A couple of famous Oscar winners in 1939.

A couple of famous Oscar winners in 1939.

Introduction:

This is a companion piece to three different series.  The first is the The History of the Academy Awards, in which I covered each category in individual posts.  This was originally done in 2009 and additions were included in 2010.  You can find links to all of these pieces in each individual category.  I have grouped all of the categories together for the same reason that I did so originally – because most pieces on the Oscars don’t approach the awards through the categories, but through the years.  This specific piece is designed to take a closer look at the decade (with a couple of extra years, since there was no point in doing a separate piece on the first two years of the Oscars) and how I think the Academy did in those years.

The second series is my Year in Film series.  That is mentioned here because in those pieces I included paragraphs about the Oscars as a whole for each year and included a considerable amount of trivia.  Since I had based my Year in Film series and eligibility as such on the Academy calendar, it all seemed very relevant.  Also, starting in 1930-31, I started including various prizes (Worst Oscar, Worst Nomination, Worst Omission, etc) and I didn’t want to repeat myself, so following the links will bring you there.  Those links are at the end of this piece, where I do a brief summation of each year and how the Academy did.

The third series is my History of the Academy Awards: Best Picture series, where I reviewed every film ever nominated for Best Picture (except The Patriot, which is lost).  Those links are also down below, grouped by year.

Keys to all the Numbers / Ranks / Scores, etc:  There are a lot of numbers and lists down below.  The lists are often easy to understand, the numbers not so much.

  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  That takes the winner (say, Actress in 1939) and says where I would rank it for the year (#1 in this case).  Then I average it out, either for category (the first part) or by year (the bottom part).  The closer to 1, the better.
  • Average Winner Rank (without Picture):  Because I rank all films for the year but don’t rank every film in every category, the Best Picture category can really throw things off, especially since every film is eligible in this category.  So, in a year like 1932-33, where Best Picture (Cavalcade) is my #99 film of the year but no other winner ranks below #22, the average winner rank goes from 9.13 to 19.11.  So, down below, in the years, I include a score both with and without Best Picture.
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  Quite simply what it says.  Cavalcade may have rank 99th on the year, but only 8th among the 10 Best Picture nominees.  This number is higher in this decade (and the 40’s) because the tech categories had so many nominees.  After 1951, when all the categories settled in at five nominees, this will be more regular.  But the key is this – the first Average Winner rank tells you what I think of the winner.  This one tells you what I think they in relation to what they nominated.  Like, in Best Actor, where in 28-29, 29-30 and 30-31 my Winner Ranks are 7, 2 and 4.  But all three of them were the best choice among the nominees, so the score here is 1, 1, 1.  A high disproportion between the two scores means I think they chunked the nominees, but that will show up in the Score.  Again, the closer to 1, the better.
  • Score:  This is a score of their nominees versus mine.  It’s complicated and bizarre and has to do with assigning a numeric value to a function of art.  But it measures a year against itself.  1978 is a good example – not a single one of my Best Picture nominees from 1978 would have made my list for 1977.  But if the Academy and I agreed 5 for 5, it would still score 100.  It’s a comparison between what the Oscars nominated and what I think they should have nominated, not a comparison to any other year.  Suffice it to say, the closer to 100 the better.  By the way, the Score determines the Best and Worst Year in everything except Picture, which is ranked based on my original ranked list, though it works out the same in this decade.
  • Score  (P-D-S):  The score, averaged among Picture, Director and Screenplay.
  • Score  (Acting):  The score, averaged among the two (27-28 to 35) or four (36-) acting categories.
  • Score  (Tech):  The score, averaged among Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Art Direction and Visual Effects (and in later decades Sound Editing, Costume Design and Makeup).

Stats and Trivia for the Decade:

  • Most Nominations:
  1. Gone With the Wind  (13)
  2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington  (11)
  3. The Life of Emile Zola  (10)
  4. Mutiny on the Bounty  /  Wuthering Heights  (8)
  • Most Oscars:
  1. Gone With the Wind  (8)
  2. It Happened One Night  (5)
  3. The Informer  /  Anthony Adverse  (4)
  • gonejul12Most Points:
  1. Gone With the Wind  (670)
  2. The Life of Emile Zola  (435)
  3. It Happened One Night  (410)
  4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington  (400)
  5. The Informer  (365)
  6. Cimarron  (360)
  7. Mutiny on the Bounty  (340)
  8. You Can’t Take It With You  (330)
  9. The Great Ziegfeld  (320)
  10. 7th Heaven  (310)
  • Most Nominations without Best Picture:  My Man Godfrey  (6)
  • Most Nominations with No Wins:  The Love Parade  /  My Man Godfrey  /  Love Affair  (6)
  • Films Nominated for All 4 Acting Categories:  My Man Godfrey
  • Films Nominated for All 5 Major Tech Categories:  Gone With the Wind, The Rains Came
  • Director with Most Films Nominated for Best Picture:  Frank Capra  (6)
  • Director with Most Films Nominated for an Oscar:
  1. W.S. Van Dyke  (12)
  2. Frank Lloyd  /  Clarence Brown  (9)
  • capraDirector with Most Total Nominations for their Films:
  1. Frank Capra  (39)
  2. Victor Fleming  (28)
  3. William Wyler  (27)
  4. W.S. Van Dyke  /  John Ford  (25)
  • Director with Most Oscars for their Films:
  1. Victor Fleming  (12)
  2. Frank Capra  (11)
  3. Frank Borzage  /  William Dieterle  (8)  –  none for Dieterle himself
  • Director with Most Points for their Films:
  1. Frank Capra  (1770)
  2. Victor Fleming  (1245)
  3. William Wyler  /  Frank Lloyd  (1045)
  • image0201Studio with Most Best Picture Nominees:
  1. MGM  (35)
  2. Warners  /  United Artists  (13)
  • Studio with Most Best Picture Wins:
  1. MGM  (5)
  2. Columbia  (2)
  3. Paramount / Universal / RKO / Fox / Warners  (1)

