DenOfGeek recently argued that during the week leading up to the Academy Awards “11.3% (give or take) of websites are devoted to making predictions, denouncing them, talking about what clothes people are going to wear, or raking up anything vaguely related.” Well, the Oscars have come and gone, we don’t really go in for predictions, and aren’t the types who could speak with any level of authority on what the celebrities wore to the show. However, we have learned some really fascinating things about how the Academy functions, the business of the Oscars, and what science defines as Oscar Bait. Rather than letting this all fall away in the detritus that is in the internet, only to be re-hashed next year, we’ve gathered the most pertinent insight below:
1. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences has 6,028 members, but the Academy never fully discloses its membership list. They do, however, reveal their list of new invitees ever year, as here in 2010. It is not always true that youbecome a member for life after your first Academy Award nomination. The Academy declined to invite Michelle Williams after Brokeback Mountain (2006) because her body of work to that point was not of sufficient artistic merit. Ouch. On top of that, she didn’t win the Oscar for Brokeback Mountain anyway. Double slap.
2. For the Academy Awards, members from each individual branch determine the votes for the nominees within their own category. With 1,176 members, the actors branch is the largest while at 108 members the costume designers is the smallest. With such imbalanced membership branches this means some of the nominations are pretty well devalued. For example, it only takes 18 votes to be nominated for costume design, and 39 votes for editing. Heck, even though all Academy members vote for Best Picture the voting system utilized means it only takes 301 votes for a film to secure a Best Picture nomination (sundaytimes.co.uk)
3. Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Mo’Nique, and now Lupita Nyong’o are the only African-American actors to win an Oscar, all but 2 of those wins coming in the past 14 years.
Denzel Washington winning for Training Day:
This has been seen as the Academy making progress. However, as of 2012 only 2% of the Academy’s entire (not just acting branch) membership is African-American. It’s even less than that for members of Latino origin (latimes.com).
4. Regardless of race, 90% of the Academy’s entire membership is male.
The only woman to ever win Best Director:
In 2012, writer-director and Academy governor Phil Alden Robinson addressed the issue, “We absolutely recognise that we need to do a better job” he stated. “We start off with one hand tied behind our back… If the industry as a whole is not doing a great job in opening up its ranks, it’s very hard for us to diversify our membership.”
5. Only 14% of the entire Academy’s members are younger than 50 years old.
6. Because the Academy refuses to fully disclose its membership it’s possible that some of its members are actually deceased. The thinking is family members opt against notifying the Academy of the death so that they might continue receiving the free Oscar screeners, simply voting on behalf of their dead relative. They might do simply to see free movies or for bootlegging purposes (whatculture.com).
7. Not all Academy members even have to vote. Due to the imbalance of branch membership, respective categories require a certain amount of votes to guarantee a nomination. Once this number has been reached, any further votes for the film are in excess. So, many members simply do not vote, but if the Academy fails to meet the minimum those empty ballots might be completed on the voter’s behalf (whatculture.com).
8. According to Scott Feinberg, “The deep, dark secret about the Academy is that few people actually see a lot of the movies in contention. They will even vote for films they have never actually seen, persuaded of their worthiness by the movie studios, with their multimillion-dollar advertising and promotional budgets. Meanwhile, worthier films may be completely overlooked.” This knowledge encourages producers like Harvey Weinstein to indulge in their excessive campaigning methods. (sundaytimes.co.uk). This effect and general ignorance can be seen in the 9 “Brutally Honest” Oscar ballots The Hollywood Reporter published in which voters explained the reasoning for their voting on the condition of anonymity. See the best responses here.
9. After you adjust for ticket price inflation, 5 of the 10 lowest-grossing best picture winners have come in the past decade, 3 of them since 2009.
Here they are in descending order:
- It Happened One Night (1934) ($86 million)
- No Country for Old Men (2007) ($85 million)
- Marty (1955) ($70 million)
- Crash (2005) ($67 million)
- An American in Paris (1951) ($65 million)
- Hamlet (1948) ($61 million)
- All the King’s Men (1949) ($60 million)
- 12 Years a Slave (2013) ($50 million so far)
- The Artist (2011) ($44 million)
- The Hurt Locker (2009) ($17 million)
10. In an article in the American Sociological Review, two UCLA professors attempted to quantify exactly what constitutes “Oscar bait” by analyzing the IMDB pages of nearly 3,000 Oscar eligible films released between 1985 and 2009. According to their algorithm, the following IMDB keywords had the highest correlation with Oscar nominations (“family tragedy,” “whistleblower,” “Pulitzer Prize source,” “physical therapy,” “domestic servant,” and “Watergate”) while the following had zero correlation (“zombie,” “food fight,” “breast implant,” “bestiality,” and, depressingly, “black independent film”). Their results say the following 10 films are the biggest pieces of Oscar-bait since 1985:
- Come See the Paradise (1990)
- Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
- The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
- Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
- Wild at Heart (1990)
- Jackie Brown (1997)
- The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
- The Aviator (2004)
- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Around half of these did actually rake in beaucoup Academy Award nomination/wins whereas the other half were mostly if not completely ignored. Their algorithm clearly needs to be refined because everyone knows the most direct line to an Academy Award nomination is to make a biopic or at least based on historical events, which not many of those 10 are. If they’d like some help and are hiring research assistants….(slate.com)
11. According to Entertainment Weekly, the Academy’s decision to expand the number of allowed Best Picture nominees to 10 has not actually had a noticeable effect on the awards show’s ratings. Until this year, of course, when Ellen Degeneres hosted the show to its best ratings since the last time she hosted 7 years ago. Also, the Academy may have inadvertently diluted the fiscal value of a Best Picture nomination. Prior to the expansion, a nomination meant an average increase of 80% in gross from the time of nomination to day of the actual awards.
After the expansion, nominees failed to register more than an average 60% bump until last year when Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty boomed with a 100% increase in gross.
What about you? Were there any cool/alarming/fascinating things you learned about the Academy Awards during the recent Oscars media blitzkrieg? Let us know in the comments.