best film: Bringing Up Baby from Howard Hawks. Hepburn, Grant and Hawks all had a strong resume leading up to this film in the 1930’s but it wasn’t until Bringing Up Baby that they solidified themselves as one of the directors and actors on the planet respectively.
most underrated: Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You is one of those maligned Oscar Best Picture winners (it isn’t one of his best films) that is now underrated (it failed to land anywhere on the TSPDT top 2000). It doesn’t have the artistic ambition to compare with the best films of 1938—but the consistent populist thematic voice you hear throughout his work is evident here- clearly the work of an auteur.
most overrated: I’m nit-picking but Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes feels like it’s 300 slots too high at #607- which is where the TSPDT consensus has it right now.
gem I want to spotlight: Le Bête Humaine from Renoir is depressing, grave, macabre and quite devastating to the viewer. It’s tough to watch but certainly well-orchestrated by Renoir.
trends and notables:
- 1938 is the calm before the storm that would come in 1939 which is Hollywood’s great year. There are films in and near the top 5 of this year that simply wouldn’t be on the top 10 for 1939 at all.
- it is a down year in terms of depth as well- under 20 archiveable total films from 1938 right now. That is the lowest since 1930
- Michael Curtiz is churning out quality work at Warner Brothers. Angels With Dirty Faces, Four Daughter and especially, the Technicolor The Adventures of Robin Hood all impress and are in the archives
- The Marx brothers continue their dominance of the 1930’s with their seventh archiveable film of the decade.
- Wyler now has his 4th top 10 of the year quality film in the last three years
best performance male: Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby is the best male performance of the year. Comedies (especially this zany) are rarely if ever acknowledged by the Oscar so Cary wasn’t even nominated (nor was Hepburn) but it’s become his signature performance (along with North By Northwest) and he’s a top 10 actor of all-time. If you needed any more reason to go with Grant here- both he and Hepburn are superb again in Cukor’s Holiday– which also falls in the top 10. You do have to acknowledge the magnificent run Jean Gabin is on. He’s worth a mention in this category for Le Bête Humaine and Port of Shadows isn’t far behind. So he’s very good in two of the best four films of 1938, and that’s sandwiches between the Renoir masterpieces in 1937 and 1939. Nikolay Cherkasov as the titular Alexander Nevsky gets my third and final mention of 1938. A strong year in this category.
best performance female: Katharine Hepburn walks away with no real competition in this category in 1938. Her closest rival is Katharine Hepburn in Holiday– haha.
- Bringing Up Baby
- La Bete Humaine
- Alexander Nevsky
- Port of Shadows
- The Adventures of Robin Hood
- The Lady Vanishes
- You Can’t Take it With You
- Test Pilot
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Slight Case of Murder-Bacon||R|
|Alexander Nevsky- Eisenstein||MS|
|Angels With Dirty Faces- Curtiz|
|Bringing Up Baby- Hawks||MP|
|Four Daughters- Curtiz||R|
|La Bete Humaine- Renoir||MS|
|Port of Shadows- Carne||HR|
|Room Service- Seiter||R|
|Sidewalks of London- Whelan||R|
|Test Pilot- Fleming||HR|
|The Adventures of Robin Hood- Curtiz||HR|
|The Citadel- Vidor||R|
|The Dawn Patrol- Goulding||R|
|The Lady Vanishes- Hitchcock||HR|
|You Can’t Take It With You- Capra||HR|
*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