Oscars should honor 75th anniversary of 1939 films as a whole, not just ‘Wizard of Oz’

By Daniel Levine,

This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced that this year’s Oscars ceremony will feature a tribute to The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 classic that turns 75-years-old in 2014. While the film remains a timeless classic that deserves to be recognized, the fact is that it was only one of the many great films produced in 1939, many of which should also be honored.

Back in the 1930s, the Academy nominated any number of films for Best Picture. There was an astonishing 10 nominees for the Best Picture Oscar of 1939 and even that list missed some of the best movies from that year. Oz was nominated, but so were two other MGM movies - Ernst Lubitsch’s classic comedy Ninotchka with Greta Garbo and the sentimental Goodbye Mr. Chips with Best Actor winner Robert Donat. MGM also co-produced Gone with the Wind that year with David O. Selznick.

The other nominees are just as great. John Ford’s Stagecoach, which reinvented the Western, was one of his three films of 1939. The Hal Roach studio, best known for comedies, produced the original adaptation of Of Mice and Men, showing Lon Chaney Jr.’s ability to be more than just a bit player. William Wyler beautifully adapted Wuthering Heights for Samuel Goldwyn and Leo McCarey crafted the romance to end all romances with Love Affair. Dark Victory was also an important film in Bette Davis’ career and a milestone for Humphrey Bogart.

The last nominee was Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, a film that remains so powerful that Harvey Weinstein brought it up when he announced his anti-NRA movie. Capra was working on a string of films that showed the good side of America while pointing out our flaws. Mr. Smith was the best of them.

Gone With The Wind did win, but considering that one of the Best Picture frontrunners this year - 12 Years A Slave - shows the shocking brutality of slavery, it seems wise for the Academy not to want to pay tribute to the film. It is still a classic and the Academy not wanting to honor it isn’t going to change that, but by focusing only on Oz, it relegates Gone as a movie only film historians should enjoy. That’s not true at all, as it remains one of the great romances put on screen.

As movie buffs know, 1939 was Hollywood’s greatest year and the Best Picture nominees don’t even scratch the surface. Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln and Drums Along The Mohawk and George Stevens’ Gunga Din are among my favorites.

These aren’t movies as familiar to the general public as Oz, but 1939 was a milestone in American cinema. Oz was only a part of that and I’m sure the Academy could find a way to mention that. Unfortunately, it looks like we might just have to wait until 2019 for the 80th anniversary of these great movies for that.

image: Wikimedia Commons

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