My Top 10:
- The Last Command
- The Circus
- The Cat and the Canary
- Seventh Heaven
- The Man Who Laughs
- Laugh Clown Laugh
- The Lodger
- The Cameraman
- Best Production: Wings
- Best Artistic Quality of Production: Sunrise
- Best Director: Frank Borzage (Seventh Heaven)
- Best Actor: Emil Jannings (The Last Command / The Way of All Flesh)
- Best Actress: Janet Gaynor (Sunrise / Seventh Heaven / Street Angel)
- Best Adaptation: Seventh Heaven (from the play)
- Best Original Story: Underworld
TSPDT Consensus Top 5 Films:
- #12 – Sunrise
- #17 – The Passion of Joan of Arc
- #70 – Metropolis
- #178 – The Crowd
- #338 – The Cameraman
AFI Top 100 Films:
- The Jazz Singer – #90 (1998 list – not on 2007 list)
- Sunrise – #82 (2007 list – not on 1998 list)
Top 5 Awards Points:
- Seventh Heaven – 310
- Sunrise – 240
- Wings – 140
- The Last Command – 110
- The Crowd – 95
- Best Picture: Metropolis
- Best Director: Fritz Lang (Metropolis)
- Best Actor: Emil Jannings (The Last Command)
- Best Actress: Janet Gaynor (Sunrise)
- Best Supporting Actor: William Powell (The Last Command)
- Best Supporting Actress: Brigitte Helm (Metropolis)
- Best Adapted Screenplay: Sunrise (from original theme “Die Reise nach Tilsit”)
- Best Original Screenplay: Metropolis
Ebert Great Movies (in order that he added them):
- The Passion of Joan of Arc
- The Man Who Laughs
This was the beginning of the Academy Awards. It covered films released in the United States from August 1, 1927 until July 31, 1928 and the actual ceremony wasn’t held until May of 1929 even though the winners had been announced in February. It was a vital year for the film industry as sound was introduced with The Jazz Singer. That these two seminal events happened in the same year make this the birth of modern film.
The Academy Awards: The history behind that first year of the Academy is rather bizarre. Official Academy records used to list The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh among the Best Production nominees, at least up until the 70′s and they are included as nominees in Inside Oscar as recently as 1994, but they are no longer officially recognized as nominees. Also, Inside Oscar lists specific films for the Title Writing nominees Joseph Farnham and George Marion Jr., when Academy records list no specific films attached to the nominations. There are the same discrepancies in the Best Cinematography and Best Engineering Effects awards. Charlie Chaplin was originally nominated for Best Actor and Best Comedy Direction, but his nominations were erased and he was given a Special Award for his “versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus.” There were four awards given that year that have never been given since: Best Artistic Quality of Production, Best Comedy Direction, Best Title Writing and Best Engineering Effects. There are also a number of films from that year that seem to be impossible to find, not just lost films like The Way of All Flesh, The Devil Dancer or The Magic Flame, or films like Underworld, The Racket and Two Arabian Knights, which, if you’re lucky, you can catch on TCM (which is how I saw all three of them), but all sorts of films that seem to only exist in archives (whether they be the Academy archives, UCLA or the Library of Congress), including The Noose, The Patent Leather Kid, A Ship Comes In, Sorrell and Son, Glorious Betsy, The Private Life of Helen of Troy and The Dove. Most of those films have very few votes on the IMDb and usually only one comment, from Arne Anderson, who runs the Lost Film Files and who has managed to see all but 7 of the Oscar nominated films (I am missing 240 films, which accounts for a little over 8% of all the films ever nominated).
Film History: Of course, we have the advent of sound. We have the introduction of the Oscars. But it doesn’t end there. We have the first appearance of Laurel and Hardy. We have the marriage of boy wonder Irving Thalberg to screen beauty Norma Shearer. We have the arrival of Clara Bow, the “It” Girl (I finally saw It a couple of months ago and even though the movie at best qualifies as an okay film, Bow had It, more than any star of the day and more than most stars since). We have the opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the first prints outside. We have Frank Capra being hired by Columbia Pictures, where he would go on to win 3 Oscars in the 30′s. We have the release of Two Arabian Knights, the beginning of Howard Hughes’ involvement in motion pictures. There is the U.S. release of Metropolis, at the time, the greatest film ever made, establishing Fritz Lang in the forefront of all the directors.
Overlooked film of 1928:
Laugh Clown Laugh (dir. Herbert Brenon)
Again, it is Chaney that is overlooked. It didn’t used to be overlooked. It used to be listed as an Oscar nominee (for Best Title Writing – a category that only existed that first year because it held no significance once the Silent Era was gone). But then people looked closer at the records and discovered that there was no specific film listed for the writer and that three films were chosen almost at random as the “nominees” (and one for the winner), when we really don’t know what won. But in a year where Wings is remembered as the first Best Picture winner and The Jazz Singer is immortalized because of the introduction of sound, here is a film, mostly ignored, often forgotten, that is better than either of them. And given a choice between this and such revered films by critics as The Passion of Joan of Arc and The Crowd, I will take this every time. It even gets forgotten because of the similarity in titles to The Man Who Laughs, possibly, in some ways, the most influential film upon the world from this year (that the slashing of the lips on the Black Dahlia seemed inspired by this and that Bob Kane acknowledge the influence of that film on the creation of The Joker simply pushs The Man Who Laughs to the top). But this is one of the last Chaney roles, one in which he pushed his heart and soul, one in which he isn’t forced to grotesquely hide his features, but allowed to put on a pure performance of heartbreak.
Roughly speaking, this is the same story as the famous Ridi Pagliaccio, essentially a joke with a heartbreaking punchline about the person who goes to the doctor because he is so depressed, the doctor mentions the famous clown who is in town and suggests he go to see the clown, only to have the patient admit that he is the clown. Here we have more of a story, with the clown adopting a small girl, then watching her grow into a lovely woman (I’m so glad here that this is a silent film because I must admit that the appeal of Loretta Young is lost on me, so at least I don’t have to listen to her attempt to speak dialogue) and realizing that he has fallen in love with the young woman at the same time that she is courted by a Count.
This is a story that truly one works in silence. It depends so much on visual cues and emotions that are present in the eyes rather than on dialogue, which can’t help but be melodramatic and sentimental in such a plot. But there was never anyone like Chaney for giving facial expressions that explored the depths of his soul. He even was the heartbroken protective power during the making of the film, realizing that the director was teasing Young constantly whenever Chaney was not on the set, so after that, Chaney pretty much never left the set.
Of course, Laugh Clown Laugh and Hunchback aren’t the only Chaney films which are overlooked. Chaney was a master actor and an incredibly gifted makeup artist. There is a decent biopic of his life (Man of a Thousand Faces, starring James Cagney, one of the few actors who could do the kind of physical performances that Chaney could), but if you aren’t familiar with his career on film, you really need to start searching your local library. There are box sets out there and there are many great performances waiting for you to find.