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.
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.
One Hour With You
Won: Grand Hotel
Should Have Won: Of the nominees, Grand Hotel deserved its victory. If only Frankenstein had been nominated!
1932 — 1933
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 House of Rothschild
One Night of Love
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.
Midsummer Night’s Dream
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.
Mr. Deeds Go To Town
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.
In Old Chicago
The Life of Emile Zola
One Hundred Men and a Girl
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.
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
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.
Gone With The Wind
The Wizard of Oz
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!