Thursday, May 30, 2024

The 1940 Retro Hollmann Awards Nominees!

I watched 82 films. I gave you my Top Ten. Here are my personal nominees in 18 categories. There are 33 films represented. At least two individuals have three or more nominations. All four of this year's Oscar-winning actors are here, but not how you might think. 

(And if this is your first time: I do not separate the "craft" categories by black-and-white and color, I maintain only the Original and Adapted writing categories, and I include three categories that were not present at the 1940 Oscars: Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Ensemble.)

Read on for the 1940 Retro Hollmann Award Nominees...

Monday, May 27, 2024

My Top Ten of 1940

These were the 82 films screened:

Abe Lincoln in Illinois
All This, and Heaven Too
American Matchmaker
Angels Over Broadway
Arise, My Love
Behind the News
Bitter Sweet
Black Friday
The Blue Bird
Boom Town
The Boys from Syracuse
Brigham Young
Broadway Melody of 1940
Captain Caution
Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum
Charlie Chan in Panama
Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise
Christmas in July
Comrade X
The Dark Command
Destry Rides Again
Dr. Cyclops
Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet
Down Argentine Way
Edison, the Man
The Fight for Life
Foreign Correspondent
Go West
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Dictator
The Great McGinty
Green Hell
His Girl Friday
Hit Parade of 1941
The House of the Seven Gables
The Howards of Virginia
The Human Monster
The Invisible Man Returns
Johnny Apollo
Kitty Foyle
The Letter
Lillian Russell
The Long Voyage Home
The Mark of Zorro
The Mummy's Hand
Murder Over New York
Music in My Heart
My Favorite Wife
My Little Chickadee
My Son, My Son!
New Moon
North West Mounted Police
Northwest Passage
One Million B.C.
Our Town
The Philadelphia Story
Pride and Prejudice
Primrose Path
Remember the Night
Rhythm on the River
Road to Singapore
The Sea Hawk
Second Chorus
The Shop Around the Corner
Spring Parade
Strike Up the Band
Swiss Family Robinson
They Drive By Night
They Knew What They Wanted
The Thief of Bagdad
Tin Pan Alley
Too Many Husbands
Waterloo Bridge
The Westerner
Women in War
You'll Find Out

Of those 82 films, I whittled it down to 18, including Brigham Young, Christmas in July, Destry Rides AgainJohnny ApolloThe Long Voyage Home, The Mark of Zorro, The Shop Around the Corner. and, my #11 pick, The House of the Seven Gables.

Here are my alphabetized Top Ten films of 1940:

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Director

The thread through this month's retrospective, next month's, and July's is: The Winner Is John Ford. 

February 1st marked the 130th birthday of the director whose work inspired and influenced Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Satoshi Kon, and countless others. His body of work encompasses over 140 films across a span of about sixty years, comprised of documentaries, westerns, war films, romances, coming-of-age dramas, biopics, a disaster film, and even a Shirley Temple vehicle. He immortalized Arizona's Monument Valley. He has been, over the years, embraced and rejected by progressives and conservatives alike. 

And he won four Academy Awards for Best Director, the most by any filmmaker, ever. His first was for 1935's The Informer; the second came in 1940, for his adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Both novel and film courted controversy with their frank depictions of the effect the Great Depression had on the population, the callous repossession of long-held family farms by banks, the exploitation of desperate workers by greedy employers, and the need for the people to organize. Both novel and film were also huge successes. Contemporary, artful, and a moneymaker? You better believe they gave that man an Oscar.

I imagine his biggest competitors were the directors behind the three bigger moneymakers: Alfred Hitchcock, whose adaptation of Rebecca landed #3 at the box office and won Best Picture and Best Cinematography (Black-and-White); George Cukor, whose adaptation of The Philadelphia Story landed #4 at the box office and won Best Actor and Best Screenplay; and Sam Wood, whose adaptation of Kitty Foyle landed #10 at the box office and won Best Actress. William Wyler - historically, the most-nominated Best Director with twelve (and three wins, all for Best Picture winners!) - was also up, for his adaptation of The Letter.

