The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are the most prominent movie awards in the United States and most watched awards ceremony in the world. In 1927, shortly after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was incorporated, a dinner was held in the Crystal Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to discuss the goals of the new organization. One of those goals was to find a method of honoring outstanding achievements, thereby encouraging higher levels of quality in all areas of motion picture production.
The first awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929. The statuettes that were presented to the first Academy Awards winners were nearly identical to those handed out today. As one of the most prominent award ceremonies in the world, the Academy Awards ceremony is televised to millions of viewers around the world. It is also the oldest award ceremony in the media; its equivalents, the Grammy Awards (for music), the Emmy Awards (for television), and the Tony Awards (for theater), are modeled after the Academy Awards.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Academy Awards are granted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a professional honorary organization, dedicated to the advancement of the arts and science of motion pictures. The original Academy was made up of 36 actors, directors, writers, technicians, producers, and lawyers. While the Academy does not publish a list of members, as of 2012 there was a voting membership of 5,783, with actors making up the largest voting bloc (22 percent) with a membership of 1,311 members. As of 2004, the roster included filmmakers from 36 countries.
Academy membership may be obtained by a competitive nomination (however, the nominee must be invited to join by the Academy's Board Of Governors) or a member may submit a name. The Academy does not publicly disclose its membership, although past press releases have announced the names of those who have been invited to join. If a person not yet a member is nominated in more than one category in a single year, he/she must choose which branch to join when he/she accepts membership.
The nomination ballots are mailed to members of the Academy in December and must be returned within two weeks for their votes to be counted. These secret ballots are returned to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that has tabulated and certified the votes for 72 years, almost since the awards' inception. Once the votes are tabulated, a final list of nominees is announced in January. Another round of secret voting takes place, with members of the Academy only able to vote on the final nominees listed in each category. Those ballots must be returned to PricewaterhouseCoopers within two weeks. After the ballots are tabulated, only two partners of PricewaterhouseCoopers will know the results until the envelopes are opened on stage during the Academy Awards presentation.
The official name of the Oscar statuette is the Academy Award of Merit. Made of gold-plated britannium on a black metal base, it is 13.5 inches (34 cm) tall, weighs 8.5 lb (3.85 kg) and depicts a knight holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes, signifying 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 scroll. Then sculptor George Stanley sculpted Gibbons' design in clay, and Alex Smith cast the statue in tin and copper and then gold-plated it over a composition of 92.5 percent tin and 7.5 percent copper. The only addition to the Oscar since it was created is a minor streamlining of the base.
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. The more accepted claim is that of the Academy’s Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, who first saw the award in 1931, remarked that the statuette reminded her of her Uncle Oscar. The staff soon began referring to it as "Oscar." By the sixth Awards Presentation in 1934, Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky used the name in his column in reference to Katharine Hepburn's first Best Actress win. The Academy itself did not use the nickname officially until 1939.
However it came to be, both "Oscar" and "Academy Award" are registered trademarks of the Academy, and are fiercely protected by the Academy through litigation.
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 $1. If a winner refuses to agree to this, 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.
Today, according to Rules 2 and 3 of the official Academy Awards Rules, a film has to 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. Rule 2 states that a film must be "feature-length" (defined as at least 40 minutes) to qualify for an award (except for Short Subject awards). It must also exist either on a 35mm or 70mm film print or on a 24fps or 48fps progressive scan digital film print with a native resolution no lower than 1280x720.
The members of the various branches nominate those in their respective fields (actors are nominated by the actors' branch, etc.) 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 all categories.
The first Awards ceremony was held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the attendance numbered 270, with tickets at $5 each, including a banquet and long speeches. The statuettes were presented by Academy President Douglas Fairbanks. That first year, the award recipients were announced three months earlier. For the next decade, the results were given in advance to newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. on the night of the Awards. Unfortunately in 1940, the Los Angeles Times decided to publish the list of winners in its evening edition, which was available to guests arriving for the affair. As a result, the Academy adopted the sealed-envelope system the next year, and that system remains in use today.
