The very first Academy Awards took place in 1929 and were hosted by Douglas Fairbanks and William C. de Mille. The time period for qualification was August 1, 1927-August 1, 1928. This odd release period makes it difficult to have a side by side comparison of what I would've nominated, but that is something I plan to do once the Oscar years match calendar years.
The actual Academy winners are in bold:
Best Picture, Production
Thoughts: The Best Picture categories were split up this year, but this is the one that generally gets credit for the official recognition of Best Picture. That's a shame, because Wings is really an awful movie with a terrible script and even worse performances. It does prove the Academy was just as stupid back then as it is now. I have not had the chance to see The Racket yet, but 7th Heaven is a terrific melodrama from Frank Borzage and a more deserving winner than Wings.
Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production
Chang: A Drama in the Wilderness
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Thoughts: Not sure what the Oscars intended with this award or why it doesn't get full recognition, but this is a much, much better collection of films. The Crowd and Sunrise are the top two films of their individual years and Chang is a much better thrill pic than Wings. Sunrise is a fine choice, but it's annoying that it doesn't get proper recognition as a Best Picture winner.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Emil Jannings, The Last Command
Richard Barthelmess, The Noose and The Patent Leather Kid
Thoughts: Neither of the Barthelmess films is available, but I have seen The Last Command and Jannings does give a terrific performance in it. It is a showy performance, the kind the Academy would come to love over the years. I would have preferred Lon Chaney to be nominated and win for either The Unknown or Laugh, Clown, Laugh. He is amazing in both films. It should be noted that Charlie Chaplin was originally nominated here for The Circus, but was taken out of the running and given a special award instead. He also would have been a better choice than Jannings.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Louise Dresser, A Ship Comes In
Janet Gaynor, 7th Heaven, Sunrise: A song of Two Humans, and Street Angel
Gloria Swanson, Sadie Thompson
Thoughts: Once again I have only seen the films from the winner, but Gaynor is a brilliant dramatic actress that was working several steps ahead of her contemporaries at the time. She is particularly amazing in Sunrise. Maria Falconetti's performance for The Passion of Joan of Arc would have also been a great choice.
Best Director, Comedy Picture
Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights
Ted Wilde, Speedy
Thoughts: This year the Oscars split up the directing awards for Drama and Comedy. I have not seen the Milestone film, but Speedy is one of my favorite silent films so I wish Wilde had won. Chaplin was also taken out of this category and would've been the best choice.
Best Director, Dramatic Picture
Frank Borzage, 7th Heaven
Herbert Brenon, Sorrell and Son
King Vidor, The Crowd
Thoughts: I have not seen Sorrell and Son, but I'll note that Brenon did a great job with the Lon Chaney drama Laugh, Clown, Laugh. 7th Heaven is probably Borzage's best film, but King Vidor's The Crowd is an outright masterpiece and he should have been the winner. The most glaring omission among nominees is FW Murnau for Sunrise (and Fritz Lang for Metropolis, but I doubt they wanted to honor foreign films at this point).
Best Writing, Original Story
Underworld - Ben Hecht
The Last Command - Lajos Biro
Thoughts: Wow, they really got this one right. Underworld is a fantastic screenplay with vivid characters and a fascinating moral dilemma. It is amusing that Hecht was originally unhappy with the film and wanted his name removed from it. The Last Command is also a good script, probably getting attention here for the dual narrative structure it employed.
Best Writing, Adaptation
7th Heaven - Benjamin Glazer
Glorious Betsy - Anthony Coldeway
The Jazz Singer - Aldred A. Cohn
Thoughts: Did not see Glorious Betsy, but I'm glad 7th Heaven won if this was the competition it faced. There is nothing remarkable about The Jazz Singer's screenplay. Sunrise ro The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg would have been my picks here.
Cinematography: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Art Direction: The Tempest
Honorary Award: Charlie Chaplin, The Circus
Honorary Award: Warner Brothers, The Jazz Singer for technical excellenge
Thoughts: Sunrise is the obvious choice for Cinematography, so it's good they didn't screw that one up. I would have gone with 7th Heaven for Art Direction. If The Jazz Signer had to win an award, I'm glad that's the only one it won. It's nice for Chaplin to receive a special award, but he deserved to win one in a competitive category.
Conclusions: They got many of these categories perfect, but made a huge blunder with Best Picture. In fact, of all the Best Picture winners I have seen, Wings is clearly the worst. Sunrise (now in the AFI 100) should be duly recognized as a Best Picture winner.