Oscar Wish List 2022

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And the Oscar goes to…

After seeing eight films nominated for Best Picture as well as other nominees and contenders,* I hereby present my wish list for tonight’s awards. Even though I liked both CODA and Dune, I’m rooting for The Power of the Dog because it is frankly just a cut above everything else in this year’s race, both cinematically and thematically. As always, mostly I’m just hoping for one or two surprises, and I think this year we are likely to get them. Lots of categories seems to be up in the air, if not, you know, actually being aired live.

With that said, and based on what I’ve seen, here is what or who the oddsmakers think will win tonight (as of last night), what or who I would like to see win, and, in some categories, those I feel should (or shouldn’t) have been nominated. As always, if I propose a “new” nomination, I take a current nominee off the list: This doesn’t necessarily mean the person or film is undeserving (though it can), but it’s easy to say that so-and-so should have been nominated when the reality is that there are only five slots to fill.

Best Picture
Will win: The Power of the Dog
Should win: The Power of the Dog
Should have been nominated: C’mon C’mon, Pig
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Don’t Look Up, Nightmare Alley

Barring an incredible upset, this is an easy one. Even though the oddsmakers have put CODA on top of late, The Power of the Dog and Campion have been frontrunners all awards season. As stated above, I’m rooting for The Power of the Dog; however, I won’t be sad if Dune picks up a number of technical awards because I do think it was the “spectacle” film of the season.

Directing
Will win: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog
Should win: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog
Should have been nominated: Siân Heder for CODA
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza

Sorry, PTA, I love you, but it just wasn’t your year. Everything that worked about CODA to make it such a beloved film was due to directorial choices. Siân Heder more than deserves a spot here.

Adapted Screenplay
Will win: CODA
Should win: The Power of the Dog

Although I think the nominees are all very strong in this category, I think CODA will take it simply because it is the best way to reward that film without giving it Best Picture. However, I think that The Power of the Dog is the stronger script.

Original Screenplay
Will win: Belfast
Should win: ???
Should have been nominated: C’mon C’mon and Pig
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Belfast and Don’t Look Up

I have no dog in this fight as I haven’t yet seen most of the nominees. However, since I wasn’t particularly impressed with the two I did see, I would swap them out in a heartbeat for C’mon C’mon and Pig.

Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Will Smith for King Richard
Should win: Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog
Should have been nominated: Nicolas Cage for Pig
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Javier Bardem for Being the Ricardos

Will Smith seems to be a lock for this one, but I’m still hoping Cumberbatch pulls it out. However, more than that, I would have liked to see Nicolas Cage nominated for Pig.

Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Penélope Cruz for Parallel Mothers
Should win: Kristen Stewart for Spencer
Should have been nominated: Isabelle Fuhrman for The Novice
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Nicole Kidman for Being the Ricardos

This category is probably the most up in the air of any of the acting awards. Oddsmakers give it to Chastain but I’ve been hearing of a lot of last-minute support for Cruz so I’ve gone for the upset here. While I think it should actually be Stewart, Cruz does give an exceptional performance so I would be perfectly fine with a win for her. Nothing against Nicole Kidman (or Javier Bardem for that matter), but I have zero interest in Being the Ricardos and something has to go in order to make room for more deserving nominees, in this case, the incredible performance from Isabelle Fuhrman in The Novice.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Troy Kotsur for CODA
Should win: Troy Kotsur for CODA

Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Ariana DeBose for West Side Story
Should win: Jessie Buckley for The Lost Daughter

I’m not particularly invested in the supporting categories this year, but I must say I am completely at a loss as to why DeBose seems to have a lock in this category. She stood out compared to the leads but that really wasn’t too hard to do. In any case, I will be thrilled if the oddsmakers turn out to be wrong and Dunst manages to snag the win. She deserves it (even though Buckley would probably be my pick).

Film Editing
Will win: ???
Should win: Tick, Tick… Boom!
Should have been nominated: C’mon C’mon
Shouldn’t have been nominated: King Richard

The odds here range from 3.4 to 1 for Dune to 4.5 to 1 for Don’t Look Up and Tick, Tick… Boom!, so it’s really anyone’s game. I think it is likely to go to Dune since the odds seem to lean toward that film sweeping the technical categories, but I wouldn’t be surprised at any of the others winning, except maybe The Power of the Dog. Even though I actually think The Power of the Dog is pretty strong in this category, I suspect many people won’t want to vote for a film so many have called “boring” (I don’t get it myself, but haters gonna hate). If I were voting, I would probably pick Tick, Tick… Boom! since the editing stood out to me as one of that film’s few strengths.

Cinematography
Will win: ???
Should win: The Power of the Dog
Should have been nominated: Spencer or The Harder They Fall
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Nightmare Alley

As with Editing, the odds here range from 3.4 to 1 for Dune to 4.5 to 1 for Nightmare Alley and West Side Story, so it’s really anyone’s game. I have no idea who is going to take this one home. I do know that I found the cinematography of both Petite Maman and Spencer impressive so I would have liked to see Claire Mathon get nominated for one of them. Also, The Harder They Fall looked absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t recognize Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s name, but he lensed both The Master and Jojo Rabbit, which I find intriguing. For me, The Power of the Dog is the clear winner here. There were just so many framing choices I wanted to screencap.