note on Studios:  If you count The Crowd‘s nomination for Artistic Quality of Production then MGM was the one studio with at least one Best Picture nomination every year.  While all five major studios and both major-minor studios would win Best Picture (2 for Fox if you count Sunrise), United Artists, which wasn’t really a studio but a distributer, would have 13 nominations but wouldn’t win until 1940.

Best Production  /  Best Picture:  In the first year there were two categories – Best Production and Best Artistic Quality of Production.  It perhaps says everything that it was the former that survived and would be changed in 1930-31 to Best Picture.  The only winner of the latter was Sunrise, with Chang and The Crowd also nominated.  For the purposes of the Best Picture project, they are considered Best Picture nominees.  Historically, All Quiet on the Western Front would be the first winner to also win Director, Cimarron the first to win a writing Oscar and It Happened One Night the first to win all three.  While many people were in numerous Best Picture nominees and winners (Ward Bond was in 7 nominated films and three winners), Clark Gable has the distinguished achievement of being nominated for Best Actor in three different best Picture winning films (and then would never even be in another nominee).

I have already said so much on this category in my other posts (see at the bottom, listed under each year).  I also say a bit down below on the films that were snubbed.  I originally had a list of the 10 best films not nominated for any Oscars until I realized it was the same list.  1928-29 and 1930-31 have no films that reach ***.5 (my cut-off for Best Picture consideration) while 1939 is the first year in which every film reaches at least ***.  If you take out four films (The Broadway Melody – #48 out of 49 on the year, Cimarron – #71 out of 77 on the year, Cavalcade – #99 out of 127 on the year and The Great Ziegfeld – #45 out of 91 on the year), then the Average Winner Rank goes from 25.92 to 6.0.  The 102 films nominated for Best Picture (not counting The Patriot) average a 70.93, or a solid *** and rank of #344 among the Best Picture nominees.  But there’s a big difference there.  The 50 films nominated from 1928-34 average a 65.7.  The 52 films nominated from 1935-39 average a 76.

  • Best Year:  1939
  • Worst Year:  1928-29
  • Best Winner:  All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Worst Winner:  The Broadway Melody
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  The Wizard of Oz
  • Worst Nominee:  Cleopatra
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Modern Times
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  25.92
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  3.92
  • Score for the Decade:  40.4

allquietWinners (ranked):

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front
  2. Sunrise
  3. Mutiny on the Bounty
  4. It Happened One Night
  5. You Can’t Take It With You
  6. Gone With the Wind
  7. Grand Hotel
  8. The Life of Emile Zola
  9. Wings
  10. The Great Ziegfeld
  11. Cavalcade
  12. Cimarron
  13. The Broadway Melody

wizard10 Best Nominees That Didn’t Win:

  1. The Wizard of Oz
  2. The Grand Illusion
  3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  4. The Adventures of Robin Hood
  5. A Star is Born
  6. I Am a Fugitive from A Chain Gang
  7. The Thin Man
  8. The Informer
  9. Wuthering Heights
  10. Les Miserables

cleopatra_52_hs_a10 Worst Nominees (#1 being the Worst)

  1. Cleopatra
  2. She Done Him Wrong
  3. The Broadway Melody
  4. The Champ
  5. The Divorcee
  6. Viva Villa
  7. Cimarron
  8. East Lynne
  9. The Broadway Melody of 1936
  10. Hollywood Revue of 1929

Modern_Times_posterTen Biggest Snubs  *:

  1. Modern Times
  2. M
  3. Metropolis
  4. City Lights
  5. Scarface
  6. The Petrified Forest
  7. King Kong
  8. Nosferatu
  9. The 39 Steps
  10. You Only Live Once

*  –  There is something odd here that either says something about the Academy about me or about both.  I have seen 1024 feature films that were released in the States between the beginning of Oscar eligibility for the 1st Awards, covering 1927-28 and the 12th awards, covering 1939.  Of those 1024, I classify 62 of them as **** films.  Of those 62, 24 of them were nominated for Best Picture.  Of the remaining 38, 9 of them were Foreign films and though eligible, unlikely to be nominated (though one of them was nominated for Art Direction – A Nous La Liberte).  That leaves 29 films made in the English language during this period that I rate **** which were not nominated for Best Picture.  Of those 29 films, only 8 of them were nominated for an Oscar in a different category.  Those eight films were The Last Command (which may have been nominated for Best Picture at one point), The Circus (whose nominations were revoked), The Public Enemy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Bride of Frankenstein, My Man Godfrey, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Angels with Dirty Faces.  If you include the original nominations for The Circus, five of those were nominated for Best Actor.  And yet that leaves 21 English-language films that I rate at **** which received 0 nominations combined (in chronological order they are: The Man Who Laughs, Steamboat Bill Jr., The Wind, Lonesome, City Lights, Dracula, Frankenstein, Horse Feathers, Scarface, Dinner at Eight, Duck Soup, Design for Living, King Kong, The Invisible Man, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, The Petrified Forest, You Only Live Once, Bringing Up Baby and The Lady Vanishes).  This won’t end here either; it continues into the 40’s with films like His Girl Friday, The Shop Around the Corner, Fantasia, Sullivan’s Travels, Arsenic and Old Lace, To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep.

