The Academy Awards (frequently known as the Oscars) are accolades presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers. The formal ceremony at which the awards are presented is one of the most prominent award ceremonies in the world. It is also the oldest award ceremony in the media, and many other award ceremonies such as the Grammy Awards
(for music), Golden Globe Awards
(all forms of visual media), and Emmy Awards (for television) are often modeled from the Academy. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself was conceived by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss Louis B. Mayer.
The 1st Academy Awards ceremony was held on Thursday, May 16, 1929, at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood to honor outstanding film achievements of 1927 and 1928. It was hosted by actor Douglas Fairbanks
and director William C. deMille. The 82nd Academy Awards, honoring the best in film for 2009, was held on Sunday, March 7, 2010, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, with actors Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosting the ceremony.
The first awards were presented on May 16, 1929, at a private brunch at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with an audience of about 270 people.
The cost of guest tickets for that night's ceremony was $5. Fifteen statuettes were awarded, honoring artists, directors and other personalities of the filmmaking industry of the time for their works during the 1927-1928 period.
Winners had been announced three months earlier of their triumphs; however that was changed in the second ceremony of the Academy Awards in 1930. Since then and during the first decade, the results were given to newspapers for publication at 11pm on the night of the awards. This method was used until the Los Angeles Times announced the winners before the ceremony began; as a result, the Academy has used a sealed envelope to reveal the name of the winners since 1941. Since 2002, the awards have been broadcast from the Kodak Theatre.
The first Best Actor awarded was Emil Jannings
, for his performance in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. He had to return to Europe before the ceremony, so the Academy agreed to give him the prize earlier; this made him the first Academy Award winner in history. The honored professionals were awarded for all the work done in a certain category for the qualifying period; for example, Emil Jannings received the award for two movies he starred during that period. Since the fourth ceremony, the system changed, and the professionals were honored for a specific performance in a single film. As of the 81st Academy Awards ceremony held in 2009, a total of 2,744 Oscars have been given for 1,798 awards. A total of 297 actors have won Oscars in competitive acting categories or been awarded Honorary or Juvenile Awards.
At the 29th ceremony, held on March 27, 1957, the Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced; until then, foreign language films were honored with the Special Achievement Award.
Although there are seven other types of awards presented by the Academy (the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, the Scientific and Engineering Award, the Technical Achievement Award, the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, and the Student Academy Award), the best known one is the Academy Award of Merit more popularly known as the Oscar statuette. Made of gold-plated britannium on a black metal base, it is 13.5 in (34 cm) tall, weighs 8.5 lb (3.85 kg) and depicts a knight rendered in Art Deco style holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes. The five spokes each represent the original branches of the Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, and Technicians.
MGM's art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Academy members, supervised the design of the award trophy by printing the design on a scroll. In need of a model for his statuette Gibbons was introduced by his then wife Dolores del Río to Mexican film director and actor Emilio "El Indio" Fernández. Reluctant at first, Fernández was finally convinced to pose nude to create what today is known as the "Oscar". Then, sculptor George Stanley (who also did the Muse Fountain at the Hollywood Bowl) sculpted Gibbons's design in clay and Sachin Smith cast the statuette in 92.5 percent tin and 7.5 percent copper and then gold-plated it. The only addition to the Oscar since it was created is a minor streamlining of the base. The original Oscar mold was cast in 1928 at the C.W. Shumway & Sons Foundry in Batavia, Illinois, which also contributed to casting the molds for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and Emmy Awards statuettes. Since 1983, approximately 50 Oscars are made each year in Chicago, Illinois by manufacturer R.S. Owens & Company.
In support of the American effort in World War II, the statuettes were made of plaster and were traded in for gold ones after the war had ended.
The root of the name Oscar is contested. One biography of Bette Davis claims that she named the Oscar after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson; one of the earliest mentions in print of the term Oscar dates back to a Time magazine article about the 1934 6th Academy Awards and to Bette Davis's receipt of the award in 1936. Walt Disney
is also quoted as thanking the Academy for his Oscar as early as 1932. Another claimed origin is that the Academy's Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, first saw the award in 1931 and made reference to the statuette's reminding her of her "Uncle Oscar" (a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce). Columnist Sidney Skolsky was present during Herrick's naming and seized the name in his byline, "Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette 'Oscar'". The trophy was officially dubbed the "Oscar" in 1939 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Another legend reports that the Norwegian-American Eleanor Lilleberg, executive secretary to Louis B. Mayer, saw the first statuette and exclaimed, "It looks like King Oscar II!". At the end of the day she asked, "What should we do with Oscar, put him in the vault?" and the name stuck. A more recent theory comes from a Peruvian-born Californian residing in Hollywood whose birth name is actually "Oscar". He claims to be the original Oscar after whom the award was named.
