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The Oscars - 95 and counting...

Updated: May 13

2023 sees the 95th Academy Awards. In just five years we will be witnessing 100 years of these prestigious awards.

But what was the film industry like back when it all started?

The 1929 Academy Awards were held in May, celebrating films release between August 1927 and August 1928. Back then, the winners were already known to the public by the time the ceremony was held as they were released in February. I guess that's why we hold them in February now!

There were 13 categories (24 in 2023), including "Best Directing" in two categories, "Dramatic" and "Comedy" Pictures, and "Outstanding Picture". There was also "Engineering Effects" and a third writing category in addition to "Original" and "Adaptation" - "Title Writing". The "Outstanding Picture" and "Unique and Artistic Picture" awards went to the studios that produced them.

Emil Jannings

The film Sunrise won two "Cinematography" awards for its two cinematographers, Charles Rosher and Karl Struss, and the acting awards went to the performers based on their overall work, with certain ones being picked out. Emil Jannings was awarded the "Best Actor" award for The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. Janet Gaynor went one better in the "Best Actress" category, getting her win for 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise. Emil was awarded his earlier than everyone else has he was returning to Europe before the ceremony, so he is the first ever recipient of an Academy Award.

Janet Gaynor

We have to remember that "talkies", as films quickly became known back then, had only been around for less than two years when the first Oscar's ceremony took place. 1927's The Jazz Singer, the first talkie, was one of two films given a "Special Award" (the other being The Circus). We don't see any recognition for sound recording until 1931.

1935 was the first point we see the Awards going to films released the year before, rather than over two years. By the mid-30's, at the peak of Hollywood's "Golden Age", there were numerous categories for music, and "Dance Direction" saw 13 nominees in 1936. We also see the rise of "Film Editing", awards for Assistant Directors and the "Supporting Role" categories.

Hattie McDaniel

By the 1940's, cinematography in colour films was acknowledged in its own category, while Black and White had its own as well. 1940 also celebrated Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Oscar, for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939). There were no limits to the number of nominees, so categories had varying numbers each year, and "Dance Direction vanishes as Hollywood moved away from musicals. Short films start to be acknowledged. "Cartoon", "One-Reel" and "Two-Reel" films all get their own categories for a while, and Documentaries start being acknowledged. We also get see an honourary award for "Outstanding Child Actor/Actress" more regularly. It appeared three times in the 30's, five times in the 40's and just twice after that, in 1954 and lastly in 1960.

In the 1950's costumers have their own award, and while black and white films were still about, there were categories for both, and in 1957 the "Best Foreign Language Film" category is introduced (now "Best International Film"). 1965 saw the ceremony filmed and in 1966 that was in colour. 1968 was the year all artistic awards were combined as we start to move away from black and white films altogether.

Walt Disney & Shirley Temple with the honourary Statuette

From the 1970's we see the set standard we are used to. 1974 saw the only instance of a streaker across the stage, although this turned out to be a publicity stunt. It isn't until 1981 that we get a new category, for Make Up and Hairstyling, and then in 2002 we get the latest new category - "Best Animated Feature". Before then, cartoons and short animations were acknowledged. The famous Seven Statuettes made for Walt Disney for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was for his work mainly, and not the film. But by the 1990's, the animation technology was growing fast. In 1995, The Lion King had three songs nominated for "Original Song", and won. I believe that is when there was murmurings of a new category being needed, although I have not been able to prove that.

We now get to the 2020's. We have the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a debate about the eligibility for streaming platforms making their own movies. 2019 saw Roma, made by Netflix, get a massive number of nominations, despite no cinema release. It was decided then that streaming platforms had to release their films for a limited run in theatres at the very least. This rule was pulled over the pandemic and is expected to return soon.

2020 made history by having Parasite win "Best Picture", becoming the first International film (non-English speaking) to win the award.

Well, that's a short and very basic run through of the Oscar's history. Time for a movie.


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