best film: The Grapes of Wrath. This was one of the toughest years as there’s no clear front-runner. Honestly the top 5 films are all right there but if forced to choose I’m going with John Ford’s brilliant adaptation of the Steinbeck novel. It’s gorgeously photographed and Fonda is transcendent. With GOW as my choice here it also puts into perspective what a drop-off 1940 is after 1939. So I have stagecoach as John Ford’s second best film and I have grapes of wrath as his fifth best. But I have grapes of wrath as the best film of 1940 but stagecoach is all the way down at #4 for 1939.
most overrated: his girl friday at 146 on TSPDT is at least 200 spots overrated by my count. It’s a fine film and the pacing, editing, dialogue and performances are all top notch but if you’re going to offer as little visually as it does and remain at the #146 slot of all-time you better have an all-timer of a script or narrative and it’s not quite on that level.
most underrated: Pinocchio at #469 is at least 100 slots underrated as well. I think Pinocchio (granted I need another look at lion king and wall-e) is the greatest animated film of all-time.
gem I want to spotlight: the shop around the corner is what everyone should watch instead of You’ve got mail (which is a fine film but can’t match lubitsch’s classic). Jimmy Stewart is clearly one of the all-time greats if he won the Oscar in 1940 but for another film (phladelphia story). He’s better here.
trends and notables: With much of the globe in the war we had a slow down after 1939 (even without the war how you expect to match the golden year). Many of the great auteurs from around the world were traveling to the US and Hollywood specifically if they hadn’t already. Rebecca is Hitchcock’s first American/Hollywood film. You’ll notice below how many auteurs/directors gave us more than one archiveable film in one year. Ford, Walsh, Hitchcock Wyler, Sturges and Wood all had two films in the archives from 1940. That just doesn’t happen anymore—its very rare for a director to deliver in back to back years now.
best performance male: I’m going with Henry Fonda who gives an all-time performance as Tom Joad. His delivery of the speech at the end will give you chills. If Fonda wasn’t so brilliant the choice could easily be Cary Grant who is wonderful in both the Philadelphia story and his girl friday. Stewart also has a pair of brilliant performances in top five films with the shop around the corner and his Oscar win (which many believe was a make-up for not winning in 1939 with mr. smith goes to washington) for the Philadelphia story.
best performance female: Rosalind Russell in his girl Friday is my choice. There are a few fine choices for 1940 including Jane Darwell in grapes of wrath. Bette Davis is great in the letter as is fontaine in Rebecca and it is really hard not to pick Katharine Hepburn for dueling with both Stewart and Cary Grant in the Philadelphia story but I’m happy to go with Russell who sets the pace for words per minute spoken and delivers it with such screen presence.
- The Grapes of Wrath
- His Girl Friday
- The Philadelphia Story
- The Shop Around the Corner
- The Great Dictator
- The Letter
- The Thief of Bagdad
- They Drive by Night
Archives, Directors, and Grades
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives