It’s that wonderful time of the year again! It’s nearing the Academy Awards. In less than a month, we’ll see who gets to take home the statue.

I always wonder, “Will anybody even remember some of these nominees 70 years from now?” There are certainly a lot of Best Picture nominees from the past that have completely left the public’s  memory. So I figured I’d try to help people remember. Here are some of the best obscure and forgotten Best Picture  nominees of the classic era.

The Racket (1928.)
The Racket was nominated for Best Production at the very first Academy Awards. John Cromwell (who directed some of the all time greatest melodramas) directed this crime tale, making it on of the definitive crime stories of all time. Because it was unavailable for so long, it’s been overshadowed by gangster classics like Public Enemy and Little Caesar, but it deserves to stand up there with the rest of them. Watching The Racket is almost like observing a little slice of the time. It lacks glamor, and it a downright gritty films that really captures the feel of the era it was made and set in.

The Big House (1930)
This prison drama was nominated for Best Picture the year that  the WWI masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front took home the prize. The Big House, however, did earn Frances Marion a screenwriting award. It truly is a fantastic script and a beautifully told story about life behind bars. I think what really makes it great is its cast. Chester Morris, Wallace Beery, Robert Montgomery, and Leila Hyams all give top notch performances.

Bad Girl (1931)
One of Borzage’s Depression era masterpieces, Borzage took home his second Best Director Oscar for this film, while it lost to Grand Hotel for Best Picture. Raw and real, it’s a beautiful love story that ignores sentimentality and truly puts you in the time and place of its setting, the Depression

Five Star Final (1931)
This is a brilliant newspaper. Most of the movies you see about newspaper men are comedies (The Front Page, Platinum Blond). Five Star Final is an excellent drama starring Edward G. Robinson as a newspaper man who is struggling with morality and the guilt of a story gone wrong. It’s one of Robinson’s very best performances.

Smilin’ Through (1932)
This is one of my favorite love stories. There are two love stories going on at once, the past and present, bound together forever by desting and blood. Norma Shearer’s performance is top notch, and it’s told so meticulously, perfectly, beautifully, and emotionally. I wish love stories like this were made today.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
This is definitely Norma Shearer’s finest dramatic performance. She plays the ill poet Elizabeth Browning, and the film tells the story of her relationship with her tyrannical father, and falling in love with Robert Browning. It’s a great love story, but the most interesting part of the film comes from the strange relationship between Elizabeth and he father, playing absolutely brilliantly by Charles Laughton.

Dodsworth (1936)
It isn’t often you find a movie like Dodsworth. Instead of focusing on young lovers, it tells the story of an older couple after the husband retires. Not only does it focus on older characters, it also deals with the characters facing their older age. Both Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton are amazing, not fearing playing these older characters.

Dead End (1937)
This is one of the strongest gangster films ever. It’s not about the life of crime.  It subtly shows the evolution of the gangster, a victim of circumstance. We see a young gang that will probably eventually turn into the character portrayed by Humphrey Bogart. Claire Trevor received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for a performance that’s only a few minutes long, but absolutely perfect and beautiful. The whole cast is amazing. It’s a brilliantly performance film.

Four Daughters (1938.)
This movie almost doesn’t seem like it fits among the other nominees (among them Jezebel, Pygmalion, The Grand Illusion) until you see that the winner was the small comedy You Can’t Take It With You. Four Daughters is a very quiet family drama that draws from its complicated and conflicted characters to form its story. This movie made John Garfield a star. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

To be continued…..

By Katie Richardson

Starring: Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, Humphrey Bogart, Claire Trevor, Wendy Barrie, the Dead End Kids

Director: William Wyler

Year: 1937

I’d seen Dead End a number of times, but it had been a couple of years since I had last seen it. I don’t know if I had just forgotten what an incredible movie it is, or if I’d never realized quite how amazing it was, but rewatching it again made me realize what a little masterpiece this film is. It did well at the time of its release, received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but it hardly remembered today. It’s depiction of slum life in the 1930s might seem a little distant for some film goers to really latch on to, but anybody with a decent understanding of the time and the films of the era should really “get” this film, and feel it right down to their bones.

The film takes place in a slum along the East River in New York, where the wealthy have decided to set up shop as well. Drina (Sidney) is on strike, trying to get the money she feels is owed to her so she can take her brother Tommy (Dead End Kid Billy Hallop) out of the neighborhood. She’s in love with childhood friend Dave (McCrea) who has a budding romance with rich girl Kay (Barrie). Baby Face Martin (Bogart), a childhood friend of Dave’s, is back in the neighborhood to find his mother and his old girlfriend Francie (Trevor).

There are several films from this era that deal with the struggle between the rich and the poor, especially during the Depression, but I don’t think I’ve seen a film do it so blatantly and so honestly as Dead End. The rich look down on the tenements from their big, beautiful building. They sit on their terraces, observing the poor, with the kids from the slums swim in the river. This divide is shown both harshly, when Tommy and his gang get into trouble for beating up a rich boy, and romantically, in the love triangle between Drina, Dave, and Kay. What it shows mostly, for all the characters, is how they dream of being more than just a child of the slums, and how the other world is just slightly out of their reach, both literally and figuratively.

The gentlemen give fine performances. McCrea is one of my favorite stars of the 1930s and 1940s. I don’t think anyone could play the good guy like he could. And Bogart is great as the charismatic bad guy. We find fault with his lifestyle, but can’t help to feel sorry for him when things don’t turn out at all as he imagines. And, as usual, I just loved the Dead End Kids. I don’t know exactly what it is about them, perhaps its the friendship between them, or just the fact that in older films we usually see precocious cuties, not accurate depictions of children living it rough.

But I have to say, it’s the women who steal the show. Sylvia Sidney, an almost impossibly beautiful woman, almost completely carries parts of the movie. Her love for Tommy is honest, her longtime love for Dave is pure. And more than anything, her desire to take her brother away is deep and beautiful. There’s an incredible scene where she describes to Dave a fantasy she has of meeting a rich man. The look on her face as she delivers it is brutal. And Claire Trevor…. boy, I can’t believe more people aren’t familiar with her. With one scene she received a much deserved Academy Award nomination. She’s the complete embodiment of broken dreams and a crushed future. Even Wendy Barrie, who I’m not that incredibly fond of, does a good job of playing the wealthy woman, who remains sympathetic even as she runs from a tenement in disgust.

Another strength of the film is its set design. It’s rare for classic films to take place almost entirely outside. And, when films do venture outside, it usually looks incredibly fake. Dead End creates a very real, vibrant world for these characters to live in. The slum is almost as much a character as any of the living, breathing people on the screen. And it’s a part of each character.

Dead End is simply one of the best films of the 1930s. There’s no other way to say it. It’s just a masterpiece.