Beginning in November 2019, I embarked on the Old Hollywood Best Picture Challenge, where I will endeavor to watch all 270 films that were nominated and/or won for Best Picture at the Academy Awards between the years 1927-1969. For a list of all films and reviews, please see my original post.

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Nominees & Winner of 1929/30:

 

What was happening in 1929/30?:

MGM releases the first film with an all black cast, Hallelujah!, on August 20, 1929.

On October 29, 1929 the stock market crashes, leading America into the Great Depression.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opens in New York City on November 7, 1929.

The Motion Picture Production Code (informally known as the “Hays Code” after the MPPDA’s president Will Hays) is put into place in the United States in order to clean up Hollywood’s image after a number of scandals. In a self-imposed effort by the film industry to show that they were taking the outcry seriously so that the government wouldn’t be inclined to get involved and potentially shut down the whole industry, this move changed films for decades to come. The guidelines sought to censor films in the way they depicted sex and sexuality, violence, crime, profanity, drugs and alcohol, and religion. Though established in 1930, it would not be enforced until 1934; between this time (known as the pre-code era) Hollywood filmmakers pushed the boundaries and made some racy, extreme, and truly brilliant films while they still could.

Future Academy Award winners Grace Kelly and Christopher Plummer are born in 1929 (November 12 and December 13, respectively)

Actress Jeanne Eagels passes away from a combination drug overdose on October 3, 1929. She would posthumously be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in The Letter. When the film was remade in 1940, Bette Davis would also be nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in the same role.

Looney Tunes, Warner Bros. first cartoon series, is released on April 19, 1930.

Academy Award winning actor Laurence Olivier’s third wife, actress Joan Plowright, is born on October 28, 1929; on July 25, 1930 he marries first wife, actress Jill Esmond.

 

Academy Awards Summary and Trivia for 1929/30 (1930 ceremony):

The 3rd Academy Awards ceremony took place at the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel on November 5, 1930. What began as a small event, by its third year had become the place to be and the event sold out with more than 500 attendees (unlike previous years, they were required to purchase tickets at $10 a head).

This ceremony judged films that came out between August 1, 1929 and July 31, 1930.

Among the previous year’s award categories, an award for Sound Recording was added to the mix, won by Douglas Shearer, brother of that year’s Best Actress winner Norma Shearer.

President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America and otherwise censorship specter of Hollywood, Will Hays, was a guest speaker.

Inventor Thomas A. Edison and Eastman Kodak founder George Eastman were given honorary membership to the Academy for their contributions to the birth of film.

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Los Angeles Evening Express, 06 Nov 1930

 

Other Academy Award Winners for 1929/30:

  • Best Directing: Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front)
  • Best Actor: George Arliss (Disraeli)
  • Best Actress: Norma Shearer (The Divorcee)
  • Art Direction: King of Jazz (Norman Rosse)
  • Cinematography: With Byrd at the South Pole (Joseph T. Rucker, Willard Van Der Veer)
  • Writing: The Big House (Frances Marion)
  • Sound Recording: The Big House (Douglas Shearer and the MGM Sound Department)

 

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Winners: 1. Best Actress Norma Shearer, 2. Best Actor George Arliss, 3. Best Writing Frances Marion, 4. Best Picture Carl Laemmle representing Universal Studios,  5. Best Director Lewis Milestone, 6. & 7. Best Cinematography Willard Van Der Veer and Joseph Tucker

 

My Ranking:

  1. My Winner = The Divorcee
  2. The Big House
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front
  4. The Love Parade
  5. Disraeli

I have to say, the top 2 picks were easy. The Divorcee is by far the film I found most enjoyable in its entirety and one that I would watch over and over again. The themes of marriage and gender equality are not only important, but increasingly relevant in a modern world and I certainly don’t mind promoting that. The Big House was an easy second. It was not only well made and well acted, but completely caught me by surprise (I expected to dislike it) and I love that. It also kickstarted the “prison film” genre, ensuring a lasting place in film history. I’m torn on All Quiet on the Western Front because, while I recognize its important overall message and incredible impact on war films, I only found it moderately enjoyable on a personal level. In the end, I think the exact middle is a solid place for it on my list. While I want to throw all possible awards at the “Let’s Be Common” dance number from The Love Parade, the lasting message of chauvinism in the overall film sours an otherwise pleasant viewing experience, bumping it just below All Quiet on the Western Front. Disraeli comes in last as I personally found it a bit bland. This opinion is only enhanced when you place it next to the other 4 offerings. It’s not a bad film, but it just can’t compete.