Original Score
Will win: Dune
Should win: The Power of the Dog
Should have been nominated: Spencer, The Harder They Fall
Shouldn’t have been nominated: any of the other three nominees

I must admit that I don’t often notice score. And when I do, it is usually for the wrong reasons—it’s annoying, it’s bombastic, etc. Which is why it was fairly shocking to me that I actually noticed and liked Dune‘s score, since I usually strongly dislike Zimmer’s work. When I watched Spencer last night, at one point I just had to look up who did the music because the mix of classical-sounding and discordant pieces worked so well for its themes. I wasn’t surprised when it turned out to be Greenwood because often when I think a score fits particularly well with a film, as with The Power of the Dog, that has been the case. As I noted in my Oscar Nominations post, The Harder They Fall was robbed in this category.

Production Design
Will win: Dune
Should win: Nightmare Alley

As much as I didn’t ultimately vibe with Nightmare Alley, like with Mank last year, I acknowledge it had fantastic production design. I suspect that if I had seen The Tragedy of Macbeth I might go with that one, but it is hard to say based on the trailer alone.

Animated Feature
Will win: Encanto
Should win: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

This year is probably the first year in the history of forever that I watched all five Animated Feature nominees. I’m not a huge fan of animation, but I had already watched Flee and I recently subscribed to Hulu/Disney+ for the purposes of my Century+ project so I figured why the heck not. Frankly, I don’t get the love for Encanto; it was my least favorite of the five. Raya had a similar (not great) plot, but the animation was stunning. However, neither of these two films, nor Luca, rose above the level of “family film”—perfectly fine if you have kids and need to sit through them, but not something I would seek out on my own. Flee was a fantastic use of animation, but I had some issues with the overall film. My vote would go to The Mitchells vs. the Machines, which was just a cut above the others in terms of plot and characters for me.

And with that, I think I’ve exhausted the categories I really care about this year, so I will just leave you with the odds-on favorites for the final categories:

International Feature: Drive My Car
Costume Design: Cruella
Makeup and Hairstyling: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Original Song: No Time to Die
Sound: Dune
Visual Effects: Dune

Animated Short Film: Robin Robin
Live-Action Short Film: The Long Goodbye
Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul
Documentary Short Subject: The Queen of Basketball

Oscar Statues

Who would you like to see take home one of these golden boys?


*Oscar-nominated features I’ve seen to date: Belfast; CODA; Don’t Look Up; Drive My Car; Dune; Encanto; Flee; Luca; Nightmare Alley; Parallel Mothers; Raya and the Last Dragon; Spencer; Summer of Soul; The Lost Daughter; The Mitchells vs. the Machines; The Power of the Dog; Tick, Tick… Boom!; West Side Story


Other 2021 features that I considered for this post: Black Widow, C’mon C’mon, Godzilla vs. Kong, The Harder They Fall, The Last Duel, The Matrix Resurrections, No Sudden Move, The Novice, Passing, Petite Maman, Pig, Plan B, Procession, Red Rocket, Shiva Baby, Swan Song, Titane, Zola. I also watched A Chiara, Fear Street Parts 1–3, and I Care a Lot, five 2021 films that were not on the AMPAS “eligible” list.

A Century+ of Cinema: The 1930s

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The cinema as danger zone in Sabotage (1936) by Alfred Hitchcock

To approach the cinema of the 1930s and 1940s, which I know far better than the silent era, and which I wanted to be able to cover somewhat more rapidly than I did the 1910s and 1920s (hah!), I decided to build an essentials list from the ground up instead of finalizing a list of twenty-five and seeing what deserved to stay and what deserved to go. This was obviously a grave error, because I started watching movies for this post last May, began writing it in August, and yet was still adding “must-see” films to my watch list in the fall. This is what you call self-sabotage—as opposed to the Hitchcock form of sabotage above, which is much better. In any case, I think I need to refrain from rewatching so many movies when I get to the 1940s. (Hah!)

But I digress…

Back to the 1930s…

To build my list, I first identified the films that were on all the key “best of” lists I was using for reference: the AFI Top 100 lists from 1998 and 2007, the Sight & Sound “Greatest Films of All Time” Top 250 from 2012, and the 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die lists (all editions). There were seven such films: City Lights (1931), Duck Soup (1933), King Kong (1933), Modern Times (1936), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939). I had actually seen all seven already and so could immediately make some decisions. There were only three I felt I could put on my essentials list without hesitation: City Lights (1931), King Kong (1933), and The Wizard of Oz (1939). The other four I would have to mull over in my brain.

Anyone with half a brain knows that The Wizard of Oz should be on any film essentials list you might come up with that includes the 1930s.

Next, I scanned the individual lists for selections I had seen that seemed obvious candidates for inclusion on any essentials list. Four stood out to me immediately in this regard: Frankenstein (1931), Scarface (1932), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), and It Happened One Night (1934). Each of these films is one of the best examples of arguably the four most important Hollywood genres of the 1930s: horror, gangster films, musicals, and romantic comedies.

Of course, there were a number of other films that I thought were likely to go on the list, but I hadn’t seen them for some time and wanted to rewatch them, or at least, watch other similar films and then decide between them. Some of these films were Trouble in Paradise (1932), L’Atalante (1934), Pépé le Moko (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), La Règle du jeu (1939), Stagecoach (1939), and The Women (1939). There was also the question of which Hitchcock would go on the list, The 39 Steps (1935) or The Lady Vanishes (1938)? At this point, M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (M) (Lang, 1931) was also on my “rewatch” list, but later, when I actually watched it, I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen it before. Or, if I did, I remembered none of it. Consequently, I decided to count it as a new-to-me film for the purposes of cataloguing.

When you’re conducting a hard target search for the best of the best in the 1930s, you’ve got to include M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder.

