One of the amazing surreal scenes in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

As I have gone through each year in film, both in covering the year, and later, in covering the Oscar nominees for Best Picture, I have included very little of my own nominees.   Partially it’s because I don’t want to throw too much of my own stuff in these and partially because I included all of my own nominees in my History of the Academy Awards series as I covered each category.

But, as I finish each decade, I’d like to take a look back and cover the best of each decade in each category.  So, I’ll go with each current Oscar category (other than documentaries and shorts) and I’ll list my top 5 covering an entire decade (in this case, covering all of film history up until 1929).

Because I’m covering a whole decade at a time, I am doing away with my requirement to keep to Academy eligible years and I just go with the original release date.

1894 – 1929

Total Films I’ve Seen:  193

Films that Make the Top 5 in a Category:  34

Best Film to Not Make Any Category List:  The General (1928, dir. Buster Keaton)

Best Animated Film:  Only one feature length animated film still survives from this era.  It is The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which is good, but doesn’t score high enough to get a nomination from me.

Best Foreign Film:

  1. Metropolis
  2. The Battleship Potemkin
  3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  4. Nosferatu
  5. The Last Laugh

Best Song:  As far as I can tell, there aren’t songs from this era that written for film.

Lon Chaney's amazing makeup that he designed himself for Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Best Makeup:

  1. The Phantom of the Opera
  2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  4. The Golem
  5. Nosferatu

Best Costume Design:

  1. The Phantom of the Opera
  2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  3. Cabiria
  4. Nibelungen: Siegfried
  5. The Man Who Laughs

Best Visual Effects:

  1. Nibelungen: Siegfried
  2. The Thief of Bagdad
  3. Ben-Hur
  4. Metropolis
  5. Faust

Best Art Direction:

  1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  2. Metropolis
  3. The Phantom of the Opera
  4. Greed
  5. Foolish Wives

Best Sound:

  1. The Gold Rush
  2. In Old Arizona
  3. The Jazz Singer

Best Original Score:

  1. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin)
  2. The Circus (Charlie Chaplin)
  3. The Kid (Charlie Chaplin)

note:  Of course, most film didn’t have scores back then and even The Gold Rush and The Kid didn’t originally have scores, but Chaplin went back and wrote scores for them (the Gold Rush score even earned an Oscar nomination when it was re-released with the score and sound in 1942).

Best Cinematography:

  1. Sunrise
  2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  3. Nosferatu
  4. Greed
  5. The Battleship Potemkin

Best Editing:

  1. The Battleship Potemkin
  2. Nosferatu
  3. Sunrise
  4. The Birth of a Nation
  5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1926) - her performance is amazing

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Brigitte Helm  (Metropolis)
  2. Evelyn Brent  (The Last Command)
  3. Zasu Pitts  (Greed)
  4. Zasu Pitts  (The Wedding March)

note:  Most early films focused on the leading roles and I find it hard to notice good performances in the supporting categories.  It’s something I’ll try to look for at a later date when I don’t have so much going on.  But for now, these are the performances I think are worthy of mention.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. William Powell  (The Last Command)
  2. Donald Crisp  (Broken Blossoms)

note:  Like with Supporting Actress, I find it hard to notice early supporting performances because of the way the films were made.

Janet Gaynor in her Oscar winning role in Sunrise - the best performance of the decade

Best Actress:

  1. Janet Gaynor  (Sunrise)
  2. Maria Falconetti  (The Passion of Joan of Arc)
  3. Janet Gaynor  (Seventh Heaven)
  4. Lilian Gish  (Broken Blossoms)
  5. Gloria Swanson  (Queen Kelly)
  6. Lilian Gish  (The Wind)
  7. Janet Gaynor  (Street Angel)
  8. Gloria Swanson  (Sadie Thompson)
  9. Lilian Gish  (The Birth of a Nation)
  10. Mary Pickford  (Coquette)

note:  There are 10 nominees because of the multiple performances from Gaynor, Gish and Swanson

Best Actor:

