I would have to say the five best films made before the establishment of the Academy Awards would be The Battleship Potemkin, Greed, The Birth of a Nation, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Gold Rush.

The early years of the Oscars saw a lot of things that you don’t see anymore. For one thing, many of the films only received one nomination. So the list in purple will only appear on this post and not the next three. But in the first nine years of the Oscars, every year but one (1929-30) had at least one Best Picture nominee that got no other nominations. It happened three more times after that, with the last being The Ox-Bow Incident in 1943. In fact, since 1943 only two four films have even been nominated for Best Picture with only 2 total nominations (Decision Before Dawn and Four Weddings and a Funeral and now The Blind Side and A Serious Man — it is a trend likely to increase again with the shift back to 10 Best Picture nominees).

People point out that Grand Hotel is the only film to win Best Picture with no other nominations, but since films don’t get nominated for just Best Picture anymore, it’s not that big a deal. It’s a bigger deal that it was the last film to win Best Picture to win without being nominated for Best Director until 1989.

The other big trivia point there is that no film since Mutiny on the Bounty has won Best Picture without any other wins. Since 1935, the only films to even win Best Picture with only 2 total wins are You Can’t Take It With You, Rebecca and The Greatest Show on Earth. Every other winner has won at least 3 Oscars.

Films started to slowly gets more wins and more nominations (partially because of the additional categories) but until 1939 no film had won more than 5 Oscars and The Life of Emile Zola was the only film to reach 10 nominations. Then Gone with the Wind received 13 nominations and 8 Oscars and re-wrote all the rules.

By the way, not only was It Happened One Night the only film to win the big 5 Oscars (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress), but it was the only film prior to Gone with the Wind to win Picture, Director and Screenplay. Of the 40 films to win those big three, 33 of them were adapted.

Of the 463 films to be nominated for Best Picture prior to this year, 133 of them were shut out at the Oscars, 70 of which came in these first 22 years. The next 58 years had 63 films, or roughly one a year, and since no Best Picture nominee got shut out in 2006 or 2007, that does not bode well for one of this year’s nominees (I’m gonna go ahead and predict Frost/Nixon).  (Of course, that turned out to be an accurate prediction — the odds are higher this year and likely shutouts could include District 9, An Education and A Serious Man)

Because every film on this list was nominated for Best Picture, the ones in red are the ones who were nominated for Picture and Director.

With the other categories, I listed the winner first and then I tried to list (among the nominees) any Best Picture nominees first, then usually the rest were alphabetical, but there was no definite order. With Best Picture, since I have seen almost all of the nominees, I list Best Picture first, then I list the rest in the order I would rank them, complete with how they rank among the films I have seen from that year. If a film is near the bottom of the list, I note that (like #48 of 49).

Best Year: 1947 – four great films and one pretty good film

Worst Year: 1928-29 – only seen four of the films, but the best of the four still only qualifies as decent at best

Oddist Omission:  My Man Godfrey (1936), which was nominated for the other big 6 awards (Director, Screenplay, all 4 acting categories), but not Picture.

Oddist Win:  Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).  The Informer won Director, Screenplay, Actor and Score, while Mutiny didn’t win any other Oscars.  The Informer had even won the only two precursors that existed at the time:  the National Board of Review and the initial Best Picture award from the New York Film Critics.

There are no changes to the ratings because of my upcoming in detail look at each year.

Grades: (27-49 only) Winners: B / Nominations: B- / Seen: 96.53% 98.26%

1927-28 AA: Wings (#20)

  • Seventh Heaven (#6)
  • The Racket (#33)

me: Metropolis

  • Sunrise
  • The Last Command
  • The Circus
  • The Cat and the Canary

1928-29 AA: Broadway Melody (#19 of 20 films)

  • In Old Arizona (#16)
  • Alibi (#17)
  • Hollywood Revue of 1929 (#18)
  • The Patriot (haven’t seen)

me: Nosferatu

  • Steamboat Bill Jr.
  • October
  • Napoleon
  • The Fall of the House of Usher

1929-30 AA: All Quiet on the Western Front (#1)

  • Disraeli (#15)
  • The Love Parade (#20)
  • The Big House (#24)
  • The Divorcee (#25 out of 25)

me: All Quiet on the Western Front

  • City Girl
  • Hell’s Angels (only three I deemed worthy)

