The best pictures – year by year – PT 1 (1939-44).


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I have often been flabbergasted or just plain disbelieving as the Academy ran out each year’s list of Oscar nominees, especially the Best Picture nominees, and time after time exceptional pictures simply did not make the list. Consequently, I thought I might (starting with 1939, the year movies came of age), examine each year since then, by first listing the nominees and winner; then following it with my own personal Top 10 for that year – just for the hell of it.

Like me, I think you will be surprised at some of the nominees (not to mention the occasional, insane winner), especially in hindsight; but even more so by the absentees, great pictures entirely overlooked by the Academy. And it happened year after year after year. Of course, some years are better than others and some are just plain dreadful with scarcely a movie of note produced in the entire 12 months. But one cannot help but wonder how often studio politics or bribery and/or favoritism played a hand in determining which films were honored and which were not. Given the big studios’ appalling record of manipulation and general skullduggery in most other aspects of the business, it is nigh on impossible to believe that, when it came to selecting titles for future immortality and immediate enhanced box-office returns for those who produced them, everything has always been above board.

You will, naturally enough, have your own favorites each year and will invariably disagree with my choices, but it should be fun to recall again those marvelous old movies we watched in our youth (or as re-runs in our dotage – or both), and compare them with those that the Academy members have deemed worthy of immortality. I expect that the Academy probably takes into account artistic and technical merit when it compiles its list each year, but does it consider ‘entertainment value’ to the same degree? Which takes precedence? Is popularity with the ticket-buying public taken into account at all? Probably not, I fear. And that in itself is disappointing because the movies should always be about entertaining first and art and technique last. What is the point of making a film that has perfect camera angles and the lighting is spot on – but nobody goes to see it because it is not entertaining? Should such a picture be acknowledged as an Oscar nominee?

Anyway, here is the first instalment of a series of articles I shall call ‘The Best Pictures Year by Year’. You will notice that the nominees list consisted of ten titles in the early years, but was later reduced to five (in 1944).



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Nominees:                Dark Victory

Goodbye Mr. Chips

Love Affair

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Of Mice and Men


The Wizard of Oz

Wuthering Heights


My Top 10 for 1939 – Dark print denotes ‘not nominated’.

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Beau Geste

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Drums Along the Mohawk

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Jesse James

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Destry Rides Again

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The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex

  • Beau Geste
  • Goodbye Mr. Chips*
  • The Wizard of Oz*
  • Drums Along the Mohawk
  • Wuthering Heights*
  • Dark Victory*
  • Jesse James
  • Destry Rides Again
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

COMMENT: I am still at a loss to understand how Stagecoach or Ninotchka could possibly be nominated ahead of Beau Geste.


1940    OSCAR:       REBECCA

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Nominees:                All This and Heaven Too

Foreign Correspondent

The Grapes of Wrath

The Great Dictator

Kitty Foyle

The Letter

The Long Voyage Home

Our Town

The Philadelphia Story


My Top 10 for 1940 – Dark print denotes ‘not nominated.

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Pride and Prejudice

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The Mortal Storm

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Waterloo Bridge

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The Ghost Breakers

  • The Mortal Storm
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Philadelphia Story
  • Rebecca
  • The Great Dictator
  • The Letter
  • Foreign Correspondent
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • The Ghost Breakers

COMMENT: Again, I am at a loss to comprehend why the beautifully played Pride and Prejudice could not find its way into the ten nominations. The equally excellent The Mortal Storm also missed out, probably because it was anti-Nazi and the German market was huge prior to WW2.



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Nominees:                Blossoms in the Dust

Citizen Kane

Here Cones Mr. Jordan

Hold Back the Dawn

The Little Foxes

The Maltese Falcon

One Foot in Heaven

Sergeant York



My Top 10 for 1941 – Dark print denotes ‘not nominated’.

