All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
This is the earliest Best Picture winner that doesn’t require any apology or explanation before showing it to contemporary friends. It holds up perfectly, a stark and even angry look at the pointless, brutal cost of war. Its characters join the German army as teenagers full of idealism and hope and all that dulce et decorum est crap, and everything goes downhill for them from there.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this movie is that it does have some nice light moments, where the boys have adjusted to military life and are able to be momentarily concerned about things like getting some decent food, killing lice, and chasing girls. These moments underscore the humanity of the war even as it gradually dehumanizes all the characters. These are boys of 18 or 19; they should be spending most of their time thinking about food and girls. Instead they’re subjected to one spectacular battle scene after another, until most of them are dead and the surviving ones barely remember who they used to be at the beginning of the movie.
This is absolutely worth watching, or revisiting if you haven’t seen it in a while. It may be true that it’s impossible to make a film that’s truly anti-war, but it’s hard to think of a better candidate than this one.
What did this beat?
The Big House, Disraeli, The Divorcee, and The Love Parade. Of these, I’ve only seen the last one, but it remains a favorite of mine. It’s got the most explicit BDSM negotiation scene I’ve yet seen in movies, all couched in some downright impressive innuendo.