Ownership of Oscar statuettes
Since 1950, the statuettes have been legally encumbered by the requirement that neither winners nor their heirs may sell the statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for US$1. If a winner refuses to agree to this stipulation, then the Academy keeps the statuette. Academy Awards not protected by this agreement have been sold in public auctions and private deals for six-figure sums.
This rule is highly controversial, since while the Oscar is under the ownership of the recipient, it is essentially not on the open market. The case of Michael Todd's grandson trying to sell Todd's Oscar statuette illustrates that there are many who do not agree with this idea. When Todd's grandson attempted to sell Todd's Oscar statuette to a movie prop collector, the Academy won the legal battle by getting a permanent injunction. Although some Oscar sales transactions have been successful, the buyers have subsequently returned the statuettes to the Academy, which keeps them in its treasury.
Since 2004, Academy Award nomination results have been announced to the public in late January. Prior to 2004, nomination results were announced publicly in early February.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a professional honorary organization, maintains a voting membership of 5,835 as of 2007.
Actors constitute the largest voting bloc, numbering 1,311 members (22 percent) of the Academy's composition. Votes have been certified by the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (and its predecessor Price Waterhouse) for the past 73 annual awards ceremonies.
All AMPAS members must be invited to join by the Board of Governors, on behalf of Academy Branch Executive Committees. Membership eligibility may be achieved by a competitive nomination or a member may submit a name based on other significant contribution to the field of motion pictures.
New membership proposals are considered annually. The Academy does not publicly disclose its membership, although as recently as 2007 press releases have announced the names of those who have been invited to join. The 2007 release also stated that it has just under 6,000 voting members. While the membership had been growing, stricter policies have kept its size steady since then.
Today, according to Rules 2 and 3 of the official Academy Awards Rules, a film must open in the previous calendar year, from midnight at the start of January 1 to midnight at the end of December 31, in Los Angeles County, California, to qualify (except for the Best Foreign Language Film). For example, the 2010 Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, was actually first released in 2008, but did not qualify for the 2009 awards as it did not play its Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles until mid-2009, thus qualifying for the 2010 awards.
Rule 2 states that a film must be feature-length, defined as a minimum of 40 minutes, except for short subject awards, and it must exist either on a 35 mm or 70 mm film print or in 24 frame/s or 48 frame/s progressive scan digital cinema format with native resolution not less than 1280x720.
Producers must submit an Official Screen Credits online form before the deadline; in case it is not submitted by the defined deadline, the film will be ineligible for Academy Awards in any year. The form includes the production credits for all related categories. Then, each form is checked and put in a Reminder List of Eligible Releases.
In late December ballots and copies of the Reminder List of Eligible Releases are mailed to around 6000 active members. For most categories, members from each of the branches vote to determine the nominees only in their respective categories (i.e. only directors vote for directors, writers for writers, actors for actors, etc.); there are some exceptions though in the case of certain categories, like Foreign Film, Documentary and Animated Feature Film in which movies are selected by special screening committees made up of member from all branches. In the special case of Best Picture, all voting members are eligible to select the nominees for that category. Foreign films must include English subtitles, and each country can only submit one film per year.
The members of the various branches nominate those in their respective fields while all members may submit nominees for Best Picture. The winners are then determined by a second round of voting in which all members are then allowed to vote in most categories, including Best Picture.
The major awards are presented at a live televised ceremony, most commonly in February or March following the relevant calendar year, and six weeks after the announcement of the nominees. It is the culmination of the film awards season, which usually begins during November or December of the previous year. This is an elaborate extravaganza, with the invited guests walking up the red carpet in the creations of the most prominent fashion designers of the day. Black tie dress is the most common outfit for men, although fashion may dictate not wearing a bow-tie, and musical performers sometimes do not adhere to this. (The artists who recorded the nominees for Best Original Song quite often perform those songs live at the awards ceremony, and the fact that they are performing is often used to promote the television broadcast.)
The Academy Awards is televised live across the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, the United Kingdom, and gathers millions of viewers elsewhere throughout the world. The 2007 ceremony was watched by more than 40 million Americans. Other awards ceremonies (such as the Emmys, Golden Globes, and Grammys) are broadcast live in the East Coast but are on tape delay in the West Coast and might not air on the same day outside North America (if the awards are even televised). The Academy has for several years claimed that the award show has up to a billion viewers internationally, but this has so far not been confirmed by any independent sources. The usual extension of this claim is that only the Super Bowl, Olympics Opening Ceremonies, and FIFA World Cup Final draw higher viewership.