The men:

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Actress

My goodness, back in 1940, Best Actress and Best Picture were really linked! This was and is a rarity - let's not forget, the Best Actress race for 2021 had zero women in Best Picture nominees, so 5/5 is insane. Unheard of. Even 1939 and 1941 were both just shy at 4/5, but for this one year, what made five of the Best Pictures of the Year work were the lead female performances at the center.

Those performances? Two veterans (Davis & Hepburn). Two reprising their Broadway hits (Hepburn & Scott). One getting the Selznick ingenue treatment (Fontaine). But only one winner. Yes, even though it wasn't for the movies that made her famous (and still remain her best-known), Ginger Rogers, star of Top Hat and Swing Time, would forever be an Oscar winner.

These were those performances:

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Supporting Actor

What makes a performance a supporting one? The answer may seem obvious - a supporting performer is not the lead - but as longtime Oscare observers know, such is not really the case. Back then the categories were specifically made to honor character actors, and while some could grow into stars, often a character actor was a character actor was a character actor. We've talked about it before with both of Edmund Gwenn's nominations and we'll talk about it again next month for 1941 for Charles Coburn in The Devil and Miss Jones. But here is a lineup where fully 3/5 could be argued as Leading Men. 

One of those was Walter Brennan, the only nominee here who'd been here before and the only one who would return. Brennan's two previous nominations resulted in wins. So did this, the first actor to win three.

It was figured this was due to the Extras Guild, who had voting power in the Academy at the time and who counted Brennan as one of their own, a man who went from extra to featured extra to bit player and on and on until...well, here he is! Anyway, they were stripped of voting privileges after this.

But Extras Guild or not, was that win deserved? Let's talk: 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Original Song

Nine nominees for Best Original Song? From 1940-1945, the idea of five nominees per category was anathema to the Academy. Best Picture sometimes had twelve contenders, Original Score had seventeen nominees in 1940 alone; only Directing, Acting, and Writing categories had no more than five consistently. Still, nine is a weird number, particularly when the lineup doesn't even include hits by Cole Porter and only one song from Pinocchio. Perhaps that was better for Disney's odds: "When You Wish Upon a Star" triumphed, becoming the first of eleven Disney films to win in this category. The other eight nominees represent a time when a musical was as common as an action blockbuster is today. The stars of the screen are the sa

Let's have a listening party, ranking the songs from my personal #9 to my personal #1:

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Actor

Continuing the journey through the 13th Academy Awards with the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. At the original ceremony, this was the final award of the night - indeed, the four acting awards capped the evening, after Best Picture (which we already covered). In that spirit, we're doing things completely out of order.

So here we are, with five leading men. Charles Chaplin makes his return to the screen after a four-year absence. Henry Fonda, unnominated the previous year for Young Mr. Lincoln, reunites with that film's director John Ford and gets his first nomination. Raymond Massey recreates his Broadway hit. And Laurence Olivier and James Stewart return for the second year in a row, having both lost the previous year to Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (they would face each other again in 1946, losing to Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives).

The nominees:

Friday, May 17, 2024

Oscar 1940: Best Picture of the Year

1940 begins with the biggest film of 1939, Gone with the Wind. The Civil War epic was already much-hyped and written about during its year-long production (pre- to post-). When it finally premiered in December, it did not disappoint: lauded by critics, a massive box-office success (for 25 years after its release, the highest-grossing film of all time), and a neat clean-up at the Oscars in February 1940 - 13 nominations, eight wins, plus two Special/Honorary/Technical Awards, non-competitive. It is only natural that the lesson learned from studios would be: WE NEED OUR GONE WITH THE WIND! Thus films like Brigham Young (historical epic!) or Pride and Prejudice (literature! period piece!) or the nominated All This, and Heaven Too (historical romance! lavish sets and costumes!) were whipped into production, damn the expense.

Meanwhile, just two months after picking up the Best Picture trophy, producer David O. Selznick had another literary adaptation in cinemas - and, like before, he ensured plenty of press beforehand with his Big Search for the female protagonist: Rebecca, the thriller from Daphne du Maurier. Director Alfred Hitchcock arrived in Hollywood to work for Selznick in April 1939, just five months before his native England declared war on Germany. 