1930-31 AA: Cimarron (#27 of 29)

  • The Front Page (#8)
  • Trader Horn (#26)
  • Skippy (haven’t seen#28)
  • East Lynne (haven’t seen)

me: City Lights

  • Dracula
  • The Three Penny Opera
  • Le Million
  • Earth

1931-32 AA: Grand Hotel (#9)

  • Shanghai Express (#10)
  • Five Star Final (#13)
  • Arrowsmith (#14)
  • Bad Girl (#17)
  • Smiling Lieutenant (#18)
  • One Hour With You (#26)
  • The Champ (#29)

me: Scarface

  • Vampyr
  • Frankenstein
  • A Nous La Liberte
  • Horse Feathers

note:  A rare year in that the winner only ranks down at #9, but I do think it was the best of the nominees.  Usually, at least one film breaks into my top 5.

1932-33 AA: Cavalcade (#24)

  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (#4)
  • Little Women (#8)
  • The Private Life of Henry VIII (#10)
  • Lady for a Day (#11)
  • State Fair (#12)
  • A Farewell to Arms (#17)
  • Smilin Through (#22)
  • 42nd Street (#39)
  • She Done Him Wrong (#40 of 41)

me: M

  • King Kong
  • Duck Soup
  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  • The Invisible Man

1934 AA: It Happened One Night (#3)

  • The Thin Man (#1)
  • The Gay Divorcee (#2)
  • The Barretts of Wimpole Street (#12)
  • One Night of Love (#20)
  • Here Comes the Navy (#21)
  • Imitation of Life (#24)
  • Flirtation Walk (#26)
  • Cleopatra (#27)
  • Viva Villa (#28 of 28)
  • The White Parade (haven’t seen)
  • The House of Rothschild (haven’t seen#23)

me: The Thin Man

  • The Gay Divorcee
  • It Happened One Night
  • Death Takes a Holiday
  • Story of Floating Weeds

1935 AA: Mutiny on the Bounty (#5)

  • The Informer (#1)
  • Les Miserables (#2)
  • Captain Blood (#7)
  • Top Hat (#8)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (#10)
  • David Copperfield (#13)
  • Ruggles of Red Gap (#14)
  • The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (#16)
  • Alice Adams (#19)
  • Naughty Marietta (#40)
  • The Broadway Melody of 1936 (#41 of 42)

me: The Informer

  • Les Miserables
  • The Bride of Frankenstein
  • The 39 Steps
  • Mutiny on the Bounty

1936 AA: The Great Ziegfeld (#11)

  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (#3)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (#4)
  • Dodsworth (#7)
  • Libeled Lady (#12)
  • The Story of Louis Pasteur (#17)
  • Romeo and Juliet (#22)
  • Three Smart Girls (#26)
  • Anthony Adverse (#34)
  • San Francisco (#36 of 36)

me: Modern Times

  • The Petrified Forest
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • My Man Godfrey

1937 AA: The Life of Emile Zola (#12)

  • A Star is Born (#1)
  • The Awful Truth (#2)
  • Stage Door (#5)
  • Lost Horizon (#7)
  • Dead End (#18)
  • 100 Men and a Girl (#26)
  • Captains Courageous (#30)
  • The Good Earth (#33)
  • In Old Chicago (#34 of 34)

me: A Star is Born

  • The Awful Truth
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Shall We Dance
  • Stage Door

note:  This starts a stretch of several years where they nominated the film I think was the best but didn’t give it the Oscar.

1938 AA: You Can’t Take It With You (#3)

  • Grand Illusion (#1)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (#2)
  • Pygmalion (#5)
  • The Citadel (#10)
  • Test Pilot (#13)
  • Alexander’s Ragtime Band (#18)
  • Jezebel (#29)
  • Four Daughters (#30)
  • Boys Town (#36 of 36)

me: Grand Illusion

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • You Can’t Take It With You
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • Pygmalion

