand Illusion. Robin Hood is the most entertaining of the nominees but Grand Illusion is the most important. My vote goes to Grand Illusion.


Dark Victory

Gone With The Wind

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Love Affair

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington


Of Mice and Men


The Wizard of Oz

Wuthering Heights

Won: Gone With The Wind

Should Have Won: This is such a difficult year because I can make a case for all of the nominees, with the exception of the creaky Love Affair. In the end, my vote goes to …. argh! This is so hard. I’m juggling Gone With The Wind, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, Ninotchka, and The Wizard of Oz in my head. Can I pick all of them? No? Okay, I’ll go with …. Hell, I have to go with Jimmy Stewart holding the Senate hostage. Sorry, Wizard of Oz. I vote for Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, which has Jimmy Stewart and no munchkins.

And that’s it for the 30s. Up next, in about an hour, it’s time for the 40s!

One response to “The Best Picture Race In Review: The 1930s

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 4/19/21 — 4/25/21 | Through the Shattered Lens

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