When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1927, it gave away not one but two Best Picture awards. "Best Production" went to Wings, a dull drama about World War I. The prize for "Artistic Quality of Production" went to a much better movie, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise. It, unlike Wings, is on my list -- but not at the top:
1. The General Directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman Written by Keaton, Bruckman, Al Boasberg, and Charles Smith
Forget D.W. Griffith. This is the great American Civil War movie.
2. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City Directed by Walter Ruttmann Written by Ruttmann, Karl Freund, and Carl Mayer
A brilliant snapshot of a day in the life of a city.
3. Metropolis Directed by Fritz Lang Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou, from a novel by von Harbou
Trivia: In 1984 this dystopian science-fiction story was rereleased with a "modern" soundtrack, featuring Pat Benatar, Billy Squier, and the king of Eurodisco, Giorgio Moroder. Only advanced students of late 20th century kitsch should watch that version, unless you're willing to risk permanent brain injury.
4. Napoleon Written and directed by Abel Gance
Featuring the best snowball fight in movie history.
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans Directed by F.W. Murnau Written by Carl Mayer, Katherine Hilliker, and H.H. Caldwell, from a novella by Hermann Sudermann
This was a strong year for good movies with ridiculous subtitles.
6. The End of St. Petersburg Directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin with Mikhail Doller Written by Nathan Zarkhi
Before Stalin came along, the young Soviet Union produced some of the most dynamic and inventive films in the world. Unfortunately, they were usually yoked to simple-minded propaganda, but the best efforts -- like this one -- managed to be great despite that.
7. A Wild Roomer Directed by Charley Bowers and Harold L. Muller Written by Bowers, Muller, and Ted Sears
These days nearly everyone agrees that Buster Keaton was better than Charlie Chaplin. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Charley Bowers, the wildest and most surrealist of the silent-era clowns, was better than Chaplin too.
8. The Kid Brother Directed by Ted Wilde with J.A. Howe, Harold Lloyd, and Lewis Milestone Written by Howard Green, John Grey, and Lex Neal, from a story by Wilde, Neal, and Tom Crizer
Harold Lloyd was also better than Chaplin.
9. The Unknown Directed by Tod Browning Written by Waldemar Young and Joseph Farnham, from a story by Browning
"Hands! Men's hands! How I hate them!"
10. The Lodger: A Tale of the London Fog Directed by Alfred Hitchcock Written by Eliot Stannard, from a novel and play by Marie Belloc Lowndes