My Top 10:
- City Lights
- The Three Penny Opera
- Le Million
- The Public Enemy
- Waterloo Bridge
- The Front Page
- Little Caesar
- Woman in the Moon
- Best Picture: Cimarron
- Best Director: Norman Taurog (Skippy)
- Best Actor: Lionel Barrymore (A Free Soul)
- Best Actress: Marie Dressler (Min and Bill)
- Best Writing Adaptation: Cimarron (from the novel by Edna Ferber)
- Best Original Story: The Dawn Patrol
TSPDT Consensus Top 5 Films:
- City Lights – #23
- Earth – #134
- Tabu – #216
- The Blue Angel – #255
- Le Million – #275
Top 5 Awards Points:
- Cimarron – 360
- Skippy – 215
- A Free Soul – 150
- The Front Page – 130
- Morocco – 125
AFI Top 100 Films:
- City Lights – #76 (1998 poll) / #11 (2007 poll)
- Best Picture: City Lights
- Best Director: Charlie Chaplin (City Lights)
- Best Actor: Charlie Chaplin (City Lights)
- Best Actress: Norma Shearer (A Free Soul)
- Best Supporting Actor: Leslie Howard (A Free Soul)
- Best Supporting Actress: Lotte Lenya (The Three Penny Opera)
- Best Adapted Screenplay: Dracula (from the novel by Bram Stoker)
- Best Original Screenplay: City Lights
- Best Foreign Film: M
- Best Film to watch over and over: Dracula
- Best Scene: the final scene of City Lights
- Best Lines: “What do you fellas get an hour?”
- “For playing we get ten dollars an hour.”
- “What do you get for not playing?”
- “Twelve dollars an hour. Now for rehearsing, we have special deal. Fifteen dollars an hour.”
- “That’s for rehearsing?”
- “That’s for rehearsing.”
- “What do you get for not rehearsing?”
- “You couldn’t afford it.” (Animal Crackers – Groucho and Chico Marx)
Ebert Great Films:
- City Lights
Films started to move forward as an art form in 1930 and 31, even as the Academy regressed. While there had been Horror and Gangster films before, they suddenly became a vital part of the industry. Universal, minus the star power of Lon Chaney (who sadly died in August of 1930 robbing the film world of an amazing talent) went forward with Dracula and cemented their hold on Horror films. Warner Brothers, on the other hand, made their first two Gangster films, Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, marking them as a powerful box office force and defining the kind of films they would be known for during the next decade. We also have City Lights. Completely ignored by the Academy (though mentioned by the National Board of Review as one of their Top 10), it is pretty much universally acknowledged as the best film of the year these days. It moved way up on the second AFI poll, was one of the first Ebert Great Movies and is the third highest ranking film of the entire decade in the Top 1000. It also not only wins 7 Nighthawk Awards (the four mentioned above plus Editing, Cinematography and Score), but an incredible 6 of those awards went to Chaplin himself. The only comparable mastery of all aspects of film is also Chaplin, when he wins the same 6 awards in 1936 for Modern Times.
Film History: The stars of the Studio Era began to emerge. Clark Gable took on his first credited role. Bette Davis signed her first contract with Warner Bros. Helen Hayes made her film debut. Marlene Dietrich first teamed with Josef von Sternberg. The silent stars were on their way out with the death of Lon Chaney and the marriage (and soon after, retirement) of Clara Bow, though Chaplin remained strong with yet another silent film. Unfortunately, Chaney wasn’t the only loss to the industry, as F.W. Murnau was killed in a car crash at the age of 42.
Academy Awards: They get it right one year, then badly screw it up the next. It seems to be a general consensus that Cimarron was a terrible Best Picture winner (I rank it the second worst behind Broadway Melody). It was one of 7 Best Picture winners dropped by AFI for its second poll and has by a large margin the lowest user rating on the IMDb of any BP. But then, it was pretty slim pickings. They nominated East Lynne, which is only available to view at UCLA (and thus one of three BP nominees I have never seen). Skippy is extremely difficult to find and is not worth watching, and certainly didn’t deserve its Best Director Oscar. Trader Horn is easier to see, but not necessarily worth it. That really leaves The Front Page as the top of the nominees and even that pales in comparison to its remake His Girl Friday. Three of my top 5 were foreign films, but the other two, City Lights and Dracula, both hits, went completely un-nominated. But in spite of being relentlessly mediocre, Cimarron was a trend-setter, the first film to get 7 nominations and the first BP to win a Screenplay award. Cimarron (along with A Free Soul) was the first film to get nominated for both Best Actor and Best Actress and Cimarron was the first to get the big 5 nominations (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay).