My next task was to come up with a “reasonable” watch list. What did I absolutely have to watch before I could even think of finalizing my list? So, I next identified the “important” films on these lists that I hadn’t yet seen.

Except for All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), which were both on the 1998 AFI list but not the 2007 list, I had seen all seventeen AFI films from the 1930s. Although these two films weren’t on the Sight & Sound list, they were on the 1001 list and they were both Best Picture winners, so I thought they merited consideration and added them to my watch list. Of the other Best Picture winners in this decade—Cimarron (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Cavalcade (1933), It Happened One Night, The Great Ziegfeld (1936), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Gone with the Wind—there were four I hadn’t already seen. Based on the discussion over at the (excellent) podcast The Envelope Please, I decided to also add Cavalcade to my watch list. [Side note: Shout out to Carlo (@ThiefCGT) at The Movie Loot for introducing me to the @PleaseEnvelope podcast. It really helped me decide which of the Best Picture nominees were worth my time.]

I can’t believe All Quiet on the Western Front was bumped off the AFI list in 2007. I certainly consider it essential viewing for the 1930s.

Of the twenty-one films on the Sight & Sound list, I had already seen fifteen. Five of the six that I hadn’t seen—the aforementioned M, along with Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (Murnau, 1931), Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo (I Was Born, But…) (Ozu, 1932), Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) (Lang, 1933), Zangiku monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum) (Mizoguchi, 1939)—could be found on the Criterion Channel, and the sixth—Zemlya (Earth) (Dovzhenko, 1930)—could be rented from the library, so I quickly added all of them to my watch list. I wasn’t quite sure I was going to watch Mabuse, but I thought I would probably get to the others. [SPOILER ALERT: I actually did watch Mabuse but it did not make any of my final lists.]

Zemlya (Earth) is a silent masterpiece about the forced collectivization of Ukrainian farms. Essential viewing for the 1930s and as relevant as ever.

Of the ninety (!) 1930s films on the 1001 list, there were thirty-five I hadn’t seen. Obviously, even though most of them were surely worth seeking out, I decided to pick only five or so to try to get to before closing out the decade. I knew I would probably see way more than that, but I didn’t want to get too bogged down feeling I had to see everything. (Hah! See above re starting to write this post last August.) Further selections were made partly due to personal interest, partly due to recommendations, and partly due to their availability.

In the end, since posting about the 1920s in early May 2021, I have watched ninety films from the 1930s. Just over fifty of these were new-to-me films, the others were rewatches. You can see the full list of the 225 films I considered for this decade at the bottom of this post.*

Almost all of the films I considered are ones I have watched since 2016 when I first started seriously tracking and scoring everything I watch in my various film spreadsheets. However, I feel I should note that there are seven films I did not rewatch. In the case of some, it was because I ran out of time and decided I did not need to rewatch childhood favorites I had seen many times (Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz). In the case of others, it was because I know I dislike them enough not to include them on any lists and/or remembered they were “meh” films for me the first time (or two) and had no desire to rewatch them. These include L’Âge d’or (The Golden Age) (1930), Double Wedding (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Ninotchka (1939), and Wuthering Heights (1939). Given more time, I might have rewatched the last two, but that will have to wait for another day when I am finished with this project. Finally, I also made the decision up front not to consider Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) (1935) for this project—although I did watch (and enjoy) both Olympia (1938) films.

“Bad dreams in the night; They told me I was going to lose the fight; Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering, Wuthering Heights.”

Obviously, there is no way I can possibly discuss even a fraction of these films with any depth, so I’m not even going to try. Instead, I am just going to build a few lists of recommendations to guide you through the 1930s.

First, the essentials. Here, filmmaking technique, storytelling, and cultural influence were my most important criteria. But also, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m hoping to come out of this project with a well-rounded list that represents diverse interests and perspectives, or, at least, more than is traditionally found in the canon established by (mostly) straight white men.

To that end, of the new-to-me watches I’ve already mentioned, it was obvious fairly quickly that All Quiet on the Western Front, Zemlya (Earth), M, Tabu, and Zangiku monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum) needed to be on the list. While none of these are films I will likely return to over and over, they are all excellent films that represent a wide diversity of cultures, stories, and filmmaking techniques. I also added I Was Born, But… (although I suspect I might choose a different Ozu were I to watch more of his 1930s work) and, after watching five Dietrich-Sternberg collaborations, Shanghai Express (1932). These films are exactly why I wanted to do this project, because, except for M and maybe Shanghai Express, I don’t think I would have chosen to watch any of them on my own.

Josef von Sternberg is one of my favorite discoveries of this project, both his silent pictures and his collaborations with Marlene Dietrich are absolutely gorgeous. Essential filmmaking to be sure.

At the same time, two other new-to-me films I decided to put on the essentials list are selections I probably would have gotten to eventually, as part of my annual #52FilmsByWomen pledge. The pickings are fairly slim when it comes to female directors in the 1930s—I initially identified only fifteen films for possible viewing—however, I quite enjoyed the thirteen films I was able to see** and found most of them to be vastly underrated. In the end, both Mädchen in Uniform (Sagan, 1931), a lesbian-themed coming-of-age tale set in a German boarding school, and Olympia 1. Teil: Fest der Volker (Olympia Part 1: Festival of the Nations) (Riefenstahl, 1938), a revolutionary documentary about the 1936 Summer Olympics, went on the essentials list, as did Dorothy Arzner’s Merrily We Go to Hell (1932), a pre-Code tale of addiction and infidelity. Another Arzner film—The Bride Wore Red (1937), a study in class dynamics and female friendship disguised as a romance—made it onto my favorites list.