1939 AA: Gone with the Wind (#7)

  • The Wizard of Oz (#1)
  • Mr Smith Goes to Washington (#2)
  • Wuthering Heights (#3)
  • Stagecoach (#4)
  • Of Mice and Men (#8)
  • Ninotchka (#13)
  • Goodbye Mr Chips (#15)
  • Dark Victory (#23)
  • Love Affair (#32)

me: The Wizard of Oz

  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Stagecoach
  • The Lady Vanishes

1940 AA: Rebecca (#4)

  • The Grapes of Wrath (#1)
  • The Philadelphia Story (#2)
  • The Great Dictator (#3)
  • The Letter (#11)
  • Foreign Correspondant (#12)
  • The Long Voyage Home (#14)
  • Our Town (#22)
  • Kitty Foyle (#35)
  • All This and Heaven Too (#49 of 50)

me: The Grapes of Wrath

  • The Philadelphia Story
  • The Great Dictator
  • Rebecca
  • His Girl Friday

1941: How Green Was My Valley (#8)

  • Citizen Kane (#1)
  • The Maltese Falcon (#2)
  • Suspicion (#5)
  • The Little Foxes (#11)
  • Here Comes Mr Jordan (#14)
  • One Foot in Heaven (#19)
  • Sergeant York (#20)
  • Blossoms in the Dust (#44)
  • Hold Back the Dawn (haven’t seen#17)

me: Citizen Kane

  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Fantasia
  • The Lady Eve
  • Suspicion

1942 AA: Mrs. Miniver (#15)

  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (#3)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (#4)
  • Kings Row (#5)
  • The Pride of the Yankees (#8)
  • The Talk of the Town (#11)
  • Random Harvest (#16)
  • The Pied Piper (#23)
  • The 49th Parallel (#25)
  • Wake Island (#33)

me: Sullivan’s Travels

  • Bambi
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • The Magnificent Ambersons
  • Kings Row

1943 AA: Casablanca (#1)

  • In Which We Serve (#3)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls (#4)
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (#5)
  • Heaven Can Wait (#7)
  • Watch on the Rhine (#9)
  • The More the Merrier (#10)
  • The Song of Bernadette (#19)
  • The Human Comedy (#20)
  • Madame Curie (#26)

me: Casablanca

  • Shadow of a Doubt
  • In Which We Serve
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Ox-Bow Incident

1944 AA: Going My Way (#10)

  • Double Indemnity (#1)
  • Gaslight (#2)
  • Since You Went Away (#15)
  • Wilson (#20)

me: Double Indemnity

  • Gaslight
  • The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  • Hail the Conquering Hero
  • Arsenic and Old Lace

1945 AA: The Lost Weekend (#1)

  • Spellbound (#2)
  • Anchors Aweigh (#7)
  • Mildred Pierce (#16)
  • The Bells of St Mary’s (#21)

me: The Lost Weekend

  • Spellbound
  • To Have and Have Not
  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
  • The Story of G.I. Joe

1946 AA: The Best Years of Our Lives (#3)

  • It’s a Wonderful Life (#2)
  • Henry V (#6)
  • The Yearling (#15)
  • The Razor’s Edge (#29)

me: Children of Paradise

  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • Brief Encounter
  • The Big Sleep

1947 AA: Gentleman’s Agreement (#4)

  • Great Expectations (#3)
  • Miracle on 34th Street (#6)
  • Crossfire (#7)
  • The Bishop’s Wife (#25)

me: La Belle et La Bette

  • Stairway to Heaven
  • Great Expectations
  • Gentleman’s Agreement
  • Ivan the Terrible Part I

1948 AA: Hamlet (#2)

  • Treasure of the Sierra Madre (#1)
  • Johnny Belinda (#21)
  • The Snake Pit (#22)
  • The Red Shoes (#25)

me: Treasure of the Sierra Madre

  • Hamlet
  • Red River
  • The Eagle Has Two Heads
  • Fanny

1949 AA: All the King’s Men (#5)

  • A Letter to Three Wives (#2)
  • The Heiress (#4)
  • Battleground (#26)
  • Twelve O’Clock High (#28)

me: The Bicycle Thief

  • A Letter to Three Wives
  • A Canterbury Tale
  • The Heiress
  • All the King’s Men

Honorary Mentions

  • 1940: Pinocchio
  • 1946: Henry V
  • 1946: Notorious (1946 was just that good a year)
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