Will I "Really Like" this Movie?

Navigating Movie Website Ratings to Select More Enjoyable Movies

Two Actresses Dominated the Second Decade of Oscar Like None Have Before or Since

As you journey with me through nine decades of Academy Awards, you’ll discover, like I have, that many actors and actresses experience peak periods when it comes to recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for acting nominations. For example, one of my top actresses from the second decade is Jennifer Jones. At the age of 24 she landed her first role playing the lead in The Song of Bernadette, winning Best Actress at the 1944 Academy Awards. In 1945, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She followed that up with Best Actress nominations in 1946 and 1947. After being nominated each year in the first four years of her career, she received only one nomination over the remaining 27 years of her acting career. This is not unusual, particularly for actresses. It seems that Academy voters are not immune to the allure of the shiny penny.

Jennifer Jones had a strong four year run for movies released between 1937 and 1946, but no one before or since has had the run that Bette Davis and Greer Garson had over this ten year period.

Top Actresses of the Decade
Movies Released from 1937 to 1946
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Bette Davis 1937 6 1 0 0 21
Greer Garson 1939 6 1 0 0 21
Jennifer Jones 1943 3 1 1 0 13
Joan Fontaine 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Ingrid Bergman 1938 3 1 0 0 12

Six nominations in a ten year period is unique for any actor or actress. But, to have two actresses be so recognized in the same ten year period is incredible.

Greer Garson’s first nominated movie, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, was released in 1939. It was her first movie, even though she was already 35. It began a run of 6 nominations in 7 years. including a win for Mrs. Miniver in 1943. Like Jennifer Jones, Greer Garson would only receive one more nomination (1961)  in the 21 years after her peak run at the beginning of her career.

Bette Davis, on the other hand, doesn’t fit the Greer Garson/Jennifer Jones mold. She definitely had a peak period. In fact, if you include her 2 nominated performances in 1934 and 1935, Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress 8 times in 11 years, winning twice. Unlike Garson and Jones, though, Bette Davis was in 21 movies before her first nomination and she earned 3 more nominations after her peak period. She had a knack for creating layers of complexity  in the strong women she often portrayed. The conversation for who is the best actress of all time usually comes down to Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep. I think you need to include Bette Davis in the conversation.

There were also Academy Award nominations for actors during this period. But unlike the actresses, there was no one or two dominant actors. Here are the results:

Top Actors of the Decade
1937 to 1946
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Jimmy Stewart 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Gary Cooper 1937 3 1 0 0 12
Spencer Tracy 1937 2 2 0 0 12
Charles Boyer 1937 3 0 0 0 9
Laurence Olivier 1937 3 0 0 0 9
Frederic March 1937 2 1 0 0 9
James Cagney 1937 2 1 0 0 9
Robert Donat 1937 2 1 0 0 9
Bing Crosby 1937 2 1 0 0 9

Three actors tied at the top and six actors tied for fourth. You’ll note that in my scoring system the practical effect is that I equate one win with two nominations. So, even though Spencer Tracy had one less nomination than Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, he won both of his nominations, resulting in a three way tie.

Since nobody likes ties, I’ve devised a tie breaker so that we can have one best actor and actress of the decade. By using IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, I can come up with an average assessment of the nominated movies, for the actors who are tied, from the perspective of the audience (IMDB) and critics (Rotten Tomatoes).

Tie Breakers for Top Actors of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1937 to 1946
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jimmy Stewart 8.5     408,719 96% Certified Fresh 158
Spencer Tracy 7.7       10,726 91% Fresh 33
Gary Cooper 7.6       26,527 86% Fresh 57

Jimmy Stewart is the clear cut winner for the actors. His three nominated movies (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Philadelphia Story) are iconic and enduring classics.

Tie Breakers for Top Actresses of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1937 to 1946
Actress IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Bette Davis 7.8       48,092 90% Certified Fresh 88
Greer Garson 7.6       24,917 78% Fresh 55

In a closer but definitive decision, Bette Davis is the actress of the decade.

I’m planning on doing two decades a month up until this year’s Oscars. Check in next month when I’ll look at the actors and actresses of the 50’s and 60’s.

 

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