“The Golden Globes are fun. The Oscars are business.”
The yearly Academy Awards began in 1927, coinciding with the advent of sound. Hearing actors talk gave way to Hollywood’s using this yearly show business “conference” mainly as a means of advertising its wares for the year. That is still its mission statement right up till this year’s celebration on Sunday, February 22. To Hollywood, it is business as Warren Beatty said. Their main ploy is to bring in extra millions off of their films.
To the public, however, Oscar season is all fun. It is our opportunity to see Hollywood actors at play. The stars play dress up and we see them trying to show themselves off as real people rather than fictitious characters. In recent years, the red carpet arrival has resulted in a preening contest known as “name the fabulous dress designer.” This spirited pastime consists of making tacky comments about the arriving actresses (and actors too) and their costumes for the evening. Some are ridiculed and others are actually complimented. Joan Rivers revitalized her late-life career by making catty and clever comments about the dresses of the famous as they passed by. Actors and actresses are interviewed as they pass down the red carpet on their way into the venue for the Oscar presentations. Some become befuddled when a microphone is thrust into their faces. Every now and then we get to see a star make a fool of himself or herself. The public eats it up.
During the early years of the Oscars, the winners were announced beforehand. The first Oscars started off with only 12 categories of awards and the winners were announced three months before the Awards Banquet took place. However, soon the powers that be discovered they could make for a better program if they kept the winners a secret until the very last moment. Such secrecy soon became the backbone of the ceremony and thus launched thousands of Oscar parties where people vied for prizes.
Even though the Oscars began in 1927, it wasn’t until 1952 that they came into their own. That was the first year the awards show was seen on TV. The event became one long commercial, consisting of one-part live beauty pageant, one-part carnival and one-part heart-stopping guessing game. We see winner and losers but most importantly we see Hollywood in all its glory.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (whose offspring is called Oscar) started off in 1927 as a sort of super union. Only the cream of the cream was invited to join and they were mainly the producers. Others soon felt left out like writers, actors, directors and certain craft groups. They quickly saw that the producers were not going to do them any favors so they each formed their own union. Today you have the Producers Guild but also the Writers Guild, SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and Directors Guild. Each wanted and demanded a piece of the pie. Thus the Academy ended up no longer a super union but a theatrical umbrella to embrace the brand known as HOLLYWOOD. Having awards would be the best advertising they could possibly ever hope to have
The first year all the films up for Best Picture were silent. The JAZZ SINGER, the first talkie, was put in the technical awards category. However, the following year all films up for Best Picture were talkies.
Today billions of people see the Oscar presentations all over the world and it has become the premier marketing tool of the Hollywood film industry. The telecast is like one long commercial whose principal aim is to separate you from your money. The yearly show is a chance to see film clips of all the films vying for the public’s attention. At the same time, you get to see leading stars hand out statuettes while doing a little telepromter hokum hitched up to showing how successful their dental work has turned out.
What became obvious over the years was that the voting by the members of the Academy was anything but scientific. Oscars weren’t handed out via any logical pattern. In fact no way existed to tell who would win a coveted Oscar. For example, the director John Ford won six Oscars over his career while Alfred Hitchcock never won even one. They have a catch all for such errors and it’s called the “Outstanding Achievement Award.” This is given to someone who may have been nominated several times but never won. It’s kind of a “consolation” prize to cover up Academy voting that has somehow gone awry.
Basically each year’s Oscar awards are a snapshot of life for that year. Mores changes annually and one year’s super-intelligent-fabulous film is next year’s piece of crap. Supposed critical successes can over time be thought of as total turkeys. Likewise, some totally overlooked films can become classics. An example of this would be 1932 when a film called “Cavalcade” won best picture. Ever heard of that film? All 9 films that lost are seen over and over on TV these days. Among them are “Little Women,” “42nd Street,” “She Done Him Wrong,” etc.
The film “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006 which was Hollywood’s first major gay love story lost to the safer choice “Crash” as Best Picture. The leads and the screenplay of Brokeback were all snubbed even thought Ang Lee won an Oscar for Best Director. The apparent problem seemed to be that the USA was several years away from gay weddings and even a hint that two macho guys could love one another. It just wasn’t in the cards for the voters of the Academy. Right now Brokeback Mountain is shown over and over on TV but I don’t remember seeing “Crash” once since it won. Even so, these days gay camaraderie as shown in Brokeback is relatively tame by what you see on TV and in film. Just shows you how less timid film stories have become in 9 years.
Presently that certain day upon which the Academy ceremony falls, the world almost stops breathing. Office pools, Oscar parties and all sorts of people get together and try to outguess the Academy’s 6,000 voters. Every type of betting goes on. Newspapers, magazines and internet sites all carry contests. (I even won a Marilyn Monroe cookie jar on an internet contest one year.)
HOW TO WIN: First of all, just because the people in the Academy who vote are or have been in the film business does not necessarily make them know a good film from a bad one. In such cases, they generally will give the Oscar for best film to the movie that contains a highly unusual person at its centerpiece. This could be the story of a blind, left-handed welder in a horseshoe shop in Lost Balcony, Texas. Look over this year’s crop of movies. You have a sharpshooter from Texas, a very disabled scientist from England and an eccentric actor who used to be in a TV show called Birdman —not to mention a homosexual who just happened to have invented the modern computer. Tough choice but that’s because they’re all odd in one-way or another.
Then you have to look at the films that employ the most people. Cast of thousands, reconstruction of ancient Rome, actors who are uprooted to some god-awful location near a mosquito infested river in Africa. And don’t forget motherhood and apple pie. If a film moves one to tears but in a classy (not low-class way), the members seem to zero it in for attention. And note this: it is rare that a film will just win best picture – its director will generally win too. Most of all though, forget your personal taste and favorites as that will generally cause you to lose the Oscar pool. Instead, concentrate on the things written in this and the preceding paragraph.
Now, to put myself out on a limb, I’ll make six predictions. I could be wrong on all of them but that would just show that I was being normal. Remember, you are biased if you merely vote for your favorites.
So here are my predictions for winners of an Oscar in 2015:
- Best Actor…………………….…Bradley Cooper (died a hero for killing over 100 people)
- Best Actress………………….…Julianne Moore (she has Alzheimer’s for goodness sake)
- Best supporting actor………….J. K. Simmons (because EVERYBODY says he will win)
- Best supporting actress……….Patricia Arquette (because she was very, very good)
- Best original screenplay………Boyhood (unusual—took 12 years to write)
- Best picture of the year……….Birdman (not one but a whole gang of kooky people)
So, it’s a wrap. This coming Sunday evening you will again enter the fantastic world of Oscar. Let’s hope you win that pool or maybe just your own player’s list. And of course, we’ll see how I did. Remember, this is the most unscientific betting scheme in the world. The real game here is Hollywood’s interest in your going out and leaving them money at the box office.
And the Oscar goes to . . .