- Worst Oscar: Best Writing Adaptation for Cimarron
- Worst Oscar Nomination: Best Picture for Skippy
- Worst Oscar Omission: Best Picture for City Lights
- Worst Oscar Category: Best Picture – None of the films deserved nominations, but Cimarron and Skippy are particularly bad choices.
- Best Oscar Category: Best Actress – All of them worthy – my top 5 is different only because I nominate Dietrich twice (also for Blue Angel)
Under-appreciated Film of 1931:
Dracula (dir. Tod Browning)
How can this be? The film that truly sparked the Golden Age of Horror? The film that made Lugosi a star and Universal a box office power? The first authorized use of the character who has appeared on film more than any character except Sherlock Holmes? Under-appreciated?
Well, in a word, yes. In spite of great direction, a great script, amazing art direction and first rate cinematography, Dracula failed to receive even a single Oscar nomination. Sadly this started a trend, as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the only Horror film in this era to get any decent appreciation from the Academy. Even given the few categories at the time, Dracula should have gotten 6 nominations and 2 Oscars (Adapted Screenplay and Art Direction), and the only film better for Best Picture, Director and Cinematography was City Lights, which also went unrecognized.
But put the Academy aside. That was the past. What about the present? Well, Roger Ebert did place it in his Great Movies fairly early on. But it barely makes it on the IMDb’s top 50 Horror films (at #50), doesn’t make the TSPDT Top 1000 and wasn’t included as one of the 400 initial films for either AFI poll. This is one of those things that happens when you exist in a genre that doesn’t get any respect. Hell, the AFI didn’t even bother to include Horror when they did their Top 10 Genre lists. AFI obviously has little use for the genre given the omissions in its 400 lists (no Bride of Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the original Frankenstein was one of the films that was dropped from the top 100 in the 2007 poll).
So what do we have here? We have, 78 years after it was filmed, a film that still stands as the best English Language Vampire film ever made (the only better Foreign films are Nosferatu and Vampyr). In the era of Twilight and “True Blood” and the flourishing Vampire Romance concept, the king of them all still stands un-appreciated. It is not just the film that goes over-looked these days either. Why would people buy Twilight and The Historian and the new crappy version written by Stoker’s descendant when you can read the original? And why would you waste time with the dozens of new, crappy vampire films (Let the Right One In is a notable exception), when you can rent the original? There are great versions out on DVD and it’s easy as hell to find. Your local library probably has copies. Copies of the book too.
What new Vampire films do wrong is focus on effects. The original Dracula had terrible effects. It had the bat, which looks ridiculous now and probably looked ridiculous then. It doesn’t try to establish any kind of visual flair. Dracula doesn’t change form. He disappears off the balcony and then we hear about a wolf (without seeing it). What it has it atmosphere. It has mood and setting, much like the novel did. It has the brilliant fog, the castle, the magnificent steps in Cairfax Abbey. We have the great tracking shot, the first time we move inside the castle. It starts with Renfield alone at the Pass, is followed by a cut to the castle, then a cut inside the castle, then moving slowly along the floor to the coffin, which opens slowly and a hand appears.
Yes, this is not quite Stoker’s Dracula. It is based more on the play, economizing with its characters and settings, never leaving England. But Dwight Frye is a properly deranged Renfield (look at the shot of him when he is discovered on the ship), Helen Chandler is a lovely Mina, and Bela is so perfect, approaching the role as if he really was the Count, living centuries in his castle and only now venturing out into society. He fits the atmosphere perfectly and while later versions would perfect the gore and the sex, they still don’t compare to the original.