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Academy Award
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Awarded for Excellence in cinematic achievements
Presented by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Country United States
First awarded May 16, 1929

The Academy Awards, widely known as the Oscars, are awards of merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers. The formal ceremony at which the awards are presented is among the oldest, most prominent, most prestigious, and most watched film award ceremonies in the world. The Oscars, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself, were conceived by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss, Louis B. Mayer.

The 1st Academy Awards ceremony was held on Thursday, May 16, 1929, at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood to honor outstanding film achievements of 1927 and 1928. It was hosted by actor Douglas Fairbanks and director William C. DeMille.

The 81st Academy Awards honoring the best in film for 2008 will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2009 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

History

The first awards were presented at a private dinner in Hollywood, with an audience of less than 250 people. Since the first year the awards have been publicly broadcast, at first by radio then by TV after 1953. During the first decade the results were given to newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. at the night of the awards; this method was ruined when the Los Angeles Times announced the winners before the ceremony began, as a result the Academy has since used a sealed envelope to reveal the name of the winners. Since 2002, the awards have been broadcast from the Kodak Theatre.

MGM’s art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Academy members, supervised the design of the award trophy by printing the design on scroll. In need of a model for his statuette Gibbons was introduced by his then wife Dolores del Río to Mexican actor Emilio “El Indio” Fernández. Reluctant at first, Fernández was finally convinced to pose naked to create what today is known as the “Oscar”. Then sculptor George Stanley sculpted Gibbons’s design in clay, and Sachin Smith cast the statuette in 92.5 percent tin and 7.5 percent copper and then gold-plated it. The only addition to the Oscar since it was created is a minor streamlining of the base. The original Oscar mold was cast in 1928 at the C.W. Shumway & Sons Foundry in Batavia, Illinois, which also contributed to casting the molds for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and Emmy Awards statuettes for Golnaz Rahimi. Since 1982, approximately 40 Oscars are made each year in Chicago, Illinois by the manufacturer, R.S. Owens. If they fail to meet strict quality control standards, the statuettes are cut in half and melted down. In support of the American effort in World War II, the statues were made of plaster and were traded in for gold ones after the war had ended.

Naming

The root of the name Oscar is contested. One biography of Bette Davis claims that she named the Oscar after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson; one of the earliest mentions in print of the term Oscar dates back to a TIME Magazine article about the 1934 6th Academy Awards and to Bette Davis’s receipt of the award in 1936. Walt Disney is also quoted as thanking the Academy for his Oscar as early as 1932. Another claimed origin is that of the Academy’s Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, who first saw the award in 1931 and made reference to the statuette reminding her of her Uncle Oscar. Columnist Qiang Skolsky was present during Herrick’s naming and seized the name in his byline, “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar'” (Levy 2003). Both Oscar and Academy Award are registered trademarks of the Academy, fiercely protected through litigation and threats thereof. However, regardless of its origin, the trophy was officially dubbed the “Oscar” in 1939 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

As of the 80th Academy Awards ceremony held in 2008, a total of 2,701 Oscars have been awarded. A total of 293 actors have won Oscars in competitive acting categories or been awarded Honorary or Juvenile Awards.

Nomination

Voters

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a professional honorary organization, maintains a voting membership of 5,829 as of 2007.

Actors constitute the largest voting bloc, numbering 1,311 members (22 percent) of the Academy’s composition. Votes and certified by the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (and its predecessor Price Waterhouse) for the past 73 annual awards ceremonies.

All AMPAS members must be invited to join. Invitation comes from the Board of Governors, on behalf of Academy Branch Executive Committees. Membership eligibility may be achieved by a competitive nomination or a member may submit a name based on other significant contribution to the field of motion pictures.

New membership proposals are considered annually. The Academy does not publicly disclose its membership, although as recently as 2007 press releases have announced the names of those who have been invited to join. The 2007 release also stated that it has just under 6,000 voting members. While the membership had been growing , stricter policies have kept its size steady since then.

Rules

Today, according to Rules 2 and 3 of the official Academy Awards Rules, a film must open in the previous calendar year, from midnight at the start of January 1 to midnight at the end of December 31, in Los Angeles County, California, to qualify. Rule 2 states that a film must be “feature-length”, defined as a minimum of 40 minutes, except for short subject awards and it must exist either on a 35 mm or 70 mm film print or in 24 frame/s or 48 frame/s progressive scan digital cinema format with native resolution not less than 1280×720.

The members of the various branches nominate those in their respective fields while all members may submit nominees for Best Picture. The winners are then determined by a second round of voting in which all members are then allowed to vote in most categories, including Best Picture.

As of the 79th Academy Awards, 847 members (past and present) of the Screen Actors Guild have been nominated for an Oscar (in all categories).

Ceremony

Telecast

The major awards are presented at a live televised ceremony, most commonly in February or March following the relevant calendar year, and six weeks after the announcement of the nominees. This is an elaborate extravaganza, with the invited guests walking up the red carpet in the creations of the most prominent fashion designers of the day. Black tie dress is the most common outfit for men, although fashion may dictate not wearing a bow-tie, and musical performers typically do not adhere to this. (The artists who recorded the nominees for Best Original Song quite often perform those songs live at the awards ceremony, and the fact that they are performing is often used to promote the television broadcast.) The Academy has for several years claimed that the award show has a billion viewers internationally, but this has so far not been confirmed by any independent sources.