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • The Patriot  (1928-29)

lewis-milestoneBest Director / Comedy Direction:  In the very first year of the Oscars this was two categories.  Frank Borzage won Best Director for 7th Heaven (a pretty good choice) and Lewis Milestone won Best Comedy Direction for Two Arabian Knights (not a bad choice, but I imagine it would have been Chaplin had they not pulled his nomination to give him an honorary award).  Then, in the next five years they threw in one great choice (Milestone for All Quiet) among four terrible choices.  After that it became all about Frank Capra, who would win three of the next five awards.  Adding in his two other nominations, Capra would earn 360 points by the end of the decade and would stay in 1st place all-time until tied in 1949 and passed in 1951, both by William Wyler.  But even today, Capra is still in a five-way tie for 3rd place.  Capra would be followed in the decade by two-time winners Milestone and Frank Lloyd (225 points each), two-time winner Frank Borzage (180 points) and always a bridesmaid, never a bride, King Vidor (180 points from 4 noms).

Best Director would establish a connection with Picture early on, with only Wings, Sunrise and Grand Hotel winning the big award without a Director nomination.  But the winners were much more often split – only All Quiet would win both in the first five years and they would split again every year from 1935-38.  And once Best Picture was expanded in 31-32 the connection was even stronger.  After that only two films for the rest of the decade would be nominated for Director but not Picture (My Man Godfrey and Angels with Dirty Faces).

  • Best Year:  1939
  • Worst Year:  1930-31
  • Best Winner:  Lewis Milestone  (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  • Worst Winner:  Norman Taurog  (Skippy)
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  Frank Capra  (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
  • Worst Nominee:  Harry Beaumont  (The Broadway Melody)
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Jean Renoir  (The Grand Illusion)
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  7.42
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.0
  • Score for the Decade:  35.3

Five Biggest Snubs  *:

  1. Jean Renoir  (The Grand Illusion)
  2. F.W. Murnau  (Sunrise)
  3. Charlie Chaplin  (Modern Times)
  4. Fritz Lang  (M)
  5. Howard Hawks  (Scarface)

*  –  The Wizard of Oz wasn’t actually eligible because of the nomination for Victor Fleming for Gone With the Wind but would have been #1.

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • Herbert Brenon  (Sorrell and Son)  (1927-28)
  • Frank Lloyd  (Drag)  (1928-29)
  • Ernst Lubitsch  (The Patriot)  (1928-29)

Best Writing:  The Academy took a while to sort out the writing categories and they would tinker with it for almost 30 years before settling on the two tier system of Adapted and Original.  In the first year there were three categories: Adaptation, Original Story and Title Writing.  The winner of Original Story was Ben Hecht, probably the greatest writer in Hollywood history who never really became a director (he directed a few films).  Hecht would have the most points for writing on the decade, with another win in 1935 for Original Story (for a film that I have never seen as it is extremely difficult to find) and two other nominations (one in Adaptation and one in Screenplay).  For the 2nd Academy Awards they would do away with Title Writing (no longer necessary with the large transition to Sound) and condense the other two categories to Writing Achievement, which was won by The Patriot (which is lost).  They kept that for the next year when Frances Marion would win the Oscar (she would also win again in 1932 and get another nomination in 1933).  In 1931, they would split the two again, into Adaptation and Original Story.  The categories would stay that way until 1934.  But in 1935, for some strange reason, they changed Adaptation simply to Screenplay.  That was fine for that year, but in 1936, it meant that The Story of Louis Pasteur was nominated in both writing categories (and won them both).  Then, in 1937, A Star is Born and The Life of Emile Zola would be nominated in both categories with Star winning Story and Zola winning Screenplay.  In 1937, they would begin the tradition of having a big writer lose the Oscar (Dorothy Parker, nominated for the Screenplay of A Star is Born).  In 1938, they would begin the less often tradition of having a big writer win the Oscar (George Bernard Shaw, still the only Nobel and Oscar winner).  This is where it would be in 1939, which is better than the next year when they would add yet another category and make things even more confusing.

Because of the strange way things are split up, the snubs are listed in Adaptation (if it was adapted) or Story (if it was original) as are the links.  The scores and winner ranks are based on the years the category existed.

Best Screenplay  /  Best Writing Achievement:  Exists in 1928-29, 1929-30 and 1935-1939.