The thoroughly modern marriage of Merrily We Go to Hell. As the only female director working in the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s, Dorothy Arzner is certainly essential viewing.

Rewatches that made their way onto the essentials list include the aforementioned L’Atalante, The Lady Vanishes, and Trouble in Paradise. I’m not a huge fan of L’Atalante myself, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow. France has one of the strongest national cinemas of the 1930s and needed to have at least a few representatives on the list. In addition to L’Atalante, I added a film each from its biggest filmmakers of the decade: Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné. For Carné, I chose Le jour se lève (Daybreak) (1939), one of his best collaborations with screenwriter-poet Jacques Prévert, and for Renoir, I chose La Grande Illusion (1937). [Side note: I did rewatch La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939) recently, but I think I like it even less than I did when I first watched it years ago, if that’s possible. #SorryNotSorry] I had hoped to fit in one more French film, one of René Clair’s early musical comedies, but I just couldn’t find a spot for it on the list.

Speaking of which, back to some of the “list-topper” films I hesitated about earlier. Ultimately, I decided only Gone with the Wind was “essential” viewing, both because of its technique and production values and its cultural impact and influence. As for the others, I just don’t view them as essential. Modern Times has probably the strongest argument, but it would be the second 1930s Chaplin on the list and it’s a bit of a rip-off of René Clair’s À nous la liberté so I think not. I hesitated most over Duck Soup. Mostly because I don’t really love the Marx brothers, although I know many other people do, but also because, if I had to choose, I actually prefer A Night at the Opera (1935). In the end, I couldn’t find a place for it with all the other fantastic options. Finally, beyond loathing Bringing Up Baby, I just don’t see the justification for it. Not only are there are better screwballs to put on the list, there are better screwballs by Howard Hawks to put on the list. I mean, when I get to the 1940s, His Girl Friday is pretty much a given. In any case, I put the delightful My Man Godfrey (1936) and that ultimate piece of Americana, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), on the list instead.

For more on why I so dislike Bringing Up Baby, see 1930s Screwball Classics and Forgotten Films.

“I can’t give you any [of my] love, Baby.”

And, with that, my final list of twenty-five essentials for the 1930s:

Essential Films of the 1930s
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Zemlya (Earth) (1930)
City Lights (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (M) (1931)
Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)
Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)
Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo (I Was Born, But…) (1932)
Scarface (1932)
Shanghai Express (1932)
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
King Kong (1933)
It Happened One Night (1934)
L’Atalante (1934)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
La Grande Illusion (1937)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Olympia 1. Teil: Fest der Volker (Olympia Part 1: Festival of the Nations) (1938)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Le jour se lève (Daybreak) (1939)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Zangiku monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum) (1939)

Zangiku monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum) is one of five essentials from 1939, considered by many to be cinema’s best year ever.

After establishing my list of essentials, I next set out to finalize my list of favorite 1930s films. As you might imagine, this list was a bit easier to pull together; however ranking these movies was somewhat tricky. The key question determining selection and placement here is “How eager am I to rewatch this?”

For the most part, these are movies I have known and loved for many years, although there is one entry I only saw for the first time this past year and that’s Love Me Tonight, a musical I borrowed from the library but that I purchased on blu-ray just hours after watching it. I am not a huge fan of musicals, but I loved the songs in this one, and was very impressed with their staging as well as the cinematography and editing overall.

Favorite Films of the 1930s, Ranked
The Thin Man (1934)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Old Dark House (1932)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
The 39 Steps (1935)
Love Me Tonight (1932)
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Easy Living (1937)
If You Could Only Cook (1935)
La Grande Illusion (1937)
The Women (1939)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
The Bride Wore Red (1937)
Pépé le Moko (1937)
Freaks (1932)
You Can’t Take It with You (1938)
Holiday (1938)
Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1936)
42nd Street (1933)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Faisons un rêve (Let’s Make a Dream) (1936)
Jezebel (1938)
Stagecoach (1939)

Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in Love Me Tonight, my favorite discovery of the 1930s

That’s all well and good you might say, but if almost all your favorites are longtime faves what was the point of all this? And that’s why I had to create a third category and a new kind of list: Hidden Gems. These movies do not appear on my list of essential films, but may appear on my list of favorites for the decade. Either way, they are well worth your time. In general, they are films that I was pleasantly surprised by or that I consider underrated or underseen. For the most part, I am likely to return to many of these before some of the essentials.

A few highlights…

If you are looking for atmosphere: Films like Hôtel du Nord (1938) are the reason I love the Criterion Channel. I had never seen this classic that contains perhaps the most famous line of all of French cinema (“Atmosphère! Atmosphère! Est-ce que j’ai une gueule d’atmosphère?”) because it was so hard to find for years and still isn’t available in the collection of either my public or local membership library. But it’s permanently on the Criterion Channel, even if it is (tragically) not part of the Criterion Collection.

Pre-Code risqué behavior: Speaking of the Criterion Collection, they really need to put out more Dorothy Arzner. Sure, I’ve bought Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) and Merrily We Go to Hell, but what I really want is Working Girls (1931), a light pre-Code romp about two sisters who move to the big city. Crackling banter, great camera work, fairly unpredictable. Definitely worth seeking out if you can find it. See also, the musical murder mystery, Murder at the Vanities (1934).