  1. Emil Jannings  (The Last Command)
  2. Charlie Chaplin  (The Gold Rush)
  3. Lon Chaney  (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
  4. Emil Jannings  (The Last Laugh)
  5. Erich von Stroheim  (Foolish Wives)
  6. Lon Chaney  (The Phantom of the Opera)
  7. Max Schreck  (Nosferatu)

note:  there are 7 nominees because of the multiple nominations for Jannings and Chaney

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. The Gold Rush
  2. Metropolis
  3. The Battleship Potemkin
  4. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  5. Foolish Wives

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. Greed (from the novel McTeague)
  2. Sunrise (from the original theme “Die Reise nach Tilsit”)
  3. Nosferatu (from the novel Dracula)
  4. The Phantom of the Opera (from the novel)
  5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (from the novel Notre-Dame du Paris)

Best Director:

  1. Fritz Lang (Metropolis)
  2. Sergei Eisenstein (The Battleship Potemkin)
  3. Erich von Stroheim (Greed)
  4. F.W. Murnau (Sunrise)
  5. D.W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation)

Best Picture:

Metropolis (1926) - the best film of the 1920's

  1. Metropolis
  2. The Battleship Potemkin
  3. Sunrise
  4. Greed
  5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Films That Earn Best of Decade Nominations  (Winners in Bold):

  • Metropolis (1926, dir. Fritz Lang)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Foreign Film
  • The Battleship Potemkin (1926, dir. Sergei Eisenstein)
    • Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Foreign Film
  • Sunrise (1927, dir. F.W. Murnau)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Editing, Cinematography
  • Greed (1925, dir. Erich von Stroheim)
    • Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Art Direction
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919, dir. Robert Wiene)
    • Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction
  • The Birth of a Nation (1915, dir. D.W. Griffith)
    • Director, Actress, Editing
  • The Gold Rush (1925, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
    • Original Screenplay, Actor, Original Score, Sound
  • Nosferatu (1922, dir. F.W. Murnau)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Editing, Cinematography, Makeup, Foreign Film
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1925, dir. Rupert Julian)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923, dir. Wallace Worsley)
    • Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Costume Design, Makeup
  • Foolish Wives (1922, dir. Erich von Stroheim)
    • Original Screenplay, Actor, Art Direction
  • The Last Command (1928, dir. Josef von Sternberg)
    • Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
  • The Last Laugh (1924, dir. F.W. Murnau)
    • Actor, Foreign Film
  • Broken Blossoms (1919, dir. D.W. Griffith)
    • Actress, Supporting Actor
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, dir. Carl Theodore Dreyer)
    • Actress
  • Seventh Heaven (1927, dir. Frank Borzage)
    • Actress
  • Queen Kelly (1929, dir. Erich von Stroheim)
    • Actress
  • The Wind (1928, dir. Victor Sjostrom)
    • Actress
  • Street Angel (1928, dir. Frank Borzage)
    • Actress
  • Sadie Thompson (1928, dir. Raoul Walsh)
    • Actress
  • Coquette (1929, dir. Sam Taylor)
    • Actress
  • The Wedding March (1928, dir. Erich von Stroheim)
    • Supporting Actress
  • The Circus (1928, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
    • Original Score
  • The Kid (1921, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
    • Original Score
  • In Old Arizona (1929, dir. Raoul Walsh)
    • Sound
  • The Jazz Singer (1927, dir. Alan Crosland)
    • Sound
  • Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924, dir. Fritz Lang)
    • Visual Effects, Costume Design
  • The Thief of Bagdad (1924, dir. Raoul Walsh)
    • Visual Effects
  • Ben-Hur (1925, dir. Fred Niblo)
    • Visual Effects
  • Faust (1926, dir. F.W. Murnau)
    • Visual Effects
  • Cabiria (1914, dir. Giovanni Pastrone)
    • Costume Design
  • The Man Who Laughs (1928, dir. Paul Leni)
    • Costume Design
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920, dir. John Robertson)
    • Makeup
  • The Golem (1920, dir. Carl Boese)
    • Makeup

Actress of the Decade:

Janet Gaynor in 7th Heaven - one of three roles that won the first Academy Award for Best Actress

Janet Gaynor

She did it with only three roles, but she was so captivating, so amazing at such a young age (she was only 21), that she swept in and won the Oscar, with all three roles being noted.  She could play the young lover or the young wife who is being spurned for a more sophisticated lover.  While Lilian Gish gave more good performances, Gaynor was so amazing that she takes this award with ease.

