The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are honors for superior film work determined annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). They are considered by many to be the most meritorious award in the film world, and are hotly sought after by nearly everyone in the film community. The Oscars were first given out in 1929, and have since become the grand dame of film award ceremonies.
The Oscars seek to reward the best work in all technical, production and performance aspects. Nominated films or work is usually considered groundbreaking or exceptional, and an Academy Award nomination can be an enormous boost to a career, regardless of who actually wins the statue. Yet box office success is no guarantee of nominations; frequently, action, fantasy and science-fiction movies are overlooked for performance awards despite high revenues. Ideally, the awards are given for quality, regardless of genre or monetary success.
As a prestigious and important award, the nomination and selection process for the Oscars is carried out with great care. AMPAS is composed of invited members, usually those with successful and significant film careers. Any film meeting the basic qualifying requirements can be nominated for an Oscar category by the AMPAS members of its respective field, but all members can nominate and vote for the Best Picture Oscar.
Since 1953, the Oscars telecast has been a spectacular television event celebrating film and the glamor of Hollywood. Millions of fans tune in each year to watch the movie stars walk the red carpet, often sporting custom designer clothing and astonishingly expensive jewelry. The pre-show has become nearly as popular as the awards show itself, with every major fashion and entertainment magazine covering the arrivals of the stars.
The awards show itself uses a host or master of ceremonies to shepherd the show. In 1929, the first hosts were legendary director Cecil B. DeMille and actor Douglas Fairbanks. In recent years, the host is usually a comedian or noted comic actor. Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and Ellen Degeneres have all done the honors over the years, offering comic relief among the sometimes stiff award presentations.
The Oscars are controversial among many film fans. Some feel that the awards can turn into a popularity contest, or a way to gain or use Hollywood influence. Many point out that great comic performances are often ignored in the acting categories, and that Best Picture winners often become obscure memories. Others argue that the awards shunt technical achievement categories into a separate ceremony, going for glamor rather than merit. While this last point certainly has some merit, it is difficult to argue for making a broadcast that frequently runs over four hours any longer.
The Academy Awards are one true, concrete sign of having it made in Hollywood. Despite a viewer drop-off in recent years, the show remains popular. The allure of the awards is undeniable: the entire experience is filled with fantastical elements, as anyone who has ever practiced their acceptance speech in the shower can tell you.