Olympic fever: I’m not sure why the two parts of Olympia (Part 1: Festival of the Nations and Part 2: Festival of Beauty) are considered separate films, but they are on most film sites, otherwise I would have put the whole darn thing on the essentials list. More people seem to have watched the first part, which features Jesse Owens, but my favorite moments in this four-hour documentary are the diving scenes, which are found in the second part.

Big in Japan: Japanese cinema is a big gap for me and one I was hoping to fill with this project. In fact, that is one reason this post is so delayed. The few Japanese films I managed to get to in the early stages, such as Minato no nihon musume (Japanese Girls at the Harbor) (1933) and Ninjō Kami Fūsen (Humanity and Paper Balloons) (1937), made me want to add a whole bunch more films to my watch list.

Solid like a rock: Dodsworth (1936) always seems to be the first thing I think of when people ask me what I’ve discovered looking at the 1930s. Just an utterly solid Hollywood film with an interesting plot and great cast that more people should know. See also, Stage Door (1937).

Star performances: Here are a few films and lead performances that made me finally “get” the appeal of certain actors and actresses: Norma Shearer in The Divorcee (1930), Paul Muni in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Edward G. Robinson in The Whole Town’s Talking (1935), and Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939).

One of Norma Shearer’s many fantastic expressions in The Divorcee

The OG of better-known remakes: In case you thought remakes and reboots were a new thing, they most certainly are not. It may be hard to believe, but in the cases of Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), remade as Tokyo Story (1953), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), remade as House of Wax (1953), and Love Affair (1939), remade as An Affair to Remember (1957), I actually prefer the original version to the remake.

Finally, Hell-Bound Train (1930). What to say about this one? You really have to experience it to understand why I love this odd little film by self-taught evangelical filmmakers James & Eloyce Gist, who used the medium of film to preach against dancing, drinking, and gambling. You can find it as part of the Pioneers of African American Cinema collection on both Kanopy and the Criterion Channel.

Now, to the list! As with my favorites list above, this is a ranked list. For a complete ranking of all 225 films that I considered for this post, you can consult A Century+: 1930s Ranked.

Hidden Gems of the 1930s, Ranked
Love Me Tonight (1932)
Hôtel du Nord (1938)
Footlight Parade (1933)
Olympia 2. Teil: Fest der Schonheit (Olympia Part 2: Festival of Beauty) (1938)
Dishonored (1931)
Ninjō Kami Fūsen (Humanity and Paper Balloons) (1937)
Minato no nihon musume (Japanese Girls at the Harbor) (1933)
Dodsworth (1936)
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
Midnight (1939)
Stage Door (1937)
The Divorcee (1930)
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
Murder at the Vanities (1934)
The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)
Captain Blood (1935)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
Love Affair (1939)
Zouzou (1934)
Working Girls (1931)
À nous la liberté (1931)
Destry Rides Again (1939)
Hell-Bound Train (1930)

Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933), literally

To close, a few words on some films I didn’t see. My biggest regret in terms of my essentials list is not making time for Limite (1931), an experimental Brazilian film; Alexander Nevsky (1938), by the great Sergei Eisenstein (I hope to make up for this by watching both parts of Ivan the Terrible); and several Japanese films, including Ukikusa monogatari (A Story of Floating Weeds) (1934), Arigatō-san (Mr. Thank You) (1936), and Gion no kyōdai (Sisters of the Gion) (1936). These films are all on the Criterion Channel so I really have no excuse except time. Finally, I really wanted to see Xiǎo wányì (Little Toys) (1933), a silent Chinese film, but I just can’t bear to watch movies on YouTube.

In other words, there are a lot of great films out there. Have fun! Explore!

For previous posts in this Century+ series, click below:

Film 101—A Century+ Silent Film Resources
A Century+ of Cinema: The Early Silents, 1895–1909
A Century+ of Cinema: Considering the Essentials
A Century+ of Cinema: The 1910s
A Century+ of Cinema: The 1920s

For more on Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, Swing Time, and The Scarlet Empress, see The Great Unseen 2: Dinner and a Movie.

For more on Hitchcock’s 1930s films, see Hitchcock II: The British Talkies.

For more on screwballs of the 1930s, see Early Screwballs and The Lubitsch Touch and 1930s Screwball Classics and Forgotten Films. For more on classic horror, see my Horror 101 series.

For my letterboxd versions of related film lists, click below:
A Century+: The Essentials
A Century+: Favorites of the 1930s
A Century+: Hidden Gems of the 1930s

*The movies from the 1930s that I considered for this post are:
AFI Top 100 (1998 & 2007): City Lights (1931), King Kong (1933), Duck Soup (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), Modern Times (1936), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Gone with the Wind (1939), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939)
AFI Top 100 (1998): All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Frankenstein (1931), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Stagecoach (1939), Wuthering Heights (1939)
AFI Top 100 (2007): A Night at the Opera (1935), Swing Time (1936)
Sight & Sound 250 (2012): L’Âge d’or (1930), Zemlya (Earth) (1930), City Lights (1931), M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (M) (1931), Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931), Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo (I Was Born, But…) (1932), Trouble in Paradise (1932), Vampyr (1932), Duck Soup (1933), King Kong (1933), Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) (1933), L’Atalante (1934), Modern Times (1936), Partie de Campagne (A Day in the Country) (1936), La Grande Illusion (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Gone With the Wind (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939), Zangiku monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum) (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Additional films from 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die (all editions): Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) (1930), À nous la liberté (Freedom for Us) (1931), Dracula (1931), Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), Freaks (1932), I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), Love Me Tonight (1932), Scarface (1932), Shanghai Express (1932), Footlight Parade (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), 42nd Street (1933), She Done Him Wrong (1933), Sons of the Desert (1933), The Black Cat (1934), The Thin Man (1934), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Captain Blood (1935), The 39 Steps (1935), Top Hat (1935), Dodsworth (1936), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), My Man Godfrey (1936), Le Roman d’un tricheur (The Story of a Cheat) (1936), Sabotage (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), Pépé le Moko (1937), Stella Dallas (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Jezebel (1938), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Olympia 1. Teil: Fest der Volker (Olympia Part 1: Festival of the Nations) (1938), Olympia 2. Teil: Fest der Schonheit (Olympia Part 2: Festival of Beauty) (1938), Babes in Arms (1939), Destry Rides Again (1939), Le Jour se lève (Daybreak) (1939), Ninotchka (1939)