  • Best Year:  1937
  • Worst Year:  1928-29
  • Best Winner:  The Informer
  • Worst Winner:  The Big House
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Worst Nominee:  In Old Arizona
  • Most Egregious Snub:  The Grand Illusion
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  6.5
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  3.13
  • Score for the Decade:  59.9

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • The Patriot  (1928-29)
  • Leatherneck  (1928-29)
  • The Valiant  (1928-29)
  • Wonder of Women  (1928-29)
  • Street of Chance  (1929-30)

Best Adaptation:  Exists in 1927-28, 1930-31, 1931-32, 1932-33 and 1934.  Links to my Adapted Screenplay posts can be found here.

  • Best Year:  1934
  • Worst Year:  1930-31
  • Best Winner:  It Happened One Night
  • Worst Winner:  Cimarron
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  The Thin Man
  • Worst Nominee:  Viva Villa
  • Most Egregious Snub:  The Wizard of Oz
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  7.8
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.4
  • Score for the Decade:  39.8

Five Biggest Snubs:

  1. The Wizard of Oz
  2. The Petrified Forest
  3. Bringing Up Baby
  4. Les Miserables
  5. Vampyr

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • Glorious Betsy  (1927-28)

Best Story:  Exists in 1927-28 and from 1930-31 to 1939.

  • Best Year:  1927-28
  • Worst Year:  1935
  • Best Winner:  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • Worst Winner:  The Champ
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  The Last Command
  • Worst Nominee:  The Champ
  • Most Egregious Snub:  The Grand Illusion
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  8.4
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.0
  • Score for the Decade:  31.9

Five Biggest Snubs:

  1. The Grand Illusion
  2. Modern Times
  3. City Lights
  4. M
  5. Duck Soup

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • Lady and Gent  (1931-32)
  • The Scoundrel  (1935)

Best Title Writing:  This category immediately ceased to be relevant after the first Oscars.  I have not given a grade to it partially because it only lasted one year and partially because the actual official list of nominees is a mess (see the link) and because if you even count all five of the films listed in Inside Oscar, I’ve only seen one of them and that one is not listed as an official nominee.

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • no specific film listed  (1927-28)
  • The Private Life of Helen of Troy  (1927-28)

A nice lull on the set as a director takes tea with his stars.

Best Actor:  Best Actor started off well in the initial year but then did quite badly for the next several years, finally righting the ship in 1932-33.  But while the nominations started to be better choices, the winner went down.  From 1936 to 1941, the Academy would choose either my fourth or fifth pick among the nominees, the worst stretch in any acting category in Oscar history.  The only time the Oscars would choose the worst of the nominees in any acting category before 1945 would be the back-to-back Oscars for Spencer Tracy in 1937 and 1938 (his first win would be the only acting winner to finish outside my Top 10 until 1947).  There would be no dominant actor for the decade – Paul Muni and Spencer Tracy would tie with 175 points (1 win in 4 noms for Muni, 2 wins in 3 noms for Tracy).  In 1936 and 37 something would play out that would happen again in 2009 and 2010 – someone would avenge their own Oscar loss (in 36 Tracy lost to Muni, but in 37 Tracy beat Muni).  Of note: four actors had more than 105 points by the end of the decade – Muni, Tracy, Fredric March and Clark Gable; all of them would earn at least one more nomination except Gable.  Four actors had exactly 105 points, in all four cases because they had one win and one other nomination – of those four (George Arliss, Wallace Beery, Charles Laughton, Robert Donat), only Laughton would ever earn another nomination.  Of another note: Emil Jannings’ win for The Way of All Flesh is the only lost Oscar winning performance.

  • Best Year:  1927-28
  • Worst Year:  1928-29
  • Best Winner:  Fredric March  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  • Worst Winner:  Wallace Beery  (The Champ)
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  James Stewart  (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
  • Worst Nominee:  Richard Dix  (Cimarron)
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Charles Chaplin  (Modern Times)
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  4.92
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.5
  • Score for the Decade:  68.8

modern-times-2Five Biggest Snubs:

  1. Charles Chaplin  (Modern Times)
  2. Peter Lorre  (M)
  3. Leslie Howard  (The Petrified Forest)
  4. Frederic March  (Les Miserables)
  5. Charles Chaplin  (City Lights)

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • Emil Jannings (The Way of All Flesh)  (1927-28)
  • Richard Barthelmess (The Noose)  (1927-28)
  • George Bancroft (Thunderbolt)  (1928-29)
  • Paul Muni  (The Valiant)  (1928-29)
  • Lewis Stone  (The Patriot)  (1928-29)
  • Ronald Colman  (Condemned)  (1929-30)

Vivien_Leigh_in_Gone_With_the_Wind_trailer-9Best Actress:  As a little note, this is the only one of the acting categories in which my choice for the best performance of the decade actually won the Oscar; in the other three categories my best of the decade was nominated but didn’t win.  Maybe that’s just because the Academy does better with the actresses.  In only three years do I give this category a score below 70 and never below a 44.  Best Actor finishes below 70 seven times and below 44 four times.  It is interesting to note, though, that three of the biggest snubs also went to actresses who actually won Oscars.  Though Bette Davis would win two Oscars in the decade (and earn a third nomination), it would be Norma Shearer with the big point total (245 – 1 win, 6 noms).  But of the top 9 actresses for the decade, 5 of them would never earn another nomination after this decade (Shearer, Janet Gaynor, Luise Rainer, Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler) and two others would only one more each (Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert).  On the other hand, the other two in the top nine are Bette Davis (6 more noms, would tie Shearer in 1941, take over in 1942 and be #1 until 1967) and Katharine Hepburn (9 more noms, 3 more wins, would tie Davis in 1967, take over #1 in 1968 and hold it until 2007).

