What makes an Oscar winner? I have no idea, really. But I can take a guess by watching each Best Picture winner, regardless of if I’ve already seen it, at random years, and then watching the two nominees with the most Oscar nominations for that year to find out, in my pompous assessment, if the Academy made the right choice. If I’ve already seen the subsequent nominee, I’ll move on to the next most nominated for that year.
The 9th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: The Great Ziegfeld, Dodsworth (7), Anthony Adverse (7)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: December 10th – 12th
The snacks: the trifecta — chips/dip, potstickers, and taquitos
The year: 1936.
Did I skip any of the movies?: Nope
So why did the other movies lose?
In a mockery of silent films converted to “talkies”, Singin’ In The Rain features a fictional film called “The Duelling Cavalier” whereas Don Lockwood and Lina LaMott, two cinema superstars, stumble over themselves, clumsily delivering tepid dialogue, while the film itself is a technical disaster. Anthony Adverse is that film. While the technical aspect wasn’t awful, everything felt forced and clunky. The extravagant costuming and setting could not save the laughable dialogue and awkward blocking. The sound mix favored the score, and fittingly — the script could’ve been thrown out and it might’ve been equally effective. This movie was turned off in short order after I could no longer endure its silliness.
Dodsworth lost because of its controversial theme. While other films surely have dealt with divorce, the Dodsworth couple has respective extramarital affairs. At home, nothing is where it used to be for Samuel Dodsworth, a workaholic at the end of his professional self. Sam’s wife is notably contentious and throws herself at any dude that looks at her, and shows no interest in anything Sam has to say anymore, despite his constant good intentions. Sam spends the movie trying to live his life, preferably still married to his spouse; his estranged wife is instead busy trying not to die. It’s a solid and engaging film, daring to address the midlife crisis on a human level.
So why did The Great Ziegfeld win?
William Powell carries The Great Ziegfeld from beginning to end, and the lavish backdrop of of outlandish sets and scantily clad women might have even taken away from the film’s premise. Ziegfeld (Powell) is a music teacher turned sideshow producer who wrestles his way through failures and occasionally succeeds. The man is constantly in debt but manipulates his way into favor with others. A couple of the sets are breathtaking; the spiral stage apparatus is borderline absurd.
The movie that should have won: Dodsworth
Despite Ziegfeld‘s technical achievements and Powell’s performance, the gem of 1936 is Dodsworth, a profoundly engaging film written at least 20 years ahead of its time that resonates with our modern conscience. It’s a sobering reminder of what marriage is and isn’t — that forgiveness is imperative, and that infidelity on any level dooms a relationship.