My Top 10:

Grand Illusion - Renoir's brilliant masterpiece

  1. Grand Illusion
  2. The Adventures of Robin Hood
  3. Bringing Up Baby
  4. You Can’t Take It With You
  5. Pygmalion
  6. Angels with Dirty Faces
  7. Merrily We Live
  8. Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife
  9. The Citadel
  10. Of Human Hearts

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  You Can’t Take It With You
  • Best Director:  Frank Capra  (You Can’t Take It With You)
  • Best Actor:  Spencer Tracy  (Boys Town)
  • Best Actress:  Bette Davis  (Jezebel)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Walter Brennan  (Kentucky)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Fay Bainter  (Jezebel)
  • Best Screenplay:  Pygmalion (from the play by George Bernard Shaw)
  • Best Original Story:  Boys Town

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Citadel
  • Best Director:  Frank Capra  (You Can’t Take It With You)
  • Best Actor:  James Cagney  (Angels with Dirty Faces)
  • Best Actress:  Margaret Sullavan  (Three Comrades)
  • Best Foreign Film:  Grand Illusion

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000)

  • Grand Illusion – #25
  • Bringing Up Baby – #79
  • Olympia – #443
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood – #464
  • Holiday – #609

Top 5 Awards Points:

  1. The Citadel – 350
  2. You Can’t Take It With You – 330
  3. Boys Town – 285
  4. Jezebel – 230
  5. Pygmalion / Alexander’s Ragtime Band – 195

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • Bringing Up Baby – #97  (1998) / #88  (2007)

Nighthawk Awards:

The two best lead performances of 1938: Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard in Pygmalion

  • Best Picture:  Grand Illusion
  • Best Director:  Jean Renoir (Grand Illusion)
  • Best Actor:  Leslie Howard  (Pygmalion)
  • Best Actress:  Wendy Hiller  (Pygmalion)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Erich von Stroheim  (Grand Illusion)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Billie Burke  (Merrily We Live)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Bringing Up Baby (from the story by Hagar Wilde)
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Grand Illusion
  • Best Foreign Film:  Alexander Nevsky

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Bringing Up Baby
  • Best Scene:  the end of Bringing Up Baby
  • Best Line:  “I just went gay all of a sudden.”  (Bringing Up Baby – Cary Grant)
  • Best Ending:  Bringing Up Baby

Ebert Great Films:

  • Grand Illusion
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood

In the year where the first Foreign Film to be nominated for Best Picture stands as one of the finest films ever made, Frank Capra took home the Oscars again.  This was the last full year of film-making before the war, but it is also the last before what many consider the golden age of cinema.  While Capra won the Oscar (probably as much about his standing in the industry at the time as it was about the quality of the film – though it was the second best of the nominees), there is no question today that Grand Illusion is considered one of the finest films ever made.

Film History: Contemporary audiences differ in tastes from future critics as Bringing Up Baby is such a financial failure that Howard Hawks’ contract is bought out and Katharine Hepburn is labelled “box office poison.”  Hedda Hopper begins her reign of power by publishing her first gossip column.  The ten year struggle to break the studio system begins with the filing of United States v. Paramount Pictures Inc., et alThree Comrades, the only film with a screen credit to F. Scott Fitzgerald, is released.  Georges Melies dies at the age of 78.  Sergei Eisenstein finally finishes his first sound film, Alexander Nevsky.

Academy Awards: Frank Capra becomes the first three time Best Director winner.  Michael Curtiz, meanwhile, is a double loser, the last Director nominated twice in one year until 2000 (according to page 1015 of Inside Oscar, the Academy changed the rules in 1939 to prevent double nominations, but never mention it changing back, thus leading to some confusion for 2000).  The Academy drops two categories: Assistant Director and Dance Direction.  Fay Bainter becomes the first person to be nominated for Actress and Supporting Actress in the same year.  She wins for Supporting, beginning a trend that will hold until 1988.  You Can’t Take It With You wins Best Picture and Best Director and nothing else, the last to do so (the only other BP winner with only 2 wins since is The Greatest Show on Earth).  Grand Illusion becomes the first Foreign Film to be nominated for Best Picture, something that will not happen again until 1969.  Spencer Tracy becomes the first two time Best Actor winner and the last to win back to back until 1994.  Bette Davis and Walter Brennan both win their second acting Oscars.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Original Story for Boys Town
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Director for Boys Town
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Original Screenplay for Grand Illusion
  • Worst Oscar-nominated Film:  Under Western Stars
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actor – none of the nominees made my top 5
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actress
  • Best Oscar Nomination:  Best Picture for Grand Illusion – only Foreign language nomination until 1969

Awards: The Citadel becomes the third film in four years to win both the NBR and the NYFC and lose at the Oscars.  Amazingly enough, with 10 slots each for NBR and the Oscars, they only agreed on two: The Citadel and Jezebel (though the NBR did give Grand Illusion Best Foreign Film as did the NYFC).  The NBR still made a list of acting performances with no preferences and Spencer Tracy was the only one of the eventual Oscar winners included.  The NYFC went with eventual Oscar nominees James Cagney and Margaret Sullavan, though their Best Director went to Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, which wouldn’t be Oscar eligible until the next year.

The great unknown screwball comedy: Merrily We Live

Over-looked film of 1938:

Merrily We Live (dir. Norman Z. McLeod)

I looked for this film for years to no avail before finally having it come on TCM one night early last year (it will be on again in February during 31 Days of Oscar).  It just seemed ridiculous that a film with 5 Oscar nominations (Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, Song) should be so difficult to track down.  What made it even more aggravating was watching it and realizing that unlike most hard to find multiple nominees of the 30’s, it was actually worth it.  I also give it 5 nominations, but not for the technical aspects, which were good, but not great, but for Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress (2), Original Screenplay and Song. with Oscar nominee Billie Burke ending up with the Nighthawk Award.  In a Comedy / Drama split like the Golden Globes, it would also earn nominations from me for Picture, Actor and Actress (Comedy).  It’s one of the great screwball comedies and somehow only exists to be shown once every year or so on TCM.

What is it about screwball comedies that they don’t really get made anymore?  Does no one but George Clooney appreciate them and their place in film history (I mention Clooney because he starred in Intolerable Cruelty and directed and starred in Leatherheads — the two closest examples of modern times).  They had interesting leads, men and women who actually had brains and could spar with each other with wit and style.  They were so well paced, so fun, so interesting that they make me forget that they are almost always about the upper class.

Like all great examples of the screwball comedy, Merrily We Live has two solid lead performances, this time from Brian Aherne and Constance Bennett.  But like many other examples, it is the supporting players who really bring the film to life.  Would those people who only know Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch be able to comprehend how fantastic she is as the flighty matron of the family?  Then there is Alan Mowbray, so perfectly droll as the butler who is forced to endure so much from this ridiculous family and his timing is always perfect.

But then there is Bonita Granville.  One of the things I miss most about those old comedies is the presence of the wise-cracking, know it all younger sister (Natalie Portman’s brilliant performance in Beautiful Girls is clearly descended from these characters).  The one most remembered is the younger sister in The Philadelphia Story, but the two best are Bonita Granville in Merrily We Live and Diana Lynn in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.  Both are quick witted, help to move the plot along and perfectly cope with ridiculous parents and older sisters who clearly can’t make good decisions and must be watched over by the younger sibling.  If there is anything in film that needs to be revived it is this character, because damn are they great to watch.

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