There were fifteen years of banquets, the first at the Hollywood Roosevelt, and the rest at either the Biltmore or the Ambassador Hotels. After the 1942 ceremony, it was decided that the attendance was too large to continue the banquet venue. Also, the war made it impractical. The 16th Awards ceremony was held at Grauman's Chinese Theater, covered by network radio for the first time. The Award ceremony continued at Grauman's for two more years and then moved to the Shrine Civic Auditorium. Two years later, in March 1949, the 21st Awards ceremony took place in the Academy’s own Melrose Avenue theater in Los Angeles. For the next 11 years, the annual Awards were held at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. It was there, on March 19, 1953, that the Academy Awards Presentation was first televised.
The major awards are given out at a live televised ceremony, most commonly in March following the relevant calendar year, and six weeks after the announcement of the nominees. It begins with the Parade of the Oscars in which students from Inner-City Filmmakers (ICF), a training and film industry job development program, carry the "Oscars" down the red carpet. Then comes the Academy Awards arrivals. 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 normally required for men, although fashion may dictate leaving out the bow tie, and musical performers typically don't adhere to this custom (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 Awards Ceremony is one of the highest viewed events of the year. Then comes the "Backstage" event, an opportunity for the Awards recipients to have their pictures taken with their awards. After the ceremonies is the Governor's Ball, attended by Oscar winners, nominees, telecast participants, and Academy guests.
It is estimated that over one billion people watch the Academy Awards either live or recorded each year. If this is true, few other events outside of the Olympics and FIFA World Cup draw a higher global audience. The Awards show was first televised on NBC in 1953. NBC broadcast them until 1960 when the American Broadcasting Company Network (ABC) took over the broadcasting job until 1971 when NBC regained the broadcast rights. ABC again took over broadcast duties in 1976 and was under contract to do so through the year 2014, extended to 2020, and then extended to 2028.
After more than fifty 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. The earlier date is also of advantage to ABC, as it usually occurs during the highly profitable and important February Nielsen Ratings "Sweeps" period.
The awards event itself is a National Special Security Event by the United States Department of Homeland Security.
Movie studios are strictly prohibited from advertising movies during the broadcast.
Some awards are for a film as a whole, some are for an aspect of a film.
- Best Picture–1928 to present
- Best Director–1928 to present
- Best Leading Actor–1928 to present
- Best Leading Actress–1928 to present
- Best Supporting Actor–1936 to present
- Best Supporting Actress–1936 to present
- Best Original Screenplay–1940 to present
- Best Adapted Screenplay–1928 to present
- Best Animated Feature–2001 to present
- Best Art Direction–1928 to present (also called Interior or Set Decoration)
- Best Cinematography–1928 to present
- Best Costume Design–1948 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 Makeup–1981 to present
- Best Original Song–1934 to present
- Best Original Score–1934 to present
- Best Animated Short Film–1931 to present
- Best Live Action Short Film–1931 to present
- Best Sound Mixing–1930 to present
- Best Sound Editing–1963 to present
- Best Visual Effects–1939 to present
- Best Assistant Director–1933 to 1937
- Best Dance Direction–1935 to 1937, 1962
- Best Engineering Effects–1928 only
- Best Score Adaptation or Treatment
- Best Original Musical or Comedy Score
- 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 Original Story-1928 to 1956
- Best Unique and Artistic Quality of Production–1928 only
In the first year of the awards, the Best Director category was split into separate Drama and Comedy categories. At times, the Best Original Score category has been split into separate Drama and Comedy/Musical categories. Today, the Best Original Score category is one category. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costume Design awards were split into separate categories for black and white and color films.
These awards are voted on by special committees, rather than by the Academy membership as a whole.
- Current Awards
- Academy Honorary Award—1928 to present
- In the early years of the academy, it was often used to reward significant achievements of the year that did not fit in existing categories. This subsequently led to several new categories. In recent years the academy has awarded it almost exclusively to celebrate a lifetime of achievement.