The Awards show was first televised on NBC in 1953. NBC continued to broadcast the event until 1960 when the ABC Network took over, televising the festivities through 1970, after which NBC resumed the broadcasts. ABC once again took over broadcast duties in 1976; it is under contract to do so through the year 2014.
After more than sixty years of being held in late March or early April, the ceremonies were moved up to late February or early March starting in 2004 to help disrupt and shorten the intense lobbying and ad campaigns associated with Oscar season in the film industry. Another reason was because of the growing TV ratings success of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, which would cut into the Academy Awards audience. The earlier date is also to the advantage of ABC, as it now usually occurs during the highly profitable and important February sweeps period. (Some years, the ceremony is moved into early March in deference to the Winter Olympics.) Advertising is somewhat restricted, however, as traditionally no movie studios or competitors of official Academy Award sponsors may advertise during the telecast. The Awards show holds the distinction of having won the most Emmys in history, with 38 wins and 167 nominations.
After many years of being held on Mondays at 9:00 p.m. Eastern/6:00 p.m Pacific, in 1999 the ceremonies were moved to Sundays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern/5:30 p.m. Pacific. The reasons given for the move were that more viewers would tune in on Sundays, that Los Angeles rush-hour traffic jams could be avoided, and that an earlier start time would allow viewers on the East Coast to go to bed earlier. For many years the film industry had opposed a Sunday broadcast because it would cut into the weekend box office.
On March 30, 1981, the awards ceremony was postponed for one day after the shooting of President Ronald Reagan
and others in Washington DC.
In 1993 an In Memoriam section was introduced, honoring those who had made a significant contribution to cinema who had died in the preceding 12 months. This section has led to some criticism for omission of notable persons such as Leonard Schrader and Malcolm Arnold in 2007 and Gene Barry, Farrah Fawcett, Henry Gibson, and Bea Arthur in 2010. The list of names chosen to be included in the Memoriam segment is compiled by a small committee of the Academy and not the producers of the show.
Since 2002, celebrities have been seen arriving at the Academy Awards in hybrid vehicles; during the telecast of the 79th Academy Awards in 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio
and former vice president Al Gore announced that ecologically intelligent practices had been integrated into the planning and execution of the Oscar presentation and several related events.
In 2010, the organizers of the Academy Awards announced that winners' acceptance speeches must not run past 45 seconds. This, according to organizer Bill Mechanic, was to ensure the elimination of what he termed "the single most hated thing on the show" - overly long and embarrassing displays of emotion.
In 1929, the 1st Academy Awards were presented at a banquet dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. From 1930–1943, the awards were presented first at the Ambassador Hotel in Hollywood, and later the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood then hosted the awards from 1944 to 1946, followed by the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles from 1947 to 1948. The 21st Academy Awards in 1949 were held at the Academy Award Theater at what was the Academy's headquarters on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.
From 1950 to 1960, the awards were presented at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre. With the advent of television, the 1953–1957 awards took place simultaneously in Hollywood and New York first at the NBC International Theatre (1953) and then at the NBC Century Theatre (1954–1957), after which the ceremony took place solely in Los Angeles. The Oscars moved to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California in 1961. By 1969, the Academy decided to move the ceremonies back to Los Angeles, this time to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Music Center.
In 2002, Hollywood's Kodak Theatre became the permanent home of the awards.
Academy Awards of Merit
Best Picture: 1927 to present
Best Actor in a Leading Role: 1927 to present
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: 1936 to present
Best Actress in a Leading Role: 1927 to present
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: 1936 to present
Best Animated Feature: 2001 to present
Best Animated Short Film: 1931 to present
Best Art Direction: 1927 to present
Best Cinematography: 1927 to present
Best Costume Design: 1948 to present
Best Director: 1927 to present
Best Documentary Feature: 1943 to present
Best Documentary Short Subject: 1941 to present
Best Film Editing: 1935 to present
Best Foreign Language Film: 1947 to present
Best Live Action Short Film: 1931 to present
Best Makeup: 1981 to present
Best Original Score: 1934 to present
Best Original Song: 1934 to present
Best Sound Editing: 1963 to present
Best Sound Mixing: 1930 to present
Best Visual Effects: 1939 to present
Best Writing - Adapted Screenplay: 1927 to present
Best Writing - Original Screenplay: 1940 to present
In the first year of the awards, the Best Director award was split into two separate categories (Drama and Comedy). At times, the Best Original Score award has also been split into separate categories (Drama and Comedy/Musical). From the 1930s through the 1960s, the Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume Design awards were likewise split into two separate categories (black-and-white films and color films).
