Just in time for Oscar weekend, Vulture has a fascinating examination of this year’s crop of nominees, and how exactly they fit it into our notion of what an “Oscar movie” is. And you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that, like everything else in the movie biz, there’s a formula at work here: “movies with some combination of the four top genre categories — biography, drama, history, and war — have always gotten the most nominations, but over time they’ve slowly been crowding out everything else.” But, it must be noted, it wasn’t always so — in fact, a perusal of the Academy Award nominations for Best Picture makes it clear that the increasing dominance of biopics about troubled geniuses is a stark contrast to an organization that used to be just as comfortable nominating musicals, Westerns, thrillers, and even comedies for the night’s biggest prize. Yet even when taking that changeover into account, there are still a few Best Picture nominees that stick out, either as just plain odd on their own terms or for the fact that they’re unthinkable as serious Oscar contenders now.
Trader Horn (1931)
The Oscars were only four years old when this adventure flick got its Best Picture nomination, so maybe you can just write it off as a youthful indiscretion. But it must be said: young or not, the AMPAS nominated an African safari movie — with all of the depictions of black “savages” (and their blonde, white “jungle queen”) that you would fear/dread/wince over — that’s best remembered these days for its accident-ridden shoot, where two crew members were killed by wild animals and much of the crew came down with malaria. Oh, and the rest of the animal scenes were shot in Mexico, so MGM didn’t have to comply with the (very loose!) animal treatment rules of the day. Hooray for Hollywood!