When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1930, it gave its Best Picture award to All Quiet on the Western Front. The book is better but the movie is good, and you'll find it in my list of honorable mentions. But it isn't the year's best picture. It isn't even the year's best picture about World War I.
Written and directed by Alexander Dovzhenko
This was supposed to be a Soviet propaganda film calling for the collectivization of agriculture, but Dovzhenko got away with making something much more interesting. It's lyrical, sometimes funny, more surrealist than socialist, more pagan than political; the propaganda parts play like tongue-in-cheek interludes. Stalin objected strenuously. There would not be many more movies like this as long as he was around.
2. People on Sunday
Directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by Billy Wilder and Curt Siodmak
One of the last great silent pictures, and one of the first great efforts by a gang of young filmmakers who would soon be fleeing Germany for America. Besides Wilder, Ulmer, and the Siodmak brothers, the future Hollywood hands include the photographer, Fred "Oklahoma!" Zinnemann.
3. Swing You Sinners!
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Eight years before Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD, the Fleischer brothers animated a bad trip.
4. Le Roman de Renard
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz and Irene Starewicz
Written by I. Starewicz, Roger Richebé, Jean Nohain, and Antoinette Nordmann
Reynard the Fox, a trickster figure from French folklore, stars in a batty stop-motion masterpiece.
5. Animal Crackers
Directed by Victor Heerman
Written by Morrie Ryskind, from a play by Ryskind and George S. Kaufman
"Pardon me while I have a strange interlude."
6. L'Age d'Or
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Salvador Dali
A few years later, Dali wrote a script for the Marx Brothers. They never made the movie, so you'll have to settle for an Animal Crackers/L'Age d'Or double feature instead.
7. Under the Roofs of Paris
Written and directed by René Clair
An early sign that filmmakers could use sound without forgetting everything else they'd learned about their craft. This has all the fluidity of the best silent movies, but it's a musical.
8. A Propos de Nice
Written and directed by Jean Vigo
Like Salt for Svanetia, listed one notch below, A Propos de Nice is a radical documentary. But this one was made by an anarchist, not a Leninist, and it has far more respect for the ordinary people onscreen.
9. Salt for Svanetia
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov
Written by Kalatozov and Sergei Tretyakov
The anti-Earth: Communist propaganda proclaiming how wonderful it is that the Bolsheviks are bringing a backward village into civilization. It's a lie, but it's an artful lie; you can damn the picture's politics while admiring the talent on display.
10. Westfront 1918
Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Written by Ladislaus Vajda, from a novel by Ernst Johannsen
This year's other, better movie about the Western Front.
11. Monte Carlo (Ernst Lubitsch)
12. The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg)
13. Borderline (Kenneth MacPherson)
14. Romance Sentimentale (Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov)
15. The Essence of the Fair (Ernesto Giménez Caballero)
16. Crabes et Crevettes (Jean Painlevé)
17. Mechanical Principles (Ralph Steiner)
18. The Big House (George W. Hill)
19. All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone)
20. La Petite Lise (Jean Grémillon)
Of the films of 1930 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Part Time Wife.
I don't know enough good movies from 1920 to assemble a top 10, so I'm going to stop this year's batch of movie lists here. (For the record, my favorite from 1920 is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and my favorite from 1910 is Le Binettoscope.) We'll start this again in December, when it'll be time to tackle 2011.