  • Best Year:  1927-28
  • Worst Year:  1928-29
  • Best Winner:  Vivien Leigh  (Gone With the Wind)
  • Worst Winner:  Mary Pickford  (Coquette)
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  Wendy Hiller  (Pygmalion)
  • Worst Nominee:  Gladys George  (Valiant is the Word for Carrie)
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Bette Davis  (Of Human Bondage)
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  3.33
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.0
  • Score for the Decade:  74.7

ofhumanFive Biggest Snubs:

  1. Bette Davis  (Of Human Bondage)
  2. Bette Davis  (The Petrified Forest)
  3. Katharine Hepburn  (Bringing Up Baby)
  4. Judy Garland  (The Wizard of Oz)
  5. Lilian Gish  (The Wind)

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • Betty Compson  (The Barker)  (1928-29)

stagecoachBest Supporting Actor:  The supporting categories were added in 1936.  Oddly enough, the Academy got around to creating Assistant Director and Dance Direction as categories before the supporting acting categories.  Just like with the lead categories, Actress would be a much stronger category, as is evidenced by the 5.5 average winner rank (namely because I don’t think either of Walter Brennan’s wins were even close to being deserving).  Brennan would take the early lead in the category, winning in 1936 and 38 (and again in 40), while Thomas Mitchell would be nominated in 37 and would win in 39 and Basil Rathbone would be nominated in both 36 and 38.  That Mitchell would be listed as the best choice for Winner in these years when it’s not even his best performance in that year says a lot.  More annoying than the winners who didn’t deserve it would be the performances that deserved nominations but were ignored – there were a lot of those in these first few years to go along with a number of sub-par nominees.

  • Best Year:  1937
  • Worst Year:  1938
  • Best Winner:  Thomas Mitchell  (Stagecoach)
  • Worst Winner:  Walter Brennan  (Come and Get It)
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  Claude Rains  (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
  • Worst Nominee:  Stuart Erwin  (Pigskin Parade)
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Humphrey Bogart  (The Petrified Forest)
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  5.5
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.0
  • Score for the Decade:  53.0

BogartFive Biggest Snubs:

  1. Humphrey Bogart  (The Petrified Forest)
  2. Erich von Stroheim  (The Grand Illusion)
  3. Ray Bolger  (The Wizard of Oz)
  4. Claude Rains  (White Banners)
  5. Eric Blore  (It’s Love I’m After)

Charles Laughton Les MiserablesFive Best Performances Before the Category Existed:

  1. Charles Laughton  (Les Miserables)
  2. Boris Karloff  (Frankenstein)
  3. Max Schreck  (Nosferatu)
  4. John Barrymore  (Dinner at Eight)
  5. Clark Gable  (A Free Soul)

anthony-adverse-gale-sondergaard-claude-rains-1936_i-G-67-6719-U1VA100ZBest Supporting Actress:  Since it was created for the 1936 awards (just like Supporting Actor), Best Supporting Actress has consistently been one of the best categories at the Oscars.  In its first four years, every one of the winners earned at least a Nighthawk nomination, with only Alice Brady finishing lower than 3rd (she finished 4th).  But this streak would continue on until 1945.  In fact, the 1945 winner would be the only one until 1964 not to earn a Nighthawk nomination, a remarkable stretch.  And it wouldn’t just be the winners – none of the nominees are particularly bad choices.  The top actress of the decade would be Alice Brady, one of only three nominated twice in this short span and the only one of those three to win the Oscar (the other two were Beulah Bondi and Maria Ouspenskaya – who played very similar roles in both her nominated performances).

  • Best Year:  1937
  • Worst Year:  1936
  • Best Winner:  Gale Sondergaard  (Anthony Adverse)
  • Worst Winner:  Alice Brady  (In Old Chicago)
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  Olivia de Havilland  (Gone With the Wind)
  • Worst Nominee:  Anne Shirley  (Stella Dallas)
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Margaret Hamilton  (The Wizard of Oz)
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  2.75
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.25
  • Score for the Decade:  75.3

wizardFive Biggest Snubs:

  1. Margaret Hamilton  (The Wizard of Oz)
  2. Bonita Granville  (Merrily We Live)
  3. Jean Dixon  (My Man Godfrey)
  4. Judy Garland  (Pigskin Parade)
  5. Fay Bainter  (Make Way for Tomorrow)

hopkinsFive Best Performances Before the Category Existed:

  1. Miriam Hopkins  (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
  2. Aline MacMahon  (Five Star Final)
  3. Bette Davis  (Cabin in the Cotton)
  4. Brigitte Helm  (Metropolis)
  5. Marie Dressler  (Dinner at Eight)

Best Editing:  This category was added in the big expansion of 1934 that also saw the addition of Score and Song.  The winner that first year was Eskimo, the only film in Oscar history to win Best Editing without any other Oscar nominations.  This was the only technical category that resisted the expanded list of nominees lasting from the late 30’s to 1945.  In 1934 there were three nominees, then six nominees for the next two years.  In 1937, it settled at five nominees and has never changed.  Ralph Dawson was the early big winner, taking home three of the first four Oscars in the category, though he would have to wait until 1954 to earn his fourth and final nomination.