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The Strawberry Blonde

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High Sierra

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They Died with Their Boots On

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Sullivan’s Travels


  • The Maltese Falcon
  • How Green was My Valley
  • Suspicion
  • Here Comes Mr. Jordan
  • Citizen Kane
  • Sergeant York
  • High Sierra
  • They Died with their Boots On
  • Sullivan’s Travels


COMMENT: 1941 was a very ordinary year. Not much depth at all. Citizen Kane was never going to win given all the furor over it. The truth is (in my opinion) it was pretty much an over-rated non-event anyway. Jimmy Cagney’s delightful The Strawberry Blonde was nominated just once (for its music) and even lost that. I watch it often (even today), whereas I have seen both Citizen Kane and Sergeant York just twice. And they are as dull as dishwater. How Green was My Valley was OK, but only OK.


1942    OSCAR:       MRS. MINIVER

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Nominees:                49th Parallel

King’s Row

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Pied Piper

The Pride of the Yankees

Random Harvest

The Talk of the Town

Wake Island

Yankee Doodle Dandy


My Top 10 for 1942 – Dark print denotes ‘not nominated.

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Gentleman Jim

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For Me and My Gal

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This Gun For Hire

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The Man Who Came to Dinner

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Road to Morocco

  • Gentleman Jim
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • For Me and My Gal
  • This Gun For Hire
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner
  • Random Harvest
  • King’s Row
  • The Pride of the Yankees
  • Road to Morocco


COMMENT: Despite a multitude of plot and logic flaws, Mrs. Miniver has the services of Greer Garson and Teresa Wright when both were at their peak; enough to make it the Best Picture of 1942, although the competition was nothing like other years.


1943    OSCAR:       CASABLANCA

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Nominees:                For Whom the Bell Tolls

Heaven Can Wait

The Human Comedy

In Which We Serve

Madame Curie

The More the Merrier

The Ox-Bow Incident

The Song of Bernadette

Watch on the Rhine


My Top 10 for 1943 – Dark print denotes ‘not nominated.

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Jane Eyre

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Lassie Come Home

  • The Ox-Bow Incident
  • Shadow of a Doubt
  • Madame Curie
  • Bataan
  • Destination Tokyo
  • Five Graves to Cairo
  • Jane Eyre
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Lassie Come Home


COMMENT: My all-time favorite movie is Casablanca and it won that year, so all’s right with the world. Bogart won for Best Actor too, and rightly so, but Ingrid Bergman was not even nominated for this film. Instead, she was gonged for the utterly boring so-called epic For Whom the Bell Tolls – and lost – also rightly so. It was a complete miscarriage of justice that Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt was also left out of the nominations.


1944    OSCAR:       GOING MY WAY

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Nominees:                Double Indemnity


Since You Went Away



My Top 10 for 1944 – Dark print denotes ‘not nominated

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To Have and Have Not

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Meet Me in St. Louis

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National Velvet

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Cover Girl

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The Canterville Ghost

  • Since You Went Away
  • Laura
  • To Have and Have Not
  • Going My Way
  • Meet Me in St. Louis
  • National Velvet
  • Cover Girl
  • Lifeboat
  • The Canterville Ghost


COMMENT: There were THREE fabulous movies produced in 1944 and the Oscar-winner Going My Way was not one of them. Billy Wilder’s brilliant Double Indemnity was infinitely superior in every way to the lightweight winner which also took out the Best Director gong. Since You Went Away and Laura were almost as good as Wilder’s picture, yet the latter did not even get nominated. This was the year that the nominees list was halved from ten to five.

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Double Indemnity

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Since You Went Away

Double Indemnity’s cast were robbed also. Barbara Stanwyck lost Best Actress to Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight, while both Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson were not even nominated in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories. Bing Crosby, believe it or not, won the statuette for portraying a Catholic priest in Going My Way. Barry Fitzgerald was nominated in both categories for the same role and won the Supporting Oscar. A lot of Catholic members must have voted that year. Dana Andrews was not nominated for Laura; Clifton Webb was, but Fitzgerald knocked him off.

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