Sunday, February 6, 2011

Best Picture of 1930/31

There have been numerous verdicts during the course of Matt vs. the Academy that have been maddeningly difficult due to an abundance of quality cinema. Choosing my favourite nominee from 1930/31 is likewise difficult, but for the opposite reason. The shortlist is perhaps the weakest that I have covered to date, with no film jumping out as a clear winner.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1930/31 are:
  • Cimarron
  • East Lynne
  • The Front Page
  • Skippy
  • Trader Horn
Clearly, with the advent of sound, motion picture production took some time to adjust and the kinks were still being ironed out a few years later. Without dialogue, silent films essentially relied on melodrama to communicate their stories. Once sound arrived, melodrama was no longer required but it stuck around anyway. The five films above are not entirely without merit, however. While each picture fails to size up to later classics, they each excel in at least one aspect.

Adventure story Trader Horn is perhaps the most melodramatic, its performances especially. The footage of African wildlife shot on location is utterly gratuitous, yet still fascinating. As a drama, East Lynne's schmaltz is perhaps a little more fitting, but it still comes across as a soap opera. Nonetheless, Ann Harding in the lead role delivers an engaging performance well worth a look. Cimarron is one of those epic yet personal tales that has so often gained favour with the Academy. No great surprise, then, that it went on to win the Best Picture trophy. Its action scenes are particularly spectacular, but again, melodrama gets in the way.

Thus, we are left with two comedies. Whereas in later years, comedic films struggle to be noticed amongst powerful dramatic content, here the three dramas suffer from too much sentimentality, leaving The Front Page and Skippy to be remembered. The snappy dialogue in The Front Page is amusing and energetic, but Skippy's charm, both in its witty script and its child performances, makes it a slightly more fun experience making it my official pick of the 1930/31 Best Picture nominees.

Best Picture of 1930/31
Academy's choice:


Matt's choice:


Your choice:

Have your say by voting for your favourite of the nominees using the poll above. Next, we move back to a more recent Best Picture race by taking a look at the contenders from just a few years ago.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 2005 are:
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Capote
  • Crash
  • Good Night and Good Luck
  • Munich
Stay tuned...


  1. I'll watch Trader Horn later (recorded it off TCM this morning). Skippy airs on February 22, after which I'll submit my vote for the Best of 1930/31. Of the two I've seen, unexpectedly, I have Cimarron over The Front Page.

    It does bear repeating that a better line up for this year would have been:
    City Lights (far and away the best of the bunch)
    Little Caesar
    The Public Enemy
    The Blue Angel

    I'd venture a guess that 2005 will draw out more activity here. Five strong contenders, and what must be the most surprising upset of the first decade.

  2. Now that I've completed the four films from 1931 that were available, my tendency is to vote none of the above; especially considering the alternative titles that weren't nominated. However, if I must choose, I reluctantly will agree with the Academy and pick Cimarron. It is indeed a very flawed film, but it does have a scope to it that kept my interest. Both Cimarron and Trader Horn must be viewed through the prism of the time it came out. The Front Page and Skippy also reflect certain attitudes, but their stories are more universal.

  3. I have seen both Cimarron and Skippy in movie theatres. I got to see Skippy a couple years ago at an AMPAS screening and it charmed my pants off. It was made over 70 years ago and it still feels contemporary. An added treat--Jackie Cooper was present at the screening. My vote is with the still relevant and watchable and entertaining SKIPPY.

    Martin Pal