Other feature films from the 1930s:
1930: Animal Crackers, The Big House, The Big Trail, The Divorcee, Hell-Bound Train, Holiday, Ladies of Leisure, Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday), Monte Carlo, Morocco, Murder!, Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris)
1931: Blonde Crazy, The Champ, The Cheat, Dishonored, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Five Star Final, The Front Page, Illicit, Mädchen in Uniform, The Miracle Woman, Monkey Business, Night Nurse, Platinum Blonde, Le Roi des aulnes (The Erl King), Svengali, The Smiling Lieutenant, Waterloo Bridge, Working Girls
1932: A Bill of Divorcement, Blondie of the Follies, Broken Lullaby, The Death Kiss, Forbidden, Grand Hotel, Hell’s House, Island of Lost Souls, Jewel Robbery, Merrily We Go to Hell, The Most Dangerous Game, The Mummy, The Music Box, No Man of Her Own, The Old Dark House, One Hour with You, Red Dust, Three on a Match, What Price Hollywood?, White Zombie
1933: Baby Face, Blondie Johnson, Bombshell, Cavalcade, Christopher Strong, Design for Living, Dinner at Eight, I’m No Angel, The Invisible Man, Little Women, Minato no nihon musume (Japanese Girls at the Harbor), Mystery of the Wax Museum, Our Betters, The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Secret of the Blue Room, Une nuit sur le mont Chauve (A Night on Bald Mountain), Whistling in the Dark
1934: Belle of the Nighties, Bright Eyes, Dames, Death Takes a Holiday, Fashions of 1934, Fog Over Frisco, The Gay Divorcee, Imitation of Life, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Manhattan Melodrama, The Merry Widow, Murder at the Vanities, One Night of Love, The Scarlet Empress, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Twentieth Century, The Woman Condemned, Wonder Bar, Zouzou
1935: Barbary Coast, Front Page Woman, The Ghost Goes West, Gold Diggers of 1935, Hands Across the Table, Happiness, If You Could Only Cook, La Kermesse héroïque (Carnival in Flanders), Mad Love (The Hands of Orlac), Naughty Marietta, One Frightened Night, Papageno, Phantom Ship (The Mystery of the Mary Celeste), Princesse Tam Tam, The Raven, The Whole Town’s Talking
1936: After the Thin Man, Bullets or Ballots, Craig’s Wife, Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, The Devil-Doll, Faisons un rêve (Let’s Make a Dream), Follow the Fleet, Libeled Lady, The Petrified Forest, The Princess Comes Across, San Francisco, Show Boat, Theodora Goes Wild
1937: The Bride Wore Red, Dead End, Double Wedding, Easy Living, Every Day’s a Holiday, Marked Woman, Ninjō Kami Fūsen (Humanity and Paper Balloons), Nothing Sacred, Personal Property, Shall We Dance, The Squeaker, Stage Door, A Star Is Born, You Only Live Once
1938: Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, The Cowboy and the Lady, Holiday, Hôtel du Nord, Le Quai des brumes (Port of Shadows), Merrily We Live, Pygmalion, A Slight Case of Murder, The Terror of Tiny Town, Vivacious Lady, You Can’t Take It with You
1939: Bachelor Mother; Blind Alley; The Bronze Buckaroo; The Cat and the Canary; Dark Victory; Dodge City; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; It’s a Wonderful World; Love Affair; Midnight; The Roaring Twenties; Son of Frankenstein; The Women

**Films directed or co-directed by women: Hell-Bound Train (1930), Mädchen in Uniform (1931), Le Roi des aulnes (The Erl King) (Iribe, 1931), Working Girls (1931), Merrily We Go to Hell (1932), Christopher Strong (Arzner, 1933), Une nuit sur le mont Chauve (A Night on Bald Mountain) (Alexeieff & Parker, 1933) (10-minute short using pinscreen animation), The Woman Condemned (Davenport, 1934), Papageno (Reiniger, 1935) (11-minute short using silhouette animation), Craig’s Wife (Arzner, 1936), The Bride Wore Red (1937), Olympia 1. Teil: Fest der Volker (Olympia Part 1: Festival of the Nations) & Olympia 2. Teil: Fest der Schonheit (Olympia Part 2: Festival of Beauty) (1938)

Oscar Nominations: The Power of the Dog Indeed

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And so the race for the 94th Academy Awards begins.

The nominees for Best Picture are…

Belfast (7 nominations)
CODA (3 nominations)
Drive My Car (4 nominations)
Dune (10 nominations)
King Richard (6 nominations)
Licorice Pizza (3 nominations)
Nightmare Alley (4 nominations)
The Power of the Dog (12 nominations)
West Side Story (7 nominations)

You can see a full ballot list here.

