Monday, August 8, 2022

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1936: Director

The second week of 1936 begins! Last week, we talked some nominees, specifically ones for Dance Direction, Original Song, Score, and the Writing Awards. This week starts with the nominees for Best Director.

In only its ninth year, Oscar showed it couldn't stop repeating itself. Already, two-time winners in this category were made up of Frank Borzage (1927/28, 1931/32), Lewis Milestone (1927/28, 1929/30), and Frank Lloyd (1928/29, 1932/33). Another Frank joined the ranks: having already won for It Happened One Night in 1934, Capra won his second Academy Award for directing Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Capra, by the way, was also the Academy president at the time, had expanded categories to appease the actors union, and was one of the newly-formed 50-person nominating committee allowing certain representatives of certain branches to decide the full lineup. But I'm sure the win wasn't all political - Capra's much-admired to this day, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was popular with critics (Graham Greene himself gave it a favorable review) and audiences (it was Capra's most profitable film up to the time, #7 at the int'l box office).

My thoughts on Capra's work, as well as that of his fellow nominees, after the jump:

Frank Capra
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
past winner, third of six nominations

The movie: Also nominated for Sound Recording, Screenplay, Actor, and Best Picture.

The nominee: Capra's gift is in getting you to believe that these stories, these people, are actually happening, actually exist. The righteousness of some scenes - such as Deeds' finger-wagging of the not-Algonquin Table, or the climactic "doodling" testimony - manages to come off for the most part. It is not a film that sticks with one (at least not this guy), but it is done well during.

Gregory La Cava
My Man Godfrey
first of two nominations

The movie: Also nominated for Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Actor, and Actress.

The nominee: I'm not crazy about the screenplay, but there's no denying that this movie works. Credit to La Cava for making it so. He balances everything so that there's just enough screwball kookiness to make one wonder how mad the Bullocks are, but just enough sincerity of feeling, enough realism in the desperation of characters circling the drain of ruin, to give it real stakes.

Robert Z. Leonard
The Great Ziegfeld
second and final nomination

The movie: Also nominated for Dance Direction (won), Film Editing, Art Direction, Original Story, Best Actress (won), and Best Picture (won).

The nominee: Leonard's made a very watchable film. The musical sequences fit snugly within the narrative. The non-musical sequences show tyhat the film would work just as well without them, a canny eye for comedy and chemistry that's especially effective in the opening pre-Broadway sequences. Clearly loves Luise Rainer, and his instincts are, in this, correct.

W.S. Van Dyke
San Francisco
second and final nomination

The movie: Also nominated for Assistant Director, Sound Recording (won), Original Story, Actor, and Best Picture.

The nominee: A marvelous, effortless juggling of tone. The rom-com banter of Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald, the struggle for the soul personified by Spencer Tracy, the musical numbers, the earthquake sequence and the harrowing search for survivors after: all of it blends seamlessly from one to the other, never jarring, never too funny or too maudlin or too cheesily religious, all playing true to the characters and the story. I say again: marvelous!

William Wyler

The movie: Also nominated for Sound Recording, Art Direction (won), Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Actor, and Best Picture.

The nominee: Takes his time with people's faces, is what I love about it. He makes sure we see every reaction, every measurement of what they're about to say before they attempt to say anything. A fantastic sense of place, so that we can luxuriate in the wealth of the Dodsworths...and see them grow further and further apart in these vast rooms. Wyler's attention to the emotional details is what accounts for that feeling in your chest at the film's end...


Capra may have been the winner (again), but my vote would go to:


Tomorrow, a brand new category for Oscar: Best Supporting Actor! Starring Mischa Auer (My Man Godfrey), Walter Brennan (Come and Get It), Stuart Erwin (Pigskin Parade), Basil Rathbone (Romeo and Juliet), and Akim Tamiroff (The General Died at Dawn).

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