Was 1939 really the best year in movie history?

A clutch of film buffs and staff writers at my favorite newspaper, the Washington Post, devoted considerable time, thought and space to a weekend article challenging 1939’s claim to the title of “Best Movie Year Ever.” Prompted by the number of critics appending “great” to 2018, the Post decided to look back and single out the greatest years in film, and after a brainstorming session, its writers settled on 1939 and six subsequent years — 1946, 1955, 1974, 1982, 1999, and 2007 — and assigned a sponsor to each one.

It was a cute idea and a fool’s errand if anyone’s ever been sent on one. It also produced fun reading, even if 1939 need not worry about its place in film history. There were unique reasons for 1939 (and ‘40 and ‘41) turning out so many enduring movies.

Hollywood had been recently and grudgingly unionized, giving directors in particular more power over their studio assignments. The country was in a dark mood,
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