  • Best Year:  1935
  • Worst Year:  1934
  • Best Winner:  The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Worst Winner:  Anthony Adverse
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • Worst Nominee:  Cleopatra
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Modern Times
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  10.16
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.83
  • Score for the Decade:  32.9sunrise7shots

Best Cinematography:  This is an original category, won in that original year for the magnificent work on Sunrise.  Things pretty much went downhill after that.  Here are two things that show the difference between me and the Academy in this category.  The first is that the average winner ranks 8th on the year but 1.85 among the nominees and from 1929-1938 the Academy never chose a winner that ranked above 5th on my list, yet three times picked the best of the nominees.  What that means is that they were consistently picking weak nominees.  The other thing is that Victor Milner has the most points to this point (175), with 6 nominations (including 5 in 6 years) and a win, mostly working with DeMille.  And yet, Milner not only has no Nighthawk nominations, but I don’t consider any of his films to even be worthy of consideration.  The top two Nighthawk cinematographers to this point are Arthur Edeson and Roland Totheroh, with two wins out of three nominations each.  By this point, Edeson had two nominations and no wins (and nothing for his work for James Whale).  Totheroh, with all of his great camerawork for Charlie Chaplin, would never receive an Oscar nomination.  The number of nominees would drop from 5 to 3 in 1931-32 and then in 1938 would go up to 11.  In 1939, the category would be split into black&white and color with 10 noms in the former and 6 in the latter.  The latter is a very good grouping.  This category is unique, in that it has the only write-in winner in Oscar history, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1935.

  • Best Year:  1939  (Color)
  • Worst Year:  1936
  • Best Winner:  Sunrise
  • Worst Winner:  White Shadows in the South Seas
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Worst Nominee:  The Crusades
  • Most Egregious Snub:  M
  • Most Egregious English-Language Snub:  Frankenstein
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  8.0
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  1.85
  • Score for the Decade:  37.7

mFive Biggest Snubs:

  1. M
  2. Metropolis
  3. Frankenstein
  4. Modern Times
  5. Vampyr

Nominations I Havent’ Seen:

  • Devil Dancer  (1927-28)
  • Magic Flame  (1927-28)
  • Four Devils  (1928-29)
  • The Right to Love  (1930-31)
  • Wings Over Honolulu  (1937)

Best Score  /  Best Original Score:  The category was created in 1934, along with Best Song.  The first two years there were 3 nominees, followed by 5 in 1936.  In 1937, it expanded to 14.  Then, in 1938 it split into two categories, with 11 nominees for Best Score and 11 nominees for Best Original Score.  The Young in Heart, with a score by Franz Waxman was nominated in both categories.  In 1939 there would be 13 nominees in Score and 12 in Original Score and Of Mice and Men, with a score by Aaron Copland would be nominated in both categories.  This category confusion would also happen in 1940 (more on that in the 40’s).  Three times in the first six years of this category they chose my #1 choice.  It would take until 1960 to get another three.  Max Steiner was nominated the first year and by the second year had the most points.  He would only hold that spot until 1938, in spite of receiving at least one nomination every year through 1950.  But Alfred Newman would amass so many nominations so fast (2 in 1937, 3 in 1938 including a win, 4 in 1939) that he would pass Steiner by 1939.  Newman would get 250 points in those three years which is more points than all but 17 other composers have ever received.

  • Best Year:  1935
  • Worst Year:  1934
  • Best Winner:  The Wizard of Oz
  • Worst Winner:  100 Men and a Girl
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  Gone With the Wind  *
  • Worst Nominee:  100 Men and a Girl
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Modern Times
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  4.13
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.88
  • Score for the Decade:  47.4
  • *  –  It lost to The Wizard of Oz so I agree with it not winning.  It’s still the best nominee of the decade that didn’t win though.

Five Biggest Snubs:

  1. Modern Times  (Chaplin)
  2. Captain Blood  (Korngold)
  3. Port of Shadows  (Jaubert)
  4. Alexander Nevsky  (Prokofiev)
  5. The Grand Illusion  (Kosma)

Five Best Scores Before the Category Existed (1928-1933)

  1. City Lights  (Chaplin)
  2. King Kong  (Steiner)
  3. The Circus  (Chaplin)
  4. Le Million  (Bernard)
  5. The Invisible Man  (Reomheld)

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • Portia on Trial  (1937)
  • Pacific Liner  (1938)
  • Tropic Holiday  (1938)  –  Best Score

Best Sound Recording:  This was the first new category, added for the third ceremony in 1929-30.  For the first ceremony, the winner was the head of the studio’s Sound department.  Then, for the next two years, the award was given to the studio as a whole rather than for a specific film and both awards went to Paramount (headed, ironically, by Franklin Hansen, who would be nominated four times later for individual films but wouldn’t win).  In 1932-33 the award would switch back to the head of the department and would stay that way until 1967.  The initial award was won by Douglas Shearer, older brother to Norma Shearer who was separated from her in their parents divorce and went to visit her after she went to Hollywood and would get a job with MGM and eventually become head of the new Sound department.  Except for a brief period in 1934 when Nathan Levinson would earn 3 nominations and 1935 when Levinson would earn another, Shearer would hold 1st place in the points race at the Oscars from 1930 to 2007, when he was finally overtaken by poor Kevin O’Connell, losing for the 20th time.  By 1939, Shearer would have 200 points, followed by Nathan Levinson (180), Thomas T. Moulton (140), John Livadry and E.H. Hansen (100 each).  But while Shearer has three wins in this decade and Moulton has two, the other three of them don’t win at all in the Thirties.  All five of them would be nominated in 1935 and every year from 1937 to 1944.