Rebecca did very well indeed - like Gone with the Wind, it led in nominations (11!) and won Best Picture (as well as Best Cinematography - Black-and-White). 

But Hitchcock felt uneasy about living the Hollywood life while friends and family back home went to War. As the year progressed, the growing unease and feeling of inevitability for the US became more prominent in the movies. For Hitchcock, it was the vague international intrigue of Foreign Correspondent; for Charles Chaplin, it was a direct attack via parody of Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator; and for John Ford, it was looking at the civilian sailors caught up in it all in The Long Voyage Home.

Ford also focused on the struggle at home, with his own big controversial literary adaptation, The Grapes of Wrath. The Depression was still on, you know, and the source novel caused plenty of ire from the bankers, farm owners, and other capitalists taken to task for their deliberate impoverishing and exploitation of the agricultural class. The film was a success, no doubt due to its ability to speak to its audience about the bullshit of the times. Not that audiences were turning away from society broads: Kitty Foyle offered a kind of wish fulfillment as a doctor and an heir both wooed a woman who worked her way up from blue-collar living to Big City floorwalking. And the upper crust and their shortcomings were endearingly satirized in The Philadelphia Story, based on the Broadway hit - and starring the stage originator, Katharine Hepburn.

As you can see, the play is usually the thing, especially in this era. In addition to The Long Voyage Home and The Philadelphia Story, Hollywood offered adaptations of the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner Our Town, which sought to appeal to all Americans with its all-American-ness, and a remake of a 1929 hit, The Letter.

Well, that's where we were in 1940. And those were your Best Picture nominees. Now, here's what I think of all of them, in ascending order, culminating in my #1 pick of the lineup and beginning with:

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

1940: Mummies and Mormons

Below, I go extra-long on a movie that...well, I don't know if it's in my Top Ten of this year, but it is the movie I've thought about the most. That and eight other films, as we continue through the cinema of 1940...

Monday, May 13, 2024

1940: The #1 Film of the Year (and others)

OK, a day late, so we're gonna make up for it by having ten capsules today. Today's offerings include yet another Charlie Chan picture, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare, and the #1 moneymaker of 1940...

Thursday, May 9, 2024

1940: Some Gems and a Dreg

It took five days but, we have finally arrived at a critical juncture: my least favorite movie of 1940. I don't say "worst" because I understand there are people out there who like it; I don't understand that all. Read on:

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

1940: One Winner Was...

It is Day Four of our journey through the cinema of 1940. Today, many a thrill with fantasy, sci-fi, and noir all represented, and that's not even talking the romantic thriller that wound up winning Best Picture! Here:

Monday, May 6, 2024

1940: The Rest of Winter

Yesterday, we began our look into the cinema of 1940 with nine films released at the end of 1939 and January of 1940. Today we have six films, four of which came out in February. Here you will see, among others: one of the best musicals of the year (but with no Oscar nominations), a mystery, a couple histories, and the earliest release to end up an Oscar winner. Shall we?:

Sunday, May 5, 2024

1940: One Year Ends, Another Begins

The Academy Awards of 1940 are...dense. I'm talking seventeen nominees in a single category dense. So, apologies to those who have been following for a while (I've been around since 2008, doing retrospectives since 2011), but I'm changing things up, narrowing the focus a bit.

Today through the 16th, I review all the 1940 films I saw in the order of their release. On Friday the 17th, I look at Oscar's ten nominees for Best Picture of the Year. The 19th-24th will be focused on only six more categories: Best Original Song, the Acting Prizes, and culminating in Best Director - this is, after all, a series inspired by John Ford's directing wins, so it is only right that we end the Oscars on that note (it also gives me more time to read Searching for John Ford).

Naturally, that's not the final word on the matter, as I'll be going on and on about my picks for the best of the year the 26th-31st, culminating in my pick for Best Director of 1940. This is how we shall proceed throughout the next three months.

And so we begin our journey through 1939. December 1939, to be specific, though the Academy considered at least two of those releases aspart of the 1940 film year...