Saturday, September 19, 2009

Best Picture of 1939

After ten more viewings, it is time again to make the difficult decision of which is my favourite. And considering that 1939 is often cited as old Hollywood's finest year, it is indeed difficult once more.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1939 are:

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

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the most interesting things about this awards year is the volume of adaptations that were nominated; six from novels, one from an unpublished story, and one from a play, leaving just two films not based on previous material. Of those adaptations, I discovered that a number of them suffered slightly from a somewhat hurried narrative. So, despite their other brilliant qualities, I will set aside Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Stagecoach and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. In all of these, excepting Wuthering Heights, it is the love story within them that I feel is affected the most. People just seem to fall in love so quickly. Romantic, I suppose, but a little implausible in most cases. Ninotchka, although a charmingly sweet comedy, suffers the same fate, so I shall stick that on the discard pile, as well.

The exception to this rule, in my mind, is Love Affair. Despite its characters' courtship transpiring rather swiftly, it feels natural and unforced. However, for other reasons, I'm not going to name this my favourite, either. Similarly, as much as I love The Wizard of Oz, and as much as it holds a very special place in my heart, it is at its core a children's movie. Not that children's movies should be automatically ineligible for the big prize, but there is simply a larger emotional scope available to other genres. This leaves me with three films, any of which could have taken my top spot. Yet, I must be conclusive, or perhaps just nit-picky, so I will now drop the very moving and captivating Mr. Smith Goes to Washington by the wayside.

The final two, which happen to be adaptations, are Gone With the Wind and Of Mice and Men. Both of these films managed to adapt their respective stories without it feeling rushed, the former due to its almost four-hour running time, the latter due to its relatively short source material. A mighty difficult decision, but in spite of its achievement of sending a chill down my spine, I will also say goodbye to Of Mice and Men. The fullness of Gone With the Wind's story, and at four hours, you'd better hope it would be complete, is going to take the honours this time.

Best Picture of 1939
Academy's choice:

Gone With the Wind

Matt's choice:

Gone With the Wind

Your choice:

So, another match with the Academy's choice. Interesting. I've been toying with the idea of adding a poll to each of these verdict posts, so that you lovely readers out there can voice your own opinion. I'll see if I can set that up for the next one. In the meantime, however, please feel free to leave a comment here with your favourite of 1939. Even if you haven't seen all the films. It doesn't matter. Academy members aren't required to have seen them all when they vote, either. And no need to give any reasons. You can merely write the name of the film and a smiley face, if you wish.

Next up for examination, I have chosen my birth year, 1976. Another spectacular one.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1976 are:

All the President's Men
Bound for Glory
Taxi Driver

Yet another impressive selection of cinema. Stay tuned...


  1. Congratulations on getting through what may be your most competitive year, and providing us with an excellent analysis of those compelling films. I dare say, some of the other years in the 1930s with 10 to 12 nominees will be easier to decide, but more taxing to watch - but I think you knew that going in.

    I was able to narrow down my decision to three films. I wish I was able to see "Of Mice and Men," but couldn't find it. I did see the remake with John Malkovich and Gary Sinese when it came out, but of course that doesn't count.

    "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" is probably the film that I most frequently watch today, but it will finish third. "The Wizard of Oz," is as you said a beloved film that reaches the child in us so well. I may see the blu-ray next week, but chances are it will wait until my granddaughter is old enough to watch it with.

    So, matching you for the second time, it's "Gone with the Wind" for me as well. I think in 1939, it was a pretty easy pick. Today, it's appeal is not as widespread. Still, with arguably the greatest female performance on film, and production values that really hold up, this masterpiece of mass entertainment gets my vote.

    So your birth year, 1976, is next. That's also the same year our oldest son was born. Man, do I feel old. There's at least one nominee that didn't sit well with me, I need to re-watch. There are also three close contenders that I need to see again as well.

    I think you may find, as many critics feel, that the 1970s hold their own as one of cinemas most creative and interesting decades.

  2. Oh, yes. I think surely the 1970s is my favourite decade of American cinema. Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas. Pacino, Nicholson, De Niro, Hoffman, Hackman. And that's just touching the surface. I'm sure I will enjoy each awards year from the 70s.

    Now, as you say, Mike, that makes two from three that you agree with my choice. And if I'm not mistaken, also two from three that agree with the Academy's choice. Perhaps this is where your superior Oscar-winner-picking skills come from. Not so much brilliant insight, but just similar taste :-) Then again, if that were the case, the same ought to be said of me, but you still manage to outwit me every year...

  3. I gotta say, Gone with the Wind absolutely captivated me as a young teen and I've viewed maybe twice since and I still adore all of its lavishness and grandeur. And I love doing a "Miss Scarlett! Miss Scarlett!" Mammy impersonation. Racist yes but who can resist.

  4. Yes, Mammy is quite the no-nonsense woman. Take a look at Hattie McDaniel's acceptance speech, though. It's hard to believe it's the same woman.