My Top 10:

the menacing shadow in Nosferatu (1922, US release - 1929)

the menacing shadow in Nosferatu (1922, US release - 1929)

  1. Nosferatu
  2. October
  3. Steamboat Bill Jr.
  4. Napoleon
  5. The Fall of the House of Usher
  6. The Wind
  7. The Wedding March
  8. Pandora’s Box
  9. Street Angel
  10. Spite Marriage

Academy Awards:

  • Best Production:  Broadway Melody
  • Best Director:  Frank Lloyd (The Divine Lady)
  • Best Actor:  Warner Baxter  (In Old Arizona)
  • Best Actress:  Mary Pickford  (Coquette)
  • Best Writing Achievement:  The Patriot (from the play)

TSPDT Consensus Top 5 Films

  • #97 – The Man with a Movie Camera
  • #101 – Napoleon
  • #105 – Nosferatu
  • #189 – Pandora’s Box
  • #292 – October

Top 5 Awards Points

  1. The Patriot – 230
  2. In Old Arizona – 230
  3. Broadway Melody – 180
  4. The Divine Lady – 160
  5. Alibi – 105

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Nosferatu
  • Best Director:  F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu)
  • Best Actor:  Max Schreck  (Nosferatu)
  • Best Actress:  Lilian Gish  (The Wind)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Zasu Pitts  (The Wedding March)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Nosferatu (from the novel Dracula)
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Steamboat Bill Jr.

Ebert Great Movies (in order that he added them):

  • Nosferatu
  • Pandora’s Box
  • The Fall of the House of Usher
  • The Man with a Movie Camera

This is, quite frankly, a terrible year for films, especially American films.  Only two of these films even made the AFI 400 list and one was Broadway Melody, which only made the original list in 98 when all the Best Picture winners except Olivier’s Hamlet (which was clearly British) made the initial list (the other was The Wind).  And what really is the best film?  Man with a Movie Camera is ranked the highest on TSPDT and was recently added to Ebert’s list, but it is a documentary.  Napoleon and Nosferatu are next up, the latter also on Ebert’s list and the top of my own list, but neither is strictly from the calendar year (covering August 1, 1928 – July 31, 1929), only ending up here because of when they were released in the States.  The same goes for Eisenstein’s October.  The film that actually is from this year that has the most acclaim seems to be Pandora’s Box, which is also from Europe.  You would have to go down to #6 on the Top 1000 list for the year to find an American film and that would be The Wind (#308) and even that was directed by a Swede.  Only the top 7 on my list actually get ***.5 or higher and 5 of those films are foreign.

Academy Awards: It was the second ceremony and, technically, there were no nominees.  There are lists that appear in various books as the “nominees” but Academy records clearly state that there were no official nominees at any point, only announced winners.  Which would be good for me, because I’ve only seen 11 of the listed 23 “nominated” films, my worst track record for any year.  The Patriot seems to be what people hope is the best of the Best Picture “nominees” because none of the other four are worth remembering.  It is the single worst year for Best Picture nominees.  Unfortunately, The Patriot is one of the most famous lost films (as is 4 Devils, a lost Murnau film which was “nominated” for Best Cinematography this same year), winning for its screenplay in the first full year of sound when it was a mostly silent film (some sound was added in post-production).  It even has a rating of 8.2 on the IMdB from 29 votes, which is hilarious, since it is possible that everyone who ever actually saw the complete film is now dead.  This year also featured the first posthumous “nomination” for Jeanne Eagles who had overdosed on heroin, the first campaigning for an Oscar by Mary Pickford and the only time when no film won more than 1 Oscar.

Film History: The most significant event was on 18 November, 1928 with the premiere of Steamboat Willie, forever to be known as the film debut of Mickey Mouse (it really was his third film, but it was the first time he talked, so Disney officials list this as his first appearance).  Not only were major foreign films getting domestic distribution (Nosferatu, Napoleon, October), but the Europeans were swarming to Hollywood to begin making films, including Eisenstein, Sjostrom and Maurice Chevalier.  On the other hand, the ruling European, von Stroheim, had his film Queen Kelly, taken away when Joseph Kennedy was too appalled by the content and what he had done with Kennedy’s lover, Gloria Swanson.  Bits of it would be used in Sunset Blvd., but the film itself would not find a release until 1985.  Meanwhile, overseas, Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail was released on 30 June, 1929, making it the first British talkie.

Overlooked film of 1928:

The Wind (dir. Victor Sjostrom)

Lilian Gish on the edge of madness in The Wind (1928)

Lilian Gish on the edge of madness in The Wind (1928)

Is it possible for the highest English language film in a given year to qualify as overlooked?  Well, it didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination, in spite of being better than any other nominated film (at least the 11 I’ve seen).  It contains the best performance Lilian Gish ever gave, but it’s not a Griffith film.  It’s directed by a Swedish director who had come to Hollywood who, these days, is far more known for his performance on-screen in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, than for the long directing career he had during the early days of film.

What this film teaches us, more than any of Griffith’s films, is that Gish really knew how to act.  Perhaps she owed it to Griffith and their years of partnership, but her waif-like appearances that were the heart of Birth of a Nation and Broken Blossoms seemed to be the young girl learning how to be the woman that she is in The Wind.  Here she plays Letty, a young woman from Virginia, who moves out to the desert of Texas, the wild and distant dreary land full of sand and wind.  She marries a man she doesn’t really love, she is forced to defend herself against a rape with deadly force and in the end, the people and the land have driven her mad.

Here is where the film should end.  This is what Sjostrom and Gish clearly wanted and it was the ending they filmed.  And here is where Hollywood was already getting in the way. (SPOILERS).  A year before Lewis Milestone would be asked to make a happier ending to All Quiet on the Western Front (“Fine.  We’ll have a happy ending,” Milestone told the studio.  “We’ll let the Germans win the war.”), the studio interfered, with the boy wonder Irving Thalberg himself, imposing a happy ending.  If there was ever a film that should have had a tragic ending, this was the one.  We have a downbeat film, a poor downtrodden woman, clearly headed into the thinner reaches of sanity, yet she comes through in the end to a happy ending rather than the death in the desert that was originally filmed.

Perhaps this is the problem.  Even here, with what might be the highest regarded American film of the year, and it clearly has the wrong ending.  It doesn’t diminish Gish’s performance in the slightest, and there is no question that she deserved the Oscar, as much for everything that come before as for this performance, far more than Mary Pickford, whose star may have risen higher, but whose talent was never the reason.

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