I’ll keep this one short. My personal impression of the first 12 years of the Oscars is that, inevitably, it was a time of lots of change and innovation. The first film was silent, and the last one of the ‘30s was in colour.

What I enjoyed about most of these films is how relationships and complicated moral issues were explored. I was often surprised at how complex the films were, and how well developed the stories. In some cases, better than what we get today.

It took until 1939 for a black actor to be nominated (and win) for an acting award, and, overall, there were very few black characters, and they were all pretty stereotypical. I guess not much has changed in 80 years.

As the decade wore on, the quality of films definitely improved, and not just technically. The stories were great, and the films became more spectacular.

I fear, though, the wonderful Gone With the Wind set the scene for what an “Oscar movie” would become: a sweeping historical epic with complicated heroes.

My favourites, in order.

  1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  3. It Happened One Night (1934)

Here is a chart.

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Average IMDb score per film: 7.4
Average number of nominations: 6
Average number of wins: 3

Here’s a list of each film’s Oscars info (briefly). Because why not.

  1. Wings (1927)
    IMDb rating: 7.8
    Total Oscars: 2
    Other Oscar nominations: Best effects (won).
  1. The Broadway Melody (1929)
    IMDb rating: 6.4
    Total Oscars: 1
    Other Oscar nominations: Best director (Harry Beaumont); Best actress in a leading role (Bessie Love)
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
    IMDb rating: 8.1
    Total Oscars: 2
    Other Oscar nominations: Best director (Lewis Milestone, won); Best writing (George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson, Del Andrews); Best cinematography (Arthur Edeson)
  1. Cimarron (1931)
    IMDb rating: 6
    Total Oscars: 3
    Other Oscar nominations: Best writing, adaptation (Howard Estabrook, won); Best art direction (Max Rée, won); Best actor in a leading role (Richard Dix); Best actress in a leading role (Irene Dunne); Best director (Wesley Ruggles); Best cinematography (Edward Cronjager)
  1. Grand Hotel (1932)
    IMDb rating: 7.6
    Total Oscars: 1
    Other Oscar nominations: None
  1. Cavalcade (1933)
    IMDb rating: 6.1
    Total Oscars: 3
    Other Oscar nominations: Best director (Frank Lloyd, won); Best art direction (William S. Darling, won); Best actress in a leading role (Diana Wynyard)
  1. It Happened One Night (1934)
    IMDb rating: 8.2
    Total Oscars: 5
    Other Oscar nominations: Best actor in a leading role (Clark Gable, won); Best actress in a leading role (Claudette Colbert, won); Best Director (Frank Capra, won); Best writing, adaptation (Robert Riskin, won)
  1. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
    IMDb rating: 7.8
    Total Oscars: 1
    Other Oscar nominations: None
  1. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
    IMDb rating: 6.8
    Total Oscars: 3
    Other Oscar nominations: Best actress in a leading role (Luise Rainer, won); Best Dance Direction (Seymour Felix for “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody”, won); Best director (Robert Z. Leonard); Best writing, original story (William Anthony McGuire); Best art direction (Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu, Edwin B. Willis); Best film editing (William S. Gray)
  1. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
    IMDb rating: 7.3
    Total Oscars: 3
    Other Oscar nominations: Best actor in a supporting role (Joseph Schildkraut, won); Best writing, screenplay (Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg, Norman Reilly Raine, won); Best actor in a leading role (Paul Muni); Best director (William Dieterle); Best writing, original story (Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg); Best art direction (Anton Grot); Best sound, recording (Nathan Levinson); Best assistant director (Russell Saunders); Best music, score (Leo F. Forbstein, Max Steiner)
  1. You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
    IMDb rating: 8
    Total Oscars: 2
    Other Oscar nominations: Best director (Frank Capra, won); Best actress in a supporting role (Spring Byington); Best writing, screenplay (Robert Riskin); Best cinematography (Joseph Walker); Best sound, recording (John P. Livadary); Best film editing (Gene Havlick)
  1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
    IMDb rating: 8.2
    Total Oscars: 8
    Other Oscar nominations: Best actress in a leading role (Vivien Leigh, won); Best actress in a supporting role (Hattie McDaniel, won); Best director (Victor Fleming, won); Best writing, screenplay (Sidney Howard, won); Best cinematography, colour (Ernest Haller, Ray Rennahan, won); Best art direction (Lyle R. Wheeler, won); Best film editing (Hal C. Kern, James E. Newcom, won); Best actor in a leading role (Clark Gable); Best actress in a supporting role (Olivia de Havilland); Best sound, recording (Thomas T. Moulton); Best effects, special effects (Jack Cosgrove, Fred Albin, Arthur Johns); Best music, original score (Max Steiner)
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