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The NBR Project: The Top 10 Lists, 1929-1943

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Since I’m on vacation (and because I’m a procrastinator), I’m going to prefix my year-by-year articles with a general overview of the lists. I’ll break them down into 15-year increments (29-43, 44-58, 59-73, 74-88, 89-03, 04-present), and offer some commentary on each.

1929:

  • Applause
  • Broadway
  • Bulldog Drummond
  • The Case of Lena Smith
  • Disraeli
  • Hallelujah!
  • The Letter
  • The Love Parade
  • Paris Bound
  • The Valiant

Not a whole lot to say about the first year. I haven’t seen any of these yet, and Hallelujah! is the only one I own. The Case of Lena Smith is apparently lost, a short fragment aside. Interesting they didn’t put The Broadway Melody, which won Best Picture, on the list, but it’s apparently not that great, so maybe that accounts for it.

1930:

  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Holiday
  • Laughter
  • The Man from Blankley’s
  • Men Without Women
  • Morocco
  • Outward Bound
  • Romance
  • Street of Chance
  • Tol’able David

Holiday was remade 8 years later; the remake has a much stronger reputation. The Man From Blankley’s only survives in soundtrack form; a shame, since it was apparently excellent. Tol’able David is an apparently mediocre remake of a notable silent film.

1931:

  • Cimarron
  • City Lights
  • City Streets
  • Dishonored
  • The Front Page
  • The Guardsman
  • Quick Millions
  • Rango
  • Surrender
  • Tabu

Cool of them to include City Lights, which the Academy totally overlooked. Rango and Tabu are both semi-documentaries filmed on location in distant lands (India and Polynesia, respectively).

1932:

  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  • As You Desire Me
  • A Bill of Divorcement
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Madame Racketeer
  • Payment Deferred
  • Scarface
  • Tarzan the Ape Man
  • Trouble in Paradise
  • Two Seconds

The inclusion of Tarzan is the first indication that the NBR wasn’t (and isn’t) averse to accepting genre films–a lesson the Academy could stand to learn. Also, the NBR doesn’t pick the Oscars’ choice for Best Picture, Grand Hotel.

1933:

  • Topaze
  • Berkeley Square
  • Cavalcade (AA)
  • Little Women
  • Mama Loves Papa
  • The Pied Piper
  • She Done Him Wrong
  • State Fair
  • Three-Cornered Moon
  • Zoo in Budapest

IMDb provides the NBR’s testimony as to why Topaze (a now largely forgotten film) was chosen as their #1: “The committee has chosen “TOPAZE” as the best American film of the year, a film which in addition to its excellence of production, and John Barrymore’s memorable characterization, exercises remarkably the true function of comedy in cutting deep into the oddities of human nature that makes life what it is.” The Pied Piper is an animated short–not the last time the NBR will pick one of those.

1934:

  • It Happened One Night
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Crime Without Passion
  • Eskimo
  • The First World War
  • The Lost Patrol
  • Lot in Sodom
  • No Greater Glory
  • The Thin Man
  • Viva Villa!

Lot in Sodom is a silent experimental short, shot independently in Rochester, NY (IMDb). It’s one of the oddest and most random inclusions in an NBR list, but major credit to them for doing it at all. The First World War is apparently a feature-length newsreel depicting…well, I think you can guess what. It seems to very obscure and I may not be able to see it. Andre Sennwald’s review in the New York Times ends with “If any motion picture is assured of enduring life, this is the one.” Not quite, Andre, not quite.

1935:

  • The Informer
  • Alice Adams
  • Anna Karenina
  • David Copperfield
  • The Gilded Lily
  • Les Misérables
  • The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
  • Mutiny on the Bounty
  • Ruggles of Red Gap
  • Who Killed Cock Robin?

Who Killed Cock Robin? is also an animated short (the last, I think, to date). Subjectively, this is the first list I can think of where nearly every film is relatively easy to obtain, except for The Gilded Lily.

1936:

  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  • The Story of Louis Pasteur
  • Modern Times
  • Fury
  • Winterset
  • The Devil is a Sissy
  • Ceiling Zero
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • The Prisoner of Shark Island
  • Green Pastures

Again, the NBR recognizes a Chaplin film the Academy totally ignores. Good for them. Also, the Academy somehow didn’t nominate Fury for Best Picture (it’s a brilliant film), but the NBR didn’t fail it. Conversely, the Best Picture winner, The Great Ziegfeld, doesn’t make the list.

1937:

  • Night Must Fall
  • The Life of Emile Zola 
  • Black Legion
  • Camille
  • Make Way for Tomorrow
  • The Good Earth
  • They Won’t Forget
  • Captains Courageous
  • A Star Is Born
  • Stage Door

Again, the NBR notices a fine film the Academy ignored, in this case Leo McCarey’s poignant Make Way for Tomorrow. Best Picture nominee The Awful Truth, which won McCarey an Oscar, doesn’t make the cut.

1938:

  • The Citadel
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The Beachcomber
  • To the Victor
  • Sing You Sinners
  • The Edge of the World
  • Of Human Hearts
  • Jezebel
  • South Riding
  • Three Comrades

It took the Academy until 1991 to nominate an animated feature for Best Picture. The NBR will put two more on their lists over the next three years. To the Victor is a British film, better known as Owd BobThe Edge of the World is a Michael Powell film, a Flaherty-esque piece of fictionalized anthropology, dealing with the inhabitants of a remote Scottish island. Oh, and another Best Picture winner–You Can’t Take It With You–doesn’t make the list.

1939:

  • Confessions of a Nazi Spy
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Stagecoach
  • Ninotchka
  • Young Mr. Lincoln
  • Crisis
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • The Roaring Twenties
  • U-Boat 29

Apparently several major 1939 releases came out only at the end of the year, and weren’t seen in NYC (the NBR’s base) until 1940. That doesn’t excuse the absence of The Wizard of Oz, though. U-Boat 29 is also known as The Spy in Black, and is the first Powell-Pressburger film (the NBR is generally pretty open to British cinema). Crisis is a documentary about the Sudetenland issue.

1940:

  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Great Dictator
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Our Town
  • Fantasia
  • The Long Voyage Home
  • Foreign Correspondent
  • The Biscuit Eater
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Rebecca

There’s Gone with the Wind. The only year I know of where two different Best Picture winners (GWTW and Rebecca) make the same list. The Biscuit Eater is kind of an anomaly, since all these other films are very easily accessible. Also, Fantasia.

1941:

  • Citizen Kane
  • How Green Was My Valley
  • The Little Foxes
  • The Stars Look Down
  • Dumbo
  • High Sierra
  • Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  • Tom, Dick and Harry
  • Road to Zanzibar
  • The Lady Eve

At least the NBR knew Kane was the film of the year (or at least wasn’t cowed by Hearst). I’m fascinated by a Road film making the list, especially since I think this is considered one of the weaker entries. Also, Dumbo.

1942:

  • In Which We Serve
  • One of Our Aircraft Is Missing
  • Mrs. Miniver
  • Journey for Margaret
  • Wake Island
  • The Male Animal
  • The Major and the Minor
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • The Moon and Sixpence
  • The Pied Piper

More Powell and Pressburger. Also, Sullivan’s Travels–totally ignored by the Academy, but the NBR has it covered. I’m surprised they overlooked Bambi.

1943:

  • The Ox-Bow Incident
  • Watch on the Rhine
  • Air Force
  • Holy Matrimony
  • The Hard Way
  • Casablanca
  • Lassie Come Home
  • Bataan
  • The Moon Is Down
  • Next of Kin

Yes, they put a Lassie movie on here. Also, I may be the only one to agree with them in putting The Ox-Bow Incident at the top of the list, over a certain beloved classic. Oddly, For Whom the Bell Tolls doesn’t get on.

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