The Academy Awards, aka the Oscars, is hosted annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The winners of AAs are selected by the Academy’s membership. It is the oldest and most prestigious of the awards. This year’s awards will be presented on Sunday, March 4, on ABC TV. The host will be Jimmy Kimmel.
Quiz question: Who has hosted the most AA shows? Answer below.
Some of you may be curious as to the derivation of the name “Oscar.” In my research I came across two possibilities. Some people attribute it to actress Bette Davis who, in one of her biographies, named the statuette after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. However, most people attribute it to Margaret Herrick, the former Executive Secretary of the Academy. In 1931 when she first laid eyes on the statuette, she intoned “He looks just like my Uncle Oscar!” Fortuitously, columnist Sidney Skolsky was within earshot. He memorialized the comment by including it in his byline, and the moniker “stuck.” That version sounds like the most plausible, so I am going with it. In any event, the Academy adopted the name officially in 1939.
Some little-known facts about the awards:
The initial awards were presented in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel before an audience of approximately 270 persons. The host was Douglas Fairbanks. This year, by contrast, the awards will be internationally televised and streamed live to approximately 40 million people around the globe. Moreover, as has been customary, they will be preceded by a elaborate ceremony, which will feature celebrities parading before their fans, the media, and a television audience on the “Red Carpet.”
In 1929 the award winners, 15 in all, were disclosed to the media three months ahead of time. For a few years, beginning in 1930, the winners were disclosed the night before. Since 1941, however, the identities of the winners have been sealed in envelopes and guarded like the proverbial “crown jewels” until they are disclosed at the ceremony.
Since 1950 the ownership of the statuettes has not been unencumbered. Legally, neither the winners nor their heirs are free to sell them on the open market without first offering them back to the Academy for $1. Their value on the open market would be substantial. For example, a few years ago, a pre-1950 statuette sold via on-line auction for $861,542.
The voting membership of the academy is approximately 5,800, roughly 94% Caucasian, 77% male, and 54% over the age of 60. More on that later.
In order to be eligible for the Best Picture Award, a film must be a minimum of 40 minutes long and must have opened in LA County by December 31 of the previous year. That is why a movie will frequently debut by December 31 with a very limited distribution and then open to a general audience weeks or even months later.
Other than Best Picture, only the members of each branch vote for the nominees in that category. For example, only directors nominate candidates for Best Director. The entire membership votes for the winners, as well as for Best Picture. Additionally, according to the New York Times the method for choosing the Best Picture winner is somewhat convoluted. Basically, voters are required to list their choices in preferential order. If no movie obtains a majority, then the movie with the fewest first plates is eliminated and there is a re-vote. This procedure is repeated until one movie gets a majority.
For many years, the awards were presented in late March or early April. Beginning in 2004, however, they were moved up to late February or early March. The major reason for this was to shorten the intense lobbying and advertising campaigns of the Oscar season, which had become excessive. In addition, the late February-early March period is devoid of competing extravaganzas, such as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in late March, which has grown very popular. ABC receives an additional benefit in that February is a “sweeps” month.
From time to time, some critics have accused the Academy of bias, for example:
Favoritism toward romantic dramas, historical epics, family melodramas, and historical biographies (Shakespeare in Love, Chariots of Fire, the Best Years of Our Lives, Annie Hall) at the expense of action films or sports films. Often, these so-called “Oscar-bait” movies have won at the expense of more popular films such as Star Wars, Goodfellas, Hoosiers and Raging Bull. The latter group have become iconic movies that are shown on tv fairly regularly and have stood the test of time. On the other hand, the same cannot be said for the former group.
I have long felt that there has, at times, been a disconnect between the Academy voters and the general audience. Often, the winning picture, while critically acclaimed, has not been a box office success. Furthermore, sentiment has, sometimes, led to awards for popular entertainers or those who have been denied in the past. Also, some awards have been given more in recognition of a distinguished career than for the most recent individual performance. One example would be John Wayne winning for his performance in “True Grit” in 1969. Wayne had been one of the most popular performers for three decades, but he had never won an Oscar.
Critics have denoted the composition of the voting membership, as noted above, as being problematic. I’m not sure. Through the years there have occasionally been curious snubs, such as Eddie Murphy being passed over (in favor of Alan Arkin) for his superb performance in “Dreamgirls.” Furthermore, many felt that 2015’s “Straight Outta of Compton” was short-changed. Consequently, in recent years, many observers have been “pushing” female and minority nominees. However, I don’t believe, as some do, that those omissions are cause for protests and/or boycotts. I am definitely not in favor of a quota for nominations of minorities as has been proposed by some. As long as the nominations and Oscar voting are subjective, there will always be some that are overlooked. Our society is too PC as it is. Part of life is dealing with disappointments.
Every year, the Academy uses the wide forum of the Oscars to further some political agenda. Personally, I find some of their shenanigans excessive. They would do well to remember Michael Jordan’s famous explanation of why he was apolitical publicly: “Republicans buy sneakers too.” This year, we can expect tributes, if that is the right word, to the #MeToo movement and curbing gun violence.
I would like to denote few puzzling choices for Best Picture in past years, cases in which the winning picture was soon forgotten and an also-ran or two became a classic or at least substantially more popular or memorable. For example:
a. 1977 – “Annie Hall” beat “Star Wars.” Unless you’re a big Woody Allen fan chances are you don’t remember “Annie Hall;” “Star Wars” was a mega-hit and spawned several sequels as well as ancillaries such as toys and games.
b. 1941 – “How Green Was My Valley” beat “Citizen Kane.” “Valley” has been long forgotten, and “Kane” is on many people’s short list of the best movies ever.
c. 1990 – “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas.” I saw “Dances.” It was a nice movie, but “Goodfellas” is a classic gangster film with an all-star cast (DeNiro, Pesce, Liotta) and is on tv frequently.
d. 1940 – “Rebecca” beat “The Grapes of Wrath,” a powerful drama about the Depression-era California migrant workers starring Henry Fonda, among others.
e. 1998- “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan.” “Shakespeare” was soon forgotten and is now no more than the answer to a trivia question, whereas “Ryan” was a classic WWII movie with an all-star cast headed by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon). Who can ever forget the classic D-Day landing scene?
f. 1946 – “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which few recall and is never on tv, beat “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is a Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart and which is on tv annually. I could go on. In fact, I could write an entire blog on just this sub-topic, but you get the idea.
Finally, I know you are all anxiously awaiting my predictions, so here they are:
Best Picture – Of the nominated movies, I liked “Darkest Hour,” “Three Billboards,” and “The Post” the best. “Billboards” seems to be the favorite, but there are frequently surprise, if not nonsensical, choices in this category. I’ll predict “Billboards.”
Quiz question – Do you remember which movie won last year?
Best Actor – Gary Oldman – “Darkest Hour.” I didn’t see all the nominated performances, but of those I did see, his was the best.
Best Actress – Frances McDormand. It would be a travesty if she did not win.
Best Director – Guillermo del Toro – “Shape of Water.” Appears to be a “sure thing.” We’ll see.
Enjoy the awards show as well as the “Red Carpet,” although I strongly recommend using a DVR to get through the many “dead spots.”
Quiz answers: 1. Bob Hope – 18, followed by Billy Crystal – 8.
2. “Moonlight.” Remember the envelope snafu?