Six days after the April 3, 1930 Oscar ceremony in honor of the best movies of 1928-29—a public-relations debacle where a five-member panel of Louis B. Mayer's hand-chosen lackeys handed all the statues to insiders and Mayer's own entry for best picture—the Academy junked the Central Board of Judges and for the first time set in place procedures to leave the task of selecting winners to the full membership of the Academy itself. They didn't wait long to see the results of the new system, holding the next ceremony just seven months later, the only time in Oscar history awards were handed out twice in the same calendar year.
For a first exercise in democracy, the Academy did pretty well.
All Quiet On The Western Front, not just the best picture of the year, but one of the best pictures of any year, won both the top prize and an Oscar for its director, Lewis Milestone, the second Oscar of his career. George Arliss was the best actor with a solid performance in Disraeli, a role he had first crafted on Broadway. And The Big House, a highly-regarded prison drama, nabbed a pair of awards, one for legendary screenwriter Frances Marion, the other for sound editor Douglas Shearer, the first of his fourteen career Oscars.
The only controversy was generated by Norma Shearer's win for best actress in the movie The Divorcee. "What do you expect," said Joan Crawford afterwards. "She sleeps with the boss," referring to powerful MGM producer Irving Thalberg.
Whether you agree with Crawford's assessment may depend in part on your opinion of Shearer's abilities as an actress. Katie-Bar-The-Door can't stand her, but judging by the number of complimentary postings about her on various sites, somebody must love her. I myself have, at best, mixed feelings about Norma Shearer and will later share them at some length in a pair of postings, one about Shearer the actress, the other about Shearer and Thalberg as Hollywood's quintessential power couple.
As I put together my own list of Katie Award nominees, I realized that my only problem with All Quiet On The Western Front was that it was so good it obscured the fact that overall, 1929-30 was a very weak year for movies. Silent movies had all but disappeared from theaters, but unfortunately, the talkies that replaced them were saddled with a primitive technology that practically bolted the camera and the actors to the floor. Moreover, most directors clearly had no idea what to do with sound, treating it as a novelty rather than an opportunity, sticking in a song or two, or worse going overboard and cramming every nook and cranny with talk-talk-talk.
To fill out the roster of nominees, I had to range far and wide, drawing heavily from the German film industry for three best picture nominees and from the few remaining silent pictures for nominees in the acting and screenwriting categories. As for nominees from the pool of sound pictures, at times I based my picks as much on how well they overcame the limitations of the new medium as on their objective merits. But I believe that by the time I am done handing out Katies to this year's crop of nominees, the winners will be those who have established their worth through the ages.
At least I hope so.
All Quiet On The Western Front (prod. Carl Laemmle, Jr.)
The Blue Angel (prod. Erich Pommer)
Diary Of A Lost Girl (prod. Georg Wilhelm Pabst)
Hallelujah! (prod. King Vidor)
Pandora's Box (prod. Heinz Landsmann)
Lew Ayres (All Quiet On The Western Front)
Maurice Chevalier (The Love Parade)
Ronald Colman (Bulldog Drummond)
Gary Cooper (The Virginian)
Louise Brooks (Diary Of A Lost Girl and Pandora's Box)
Marlene Dietrich (The Blue Angel)
Greta Garbo (Anna Christie)
Jeanette MacDonald (The Love Parade)
Lewis Milestone (All Quiet On The Western Front)
Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel)
King Vidor (Hallelujah!)
Wallace Beery (The Big House)
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Our Modern Maidens)
Louis Wolheim (All Quiet On The Western Front)
Marie Dressler (Anna Christie)
Nina Mae McKinney (Hallelujah!)
Seena Owen (Queen Kelly)
George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson and Del Andrews (All Quiet On The Western Front)
Elliott Lester; adaptation and scenario by Marion Orth and Gerthold Viertel; titles by H.H. Caldwell and Katherine Hilliker (City Girl)
Frances Marion; additional dialogue by Joseph Farnham and Martin Flavin (The Big House)
Coming in October: The 2016 Lone Pine Film Festival
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