This is the time of year where many movie lists are available to read, from best or worst of the year to holiday selections. But for anyone to consider himself or herself a movie aficionado, they should first become familiar with the films of 1939 – Hollywood’s finest year.
Here are 10 movies – in order – from that year that should be watched:
- 1) Gone with the Wind – The epic of all epics is worth every minute, even if there is just too much tragedy. Vivien Leigh dominates every scene with her beauty and magnetic presence and deserved the Best Actress Oscar. Clark Gable was worthy of his greatest role, and Hattie McDaniel’s historic Oscar performance shouldn’t be missed.
- 2) The Wizard of Oz – A great thing about this classic is seeing something new or remembering something each time it is watched. And Judy Garland is worth watching anytime in anything.
- 3) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – For those who think Frank Capra is too sentimental, this may suffice as he deals with the dark side of politics and public service. James Stewart should have won Best Actor. Jean Arthur was the perfect Capra leading lady.
- 4) Ninotchka – This is a romantic comedy gem with Greta Garbo at her best, and a load of great comedic character actors. The Garbo laughs scene is a classic and worth watching many times.
- 5) Love Affair – Charles Boyer, who should have received an Oscar nomination, was probably the king of romantic male leads at the time, and Irene Dunne was great in anything. Everything about the final scene is terrific.
- 6) Stagecoach – This movie made westerns famous, remains one of the best ever from that genre, and made a star out of John Wayne. A great cast included Thomas Mitchell in his Best Supporting Actor role, and Claire Trevor, who should have won Supporting Actress.
- 7) Dark Victory – This is over-the-top melodrama, but nobody did that better than Bette Davis. Plus there is Humphrey Bogart and Ronald Reagan in supporting roles.
- 8) Goodbye, Mr. Chips – This retrospective on the long life of a teacher is a nice blend of sentiment and drama, highlighted by the lead performances of Best Actor winner Robert Donat and future Oscar winner Greer Garson in her first major role.
- 9) Wuthering Heights – The most famous film version of the Emily Bronte novel. While the performances are great, the dark, bleak cinematography is what makes this a classic.
- 10) Beau Geste – Gary Cooper in the French Foreign Legion, and a cast that features four future Oscar winners helps make this famous story a classic. But the scene stealer is Brian Donlevy, who should have won Best Supporting Actor for his sadistic, ruthless Sergeant Markoff.
This isn’t just a Top 10 list; all of these movies are must see.
In addition, the following movies would have been among the best of any other year: Only Angels Have Wings, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Another Thin Man, The Old Maid, and Babes in Arms.