Director: William A. Wellman
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Wings is a silent film about two WWI flying aces that are in love with the same girl. So basically you add a tale as old as time with some planes and you've apparently got an Academy Award worthy film. The film starred Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, and Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper is the guy from the song Puttin' on the Ritz, remember? Ummm...they sang it in Young Frankenstein? Directed by Mel Brooks? Anything? Ah, whatever. The film was extremely popular at the time, if only because Charles Lindbergh just made his transatlantic flight. So you could say people were just "plane" crazy about this film!....I'm sorry. The first Academy Awards ceremony actually took place in 1929 and was for films from both 1927 and 1928. Wings was up against The Racket and Seventh Heaven, but took home the prize of Outstanding Picture(later renamed Best Picture). What's ironic about the whole thing is that the movie was considered lost for quite some time until someone dug it up in a Paris film archive. Wouldn't that have been embarrassing if our first Best Picture winner wasn't even one that people could still watch? It is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, just as it was meant to be seen!
Winner: The Broadway Melody
Director: Harry Beaumont
Distributed by: MGM
The Broadway Melody is the first, but definitely not last, musical to win Best Picture. It was the first musical to include a Technicolor sequence, which gave way to many other musicals doing the same in the late 20's and early 30's. Unfortunately, that footage is lost forever, just like my innocence. Now all we got is lousy black and white. How did people live back then? Starring Anita Page and Charles King, the film was about the backstage escapades of a Broadway revue. What a surprise, too! There's a love triangle! Man, Hollywood was really stuck on that tune. Though it was fairly popular at the time, contemporary critics have found the movie to be cliche, as the whole backstage Broadway story line was already old when this movie came out. So why did this movie win? Well, many film scholars think that it was basically the best of the worst. All the films that were up for Best Picture were pretty bad, and this just happened to be the best. Film scholars blame the messy transition from silent films to "talkies" for the lackluster award year.
Winner: All Quiet on the Western Front
Director: Lewis Milestone
Distributed by: Universal Studios
The epic anti-war film based on the Erich Maria Remarque novel is also the first movie to also have its director win an Oscar. This also happens to be the earliest Best Picture winner that I have seen. I honestly don't remember much of it, seeing as I was a freshman in high school at the time, but I think I liked it. What's unique about the movie is that it is not from the allied side of things, but instead the Germans. The Nazi's during Hitler's reign viewed the film as anti-German, so they banned the film and flooded movie theaters with rats that were showing it. So either they didn't like the film, or they wanted to give movie-goers the feel that they really were stuck in rat-infested trenches. Reviews like, "So real, it was scary," and "Oh my God, they're biting me!" make me believe it may have been the latter. Besides being banned in a few countries that were offended by trench warfare and helmets with spikes on them, the movie enjoyed tremendous praise. So real were the war scenes that Milestone's movie would go on to influence directors like Steven Spielberg, who tried to recreate the horror of war in Saving Private Ryan. The movie is still popular today and is often listed as being in the top ten of critic's favorite war movies.
Director: Wesley Ruggles
Distributed by: RKO
Cimarron is about a man who moves his family from Kansas to the Oklahoma Territory (look it up) and flourish until he decides to run off and settle the Cherokee Strip (look it up). The film would have done well for RKO, had they not released it during the depression. RKO spent a lot of money on the movie, and in the end they lost around $565,000 dollars. That's big money back then. They would later make up for it when they re-released it in 1935. This is not to say that this film wasn't popular, it was. People liked Westerns back then and half shirtless guys with guns. It's just when you spend an exorbitant amount of money, like $1.5 million (remember, it's a lot back then), you better have a Gone with the Wind and not a Cleopatra. It remained RKO's most expensive film until 1939's Gunga Din. Sorry about the footage below. It was literally the only one I could find.
Winner: Grand Hotel
Director: Edmund Goulding
Distributed by: MGM
Grand Hotel is a star-studded drama that was so good, it only got one nomination, and we already know what that is. Yes, this is the only film that won Best Picture, but was not nominated for anything else. The film starred Greta Garbo, John Barrymore (Drew Barrymore's grandfather), Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life). You may not think it's an all-star cast now, but at the time this was huge. The film is considered the first Portmanteau films, which just means that it has a bunch of little stories going on and sometimes they overlap. Another term associated with the film is the "Grand Hotel theme," in which there are many characters in a busy place and they're lives all intersect in odd ways, and sometimes other main characters never knowing that other ones exist. Some compare it with Gosford Park, so there you go. Go watch that movie instead. It has Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith, and they're hip...right? Grand Hotel is still widely loved today for its unique story telling and all-star cast. Garbo's line, "I want to be alone" has even been considered one of the best movie quotes of all time, even though Garbo has said herself that she said "I want to be let alone" instead. Ummm...excuse me Ms. Garbo, but we're pretty sure it's what we all think it is. Millions of observant movie-goers can't be wrong. Geez, some people.