Actor of the Decade:

Emil Jannings

He not only gave the best performance of the decade as the fallen general in The Last Command, but he also played Othello and had his three great performances for F.W. Murnau (The Last Laugh, Tartuffe, Faust).  He could storm around the set with the best of them and with Tartuffe and the later scenes in The Last Command, he could also evoke our sympathy.  His later fall from grace with his embracing of the Nazi regime doesn’t erase how great his early performances were.

Director of the Decade:

F.W. Murnau

He ends up with 8 films in the top 100 of the decade, including 2 in the top 10 and 4 in the top 20, and that’s even with many of his films from this era completely lost.  We can only imagine what 4 Devils or Der Januskopf (his version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) could have been like.  But his Sunrise rightfully won the Best Artistic Quality of Production.  Nosferatu is one of the greatest of all Horror films.  And his films with Emil Jannings are classics.  Griffith might have more films in the top 100, but Murnau’s films were always there at the top.

Top 100 Films of the Decade:

  1. Metropolis (1926, Fritz Lang)
  2. The Battleship Potemkin (1926, Sergei Eisenstein)
  3. Sunrise (1927, F.W. Murnau)
  4. Greed (1925, Erich von Stroheim)
  5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919, Robert Wiene)
  6. The Birth of a Nation (1915, D.W. Griffith)
  7. Nosferatu (1922, F.W. Murnau)
  8. The Gold Rush (1925, Charlie Chaplin)
  9. The Phantom of the Opera (1925, Rupert Julian)
  10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923, Wallace Worsley)
  11. Foolish Wives (1922, Erich von Stroheim)
  12. The General (1926, Buster Keaton)

    Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) - his best performance

  13. The Last Laugh (1924, F.W. Murnau)
  14. Faust (1926, F.W. Murnau)
  15. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921, Rex Ingram)
  16. Intolerance (1916, D.W. Griffith)
  17. The Last Command (1928, Josef von Sternberg)
  18. Our Hospitality (1923, Buster Keaton)
  19. Seventh Heaven (1928, Frank Borzage)
  20. Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928, Buster Keaton)
  21. Broken Blossoms (1919, D.W. Griffith)
  22. October (1927, Sergei Eisenstein)
  23. Napoleon (1927, Abel Gance)
  24. Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924, Fritz Lang)
  25. The Circus (1928, Charlie Chaplin)
  26. Queen Kelly (1929, Erich von Stroheim)
  27. Blind Husbands (1919, Erich von Stroheim)
  28. J’Accuse (1919, Abel Gance)
  29. The Cat and the Canary (1927, Paul Leni)
  30. Seven Chances (1925, Buster Keaton)
  31. The Golem (1920, Carl Boese)
  32. Phantom (1922, F.W. Murnau)
  33. The Avenging Conscience (1914, D.W. Griffith)
  34. Safety Last (1923, Sam Taylor)
  35. Cabiria (1914, Giovanni Pastrone)
  36. Three Ages (1923, Buster Keaton)
  37. The Man Who Laughs (1928, Paul Leni)

    Conrad Veidt as The Man Who Laughs, the performance that inspired the creation of The Joker

