Best Picturesque: The 10th – A Lost Emile Zola is Born

In this project, I’ll be 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 10th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: The Life of Emile Zola, Lost Horizon (7),  A Star Is Born (7)
bold = winner italics = losers (nominations) ]

When I watched these:  January 28th – February 1st, 2018

The snacks: not much.  I was recovering from an illness.

The year: 1937.

Did I skip any of the movies?: Nope.

So why did the other movies lose?

Lost Horizon is essentially a concept film with effects ahead of it’s time. The elaborate utopian setting of Shangri-la appears to have been constructed entirely for the film’s purposes, and some camera angles involving the opening chaos, the fateful flight, and the grandeur of the mysterious locale deserve their accolades.  Not much of the narrative is compelling, supplying no real twists beyond the inital discovery of Shangri-la. A couple of the characters feel out of place, supplied only for comic relief; even the lead is somewhat forgettable. However, the film stands up as a symbolic treatise on our own pursuit of a perfect place or state of mind, complete with a profound closing line.

Janet Gaynor dazzles as the humble Esther Blodgett in A Star Is Born, a rags-to-riches screenplay telling of a girl who beats the odds and achieves her dream of movie stardom, but not without its price. Fredric March (as Norman Maine) might be even better, playing Esther’s love interest and a tragic figure chewed up and spit out by Hollywood, never truly recovering from alcoholism or self-condemnation. This might be the best story between the three films, but probably fell short because of its use of Hollywood stereotypes and an unrealistic story arc.

So why did The Life of Emile Zola win?

Emile Zola also follows the road-to-fame mold, but this is only to set a sturdy foundation for the heft of the story: a man, once with a fire in his heart, is forced to return to discomfort after achieving his fame for a righteous cause. “French justice never makes mistakes,” is the resounding cry of the authorities, yet the movie manages to creates an antagonist in a whole government system, a seemingly impenetrable one.  We all want to fight “The Man”, and we like to see the common good win, which explains this film’s popularity and accolades.  Paul Muni as Zola was snubbed for an Oscar of his own.

The movie that should have won: The Life of Emile Zola

I was swept up in this film, and I’m sure countless more were as well in 1937. In this era, only Dodsworth stands up to this movie in terms of screenplay and performances.

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