Best Picture Nominees: Pre-1927

Before the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences began handing out Oscars for Best Picture, the movie industry was becoming a mainstay of American life. All of the films on this list are silent pictures. The first year of the Oscars, 1927, would see the end of this genre with the release of The Jazz Singer.

For more information about the 1920's, see The Learning Network's Fact Monster.

The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915)
In 1915, D.W. Griffith put together the techniques he had created in directing over 450 short films to create the first uses of night photography (using magnesium flares), the still-shot, the camera "iris" effect (expanding or contracting circular masks to either reveal and open up a scene, or close down and conceal a part of an image), a "panning" camera tracking shots, total-screen close-ups to reveal intimate expressions, fade-outs and cameo-profiles, high-angle shots and the abundant use of panoramic long shots, and extensive cross-cutting between two scenes to create excitement and suspense (and the flashback). In spite of the horribly racist and historically inaccurate story, "The Birth of a Nation" (aka, "The Clansman") is really the first movie, as we have come to know it.

Intolerance (D.W. Griffith, 1916)
This is Griffith's 4-part answer to "The Birth of a Nation". After the controversy surrounding that film, Griffith took a film he was working on about a modern struggle between capital and labor and added stories about class struggle in the time of Christ, the French Renaissance, and Babylon. The movie wound up being the most expensive to be filmed to that time--and was a bomb at the box office. Still, it is considered by many to be the greatest silent film ever made.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)
In Germany, director Robert Wiene created a story about a carnival hypnotist-therapist named Caligari (Werner Krauss) and black leotard-wearing Cesare (Conrad Veidt), his performing hypnotist (and haunted murderer). The dark, twisted nightmare of Caligari influenced the classic period of horror films in the 1930s.


Nosferatu, the Vampire (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
The first vampire picture was also produced outside the U.S. Director F. W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" was an unauthorized film adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel "Dracula". It had Max Schreck in the title role as the screen's first vampire--a mysterious aristocrat living in distant Transylvania named Count Graf Orlok. (Because of copyright problems, the vampire was named Nosferatu rather than Dracula.) The undead vampire's image was unforgettable with a demon-rat face, pointy ears, long, boney fingers and fangs.

Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1925)
The masterpiece of Erich von Stroheim (better known for his role as Gloria Swanson's butler in Sunset Boulevard) is a dark study of the oppressive forces that decay and corrupt three people in turn of the century San Francisco--a former miner and dentist (McTeague), his wife (Trina), and their mutual friend (Marcus). All are caught up by their greed for gold. The wife's fixation on money causes the dentist to lose everything. He kills her, becomes maddened with the same lust for gold, then takes flight only to find himself handcuffed to his dead pursuer in the fateful conclusion.

The Gold Rush (Charles Chaplin, 1925)
This is the classic Chaplin/Little Tramp film, with a balance of slapstick comedy and pantomime, social satire and emotional and dramatic moments of tenderness. It showcased the classic Tramp character with his cane, derby, distinctive walk, tight shabby suit, and mustache as a romantic idealist. Classic scenes include the starvation scene of two cabin-marooned prospectors boiling and eating a shoe, the teetering cabin on the edge of a cliff, and Chaplin's lonely New Year's Eve party (with the dancing dinner rolls routine).

Battleship Potemkin (Grigori Aleksandrov & Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1925)
Russian Sergei Eisenstein's silent masterpiece showed the 1905 revolution through a mutinous uprising aboard a Russian battleship. Its pioneering montage/editing sequences in the bloody Odessa Steps sequence changed filmmaking forever.

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Best Picture: Pre-1927
What is the Best Picture from Pre-1927?

The Birth of a Nation
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Nosferatu, the Vampire
The Gold Rush
Battleship Potemkin

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