Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases, including this one with Metropolis and The Jazz Singer, there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Wings (1927).
So many Best Picture winners have been chosen seemingly in response to developments in the film world or the world at large and may have seemed the best choice at the time but have not withstood the test of time and looking back it seems baffling that those choices were ever made (though sometimes it only takes seconds before serious questioning of the sanity of Academy members commences). Not so with William A. Wellman’s Wings, the inaugural Best Picture winner. Often relegated to a footnote for being the first to win the award (and one of the first films to feature two men kissing and one of the first to feature nudity and the last silent winner until The Artist, all of which should increase its status but is for some reason often ignored) but it shouldn’t be because it remains a vibrant and compelling film. Representations of WWI in film have been strangely rare considering that the war was a pivotal part of the histories of many countries but, for obvious reasons, in the early years of the Academy it was a common subject. Wings was made by filmmakers who were only a few years removed from the Great War and who, in many cases, had fought in the war. It shows a convoluted war and its impact on the people who fought in it and, though it has been nearly a century since its release, the same impact can be seen with modern wars. Yes, the age really shows in some parts, and the overacting characteristic of the Silent Era doesn’t always necessarily work, with some of the more dramatic and tragic sequences being almost comical, but the story is solid and the aerial sequences remain stunning today.
The Real Best Picture:
Note: there were actually two top prizes given out, with the second being awarded to Sunrise and retroactively being designated the lesser award during the next year.