Saturday, April 11, 2015

1934--The Year in Review

One year after his masterful Zero for Conduct, Jean Vigo once again stands tall against all comers. His visionary, dreamlike romance completely overtook the flowering of the Hollywood screwball comedy with Twentieth Century, It Happened One Night (which would go on to win all the major awards), and W.C. Fields' It's A Gift (the funniest of these films). Vigo's early death deprived cinema of what might have been, but his one-of-a-kind feature still rings thoroughly ahead of its time. Still, the robust performances leading Hawks' comedy masterpiece ring even louder (there's nothing in film entire like seeing Barrymore imitating a camel). Meanwhile, in the shorts categories, the looming appeal of color transforms the very nature of attending the cinema. And, in cinematography, James Wong Howe makes great strides in converting black-and-white into realism with his creative work in service of a totally unrealistic, utterly charming crime-fighting couple, Nick and Nora Charles (the "thin man" refers to the villain they were chasing in the first film, though "The Thin Man" became shorthand for the couple themselves). As a result of his work and the efforts of smart screenwriters Hackett and Goodrich, the witty repartee between William Powell and Myrna Loy would forever transform the speedy character of the best movie (and television) dialogue. Also not to be forgotten: the extremely gorgeous images in Von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress, Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, and De Mille's Cleopatra. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are in no way reflective of the choices made by the Oscars.

PICTURE: L'ATALANTE (France, Jean Vigo)
(2nd: Twentieth Century (US, Howard Hawks), followed by:
It Happened One Night (US, Frank Capra)
The Scarlet Empress (US, Josef von Sternberg)
It's A Gift (US, Norman Z. McLeod)
The Thin Man (US, W.S. Van Dyke)
Imitation of Life (US, John Stahl)
The Man Who Know Too Much (UK, Alfred Hitchcock)
Death Takes a Holiday (US, Mitchell Leisen)
The Merry Widow (US, Ernst Lubischt)
Of Human Bondage (US, John Cromwell)
Our Daily Bread (US, King Vidor)
Judge Priest (US, John Ford)
Babes in Toyland (US, Charles Rogers and Gus Meins)
Tarzan and His Mate (US, Cedric Gibbons and Jack Conway)
Cleopatra (US, Cecil B. DeMille)
The Barretts of Wimpole Street (US, Sidney Franklin)
The Black Cat (US, Edgar Ulmer))

ACTOR: John Barrymore, TWENTIETH CENTURY (2nd: W.C. Fields, It's a Gift; followed by: Clark Gable, It Happened One Night; William Powell, The Thin Man; Frederic March, Death Takes a Holiday; Will Rogers, Judge Priest)

ACTRESS: Carole Lombard, TWENTIETH CENTURY (2nd: Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage, followed by: Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night; Myrna Loy, The Thin Man; Dita Parlo, L'Atalante; Claudette Colbert, Imitation of Life; Marlene Dietrich, The Scarlet Empress)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michel Simon, L'ATALANTE (2nd: Edward Everett Horton, The Gay Divorcee, followed by: Peter Lorre, The Man Who Knew Too Much; Charles Laughton, The Barretts of Wimpole Street; Sam Jaffe, The Scarlet Empress; Frank Morgan, The Affairs of Cellini)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Kathleen Howard, IT'S A GIFT (2nd: Louise Beavers, Imitation of Life, followed by: Louise Dresser, The Scarlet Empress; Alice Brady, The Gay Divorcee; Joan Blondell, Dames; Una Merkel, The Merry Widow)

DIRECTOR: Jean Vigo, L'ATALANTE (2nd: Howard Hawks, Twentieth Century, followed by: Josef von Sternberg, The Scarlet Empress; W.S. Van Dyke, The Thin Man; Frank Capra, It Happened One Night; Norman Z. McLeod, It's a Gift)

SCREENPLAY: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, THE THIN MAN (2nd: Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur, Twentieth Century, followed by: Robert Riskin, It Happened One Night; Jean Vigo, Albert Riera, and Jean Guinee, L'Atalante; Jack Cunningham, It's A Gift; William Hurlbut, Imitation of Life)

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: LA CUCARACHA (Lloyd Corrigan; early Technicolor) (2nd: Men in Black (Ray McCarey (The Three Stooges)), followed by: Punch Drunks (Lou Breslow (The Three Stooges))

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:  THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE (Wilfred Jackson and Walt Disney) (2nd: The Big Bad Wolf (Burt Gillett and Walt Disney); The Grasshopper and the Ant (Wilfred Jackson and Walt Disney))

CINEMATOGRAPHY: James Wong Howe, THE THIN MAN (2nd: Louis Berger, Jean Paul Alphen, and Boris Kaufman, L'Atalante, followed by: Bert Glennon, The Scarlet Empress; Victor Milner, Cleopatra)

ART DIRECTION: THE SCARLET EMPRESS, The Thin Man, The Gay Divorcee, Cleopatra

COSTUME DESIGN: CLEOPATRA, The Scarlet Empress, The Thin Man, The Barretts of Wimpole Street