THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937)
What is it? A biopic of the famous French writer Zola (Paul Muni), who was friends with Cezanne, and was most famous for his involvement in the Dreyfus Affair, defending a wrongly-accused Army officer against charges of treason.
Why did it win? It was the most nominated film, with ten nods on the slate, and that never hurts when it comes to taking home the big prize. That aside, it was a weighty contender even amid a slew of epics, and had the advantage of name-recognition for the infamous Dreyfus affair. It also trod a careful line between avoiding mention of the anti-Semitic aspects of the stitch-up of Dreyfus (so it would play in fascist Europe) without excusing those responsible.
Did it deserve to win? Nope. It's a quality film, but there were other strong contenders: Capra's Lost Horizon and the original A Star Is Born were among the nominees, along with turns from Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. And not even nominated was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the most enduringly popular film of the year.
Worth a look? The history's dodgy but it's not a bad biopic.