Do the Oscars usually get it right?
Yes. Each year, the Oscars celebrate many wonderful films, but since they--like all award shows--are based on opinion, the winners can never please everyone. Also, the voters from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who oversee the Academy Awards, do not analyze films in the same way that the general public does. They have studied and made careers out of the film industry, and as such, their opinions may be less clear to the average movie-goer.
Over the years, the Oscars have made some surprisingly great choices--even in the prestigious and often controversial Best Picture category. Fan-favorites such as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, No Country for Old Men, and The Silence of the Lambs all brought home statuettes.
Because there will never be a correct, objective answer to cinema's top honors, the best that the Academy can do is to have a voting group representative of America's diversity. Last summer, the Academy announced its new diversity requirement in selecting members. Their chief executive, Dawn Hudson, claimed, '...the need to address this issue is urgent… we will amend...our rules and procedures to ensure that all voices are heard and celebrated.'
Change will not happen overnight, but there are signs that the Oscars are moving in the right direction. At last year's awards, Parasite became the first-ever foreign-language film to win Best Picture, and in 2017 Moonlight, a story of black, queer love, took home Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor. Both of these films were well-loved by the public and rightfully awarded by the Academy.
Often called out for obvious, offensive discrepancies in equality, the Academy Awards are exclusive, elitist, and notoriously lacking in diversity (prompting a string of #OscarsSoWhite boycotts). Slow to respond, the Oscars are long overdue to correct clear systemic racism and sexism. But the ceremony's flaws don't stop there and have hardly just begun.
For decades, audiences have been shocked by bizarre or seemingly unfair selections, from the defeat of Citizen Kane by a rarely seen Welsh film to Brokeback Mountain arriving before its time. Glaring omissions and confusing victors have stemmed from personal conflicts and relationships for years, and nominees have been shameless in demonstrations of self-promotion and competitor bashing.
When a blatant act of bribery 'earned' Mary Pickford Best Actress for a poorly received performance in 1929, the Academy adopted a ballot system in response to protests. Yet consistent snubbing of obvious favorites remained a theme. Famous examples include Hitchcock's lack of Best Director--despite five nominations--and persistent cold-shouldering of Charlie Chaplin.
When studios and producers worry about a film's reception, they 'invest' in its success by positioning it for an Oscar. This tactic began in 1978 when Universal thought Deer Hunter was too dark for audiences. Improved publicity led to the film's commercial success and is credited with securing its Best Picture award. Expensive campaigns usually pay off in the end, like when the Oscar marketing budget for 1955's Marty actually exceeded the film's production budget by more than 25%. It scored four statues.
- Attributed to studio head Louis B. Mayer, the first Academy Awards were handed out on May 16, 1929, with winners announced before the actual ceremony.
- The Academy Award statuettes were dubbed 'Oscars' in 1931 after then-Academy librarian Margaret Herrick noticed that they resembled her Uncle Oscar.
- With 26 wins (4 posthumous), Walt Disney has brought home the most Oscars in the Academy's history.
- Harvard Applied Mathematics grad and author of Oscarmetrics, Ben Zauzmer uses 'data from the year's earlier award ceremonies, like the Golden Globes and the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), to predict Academy Award winners with near-perfect accuracy.'