This is the first part of a multi-part series on the Academy Award best picture winners, reviewed chronologically beginning with “Wings,” the first winner.
“Wings,” 1927, directed by William Wellman
Unlike some later best picture winners, “Wings” was truly deserving. It was the only silent picture to win the honor until 2011 when “The Artist” (except for a single scene of dialog and a dream sequence with sound effects in the 2011 film) won the Oscar. “Wings” aerial scenes are still impressive 90 years later. Stars Charles “Buddy” Rogers, who would marry Mary Pickford a decade later, and Clara Bow, the “it” girl, were part of cast. In a brief appearance as a doomed pilot, future star Gary Cooper had one of his first significant roles. What helped make all of this work was a director who had been a pilot and was a wing-walking stunt pilot before his movie career took off.
“The Broadway Melody,” 1929, directed by Harry Beaumont
It was a surprise to at least some later day critics that this film won the best picture trophy. Referred to as the prototype of backstage musicals, “Broadway Melody” was described by one critic as suffering from “stolid acting and awkward sound techniques.” Film aficionados will note, however, that this was the first MGM movie featuring a “Singin’ in the Rain” number.
“All Quiet on the Western Front,” 1930, directed by Lewis Milestone
This drama is listed in the “New York Times Guide to the Best Movies Ever Made.” Based on a book by Erich Maria Remarque, “All Quiet on the Western Front” drew praise from the opening night reviewer for The Times who wrote, “Truth comes to the fore when the young soldiers are elated at the idea of joining up, when they are disillusioned, when they are hungry, when they are killing rats in a dugout, when they are shaken by fear, and when they, or one of them, becomes fed up with the conception of war held by the elderly man back home. …Often the scenes are of such excellence that if they were not audible one might believe that they were actual motion pictures of activities behind the lines, in the trenches and in No Man’s Land.”
“Cimarron,” 1931, directed by Wesley Ruggles
This is the worst movie to win the best picture honor, in this writer’s opinion. It’s a well intentioned movie with an interesting story based on the novel by Edna Farber. The story is about a newspaper editor who moves to a booming town in 1889 with his wife and what happens over the next 40 years. It is a western/soap opera that suffers from awful acting, huge plot holes and racist overtones. It also tells us how much our tastes have changed over the years. The movie does star popular actors Richard Dix and Irene Dunne.
“Grand Hotel.” 1932, directed by Edmund Goulding
Originally a stage play, this is a truly great movie featuring such stars as Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford and Wallace Berry. This is a tale regarding strangers whose lives cross during their stay at the Grand Hotel in Berlin.
The Grand Hotel is supposedly a place where nothing ever happens but by the time the guests have checked out, the audience will see manslaughter, gambling, a baron seeking to steal pearls, love affairs, business dealings and more.