My first thoughts on this list? I suppose it was fairly predictable. We knew that this year there would definitely be ten Best Picture nominees so it was really only a question of what would get the final two or three slots. I’m not sure many predicted Drive My Car would be there, but I’ve seen all of the other films on people’s prediction lists and as part of the general awards conversation. And Drive My Car has been receiving lots of critical acclaim. Mostly I’m thrilled that The Power of the Dog managed to snag twelve nominations (Take that, Mank!) since it is my favorite 2021 film to date.

And that is sort of the problem here. I haven’t been to a theater in almost two years so I haven’t been able to see most of these films—only The Power of the Dog, Don’t Look Up, and Drive My Car so far. The former two because they are on Netflix and the latter because I have access to all the Indie Spirit nominees (Yes, the Math Greek is still up here in San Francisco instead of L.A.!). Don’t Look Up was fine, but I barely remember it at this point and I only saw it a month ago. I liked Drive My Car quite a bit but there are a few other films above it in my current rankings, including C’mon C’mon, Petite Maman, Pig, Shiva Baby, and The Lost Daughter. However, all of these independent films received nearly identical scores by my rubric, and they are all recent watches, so I suspect my rankings may shift quite a bit as time goes on.

I don’t think I can do my usual good, bad, and ugly rundown because I just haven’t seen enough to be that invested in most of these nominations. However, there are a few notable absences based on what I have seen. Not necessarily surprises, but still, here are some of the reasons I’m giving certain branches of the Academy the side-eye this morning.

Zazie Beetz giving all y’all the side-eye for ignoring The Harder They Fall.

The complete shut out of The Harder They Fall is #1 on that list. It certainly has issues, and I do not think it should have gotten a Best Picture nod, but this gorgeous western had a number of categories it could have seriously competed in, including acting, cinematography, costumes, production design, original song, and score. (It was shortlisted for the latter two categories.) I think it could have gotten four or five nominations easily if it had been seen as a Best Picture contender. Seriously, the shortlisted song is a literal banger and the score slaps.

CW: gun violence. The guns really do go bang. And bang. And bang. And bang…

Other notable absences for me come in the Best Actor and Original Screenplay categories. I would have loved to see Nicolas Cage nominated for Pig and Udo Kier nominated for Swan Song. They were incredible in their respective roles and I feel like they are both actors that had a real shot of getting a nod from the acting branch. In a similar vein, I thought Mike Mills had a good chance of getting at least a writing nomination for C’mon C’mon, although I’m always happy to see something like The Worst Person in the World sneak in there. Based on what I’ve heard, I’m rather looking forward to finally getting to see that one.

Of course, at this point, it is hard to say who or what I would replace with these selections, but I suspect it is King Richard that would go in both categories. Perhaps by the big night I will be able to speak more to what I would replace with my traditional wish list post. There will be much judging on my part, you can be sure of that.

Udo Kier secretly judging those who found him wanting in Swan Song.

So, what will I be running out to see?

Well, nothing, my dudes, we’re still in a pandemic! The MG and I discussed seeing both Licorice Pizza and West Side Story in a theater when they first came out, but ultimately decided it wouldn’t be prudent. Today, even if we are fully vaccinated and boosted, we are still pretty much of that mindset. Here’s hoping both of these films are available streaming (or for rent or purchase) somewhere soon.

Otherwise, I had already marked CODA as a priority in terms of Indie Spirit nominees so that is probably what we’ll watch next. After that, I’m hoping a few of these other nominees start to show up on streaming services. I missed Dune when it was on HBO the first time, but maybe they’ll bring it back for the run up to the Oscars. Also, people have been talking up Nightmare Alley on my Twitter feed of late so, although I previously didn’t have much interest in it, I will probably be checking that out on HBO as well.

I have very little interest in Belfast or King Richard, but if you do they are both available on Amazon Prime. I no longer subscribe to Amazon Prime but I may sign up for a trial if only to watch No Time to Die (3 nominations) and Spencer (1 nomination).

The remaining films with multiple nominations that I will almost certainly get to are Parallel Mothers (2 nominations), which is an Indie Spirit nominee for International Film, Tick, Tick… BOOM! (2 nominations), available on Netflix, and The Tragedy of Macbeth (3 nominations), available on Apple TV.

As noted above, I really want to see The Worst Person in the World (2 nominations) but it’s not yet available for rent or streaming. Here’s hoping it moves to a major streaming service soon, or at least before the awards telecast, which will air on Sunday, March 27.

What are your thoughts on the nominations? Feel free to add them in the comments and stay tuned over the next few weeks for my Oscar Blitz series with more details on all the major categories.

Well, That Happened: All Hail 2022

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Happy New Year!

As ever, despite utterly failing to get anything done in terms of personal projects over the past year, and not really keeping up with this blog at all, I find myself filled with optimism this January 1. Probably because the one resolution I did stick to from last January was to not feel guilty about (or bound by) any goals.

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—E. L. Pierce

At the beginning of last year, I lamented my lack of attention to this space and didn’t think I could possibly have a worse year of blogging ahead of me. Little did I know!

Not only did my Century+ project completely stall after I finished up with the 1910s and 1920s in early 2021, but I didn’t even attempt to continue my Women 101 series in March. However, I did watch an incredible number of films from the 1930s during the rest of the year and intend to get back to that decade this month. Fingers crossed.

My goal of getting more reading done didn’t really happen either and I completed my annual Goodreads challenge by the skin of my teeth, mostly because I had started a bunch of books I used in my annual first lines challenge and so felt compelled to finish them. Nevertheless, I decided to up my reading goal for the coming year (from thirty books to thirty-six) and maybe take on Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. I know, I know. As always, we’ll see.

