When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1931, it gave its Best Picture award to Cimarron, a mediocre western that aspires to be an epic. It isn't on my list.
1. Bimbo's Initiation
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Betty Boop: Final Secret of the Illuminati.
2. Monkey Business
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Written by S.J. Perelman and Will B. Johnstone
Starring the Marx Brothers as Maurice Chevalier.
Directed by Joris Ivens
Proof that an ad can be art.
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou
Instead of quoting a line from the film, can I quote the sound of a serial killer whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King"?
5. Le Million
Directed by René Clair
Written by Clair, from a play by Georges Berr and Marcel Guillemand
Just a couple years into the sound era, and already Clair has made two great musicals. And he has a third one just a few notches below this.
6. La Chienne
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Renoir, from a novel by Georges de La Fouchardière
A man exploits a woman who exploits another man. In the end they all lose.
Directed by James Whale
Written by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort, from a play by Peggy Webling and a novel by Mary Shelley
"Now I know what it feels like to be God!"
8. A Nous La Liberte
Written and directed by René Clair
You can see why this always gets compared to Modern Times. They both treat the assembly line as a slapstick dystopia.
9. Blonde Crazy
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright
In the world's most half-hearted crime-doesn't-pay ending, only one of the con artists we've been watching goes to jail—and in the meantime, we find ourselves cheering the dissolution of a marriage. This is the sort of story the Powers That Be brought in the Motion Picture Code to stop.
10. Safe in Hell
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Joseph Jackson and Maude Fulton, from a play by Houston Branch
Of all the pre-Code movies in the world, this one just might be the pre-Codiest. It starts with a sympathetic prostitute burning down a hotel, and then it just rolls from there.
11. Marius (Alexander Korda)
12. The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch)
13. The Threepenny Opera (G.W. Pabst)
14. Douro, Faina Fluvial (Manoel de Oliveira)
15. Night Nurse (William A. Wellman)
16. Kameradschaft (G.W. Pabst)
17. Mask-a-Raid (Dave Fleischer)
18. A Bronx Morning (Jay Leyda)
19. Waterloo Bridge (James Whale)
20. Bosko the Doughboy (Hugh Harman)
Finally, a shoutout to Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde, which might have made it into the top 20 if Robert Williams had dialed back the smug by about 30%.
Of the films of 1931 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Rich and Strange.
And with that, the series stops. For the record, my favorite film of 1921 is The High Sign. But I haven't seen enough good movies from '21 to assemble a full top 10, so this year's crop of lists ends here.