Winner: Best Unique and Artistic Presentation
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
Starring: George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor
Plot: A philandering husband rediscovers his love for his wife.
Thoughts: I have a distinct feeling that the Academy pretty much made this award so Sunrise could win it. The film certainly embodied the phrase "artistic presentation" and was rather unique in American cinema at the time.
F.W. Murnau had produced a number of films in Germany before William Fox brought him to America after being impressed with The Man Who Laughs (one of the original inspirations for the Joker of recent Dark Knight fame. Fox wanted a decidedly different film than what audiences were used to at the time. Well, he got what he wanted and then some.
Almost every shot in Sunrise was a deliberate crafting of symbolism and emotion. Forced perspectives on the sets and effective use of lighting set the tone of each scene quite well. This style was quite evocative of what has become known as the German Expressionist movement in film. The aforementioned symbolism and use of sets in a deliberate fashion (sometimes called mise en scene to add additional depth to a story became the preferred style in German films after World War I when monetary issues forced many a filmmaker to be more creative.
Runners-up Chang and The Crowd were both well made and works of art in their own right but the Best Unique and Artistic Presentation award rightfully went to Sunrise. As mentioned in other entries, this award was folded into the Best Motion Picture category for the second Academy Awards. Janet Gaynor took home Best Actress (which also reflected her work on Seventh Heaven). Also won was the Best Cinematography award by Charles Strosser and Karl Struss. Although nominated for Interior Decoration (eventually to become Best Art Direction) for Rochus Gliese's artsy sets, it and Seventh Heaven lost to William Cameron's work on The Dove and Tempest.