  • Best Year:  1935
  • Worst Year:  1938
  • Best Winner:  San Francisco
  • Worst Winner:  Naughty Marietta
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  Captain Blood
  • Worst Nominee:  General Spanky
  • Most Egregious Snub:  All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  6.75
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2.25
  • Score for the Decade:  24.6

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • The Case of Sergeant Grischa  (1929-30)
  • Song of the Flame  (1929-30)
  • 1,000 Dollars a Minute  (1935)robin_hood1

Best Interior Decoration:  This is one of the categories that was created in the initial year of the Academy Awards and would be split into black & white and color in 1940 and renamed Art Direction in 1947.  It was won by two films that first year (both of them decorated by William Cameron Menzies).  It accounts for two of the six Oscar winners that I have never seen.  The number of nominees fluctuated: 4 (1927-28), 6 (1928-29), 5 (1929-30 and 1930-31), 3 (1931-32 through 1935), 7 (1936), 12 (1937), 11 (1938) and 12 (1939).  There were rule changes a few time over who voted for the category and how the voters voted and according to page 1009 of Inside Oscar “Every studio guaranteed a nomination for Interior Decoration simply by submitting an entry,” though they never mention the rule being revoked.  Of the first seven years, two of the winning films won Best Picture (Cimarron and Cavalcade) and the other five received no other nominations.  The Oscar Nominee of the Decade is Cedric Gibbons.  He earns 220 Oscar points in this decade alone, which would be good enough for 23rd all-time (he would eventually earn 1020 points).  He would win 2 Oscars among 9 nominations and in both 1928-29 and 1936 would earn multiple nominations.  He would be followed rather closely by Richard Day (2 wins, 7 total noms) and Hans Dreier (9 noms), with 180 points each (Dreier wouldn’t actually win until 1945 with his 20th nomination).

  • Best Year:  1936
  • Worst Year:  1930-31
  • Best Winner:  The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Worst Winner:  Cavalcade
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  The Wizard of Oz
  • Worst Nominee:  Wee Willie Winkie
  • Most Egregious Snub:  Frankenstein
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  7.73
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  1.82
  • Score for the Decade:  42.2

Clive, Colin (Frankenstein)_02Five Biggest Snubs:

  1. Frankenstein
  2. Dracula
  3. Metropolis
  4. Modern Times
  5. Scarlet Empress

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • The Dove  (1927-28)
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey  (1928-29)
  • The Awakening  (1928-29)
  • The Patriot  (1928-29)
  • Magnificent Brute  (1936)
  • You’re a Sweetheart  (1937)

Best Engineering Effects  /  Special Effects:  What would eventually be called Visual Effects began as Engineering Effects in the very first Academy Awards, where the award was won by Wings.  But Engineering Effects was rather vague (The Jazz Singer was nominated in this category) and it was one of the four awards deep-sixed after the first ceremony.  It was brought back in 1939 as Special Effects, just in time for The Wizard of Oz, but idiotically, The Rains Came beat it.  It still earns a 100 score for that year because the only two films I deem worth consideration, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, were both nominated.

  • Best Year:  1939
  • Worst Year:  1927-28
  • Best Winner:  Wings
  • Worst Winner:  The Rains Came
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  The Wizard of Oz
  • Worst Nominee:  Union Pacific
  • Most Egregious Snub:  none, unless you count that the award didn’t exist in 1933 for King Kong
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  2.5
  • Average Winner Rank among Nominees:  2
  • Score for the Decade:  86.7

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • The Private Life of Helen of Troy  (1927-28)

Best Song:  This category was added in 1934 and was called just Best Song until 1974.  In four of the years, this category gets a perfect score.  In 1934, the three nominated songs are my top three.  In 1935, the three are my #1, 2 and 4, but the #4 song I have listed as even with the number three.  In 1938, all five of the songs I consider worthy of contention were nominated.  In 1939 there was some weirdness, which is explained below  But in 1937, they ignored all the songs from Snow White and the best songs from Shall We Dance.  The number of nominees fluctuated greatly in this period, with 3 (1934), 3 (1935), 6 (1936), 5 (1937), 10 (1938) and 4 (1939).  Also, according to page 1012 of Inside Oscar: “From 1938 though 1945, each studio’s music department submitted a single song which would then automatically be nominated.  Omissions during these years are therefore the responsibility of the studios and not the Academy.”  So, to account for that, I only allowed one song from The Wizard of Oz in factoring the score for 1939 and also didn’t allow either “Lydia the Tattoed Lady” or “Good Morning”, as those were also songs from MGM films, which ends up with a perfect score for 1939, as the only other song worthy of consideration was nominated.  The Oscar Nominee of the Decade is Leo Robin, the lyricist, who had four nominations and one win (“Thanks for the Memory” from Big Broadcast of 1938), three of them with Ralph Rainger writing the music.