- Academy Special Achievement Award
- Given for an achievement which makes an exceptional contribution to the motion picture for which it was created, but for which there is no annual award category (ie.visual or sound effects).
- Academy Award, Scientific or Technical–1931 to present at three levels
- Scientific or Technical Merit—a statuette
- Given for basic achievements that have a definite influence upon the advancement of the industry.
- Scientific and Engineering Achievement—a plaque
- Given for those achievements that exhibit a high level of engineering and are important to the progress of the industry.
- Technical Achievement—a citation
- Given to those that have technical accomplishments that have contributed to the progress of the motion picture industry.
- Scientific or Technical Merit—a statuette
- The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award—1938 to present
- Voted by the Academy's Board of Governors and presented to "creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production."
- The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award—1956 to present
- An Oscar statuette given to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry."
- Gordon E. Sawyer Award—1981 to present
- An Oscar statuette awarded to recognize "an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry."
- Retired Awards
- Academy Juvenile Award—1934 to 1954
- A miniature statuette given to child actors and actresses for achievement in any category. It was discontinued as recipients received regular "Oscars" in the appropriate category.
- Only one Oscar-winning individual has also been a Nobel Laureate. George Bernard Shaw achieved this distinction in 1938, when he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925.
- Walt Disney holds the record for having the most Academy Awards: 22 won and 4 honorary. He was also nominated for 64 Academy Awards during his lifetime.
- After Walt Disney, the most nominated people in Academy Awards history is composer John Williams with 47 nominations.
- The oldest people ever to win an Oscar: Christopher Plummer (age 82) for Beginners, Jessica Tandy (age 80) for Driving Miss Daisy.
- The oldest person ever to be nominated for an Oscar: Gloria Stuart (age 87) for Titanic.
- The youngest person ever to win an Oscar: Tatum O'Neal (age 10) for Paper Moon.
- The youngest person ever to be nominated for an Oscar: Justin Henry (age 8) for Kramer vs. Kramer.
- James Dean is the only actor to receive two posthumous acting nominations. Dean was killed in a single car traffic accident in 1955, but was nominated in 1956 for East of Eden and 1957 for Giant.
- Although he never won an Oscar for any of his movie performances, the comedian Bob Hope received five honorary Oscars for contributions to cinema and humanitarian work.
- Only three movies have swept the top 5 awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay): It Happened One Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and The Silence of the Lambs.
- Only three Best Picture winners have won a clean sweep at the Oscars: Gigi (9-9), The Last Emperor (9-9), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (11-11).
- The longest standing ovation was given to Charlie Chaplin in 1972, after receiving his honorary Oscar “for the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.”
- On March 30, 1981, the Academy Awards were delayed for one day, following the shooting of President Ronald Reagan.
- Jack Valenti said on PBS's "Sneak Previews" in 1984: "In order to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, a film has to meet three requirements: (1) Deal with serious human drama; (2) Be released late in the year in order to be fresh in the minds of the voters; (3) Do well, but, not too well at the box office."
- Jackie Finlay, The men who are counting on Oscar. BBC News, March 3, 2006. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
- Emanuel Levy, All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards (New York: Continuum, 2003, ISBN 0826414524).
- Biography of Bette Davis Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
- Lacey Rose, Psst! Wanna buy an Oscar? Forbes, February 28, 2005. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
- Rules & Eligibility Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
- Rule Two: Eligibility Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
- Georg Szalai, Oscars: ABC Renews Contract Through 2028 The Hollywood Reporter, August 31, 2016. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
- Levy, Emanuel. All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards. New York: Continuum, 2003. ISBN 0826414524
- Piazza, Jim, and Gail Kinn. The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2011. ISBN 978-1579128784
- Pond, Steve. The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealing Backstage at the Academy Awards. New York: Faber & Faber, 2005. ISBN 0571211933
All links retrieved April 9, 2021.
- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Official site.
- The Academy Awards Official ceremony site.
- The Academy Awards at IMDb.
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