Friday, January 11, 2013

The Academy Awards - IMHO

The Academy Award Nominations were announced today and as always I have my favorites. Since we see many movies a year, I see myself as an arm chair expert. Sure I can tell you who I feel put on the best performance as the Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, etc. And, I can tell you my opinion of the year's Best Director (like I know what I am talking about). My criteria there is: if the movie was well done and the director in question didn't do something to totally P*$$ me off, I'll give him or her my vote.

Costume Design? I grew up in the decade of Edith Head. If she designed the costumes, she won the award. For years I thought she was the only competent Hollywood designer. She had 35 nominations and 8 awards. That will fill a mantle.

But there are those categories I am clueless on. What the heck is Sound Design or Sound Editing and how do they differ from Sound Mixing for that matter? 

I did some research and learned that Sound Design or Sound Editing (as it is now referred to) is granted to a film exhibiting the finest or most aesthetic sound editing which is the creative professional responsible for selecting and assembling sound recordings  in preparation for the final  sound mixing.

That brings us to the award for Sound Mixing that recognizes the finest or most euphonic (pleasing to the ear) sound mixing or recording, and is generally awarded to the production sound mixers and recording mixers of the winning film. 

All this is not to be confused with Best Original Score. This award is presented to the best substantial body of music in the form of dramatic underscoring written specifically for the film by the submitting composer. In years of 1995-1998, the Academy decided, in its great wisdom, to divide this award into two categories and award an Oscar for the Original Score for a Dramatic Film and a separate one for a Musical or Comedy. For some reason in 1999, they decided that was not such a good idea and went back to one award in the category.

Examples of winners for this award: In 1997 Titantic won the award for Best Original Score in a Dramatic Film and The Full Monty picked up the award in the Musical/Comedy category. In 2011, The Artist took home the award.

Then we come to Best Original Song which is presented to the songwriters who have composed the best original song written specifically for a film. The performers of a song are not credited with the Academy Award unless they contributed either to music, lyrics or both in their own right. Examples of past winners in this category are:

'42- White Christmas (Holiday Inn)

'47- Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah (Song of the South)

'54- Three Coins in a Fountain (Three Coins in a Fountain)

'61- Moon River (Breakfast at Tiffany's)

'73- The Way we Were (The Way we Were)

'88-Let the River Run (Working Girl)

Next there is the Academy Award for Best Production Design. This recognizes achievement in art direction on a film. (Wikipedia defines an Art Director as:"Various artists may create or develop specific parts of an art piece or scene; but it is the charge of a sole art director to supervise and unify the vision. In particular, the art director is in charge of the overall visual appearance and how it communicates visually, stimulates moods, contrasts features, and psychologically appeals to a target audience. The art director makes decisions about visual elements used, what artistic style to use, and when to use motion.") 

If this title does not sound familiar, it is because up until this year the category was called Best Art Direction, but was changed to its current name for the 85th Academy Awards. Recent winners of this award include Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, and Hugo.

The Oscar for Best Cinematography is awarded each year to a cinematographer for work in one particular motion picture. And, cinematography is "the art or technique of movie photography, including both the shooting and development of the film." Recent winners include Avatar, Inception, and Hugo.

And, as a trivial aside, why are the Academy Awards called "Oscars"? Well, to be honest, no one really knows. There are several theories.
  • 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;  
  • Walt Disney is also quoted as thanking the Academy for his Oscar as early as 1932;
  • Another claimed origin is that the Academy's Executive Secretary,  Margaret Herrick first saw the award in 1931 and made reference to the statuette's reminding her of her "Uncle Oscar" (a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce);
  • Columnist Sidney Skolsky was present during Herrick's naming and seized the name in his byline, "Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette 'Oscar'";
  • Another legend reports that the Norwegian-American Eleanor Lilleberg, executive secretary to Louis B. Mayer, saw the first statuette and exclaimed, "It looks like King Oscar II!".
All in all, it boils down to: The trophy was officially dubbed the "Oscar" in 1939 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

As for today's nominations, not that anyone cares, I was personally miffed that Ben Aflack did not get a Best Director's nomination for his superb work in Argo. As you know, Master was not my favorite film but Joaquin Phonenix clearly deserves his nomination as Actor in a Leading Role. I did not review Beasts of the Southern Wild, but we saw it and it was unlike any film I have ever seen. It took me a day or two to absorb it. There were times, I actually thought it was done live. Quvenzhane Wallis is going to be hard to beat as an Actress in a Leading Role. (Who ever said never go onstage with children or animals is right.) However, of the adults, Jennifer Lawrence, would be my pick.

Any of the Actors in a Leading Role richly deserve to win. Anne Hathaway will probably win the Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar but Sally Field or Jackie Weaver deserve it. (Jackie Weaver's excellent performance has been sorely overlooked in my book.) 

I would hate to choose in the Actor in a Supporting Role category. I have seen all, with the exception of Django Unchained, and the rest are very strong performances. Although I think Don Cheadle was overlooked for his solid role in Flight.

Anna Karenina should pick up the Costumes Design Award. The frocks were breath taking and the film was overlooked every where else.

As for Best Picture, I'll leave that to the professionals, however personally I hope that Life of Pi and Les Mis do not fall in the top three or four. Buzz and publicity have nothing to do with substance and value.

But, as always, this is my humble opinion.

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