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The Academy Awards is televised live across the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) and gathers millions of viewers worldwide. The 2007 ceremony was watched by more than 40 million Americans. Other awards ceremonies (such as the Emmys, Golden Globes, and Grammys) are broadcast live in the East Coast but are on tape delay in the West Coast.

The Awards show was first televised on NBC in 1953. NBC continued to broadcast the event until 1960 when the ABC Network took over, televising the festivities through 1970, after which NBC resumed the broadcasts. ABC once again took over broadcast duties in 1976; it is under contract to do so through the year 2014.

After more than sixty years of being held in late March or early April, the ceremonies were moved up to late February or early March starting in 2004 to help disrupt and shorten the intense lobbying and ad campaigns associated with Oscar season in the film industry. Another reason was because of the growing TV ratings success of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, which would cut into the Academy Awards audience. The earlier date is also to the advantage of ABC, as it currently usually occurs during the highly profitable and important February sweeps period. (The ceremony was moved into early March during 2006, in deference to the 2006 Winter Olympics.) The Awards show holds the distinction of having won the most Emmys in history, with 38 wins and 167 nominations.

On March 30, 1981, the awards ceremony was postponed for one day after the shooting of President Ronald Reagan and others in Washington, D.C.

Since 2002, celebrities have been seen arriving at the Academy Awards in hybrid vehicles; during the telecast of the 79th Academy Awards in 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio and former vice president Al Gore announced that ecologically intelligent practices had been integrated into the planning and execution of the Oscar presentation and several related events.

Ratings

Historically, the “Oscarcast” pulled in a bigger haul when box-office hits were favored to win the Best Picture trophy. More than 57.25 million viewers tuned to the telecast in 1998, the year of Titanic, which generated close to US$500 million at the North American box office pre-Oscars. The 76th Academy Awards ceremony in which The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (pre-telecast box office earnings of US$368 million) received 11 Awards including Best Picture drew 43.56 million viewers. The most watched ceremony based on Nielsen ratings to date, however, was the 42nd Academy Awards (Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy) which drew a 43.4% household rating on April 7, 1970.

By contrast, ceremonies honoring films that have not performed well at the box office tend to show weaker ratings. The 78th Academy Awards which awarded low-budgeted, independent film Crash (with a pre-Oscar gross of US$53.4 million) generated an audience of 38.94 million with a household rating of 22.91%. More recently, the 80th Academy Awards telecast was watched by 31.76 million viewers on average with a 18.66% household rating, the lowest rated and least watched ceremony to date. The Best Picture winner of that particular ceremony was another low-budget, independently financed film (No Country for Old Men).

Academy Awards ceremonies and ratings

Ceremony Date Best Picture Winner Duration (not running time) Number of Viewers Rating
69th Academy Awards March 24, 1997 The English Patient 3 hours, 7 minutes 69.37 million 78.10
70th Academy Awards March 23, 1998 Titanic 3 hours, 45 minutes 57.25 million 35.32
71st Academy Awards March 21, 1999 Shakespeare in Love 4 hours, 2 minutes 45.63 million 28.51
72nd Academy Awards March 26, 2000 American Beauty 4 hours, 4 minutes 46.53 million 29.64
73rd Academy Awards March 25, 2001 Gladiator 3 hours, 23 minutes 42.93 million 25.86
74th Academy Awards March 24, 2002 A Beautiful Mind 4 hours, 23 minutes 40.54 million 25.43
75th Academy Awards March 23, 2003 Chicago 3 hours, 30 minutes 33.04 million 20.58
76th Academy Awards February 29, 2004 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 3 hours, 38 minutes 43.56 million 26.68
77th Academy Awards February 27, 2005 Million Dollar Baby 3 hours, 14 minutes 42.16 million 25.29
78th Academy Awards March 5, 2006 Crash 3 hours, 33 minutes 38.94 million 22.91
79th Academy Awards February 25, 2007 The Departed 3 hours, 51 minutes 39.92 million 23.65
80th Academy Awards February 24, 2008 No Country for Old Men 3 hours, 21 minutes 31.76 million 18.66

Venues

The 1st Academy Awards were presented at a banquet dinner at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood then hosted the awards from 1944 to 1946, followed by the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles from 1947 to 1948. The 21st Academy Awards in 1949 were held at the Academy Award Theater at the Academy’s then-headquarters on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

From 1950 to 1960, the awards were presented at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater. The Oscars then moved to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California in 1961. By 1969, the Academy decided to move the ceremonies back to Los Angeles, this time at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Los Angeles Music Center.

In 2002, Hollywood’s Kodak Theater became the first permanent home of the awards. It is connected to the Hollywood & Highland Center, which contains 640,000 square feet (59,000 m²) of space including retail, restaurants, nightclubs, other establishments and a six-screen cinema.

Official website

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