Academy awards given out in Hollywood are knows as Oscars. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences give the prizes out every year. It started in 1929. The venue remains Los Angeles. Different facets of the making of a motion picture are given recognition – directing, acting, screenwriting etc.
The academy, AMPAS, is professional as well as honorary body. In 2007 the number of eligible voters was 5,830. Of this bloc 22% are actors. The renowned auditing house has been supervising the votes for the last 72 years – that is from the time of the birth of the awards. The last one – that is the 79th ceremony – happened in February 2007 at Kodak Theatre, Hollywood where 261 actors have each won an Oscar in the acting group.
The Oscar is a gold plated statuette mounted on a black metal base, weighing 3.85 kg and is 34 cm high. The official name of this statue is Academy Award of Merit. It shows a knight holding a sword standing on a film reel with five spokes. These spokes represent the principal branches of the academy – writers, director, producers, actors and technicians. MGM’s Cedric Gibbons supervised the design and George Stanley sculpted it. Alex Smith did the gold plated casting that consisted of 92.5% tin and 7.5% copper. Except for a minor change in the base, the original design and composition remains today as it was yesterday. Each year about 40 Oscars are made at Illinois, Chicago by R.S. Owens. The quality control is extremely strict. The slightest failure results in the object being cut into half and melted.
The origin of the name is disputed. One opinion is that Bette Davis named it after her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. A second view is that an executive secretary of the academy was struck by the similarity between of the model and her “Uncle Oscar”. Oscar and Academy Award are two fiercely legally protected registered trademarks.
In 1950 a rule was introduced. Neither the owners nor their heirs could sell the statuettes without making the first offer to the Academy for $1. If the winner declined to agree then the Academy retained the Oscar. Oscars that had hitherto not been protected by this stipulation have been auctioned off and sold privately for six figure amounts. The rule has come under heavy criticism because it means that the winner does not own the prize.
Anyone aspiring to be a new member has to be invited by all the existing members. The eligibility depends on competitive nomination or any remarkable contribution to the movie world. The names of new members are annually considered. No announcements are made in this regard. The membership is categorized into 15 groups representing different streams in this world. There are also some Members At Large who do not belong any specific branch.
To qualify for Oscar nomination a film must be released the previous year, in Los Angeles – midnight 1st January to midnight 31st December. It must be of minimum 40 minutes except for those belonging to the short subject group. The members of the academy belonging to different sections nominate for their own particular stream. But the vote for the Best Picture must come from all the members. There is a second round of voting to decide on the winners.
The award giving ceremony is a much-publicized hype televised live. It takes place six weeks after nominee announcements. The extravaganza is elaborate with red carpet glamour and glitz. There is no formal dress code or typified music. It is claimed that the bonanza attracts billion viewers across the globe. Movies are banned from being advertised during the broadcast.
The first Oscar ceremony took place at Hotel Roosevelt. Later the venues were at either The Ambassador or Biltmore hotels. From 1944 to 1946 Chinese Theatre hosted the celebrations to be followed later on by Shrine Auditorium, Academy Award Theater, Pantages Theater, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Los Angles Music Center. From 2002 Kodak Theater has become the permanent address for Oscar ceremony. It is a world of fantasy with shops, eateries, nightclubs and a cinema boasting of six screens. Every movie that has won the Best Picture crown since the inception of the academy is showcased.
The academy has had to suffer criticism on many accounts. It is charged for being too conservative. Many pictures that have been given the best picture award previously have failed to stand the test of time. On the other side many that have not got full recognition are doing extremely well as regards critical approval. Comedy and comedians have not got the due share of recognition.
New additions are being made to the list of awards. The latest being best animated feature and best make up.Special awards are voted upon by special committees and not by the academy as an entire unit. These are Honorary, Special Achievement, Scientific or Technical awards. There are also the Thalberg Memorial and Hersholt Humanitarian Awards.
In its long history three films could win the Big-Five award – best in direction, actor, actress, screenplay and picture. This Grand Slam has been won by – It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).The three that have each won eleven Oscars are – Ben Hur (1959), Titanic (1997) and The Return of the King (2003).
Katherine Hepburn has won the greatest number of Oscars for acting, while Peter O’ Toole for the number of nominations. Jessica Tandy was the oldest winner at 80 and Tatum O’ Neal is the youngest at 10. James Dean is the only one to be awarded two posthumous nominations. Anthony Hopkins steals a record for the shortest appearance on the screen (22 minutes) and yet bagging an Oscar.
Behind all the dazzling statistics is the continuous relevance of the movie world and its commitment to portray life in the raw – asking questions and pointing to the future by keeping alive the torch of human civilization.