BY ALYSSA FISHER
After another year of incredible movies, the most illustrious night in Hollywood has finally arrived. Once again it’s time to press your face up against the television, eager to soak in all the glitz and glamour that ensues on the legendary red carpet. Hundreds of millions of movie lovers tune in to watch the Academy Award ceremony to learn who will receive the highest honors in filmmaking.
The Oscars reward the previous year’s greatest cinema achievements as determined by some of the world’s most accomplished motion picture artists and professionals. So year after year, film fans sit on the edge of their seats, tightly crossing their fingers in hopes that their favorites in each category will win the coveted golden Oscar. Though, there is so much more to the Oscars than many people realize. To ensure younger viewers continue watching even after the stars have left the red carpet, many alterations have been made to modernize the event. Here is everything you need to know about the 2011 Oscar Awards.
Movie buffs may be accustomed to watching older names in Hollywood host the awards, but the Academy is changing things up a bit. The past two years have shown that there’s life in the old Oscar. Starting with Hugh Jackman, the 2009 host brought the ratings to 37 million viewers, and 2010’s pairing of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin must have shown the producers that double acts are the way to go as the program drew an average audience of 41.3 million viewers, its best performance in five years. But this year, James Franco and Anne Hathaway will serve as the co-hosts of the 83rd Academy Awards. Franco and Hathaway personify the next generation of Hollywood icons — fresh, exciting and multi-talented.
Another strategy is including social media into the Oscar experience; the awards have been competing with the computer for the last few years now. It’s one of television’s biggest events, but last year, according to Lost Remote, 13.3% of the viewers were multitasking on their laptops, phones and tablets while they watched the Academy Awards. To capture the audience’s attention, a handful of media companies have built live Twitter news streams of the Oscars. Not only can the younger audience watch the Oscars, but also actually see what people are saying about it as it’s happening.
While the Oscars is revolutionizing, the Academy has decided to move backwards in an attempt to move up in the ratings. Just like last year, we are going back to the ’30s and ’40s when the Academy recognized between 8 and 12 Best Picture nominees each year, there will once again be 10 Best Picture nominees instead of five.
“After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year,” said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Sid Ganis in an interview with Entertainment Weekly last year. “The final outcome, of course, will be the same—one Best Picture winner—but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies.”
This could really help the chances of some more commercially popular films, such as The Social Network, which are often edged out of the running by typical “Academy films”, such as The King’s Speech or Winter’s Bone.
Speaking of which, a great deal goes into choosing the victors. While many tune into the awards, how many of those people actually know the voting process? It’s a bit of a wacky, complicated system, so do your best to follow along.
The system begins in November, when an election campaign so intense that it sometimes rivals, at least in Hollywood, the extreme passions of the race for the nation’s presidency. In the Academy’s efforts to eliminate gaudy gifts and bribes, the race to be nominated consists mainly of attempts by studios, independent distributors and publicists to ensure that each of the nearly 6,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sees their film. Meaning they arrange special screenings for Academy members, free admission to commercial runs of a film, and the mailing of DVDs: anything to get noticed.
After about a month of aggressive campaigning, the nomination ballots are mailed to the Academy’s active members in late December and are due back to the international accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, in January.
The awards are presented for outstanding individual or collective film achievements in up to 25 categories. Members from each of the branches vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories – all actors in the Academy nominate actors, film editors nominate film editors, and so on. All voting members are eligible to select the Best Picture nominees; however, within the Animated Feature film and Foreign Language Film categories, nominations are selected by vote of multi-branch screening committees.
This is where things become convoluted. Voters are asked to rank their choices in each category from 1 to 5 (1-10 for best picture). Then the ballots are gathered and separated into piles according to voters’ first choices. Each choice gets its own pile — for instance, the film that appears most frequently as a first-place choice will have the largest stack, the movie with the next-most first-place votes will have the second-largest, and so forth. Then each stack is counted.
If one film has more than 50% of the votes on the first round, it is declared the winner. If it doesn’t, the Academy will take the shortest stack — the movie that got the fewest first-place votes — eliminate it from contention and redistribute those ballots to the remaining piles according to their second-choice movies.
The tally then begins again: If a film now has passed 50% of the ballots, it wins. If it doesn’t, the tabulators go to the smallest stack remaining, eliminate that movie, remove that stack and go down those ballots to voters’ next-highest choice and redistribute the ballots across the piles once again. The process repeats until one stack ends up with a majority.
Based on the voting system, it is better to have a small but passionate group of voters who love your film than a larger but less passionate group. That’s how some small foreign films become nominated in four major categories – they inspire enough supporters who most likely ranked them high on their ballots to let them slide into the final five. Having a lot of lower votes isn’t as beneficial because most of those ballots will have already been counted toward another film.
Yet, there are usually controversies along the way, commonly with the foreign film and documentary categories. It seems a cannot year can go by without those separate committees ignoring some of the most high profile, most well-reviewed films of the year.
The finals ballots are mailed to voting members in later January and are due back to PricewaterhouseCoopers the Tuesday prior to Oscar Sunday for the final tabulation. The Academy’s entire active membership is eligible to select Oscar winner in all categories. In five – Animated Short Film, Live action Short Film, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, and Foreign Language Film – members can vote only after attesting they have seen all of the nominated films in those categories. Though, all academy voters are discouraged from voting in categories they don’t fully understand, and from voting in categories in which haven’t seen all the nominees. Yet, most of them do it anyway; why wouldn’t you want to have a say in who wins an Oscar?
After the final ballots are counted, only two partners of PricewaterhouseCoopers know the results. That is until the notorious envelopes are opened onstage during the Academy Awards presentation, we find out who the Oscar goes to.
Well there you have it: everything you need to know about the 83rd Academy Awards. While we all obsess over the glamour that is displayed on the red carpet, it’s not what the awards are about. Among the Academy’s members the most gifted and skilled artists and craftsmen in the motion picture world; the award stands alone as a symbol of superior achievement. Because the Academy is insistent upon raising the ratings, one can only hope that these changes are for the better. Now grab a bowl of popcorn, sit back and relax: it’s time to enjoy the most spectacular night in Hollywood.