Best Assistant Director: 1933 to 1937
Best Dance Direction: 1935 to 1937
Best Engineering Effects: 1927/1928 only
Best Original Musical or Comedy Score: 1995 to 1999
Best Original Story: 1927 to 1956
Best Score - Adaptation or Treatment: 1962 to 1969; 1973
Best Short Film - Color: 1936 and 1937
Best Short Film - Live Action - 2 Reels: 1936 to 1956
Best Short Film - Novelty: 1932 to 1935
Best Title Writing: 1927/1928 only
Best Unique and Artistic Quality of Production: 1927/1928 only
The Board of Governors meets each year and considers new awards. To date, the following proposed awards have not been approved:
Best Casting: rejected in 1999
Best Stunt Coordination: rejected in 1999; rejected in 2005
Best Title Design: rejected in 1999
Special Academy Awards
These awards are voted on by special committees, rather than by the Academy membership as a whole, but the individual selected to receive the special award may decline the offer. They are not always presented on a consistent annual basis.
Current special awards:
Academy Honorary Award: 1929 to present
Academy Scientific and Technical Award: 1931 to present
Gordon E. Sawyer Award: 1981 to present
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: 1956 to present
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award: 1938 to present
Retired special awards:
Academy Juvenile Award: 1934 to 1960
Academy Special Achievement Award 1972 to 1995
The Oscars are generally voted on by members of the entertainment industry; thus, important films that have had the most people working on them generally become nominated. Director William Friedkin, an Oscar winner and producer of the Academy Awards, spoke critically of the awards at a conference in New York in 2009. He characterized the Academy Awards as "the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever devised for itself".
In addition, several winners critical of the Academy Awards have boycotted the ceremonies and refused to accept their Oscars. The first to do so was Dudley Nichols (Best Writing in 1935 for The Informer). Nichols boycotted the Eighth Academy Awards ceremony because of conflicts between the Academy and the Writer's Guild. George C. Scott became the second person to refuse his award (Best Actor in 1970 for Patton
), at the 43rd Academy Awards ceremony. Scott explained, "The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don't want any part of it." The third winner, Marlon Brando, refused his award (Best Actor in 1972 for The Godfather
), citing the film industry's discrimination and mistreatment of Native Americans. At the 45th Academy Awards ceremony, Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather to read a 15-page speech detailing Brando's criticisms.
It has been observed that several of the Academy Award winners – particularly Best Picture – have not stood the test of time or had defeated worthier efforts. On They Shoot Pictures, Don't They's comprehensive database of the 1,000 most acclaimed films of all time, only eight of the first hundred ranked films have won the Best Picture award. Tim Dirks, editor of AMC's filmsite.org, has written of the Academy Awards,
Unfortunately, the critical worth, artistic vision, cultural influence, and innovative qualities of many films are not given the same voting weight. Especially since the 80s, moneymaking 'formula-made' blockbusters with glossy production values have often been crowd-pleasing titans (and Best Picture winners), but they haven't necessarily been great films with depth or critical acclaim by any measure.
In his review of The Lives of Others, Nick Davis argued,
Generally speaking, if you drop the adjective "Best" and replace it with "Most," you come to a better understanding of what the Academy Awards are often about. "Most Editing" would be an apt label for the kinds of movies that win trophies for being so obviously "edited," particularly through action scenes or across multiple plot-strands, that even audiences who rarely think about film editing sit up and take notice. "Most Sound" and "Most Sound Effects" would explain the lingering fascination with explosions and submarine pings rather than subtler work connected to mood or character, and "Most Visual Effects" is even more self-explanatory. "Most Original Score" works if we parse "Most" not onto "Original" but onto "Score," since the compositions possessed of the greatest uniqueness and creativity rarely win or even get nominated, but movies crammed with music often do, even when the winning composer wrote almost none of it (see: Babel
). Actors are often rewarded for doing the Most Acting, especially in the Supporting divisions, since "Most" connotes both the fussiness of one's thesping (just ask Renée Zellweger
and Tim Robbins
) and the awful-lotta screen time that nominees like Jamie Foxx
, Jake Gyllenhaal, Cate Blanchett
, and Natalie Portman
tend to have over truly "supporting" actors.
The Academy Awards have also come under criticism for having a bias towards certain types of performances and film genres. The Best Picture prize has never been given to a film noir, science fiction or an animated film; and rarely are horror, fantasy, comedy and westerns recognized by AMPAS.
Acting prizes in certain years have been criticized for not recognizing superior performances so much as being awarded for sentimental reasons, personal popularity, atonement for past mistakes, or presented as a "career honor" to recognize a distinguished nominee's entire body of work.
Summary courtesy of Wikipedia