  • Best Year:  1935  (100)
  • Worst Year:  1937  (2.7)
  • Best Winner:  “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz  (1939)
  • Worst Winner:  “Sweet Leilanli” from Waikiki Wedding  (1937)
  • Best Nominee That Didn’t Win:  “Cheek to Cheek” from Top Hat  (1935)
  • Worst Nominee:  “Remember Me” from Mr. Dodd Takes the Air  (1937)
  • Most Egregious Snub:  “Heigh Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs  (1937)
  • Average Winner Rank at Nighthawks:  3.33
  • Average Winner Rank among nominees:  1.86
  • Score for the Decade:  63.2

Nominations I Haven’t Seen:

  • “A Mist Over the Moon” from The Lady Objects  (1938)

Best Assistant Director:  This is really an odd category, and one I’m not bothering to give a grade to (and thus, doesn’t figure to any number categories down below listed for the years).  This category was added in 1934.  Perhaps it says something that it only lasted for four years and that none of the nominated directors ever went on to important careers as directors.  I’ve seen all the nominees in this category.  Does it say anything that only four of the nominated films were actually nominated for Best Director as well and that none of them won Best Director?

Best Dance Direction:  A less odd category than the previous one, but still one I’m not giving a grade to.  What does it say that Busby Berkeley, by far the most famous dance director and the only nominated one to go on to a serious directing career was nominated in all three years and never won?  Or that four dance directors were nominated all four years but two of them never won and the winner in the middle year wasn’t nominated in either of the other two years?  This category was added in 1935 and it was eliminated after 1937.

Nomination I Haven’t Seen:

  • All the King’s Horses

The following categories didn’t yet exist by 1939: Sound Effects Editing, Costume Design, Makeup, Animated Film and Foreign Film.

Sound Effects Editing might have lead to an actual nomination (and award) for King Kong which received no nominations and possible additional nominations and even wins for Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood and maybe either Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz.

My guess is that Costume Design would have added a 14th nomination for Gone With the Wind and likely an Oscar, though I would have gone with The Wizard of Oz.  Wind had costumes by Walter Plunkett, who would eventually win 1 out of his Oscar nominations.  The costumes for Oz were designed by Adrian, one of the best costume designers in film history, but who, sadly, would retire in 1948, the same year that the award was finally added.  I think it’s also likely that this would have added yet another Oscar to Robin Hood‘s stash.

That Makeup wasn’t a category is doubly ironic.  The first reason is that some of the best makeup of the early years was done by Lon Chaney, but in films before the Oscars even existed.  The second reason is that the films most suited for the awards were the Universal Horror films, which only earned one Oscar nomination for Bride of Frankenstein.  Though this might have been yet another Oscar for The Wizard of Oz.

There wasn’t much of a point to have Best Animated Film as the only feature-length film made in America during this period was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Best Foreign Film was an early glaring omission, especially as both the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics established their own awards for this category very early on.  While the Oscars did at least nominate The Grand Illusion for Best Picture, that still leaves a wide array of truly great films that went unnoticed, including M, Metropolis, Rules of the Game, Vampyr, A Nous La Liberte (nominated for Art Direction) and Port of Shadows.

By Year:

1927-28:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #74
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  4.00
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  3.13
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  1.22
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  34.8
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  93.8
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  55.8
  • Total Nominee Score:  55.6

1928-29:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #85
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  18.40
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  11.00
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  2.60
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  0
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  34.6
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  18.8
  • Total Nominee Score:  12.9

1929-30:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #78
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  7.88
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  8.86
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  1.88
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  45.6
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  56.8
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  33.3
  • Total Nominee Score:  43.1

1930-31:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #84
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  16.88
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  9.14
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  3.25
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  7.5
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  56.1
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  12.0
  • Total Nominee Score:  20.5

1931-32:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #80
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  11.38
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  11.57
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  2.13
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  17.2
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  44.4
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  58.5
  • Total Nominee Score:  32.9

1932-33:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #79
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  19.11
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  9.13
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  2.33
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  19.3
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  83.8
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  24.6
  • Total Nominee Score:  32.5

1934:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #83
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  4.33
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  4.55
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  1.83
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  63.4
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  56.4
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  11.5
  • Total Nominee Score:  47.3

1935:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #68
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  4.75
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  4.91
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  2.08
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  57.4
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  80.9
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  50.7
  • Total Nominee Score:  60.5

1936:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #77
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  8.36
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  5.54
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  2.71
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  40.5
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  62.7
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  32.4
  • Total Nominee Score:  46.1

1937:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #76
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  7.43
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  7.15
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  3.36
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  55.7
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  78.0
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  37.0
  • Total Nominee Score:  49.1

1938:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #66
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  4.80
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  4.79
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  2.35
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  44.0
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  71.2
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  36.9
  • Total Nominee Score:  50.4

1939:

  • Best Picture:  Reviews of the films can be found here.  I also did a longer discussion on the commonly spouted view that this is the best year in film history here.
  • Best Picture Rank:  #53
  • Winners Average (with Picture):  3.82
  • Winners Average (without Picture):  3.75
  • Winners Average Among Nominees:  2.35
  • Nominee Score (P-D-S):  71.5
  • Nominee Score  (Acting):  74.8
  • Nominee Score  (Tech Categories):  50.0
  • Total Nominee Score:  59.3
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