The Academy Awards are a divisive event among moviegoers. Some love them, and some loathe them, but everybody has an opinion in regards to the Oscars. Who deserves to win an award, who was snubbed in a certain category, and, of course, who will wear what are all popular topics of conversation during Awards Season. Although the Academy Awards have received a negative reputation among many critics both experienced and amateur, I personally am a huge fan of this annual show. Every year, an entire evening is dedicated to the celebration of film, and that is saying nothing of the months of lead-up and hype. One may not always agree with every nomination and award decision – I know I certainly don’t – and one must recognize that the Academy’s tastes may not fit with theirs exactly. However, for the predominantly mainstream market, the Oscars consistently offer an effective rundown of the year’s best works.
The Academy Awards were founded in 1929 and are overseen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). These awards celebrate achievements in the American film industry, although there is a category set aside for foreign films as well. There are currently five thousand, seven hundred and eighty-three voting members of the AMPAS, consisting of industry professionals, who decide which films are to be nominated and which films will ultimately win their awards. There are strict rules limiting which films can be nominated; a film must be feature-length and have a minimum runtime of forty minutes, unless it is nominated in the shorts category, and it must have been released in the previous calendar year within the United States, unless it is nominated in the foreign film category.
Currently, there are twenty-four award categories for which a film may be nominated. In alphabetical order:
- Best Actor in a Leading Role
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role
- Best Actress in a Leading Role
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role
- Best Animated Feature
- Best Animated Short Film
- Best Cinematography
- Best Costume Design
- Best Director
- Best Documentary Feature
- Best Documentary Short
- Best Film Editing
- Best Foreign Language Film
- Best Live Action Short Film
- Best Makeup and Hairstyling
- Best Original Score
- Best Original Song
- Best Picture
- Best Production Design
- Best Sound Editing
- Best Sound Mixing
- Best Visual Effects
- Best Adapted Screenplay
- Best Original Screenplay
Interestingly, discontinued categories include Best Assistant Director and Best Title Writing, and consistently rejected proposed categories include Best Casting and Best Stunt Coordination.
Unlike the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards does not make a distinction between dramatic and comedic or musical films. The former awards show has separate categories for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and this differentiation is also made with its Best Actor and Best Actress categories as well. Personally, I do not believe that such a distinction needs to be made. Yes, comedic, musical, and dramatic films are all very different works and utilize diverse strategies and techniques. However, a good film is a good film, regardless of genre. Speculation always arises as to which Golden Globe-winning film was truly the best, the drama or the comedy/musical, and a hierarchy inevitably exists in favour of the drama. When a film wins Best Picture at the Oscars, it is accepted as the year’s best, yet if the same film were to win Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, it is often considered to be the year’s second best, behind the triumphant dramatic winner.
Up until the year 2009, five films were nominated for each Academy Award category, including that of Best Picture. Currently, there actually is no set number for Best Picture nominations, although there is an upper limit of ten. A film must receive five percent of the AMPAS members’ votes to garner a nomination in this category, and the result is that there can be anywhere from five to ten nominees. This rule can be frustrating for film aficionados whose favourite film did not make the cut; this year, there are only nine nominees, and speculation abounds as to which film would have been the tenth choice (my money rests on Inside Llewyn Davis).
Personally, I favour a set number of nominated films. I also preferred the old structure that allowed for a rigid five nominees in each category. Although the rule was changed to allow for the inclusion and recognition of more art house cinema and crowd-pleasing mainstream films, in reality, not much has changed. Also, since there are only five spots available in the Best Director category, and a film has a much greater chance of winning Best Picture if it was also nominated for Best Director, it is often quite easy to narrow the nominees down to a “Top Five.” This rule does not always hold true, however; take for instance last year’s Best Picture winner Argo, which received this accolade despite its director Ben Affleck being snubbed out of the category for direction. Either way, ten Best Picture nominees feels unnecessary to me, as each film misses out on the attention that it deserves with so many to be covered.
Although I am a staunch defender of the Academy Awards, many well-known film critics are not on my side. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine is famous for his annual “Damn You, Oscar!” rant, wherein he complains about the awards show in mock outrageous anger. The rant is consistently funny, and Travers always raises very good points. However, we must remember that the Academy Awards represents an opinion, and regard it as such. The films that win simply reflect the opinions of a group of individuals; they are not gospel truth. When something is deemed “The Best,” it is a matter of judgment, and there will always be those who disagree, as there should be. The Academy Awards causes the public to express their opinions, and they get people talking about movies. These days, the movie business is booming, as people flock to cinemas to check out the nominees so that they, too, can join in on the discussion. I have seen many great films that I simply would not have seen if not for the Oscars, and for that, I am grateful.