I have to admit, I’m not a hard-core fan of the annual Academy Awards ceremony. Usually I haven’t had a chance to see most of the nominated films, plus I’m not into the Hollywood red carpet nor whose gown is the most stunning or the most sorry. And frankly, I get nervous watching an actor blubber about what that little golden statuette means to him or her. Remember Sally Field’s 1985 heartfelt speech, …you like me, right now, you like me!?
Yet, I love a good movie. I love the entire experience. The popcorn (with butter). The turn-off-your-cell-phone reminder. Previews of more films I probably won’t get to see on the big screen. And especially that quiet moment right before the feature presentation starts and sweeps me into two or so hours of a reality other than my own.
Yes, everyone who’s had a hand in creating the best films of the year—from the sound mixers to the make-up artists to the cinematographers, directors, and actors—deserves to be recognized.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was created in 1927, over dinner held at the home of MGM Studio chief Louis B. Mayer. Actor Douglas Fairbanks became the first president when the Academy was granted its non-profit status in May of that same year, and MGM art director Cedric Gibbons designed the trophy of a knight holding a sword and standing on reel of film. (One popular story goes that upon seeing the trophy for the first time, Academy librarian Margaret Herrick remarked that it resembled her Uncle Oscar. The Academy officially adopted the nickname “Oscar” in 1939.)
On May 16, 1929, the Academy held its first awards banquet, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, honoring achievements in 12 categories (later reduced to seven then over time increased to the current 25). Two hundred seventy people attended the black-tie dinner, which was filled with long speeches. Tickets cost $5 per guest.
Award recipients were announced three months before the banquet that first year. In subsequent years the Academy decided to keep the results secret, providing in advance to newspapers a list of award winners to be published after the event. However, in 1940, the Los Angeles Times published the names of the winners in its evening edition, which was available to guests arriving at the ceremony, thus prompting the sealed-envelope system still in use today.
By 1942 interest in the ceremony had grown so much that the event was moved from a hotel venue—generally the Ambassador or Biltmore Hotels—to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The event has been held in a theater ever since.
The first televised Oscar ceremony took place in 1953, and the first full color broadcast three years later, in 1956. About 40 million viewers are expected to tune in to tonight’s event.
Every year it seems critics are perplexed by who gets nominated for an Oscar and who doesn’t. The 81st Annual Academy Awards, held tonight at 5p Pacific/8p Eastern on ABC and hosted by non-comedian Hugh Jackman, is no different.
The film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, showed up in a whopping 13 categories—Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Makeup, Music (Score), Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, and Writing (Adapted Screenplay)—and yet, I’ve not heard nor read one great thing about the movie. That, coupled with the fact that I don’t much care for Brad Pitt means I probably won’t see it, unless I run out of picks to add to my Netflix queue some day in the future.
Slumdog Millionaire, a movie I thought was fabulous for its imagery and the fact that it contained so many layers beyond the story of two kids from the slums for whom love conquers all, is nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture. I hope it wins, although I might have preferred Milk or The Reader had I seen either one of them.
Of the other nominated movies I’ve seen, and I’m almost embarrassed to say it’s a paltry four, here are the ones I’m rooting for:
- I loved Michael Shannon—Actor in a Supporting Role—in Revolutionary Road. He was brilliant as Frank Givings, the mentally ill son of the realtor-cum-nosy-neighbor who sold April and Frank Wheeler their suburban home and subsequent hellhole. (Revolutionary Road was also nominated in the category of Art Direction, which I’m hoping it wins as well.)
- Anne Hathaway—Actress in a Leading Role—in Rachel Getting Married was so deep, I couldn’t believe this was the same person who’d played assistant to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Plus, I was thrilled to see that Rachel Getting Married showed up with a nomination in anything at all; although it was an especially fulfilling escape, it was not by any means a blockbuster.
- Wall-E for Animated Feature Film was a touching look at what might happen to our beloved Mother Earth should we continue to trash her and treat her with disrespect. And who would have thought a person could fall for an animated character? Also in this category is Kungfu Panda, which I enjoyed and which also sent a valuable message to viewers: You can be anything you want if you have the courage to go after your dreams.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on tonight’s Oscars awards. Who do think should win? Who were you surprised that did win? Any embarrassing speech moments that you squirmed through?
I’d also like to invite you to return to this post throughout the rest of 2009 to share your thoughts on movies you’ve seen. Any you would recommend? Let us know. I’m much more swayed by word of mouth than I am by that golden statuette.
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