By Trevor Busch
For all of you cinephiles out there, the gala event of the season fast approaches this weekend in the Academy Awards, and the “buzz” and speculation surrounding who will be the big winners in 2016 has already began to dominate headlines.
Created to recognize excellence in cinematic achievements in the film industry, the “Oscars”, as they are colloquially known to most of the world, were first presented in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, at a time when the industry was still largely in a transition period between the silent film era and the rise of the “talkies”. Guest tickets for that long-ago event in 1929 cost interested parties the whopping sum of $5.
This year will mark the 88th Academy Awards, and over the course of their history, a total of 2,947 Oscars have been awarded. Rarely not a source of some controversy, this year’s awards (Feb. 28) could see a limited boycott due to allegations over racial bias leveled at the all-white nominee list.
Ever an event that features pomp and celebrates tradition, surprisingly the origins of the ceremony’s nickname remain shrouded in conflicting mystery, some attributing the name to former academy president Bette Davis, others citing a 1934 Time magazine article, while still more attribute the name to Walt Disney who was quoted receiving his “Oscar” in 1932. Regardless of the origins, the awards were officially dubbed with the moniker in 1939 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Over the years, the Oscars have had their fair share of oddities and firsts, and have always served to delight the trivia fanatics. In 1992, for instance, Harold Russell (Best Supporting Actor in 1946 for The Best Years of Our Lives) became the only Oscar recipient to ever sell his trophy at auction, for $60,500, to help pay for his wife’s medical expenses. Originally scheduled for April 8, 1968, the 40th Academy Awards ceremony was postponed for two days because of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while on March 30, 1981, the 53rd Academy Awards were postponed for one day, after the shooting of President Ronald Reagan and others in Washington, D.C.
Some winners critical of the Academy Awards have boycotted the ceremonies and refused to accept their Oscars. The first to do so was Dudley Nichols (Best Writing in 1935 for The Informer). Nichols boycotted the 8th Academy Awards ceremony because of conflicts between the Academy and the Writers’ Guild. George C. Scott became the second person to refuse his award (Best Actor in 1970 for Patton) at the 43rd Academy Awards ceremony. Scott described it as a ‘meat parade’, saying ‘I don’t want any part of it.” The third was Marlon Brando, who refused his award (Best Actor for 1972’s The Godfather), citing the film industry’s discrimination and mistreatment of Native Americans.
No one film tops the list of most Oscars of all time, but it is shared by three which pulled in a gargantuan 11 awards each: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Titanic (1997), and Ben-Hur (1959). Two films have received 14 nominations each, including All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). The largest sweep (winning awards in every nominated category) went to 2003’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Perhaps reflecting some chauvinism in its early years, Walt Disney tops the list of most Oscars awarded to a male, with 22, while Edith Head tops that list on the female side of the equation, with eight Oscars for Costume Design. Disney also holds the record for most Oscars by one recipient in one year, with four in 1954.
Director John Ford takes the cake for the most directing awards, with four, while Katherine Hepburn has received the most awards for acting, with four. The country that has taken home the most Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film is Italy with 14 of a total of 32 nominations. French films have been nominated 40 times in this category, but only won a total of 12 times. Two foreign language films have raked in four Oscars, including Fanny and Alexander (1982) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The latter film also holds the record for most nominations ever received by a foreign language film, with 10.
Three films have managed to sweep what is known as the ‘big five’, which consists of Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay (Original or Adapted). These were It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
On the gender front, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director for The Hurt Locker (2009), and nerds of the world united to witness the first science fiction film to be nominated for Best Picture back in 1977, with Star Wars. Other oddities include the first film to receive the most nominations in its year without receiving a Best Picture nomination, with Dreamgirls (2006) clocking in with eight. Taking a few sexual liberties, the academy selected Midnight Cowboy (1969) as Best Picture, making it the first “x-rated” film to be nominated, and the only to have ever won in the category.
Back to the racially-charged for a moment, the first black actor to win Best Actor was Sidney Poitier in 1963 for Lilies of the Field, while black women would have to wait another four decades for Halle Berry to take home the Best Actress award for Monster’s Ball in 2001.
On the flip side, 1972’s Cabaret holds the record for most Oscars without winning Best Picture, with eight, while two films have been nominated for 11 awards and not taken home a single golden statue: 1977’s The Turning Point and 1985’s The Color Purple. Giving a new definition to the term “passed over”, sound re-recording mixer Kevin O’Connell currently holds the record for most nominations without a single win, with 20 since 1983.
Ever the bane of the television audience, the longest Oscar acceptance speech is attributed to Greer Garson at the 15th Academy Awards after taking Best Actress for 1942’s Mrs. Miniver. Her speech ran to over six minutes. Since brevity is the soul of wit, the shortest ever is attributed to Patty Duke at the 35th Academy Awards after she was named Best Supporting Actress for 1962’s The Miracle Worker. Age 16 at the time, Duke’s speech ran to all of two words, “thank you,” before she exited the stage. We should all be so lucky.
Flash forward to 2016, and this year’s nomination list has been generating “buzz” for the “big five” categories.
Nominations for Best Picture include The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, and Spotlight. Nominees for Best Director include Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alejandro G. Inarittu (The Revenant), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), and Tom McCarthy (Spotlight).
In the Best Actor category, nominees include Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo, Matt Damon as Mark Watney in The Martian, Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs, and Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe/Einar Wegener in The Danish Girl. Nominations for Best Actress include Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird in Carol, Brie Larson as Joy “Ma” Newsome in Room, Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano in Joy, Charlotte Rampling as Kate Mercer in 45 Years, and Saoirse Ronan as Ellis Lacey in Brooklyn.
Films nominated for Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay include Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton, The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, and Room.
Whatever your incipient film fetish or views on the fairness of the selection process, the 88th Academy Awards will no doubt be a red carpet event with all the trimmings, ready to laud Hollywood royalty as though they were on the brink of brokering world peace or on the cusp of curing cancer.
North American’s enduring fascination with all things celebrity and the psychological and social impacts of this phenomenon, as we reach for sideshow and instant entertainment rather than substance — think Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwartzenegger as examples of these mutated hybrids — and we begin to understand why morphing the celebrity with the political in the 21st century might be increasingly viewed as a shallow and disturbing avenue to power — but that, dear friends, is another column.