January 2009


The look of a film was even more important during the silent era than today, for there was no dialogue to rely upon. It’s no surprise then that Best Cinematography is one of the original Academy Award categories, one of only three Tech categories, and the only one that remains with the same name. For a good thirty years it was divided in two and Black-and-White and Color were considered separately, but they were combined again in the late 60’s. It is also the only category to be won by a write-in: A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1935. (more…)

Ok, and now in a quick break from Erik’s Academy Awards programming, I am ecstatic to let the family know that Thomas used the potty three times at school today and one time at home with NO accidents all day. He’s been wearing “big boy pants” to school for about three weeks now, and he’s had days when he’s made it home in the same pants he went to school in, but we’ve never had success at home as well. Hooray!

Aside from Walt Disney, who used to rack up nominations in the Short Subjects categories, the two most nominated people in Oscar history are Alfred Newman and John Williams. And they were both dominant for long periods of time. With my point system, Newman is the highest ranked composer in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, and John Williams in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. Elmer Bernstein slipped in during the 60’s as Newman did less work and Williams was getting started. But the two of them account for 90 nominations between them. The only person even close is the distant third place person, Max Steiner, who received a Best Score nomination each of the first 17 years the award existed. It also remains the only technical category beside Editing that has had at least one Best Picture nominee every year. (more…)

The award for Best Sound started in 1930, the first category to be added. It can be a hard award to explain to people as often big special effects movies win, when people complain that there is too much noise. Yet, sound can be an important part of the film. Not just the sounds of musical instruments or machines of war (two genres that often win), but things like the sound of typewriters in a crowded newsroom, or the sound a plane makes when it breaks the sound barrier, or even the sound a dinosaur or giant ape would make when walking.

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the ice palace in Dr. Zhivago (1965)

Oscar and Nighthawk approved for Best Art Direction: the ice palace in Dr. Zhivago (1965)

Art Direction is one of the original technical categories, although for the first twenty years it was called Best Interior Decoration. Of course, Art Direction has always been important to films – especially given how many early films were period pieces. And over the course of the last eighty years, the Oscar for Art Direction has been awarded to some of the most important images on film: Miss Havisham’s mansion, Norma Desmond’s aging house, the ice palace, the Washington Post newsrooms and Gotham City’s towers. (more…)

Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) - Oscar winner for Best Assistant Director

Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) - Oscar winner for Best Assistant Director

Not every category is a winner. Categories have changed, evolved, been added, and in a few cases, been done away with. The only original categories from 1928 that still exist with the same name are Actor, Actress, Director and Cinematography. Everything else has had something change.

The following categories no longer exist in pretty much any form. So I’ve gathered them all together in one fell swoop. I have no grades for them, because for some of them I wouldn’t really know what to do with it. They’re not categories that anybody thinks about anymore, let alone just the Academy. Although this does seem like a good place to mention that the Academy still doesn’t have an award for Best Ensemble. It’s long overdue. (more…)

Since the days of the Cecil B. DeMille epics, visual effects have been a part of film. The Academy understood that and had Engineering Effects as an award at the first Oscars. It was dropped after that first year though and didn’t come back until 1939, when it was called Special Effects (and thus denying King Kong an Oscar). It stayed that way until 1946, at which point it was reduced in the number of nominations, and sometimes becoming a Special Award or not being given at all.  In 1963, it was split into Visual Effects and Sound Effects. These days it is still considered a special kind of award and thus there are only 3 nominees.

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This award has kind of an odd history. It began in 1963, when it was called Sound Effects.  (Actually, according to the Academy, prior to 1963 it was considered part of the Special Effects category, which was then split in 1963 into Visual Effects and Sound Effects). It had two nominees a year until 1967, when it stopped. Then, in 1975, it became a Special Achievement Award, given that year, in 1977 (when there were two – Sound Effects Editing for Close Encounters and Sound Effects for Star Wars), 1979 when it was called Sound Editing, in 1981 when it was Sound Effects Editing again, then in 1982 was re-added as a regular category as Sound Effects Editing. For the rest of the 80’s and 90’s, it bounced back forth between regular and Special Achievement, with as many as 3 nominees, and sometimes just a winner. Then from 2000 to 2005, it was again called Sound Editing, and in 2006 it became a regular category with a full 5 nominees. And the Sound Editors love them their Pixar (6 nominations and counting, as well as 1 win).

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Has any film ever had better costumes than Amadeus (1984)?

Has any film ever had better costumes than Amadeus (1984)?

This is also known as the Edith Head Award. Not technically, but she was the foremost costume designer in the film industry for many years and was nominated the first 19 years the award existed.

In spite of the fact that costumes have been an important part of the look of film from the beginning, they didn’t bother to add it as a category until 1948. There’s no question that Gone with the Wind would have been the first film to 14 nominations had Costume Design been a category back in 1939. It missed the opportunity that later films got to pad its nominations because Costume Design was one of the split, Color and Black & White categories until 1967 (except for 57 and 58). (more…)

Best Makeup for Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

An Oscar I approve of: Best Makeup for Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

It wasn’t until 1981 that the Academy finally established a permanent award for Best Makeup. The timing of that is no coincidence: “The makeup people let out such a protest that the board promised to look into setting up a regular Award for Best Makeup the following year, but it wouldn’t relent on its refusal to give a statuette to The Elephant Man.” (Inside Oscar, p 591-592). (more…)

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