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Oscars are awarded in a variety of categories to ensure inclusion of a variety of film genres and cinematic roles, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Animated Feature, Best Animated Short Film, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short, Best Film Editing, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Live Action Short Film, Best Make-Up and Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), and Best Writing (Original Screenplay). There have been other categories that have been discontinued—for example, Best Assistant Director or Best Original Story.
There are also a number of special Academy Awards voted on by special committees, including the Academy Honorary Award, Special Achievement Awards, Academy Scientific and Technical Award, Gordon E. Sawyer Award, Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award,and JohnA.Bonner Medal of Commendation. In addition, there are the Student Academy Awards, a national student film competition held by the Academy and the Academy Foundation. For these awards, colleges and university film students present their work in the animation, documentary, narrative, and alternative categories to compete for awards and grants. These awards are presented in their own ceremony in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. In 1993, an In Memoriam segment was introduced to the ceremony to honor those who had made a significant contribution to the movie industry who had died the previous year.
Eligibility And The Ceremony
There are a number of criteria for a film to be eligible for an Academy Award; most notably, the film must have opened in the previous calendar year and must have played for seven consecutive days in Los Angeles to qualify (except for Best Foreign Language Film). It must also be a feature length film, run for a minimum of 40 minutes (except for the short subject awards) and project in 35mm or 70mm film or in digital format on 24 or 48 frames per second with a minimum projector resolution of 2,048 by 1,080 pixels.
Members of the Academy vote for nominees in December/January and then again for the winners in early February. For most categories, members from each of the branches of the Academy vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories, with some exceptions; for example, in the Best Picture category, all voting members are eligible to select nominees. Foreign films must have English subtitles, and each country can submit only one film a year. The voting process, which has included electronic voting since 2013, is overseen by the global auditing company PricewaterhouseCoopers, ensuring the integrity of all vote tabulations and confidentiality of the results. Sealed envelopes are used to reveal the names of the winners during the ceremony.
Usually held in late February or early March, the Academy Awards is seen as the finale to the awards season, which begins in November of the previous year. The ceremony is an extravagant and elaborate event, with guests walking up a red carpet to enter the theater and the attention of the world press as much on the fashion choices of the guests as on the movies they are there to represent. The Oscars became well-known for the long and emotional acceptance speeches of the winners; to ensure that the ceremony could continue according to schedule, it was announced in 2010 that winners’ acceptance speeches should not last more than 45 seconds.
After the initial ceremony in the Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, the Academy Awards then alternated between the Ambassador Hotel on Wiltshire Boulevard and the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles between 1930 and 1943. The ceremony was then hosted at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre from 1944 to 1946, followed by the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles from 1947 to 1948. After a brief move to the Academy Award Theatre in Hollywood in 1949, it then moved to the Hollywood Pantages Theatre from 1950 to 1960. In 1961, there was another brief move to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California, and by 1969, it had moved again to the Los Angeles County Music Center, before finally moving to the Dolby Theatre (formerly known as the Kodak Theatre) in 2002, where it has remained ever since.
The ceremony was first televised in 1953, and the first show in color was televised in 1966. The show was screened via the NBC network until 1960, when it was taken over by ABC, returning to NBC in 1970 and back to ABC in 1976, where it has remained. The show is now broadcast in more than 200 countries. Canada, the United Kingdom, and Mexico were the first countries apart from the United States to show the ceremony, but by 1954, this list had expanded to include Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France (often with condensed international editions). By 1970, the rights to the Awards were sold in 50 countries, growing to 76 by 1984, including countries in Asia. The awards ceremony is now viewed by millions of people across the globe, although the highest percentage of U.S. TV viewers is believed to have been for the 42nd Academy Awards in 1970, when Midnight Cowboy won Best Picture, with a household rating of approximately 43.4 percent. Advertising is restricted in the Awards, and no official Academy Award sponsors can advertise during the aired show.
Movies And Money
For those involved in the movie industry, winning an Academy Award is more than just recognition of achievement; it also has potential economic benefits, with research suggesting that the Best Picture Oscar winner experiences a 22-percent increase in box office revenue after the nominations and a further 15-percent increase after winning. Movie companies will spend millions of dollars on marketing to Awards voters to improve their chances. However, the Academy has rules to limit overt campaigning and eliminate excessive marketing in order to prevent the event from becoming undignified or unfair. An Awards czar advises members on what is allowed and issues penalties for those who do not comply. Despite this, movie studios spend millions of dollars to promote their films during the Oscar season.
As with all movies themselves, the Academy Awards is not without its critics. Some award winners themselves have boycotted the ceremony or refused to accept their awards. For example, Marlon Brando refused his award for best actor in The Godfather (1972) for reasons surrounding the movie industry’s discrimination and mistreatment of Native Americans. Criticism of the Best Picture award is that the winners and nominees are usually from movies of a particular genre (historical epics or biographical dramas) and not fully representative of the film spectrum. Some argue that the Academy is disconnected from the audience and is favoring melodramas over movies that depict current, real-world issues and that acting prizes are not always awarded for individual performances but, instead, are based on personal popularity or presented as a career honor.
The Academy Awards, or Oscars, has developed to become one of the most prestigious events in the movie industry calendar, and examining the ceremony and award winners over the years provides an interesting insight into the development of the movie industry and the changing landscape of movie production.
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- Kinn, Gail and Jim Piazza. The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2008.
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- Osbourne, Robert. 85 Years of the Oscar. New York: Abbeville Press, 2013.
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- Rossman, Gabriel, Nicole Esparza, and Phillip Bonacich. “I’d Like to Thank the Academy, Team Spillovers, and Network Centrality.” American Sociological Review, v.75/1, 2010.