  38. Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge (1924, Fritz Lang)
  39. Phantom Chariot (1921, Victor Sjostrom)
  40. King Lear (1916, Ernest C. Warde)
  41. Within Our Gates (1920, Oscar Micheaux)
  42. Ben-Hur (1925, Fred Niblo)
  43. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928, Jean Epstein)
  44. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920, John Robertson)
  45. The Wind (1928, Victor Sjostrom)
  46. Laugh Clown Laugh (1928, Herbert Brenon)
  47. The Merry Widow (1925, Erich von Stroheim)
  48. The Penalty (1920, Wallace Worsley)
  49. Oliver Twist (1922, Frank Lloyd)
  50. Arsenal (1928, Alexander Dovzhenko)
  51. The Lodger (1927, Alfred Hitchcock)
  52. A Man There Was (1917, Victor Sjostrom)
  53. The Mark of Zorro (1920, Fred Niblo)
  54. Tartuffe (1926, F.W. Murnau)
  55. The Wedding March (1928, Erich von Stroheim)
  56. The Docks of New York (1928, Josef von Sternberg)
  57. Sadie Thompson (1928, Raoul Walsh)
  58. The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924, Lev Kuleshov)
  59. Orphans of the Storm (1921, D.W. Griffith)
  60. Cameraman (1928, Buster Keaton)
  61. The Hands of Orlac (1924, Robert Wiene)
  62. The Tempest (1928, Sam Taylor)
  63. Aelita (1924, Yakov Protazanov)
  64. Richard III (1912, James Keane)

    The oldest surviving feature length film: Richard III (1912)

  65. The Greatest Question (1919, D.W. Griffith)
  66. The Kid (1921, Charlie Chaplin)
  67. Ingeborg Holm (1921, Victor Sjostrom)
  68. Way Down East (1920, D.W. Griffith)
  69. London After Midnight (1927, Tod Browning)
  70. The Unknown (1927, Tod Browning)
  71. The Thief of Bagdad (1924, Raoul Walsh)
  72. Strike (1924, Sergei Eisenstein)
  73. Wings (1927, William Wellman)
  74. Waxworks (1924, Paul Leni)
  75. Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang)
  76. The Great Train Robbery (1903, Edwin Porter)
  77. Destiny (1921, Fritz Lang)
  78. America (1924, D.W. Griffith)
  79. Two Arabian Knights (1928, Lewis Milestone)
  80. The End of St. Petersburg (1927, Vsevolod Pudovkin)
  81. College (1927, Buster Keaton)
  82. Go West (1925, Buster Keaton)
  83. Outside the Law (1920, Tod Browning)
  84. The Sheik (1920, George Melford)
  85. Leaves out of Satan’s Book (1922, Carl Theodore Dreyer)
  86. Othello (1922, Dimitri Buchowetzki)

    Emil Jannings as Othello in the 1922 film

  87. Merry-Go-Round (1923, Rupert Julian)
  88. Mother (1926, Vsevolod Pudovkin)
  89. Woman in the Moon (1929, Fritz Lang)
  90. The Big Parade (1925, King Vidor)
  91. Burning Soil (1922, F.W. Murnau)
  92. The Iron Horse (1924, John Ford)
  93. Pandora’s Box (1929, Georg Wilhelm Pabst)
  94. Underworld (1927, Josef von Sternberg)
  95. The Great Gabbo (1929, James Cruze)
  96. The Spiders Part I: The Golden Lake (1918, Fritz Lang)
  97. Hearts of the World (1919, D.W. Griffith)
  98. The Finances of the Grand Duke (1924, F.W. Murnau)
  99. The Love Flower (1920, D.W. Griffith)
  100. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodore Dreyer)

Directors with 3 or More in the Top 100:

D.W. Griffith at work on the set

  • 10:
    • D.W. Griffith  (6, 16, 21, 33, 59, 65, 68, 78, 97, 99)
  • 8:
    • F.W. Murnau  (3, 7, 13, 14, 32, 54, 91, 98)
    • Buster Keaton  (12, 28, 20, 30, 36, 60, 81, 82)
  • 7:
    • Fritz Lang  (1, 24, 38, 75, 77, 89, 96)
  • 6:
    • Erich von Stroheim  (4, 11, 26, 27, 47, 55)
  • 4:
    • Victor Sjostrom  (39, 45, 52, 67)
  • 3:
    • Sergei Eisenstein  (2, 22, 72)
    • Charlie Chaplin  (8, 25, 66)
    • Josef von Sternberg  (17, 56, 94)
    • Paul Leni  (29, 37, 74)
    • Tod Browning  (69, 70, 83)
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