Golden Ages of Cinema

It's generally accepted that the '30s and '40s were the golden age for cinema, and that more great films were made in 1969 than in any other year.

But In a recent blog, Earl Pomerantz says

1939. The Oscar winner was Gone With the Wind, the nominees – among others – The Wizard of Oz (Dr. M’s favorite), Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Ninotchka, leaving no room fo Beau Geste, Gunga Din, Young Mr. Lincoln and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Not the mention The Thin Man. May I have your comparable list of any other year? Or any era, beyond the Thirties and Forties, where, by the way, the movie business was just as passionately committed to making a profit?

This was my response:


All the President's Men
Bound for Glory
Marathon Man
The Omen
Taxi Driver

That's a pretty good list - and there are comparable ones from every year from 1969 to 1979 (with some stellar films in '67 and '68 as well.)

And of course, 1939 also included Hitler - Beast of Berlin, Barricade, Bachelor Mother, Boys' Reformatory, Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever, and Daughter of the Tong.

Every year has good and bad films.

Though, I do admit, the balance has been off for a while - I think it's cyclical. Film improves every time it's threatened by new technology. In the '30s - there were over 40 million radios in use in homes in the US. To compete with radio shows, the movies had to be better. In the 60's TVs had proliferated - and in the 70's, with the advent of the VCR, movies had to shine a little more to compete with videos.

I think we're about due for another golden age, as "new media" becomes more prominent and studios realize that to compete with DVRs and the Internet, they don't need to make more expensive movies - just better ones.


(I left out The Man Who Fell to Earth (one of my favorite movies), and a handful of other favorites)

I get frustrated with the kind of nostalgia that says things were better once and they'll never be that great again because it's all ruined. It reminds me of the nostalgia for a fake-perfect America that conservatives use, an imagined 1950s where everything was Leave it to Beaver and there were no poor people, or shell-shocked vets, and women never minded not being able to divorce their alcoholic husbands, or to work as something other than a secretary or waitress when they were widowed.

There were a lot of great movies in 1939, and in 1976 - but every year has amazing films, groundbreaking work, and every year has schlock. Indiana Jones, this year, is schlock. But did you see Iron Man? Critically acclaimed movies thus far this year include: Reprise, Priceless, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Visitor, and The Counterfeiters - and we're not even close to "Oscar season."