Picture: City Lights (prod. Charles Chaplin)
Actor: Charles Chaplin (City Lights)
Actress: Marlene Dietrich (Morocco)
Director: Fritz Lang (M)
Supporting Actor: Peter Lorre (M)
Supporting Actress: Joan Blondell (Sinners' Holiday, Other Men's Women and Night Nurse)
Screenplay: René Clair (Le Million)
Special Awards: M (prod. Seymour Hebenzal) (Best Picture-Drama); Edward G. Robinson (Little Caesar) (Best Actor-Drama); Marie Dressler (Min and Bill) (Best Actress-Comedy); René Clair (Le Million) (Special Achievement In The Use Of Sound); "Makin' Whoopee" (Whoopee!) (Best Song); Fritz Arno Wagner (M) (Cinematography)
Must-See: L'Age d'Or; Animal Crackers; The Big Trail; City Lights; The Dawn Patrol; Dracula; Little Caesar; M; Le Million; Morocco; The Public Enemy
In retrospect, the twelve months running from August 1, 1930, to July 31, 1931 (in the Academy's odd Oscar season of the day) turned out to be a year of beginnings and endings.
The best movie of the year, Charlie Chaplin's delicate, poignant comedy City Lights was the last silent movie Hollywood ever produced (like the website "Silent Era," I judge Modern Times to be a "mute sound picture"). For all practical purposes, the silent era had come to close by 1929, and only Chaplin's enormous popularity and the brilliance of City Lights could have induced an audience to accept the anomaly of a silent movie in 1931.
1931 marked the last gasp for a German film industry that had given the world F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich, Peter Lorre, Expressionism, and such films as The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Metropolis and M. Within two years, the Nazis would come to power and those artists who didn't flee or collaborate soon found themselves censored, arrested or murdered. Many German filmmakers, such as writer-director Billy Wilder, emigrated to Hollywood and had successful careers. But the German film industry as a whole would never again have the impact on cinema that it had in the 1920s and early years of the 1930s.
But 1930-31 was also a year for beginnings. James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson burst onto the scene, dazzling audiences in two of the essential gangster flicks of the early sound era, and continuing to dominate the Hollywood scene for years to come. American audiences also became acquainted with Marlene Dietrich for the first time. And in the space of twelve months, Clark Gable would rise from uncredited bit player to major star with tough but sexy roles in A Free Soul and Night Nurse.
I've written at length about all the titles on my list of the Must-See Movies of 1930-31. I leave to you the pleasure of hunting for them through the last three months of this blog's archives.
As great as 1930-31 was, the next twelve months would prove even better, especially for Hollywood which was at last getting the hang of the sound technology that had turned the old order upside down in 1927. On the horizon are Frankenstein, Scarface, Grand Hotel and many others. I'll have the list of nominees for you tomorrow in celebration of the New Year.
Oh, and later today: an end-of-year top ten list! Even the Monkey is not immune to the demands of traditional movie criticism.
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