The Academy Awards, commonly known as The Oscars, are the most prominent film awards in the United States. The Awards are granted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a professional honorary organization which as of 2003 had a voting membership of 5,816. Actors (with a membership of 1,311) make up the largest voting bloc. The most recent awards were the 77th Academy Awards.
The Academy Awards were the brainchild of MGM executive Louis B. Mayer in 1927. The industry was in need of a touch of a class and a public-relations coup. The awards served this purpose. The awards were first given at a banquet in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. The evening included a banquet, dancing and the presentation of awards. The winners had been announced three months prior, eliminating all suspense. The whole presentation took five minutes, as there were no speeches.
To qualify, a film had to open in Los Angeles during the twelve months ending on July 31 of the preceding year. The 1934 and later awards have all been based on openings in the previous calendar year. The 1932–33 awards were based on a 17-month qualifying period. The "opened in Los Angeles" clause allowed Charlie Chaplin to win his only voted Oscar for Limelight which was made in 1952, but did not open until 1972. The rules have changed since then so films more than two years old are not eligible.
The official name of the Oscar statuette is the "Academy Award of Merit." Made of gold-plated britannium, it is 13.5 inches (34 cm) tall and depicts a knight holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film. The Academy Award statuette was allegedly nicknamed Oscar when Academy librarian Margaret Herrick saw it on a table and said, "it looks just like my uncle Oscar!" The nickname stuck and is used almost as commonly as Academy Award, even by the Academy itself. In fact, the Academy's domain name is oscars.org and the official website for the Academy Awards is at oscars.com.
The awards night itself 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. The ceremony and extravagant afterparties, including the Academy's Governors Ball, are televised around the world.
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 January 1 to midnight December 31) in Los Angeles County, California, to qualify.  Rule 2 states that a film must be "feature-length" (defined as 40 minutes) to qualify for an award (except for Short Subject awards, of course). 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 1280x1024.
The members of each branch determine the nominees in their respective category, after which the entire membership votes for the winner in all categories. The ballot itself contains just the title of a work – not the persons involved – for all categories except acting.
Less subjectively, it is clear that movie studios spend large amounts of money on campaigning for their films. Around nomination and voting time, film trade publications are filled with ads headed "For Your Consideration". Miramax has been the most widely discussed (and arguably successful) studio to use this technique. An award can give a film a huge boost at the box office and make an artist an industry "power player" overnight. In the past few decades, the advent of VHS and DVD have given Academy Awards a new level of importance, as the attachment of a win or even nomination in a prominent category can dramatically increase sales and rentals. The Academy has made a public effort to crack down on these campaigns, but the results have been mixed. Such influence is nothing new: for example, it is widely believed William Randolph Hearst ran a campaign to ensure that Citizen Kane – a film regarded by many as the greatest of all time – did not receive any Academy Award nominations. The film ended up receiving only one trophy despite nominations in nine categories.
Academy Award rules are reviewed annually. Recent rule changes include the following:
- For 2003, the category names for the writing awards were simplified. The "Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published" category was renamed the "Adapted Screenplay" category. The category of "Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen" was renamed "Original Screenplay."
- For 2002, a new category, Best Animated Feature, was established.
- As of 2001, a film cannot appear on the Internet before its theatrical release and be eligible for an Oscar.
- In 2000 (and again in 2003), rules were tightened to restrict Best Picture nominations and awards to producers who actually functioned as producers. Up to three producers are allowed per film. The 1998 Best Picture Oscar went to five producers for Shakespeare in Love.
- The "Best Original Score" category has been continually tweaked. In the mid 1990s, it was split into two ("Best Dramatic Score" and "Best Comedy or Musical Score"), then merged back into one. The rules as to how much of the score has to be "original" (as opposed to derived from other scores in the series, as with leitmotifs, for example in the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings films) has also been changed many times.
The "Academy Award of Merit" is given in many categories, including the following:
- Best Picture – 1928 to present
- Best Actor – 1928 to present
- Best Actress – 1928 to present
- Best Supporting Actor – 1936 to present
- Best Supporting Actress – 1936 to present
- Best Animated Feature – 2001 to present
- Best Art Direction – 1928 to present (also called Interior or Set Decoration)
- Best Assistant Director – 1933 to 1937
- Best Cinematography – 1928 to present
- Comedy Direction – 1928 only
- Costume Design – 1948 to present
- Best Dance Direction – 1935 to 1937
- Directing – 1928 to present
- Documentary Feature
- Documentary Short Subject
- Engineering Effects – 1928 only
- Film Editing – 1935 to present
- Best Foreign Language Film – 1947 to present
- Makeup – 1981 to present
- Original Music Score
- Best Song
- Animated Short Film – 1931 to present
- Live Action Short Film
- Best Short Film - Color – 1936 and 1937
- Best Short Film - Live Action - 2 Reels – 1936 to 1956
- Short Film - Novelty – 1932 to 1935
- Sound Effects Editing – 1963 to present
- Best Story – 1928 to 1956
- Best Title Writing – 1928 only
- Unique and Artistic Production – 1928 only
- Visual Effects – 1939 to present
- Writing Adapted Screenplay – 1928 to present
- Writing Original Screenplay – 1940 to present
- Academy Award, Scientific or Technical – 1931 to present at three levels
Special Awards, which are voted on by special committees, rather than by the Academy membership as a whole, include:
- Academy Juvenile Award – 1934 to 1960
- Academy Honorary Award – 1928 to present
- Academy Special Achievement Award
- The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award – 1938 to present
- The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
- Gordon E. Sawyer Award
- List of Academy Awards ceremonies & hosts
- List of movies that have won eight or more Academy Awards
- List of people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award
- Films that have been considered the greatest ever
- LA Times.com article
- Official site of the Academy Awards
- Official site of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Annual backstage coverage of the Academy Awards
- Oscar Coverage @ TheGATE.ca
- Cinemovie.Info: Winners of the 77th Academy Awards Ceremony (2005)
Gail, K. & Piazza, J. (2002) The Academy Awards the Complete History of Oscar. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
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