As the holiday season approached, I had thought I would at least do my usual round-ups of books, movies, and music, but, as I prepared to make my way across the country again for the first time in two years, I realized I just didn’t want to crunch through what I usually do to make those happen. Sorry, not sorry.

Of course, I couldn’t resist making a few lists to sum up the year.

Namely…

Top Ten 2021 Movies (Real talk—I only saw ten):
Pig
Plan B
Fear Street Part Three: 1666
No Sudden Move
I Care a Lot
The Matrix Resurrections
Black Widow
Fear Street Part One: 1994
Fear Street Part Two: 1978
Godzilla vs. Kong

Top Ten 2020 Movies (FINAL):
First Cow
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
La Nuit des rois (Night of the Kings)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Minari
Palm Springs
Blow the Man Down
Kajillionaire

Top Ten New-to-Me Watches in 2021:
Bright Star (2009)
Les Misérables (2019)
Promising Young Woman (2020)
Rafiki (2018)
Love Me Tonight (1932)
Memories of Murder (2003)
The Insider (1999)
M (1931)
Margaret (2011)
The Big Parade (1925)

Favorite New-to-Me Watches in 2021:
Promising Young Woman (2020)
Blow the Man Down (2020)
Love Me Tonight (1932)
La Gomera (The Whistlers) (2019)
Seven Men from Now (1956)
Mikey and Nicky (1976)
Westward the Women (1951)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Ride Lonesome (1959)
Cat Ballou (1965)

Top Five New-to-Me Books Read in 2021:
The Thursday Murder Club (Osman)
The Glass Hotel (Mandel)
Girl, Woman, Other (Evaristo)
The Flight of the Falcon (du Maurier)
The Comedians (Greene)

Favorite Television Series of the Year: Only Murders in the Building

Favorite Discovery of the Year (Household Products division): my four-quart Staub cocotte. At some point early in the pandemic, someone tipped me off to an amazing Staub sale and, having grown very tired of hefting my six-quart Lodge (and trying to get it properly cleaned), I decided to upgrade. Even though I am thoroughly tired of cooking for two, I have not yet tired of my Staub.

Favorite Discovery of the Year (Food and Drink division): cannoli. Since visiting both a local coffee roaster and butcher in North Beach became a regular routine in the early days of the pandemic, I decided to also investigate the various Italian bakeries there and try to see who had the best cannoli. Investigation is ongoing but I think I have a winner.

Biggest Achievement of the Year: Crossing another national park off my list despite being confined to the city limits most of the year. Not only did I get to the incredibly remote Great Basin National Park (just outside of Baker, Nevada) but I also managed to visit Mono Lake on the way, something I had been wanting to do for years.

May the new year bring us all a few more achievements, both big and small, as well as a little more peace, love, and joy.

Returning to Manderley 2021

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As promised, here are the answers to the “first lines” challenge I posted last week. Click here if you’d like to try to guess some of the books before reading the answers below.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

—The opening of Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier

1. Begin at the end: Plummeting down the side of the ship in the storm’s wild darkness, breath gone with the shock of falling, my camera flying away through the rain—
—Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel (2020)

2. His first instinct was to stretch out his hands to the sky.
—Daphne du Maurier, The Progress of Julius (aka Julius) (1933)

3. She was found on a January day in a field where the junipers grew, wound in a blue blanket with her name carefully stitched along the border with silk thread.
—Alice Hoffman, Magic Lessons (2020)

4. Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard.
—Walter Tevis, The Queen’s Gambit (1983)

5. In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench, puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in the Times.
—Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None (1939)

6. Amma is walking along the promenade of the waterway that bisects her city, a few early morning barges cruise slowly by.
—Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other (2019) [Booker Prize; Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist]

7. The morning one of the lost twins returned to Mallard, Lou LeBon ran to the diner to break the news, and even now, many years later, everyone remembers the shock of sweaty Lou pushing through the glass doors, chest heaving, neckline darkened with his own effort.
—Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half (2020) [Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist]

8. Everybody said: so?
—Ali Smith, Summer (2020) [Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist]

9. Well, let’s start with Elizabeth, shall we?
—Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club (2020) [Edgar Award nominee]

10. When we were new, Rosa and I were mid-store, on the magazines table side, and could see through more than half the window.
—Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (2021) [Booker Prize longlist]

11. Across the tracks there was a different world.
—Dorothy B. Hughes, The Expendable Man (1963) [Edgar Award nominee]

12. A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
—Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (1951)

Baker’s Dozen Holiday Bonus: It was the last night of 1937.
—Amor Towles, Rules of Civility (2011)

Double-Secret-Probation Bonus Round: When I think of all the grey memorials erected in London to equestrian generals, the heroes of old colonial wars, and to frock-coated politicians who are even more deeply forgotten, I can find no reason to mock the modest stone that commemorates Jones on the far side of the international road which he failed to cross in a country far from home, though I am not to this day absolutely sure of where, geographically speaking, Jones’s home lay. At least he paid for the monument—however unwillingly—with his life, while the generals as a rule came home safe and paid, if at all, with the blood of their men, and as for the politicians—who cares for dead politicians sufficiently to remember with what issues they were identified?
—Graham Greene, The Comedians (1966)

Congrats to Teresa who guessed 2 of these correctly before any hints and Marissa who guessed 2 correctly post-hints!

Which one(s) are you kicking yourself over? Which one was easiest? Which one was impossible?

Look for reviews and comments on these selections and more in my traditional year-end round-up post at the end of next month.