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The History of the Academy Awards: An Introduction (with Trivia)

Written by: Erik Beck, Special to CC2K

Image The first thing I want to point out is that I am no way affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “Oscar” and “Academy Awards” are registered trademarks of the Academy.

I am, however, obsessed with them. Part of it is being interested in film for a very long time. I have seen well over 5000 films, including over 78% of all the nominated films, accounting for 90% of all the nominees. That combined with list-making and OCD makes me the perfect person to write about all things Oscar.

Over the next month, from the nominations (which were just announced), until the actual ceremony (Sunday, 22 February), I intend to cover the history of all the feature film categories (no short film or documentaries), going through one a day for the technicals, and spreading it out a bit more for the majors.

For each category, I will list all of the nominees by year, and then I will list who I felt should have been nominated. All films in blue are films that won Best Picture. All films in red are films that were nominated for Best Picture. All films in purple are films that only received that one nomination.

Each category will also have a description of the category, including various interesting (at least to me) facts. Each category will also have a few extras:

Getting an Oscar nomination is a big thing. It makes you an “Academy Award nominated film,” something you carry forever, even if you were nominated for Best Makeup. To that extent, I want to note films that only received one nomination, just making it into this exclusive category (films that didn’t receive any I dealt with yesterday in the list of 100 Best Films Not Nominated for an Academy Award).

Honor Roll: These are films which only received one nomination, yet I feel are **** films. Usually these films deserved more, but at least they made the list.

Shame Roll: These are terrible films (** or less) which received the one nomination. They have made the hallowed list, but don’t deserve this recognition when so many great films didn’t get any nominations.

Grades: Because I have seen over 90% of the total nominations (I will note on each category what percentage I have seen), I give a grade to each category as to how well the Academy has done, both with the nominations and the winners.

Honorary Mentions: These are films that ended up 6th place in a various year on my list, but still deserve recognition because they would have made the top 5 in most years.

If you want an actual introduction to the Academy Awards, the best place to start would be I recommend Academy Awards: The Complete History of the Oscar, the official Academy sponsored book by Robert Osborne. The best place to go for a year by year breakdown would be Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona. It only covers through 1994, but Bona wrote a second volume that covers up to 2000, but isn’t as good. I have relied heavily on Inside Oscar for information on eligible films, songs and foreign language films.

The Academy Awards were first given out on May 16, 1929 and covered films that had been released between August 1, 1927 and July 31, 1928 (thus I refer it to as 1927-28). This overlapping year continued until 1933, when the films from the latter half of 1932 were thrown together with all the films from 1933 and after that the Academy settled into a calendar year.

But that much history can be found in any book. The following trivia is stuff I have picked up over the years:

Points: I have a point system that goes 50 (Picture), 45 (Director), 40 (Screenplay), 35 (Lead Acting), 30 (Supporting), 25 (Editing, Cinematography, Score), 20 (Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Foreign Film, Animated Film), 15 (Costume Design) and 10 (Song, Makeup). You get double if you win. It’s been modified a little over the years, but it’s been the same since 1995, so I’m sticking with it.

Top 10 Points:

1. From Here to Eternity – 675
2. Gone with the Wind – 670
3. Ben-Hur – 660
4. On the Waterfront – 655
5. All About Eve – 625
6. Titanic – 625
7. The English Patient – 620
8. Mrs. Miniver – 610
9. West Side Story – 610
10. Dances with Wolves – 590

Top 5 Points (Didn’t Win Best Picture):

1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – 520
2. Cabaret – 510
3. Network – 490
4. A Streetcar Named Desire – 485
5. The Song of Bernadette – 480

Top 5 Points (No Best Picture Nomination)

1. Hud – 320
2. The Bad and the Beautiful – 295
3. They Shoot Horses Don’t They? – 295
4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind – 290
5. Fanny and Alexander / Thelma and Louise – 245

Top 5 Points (No Wins)

1. The Turning Point – 335
2. Peyton Place – 315
3. The Little Foxes – 300
4. The Color Purple – 290
5. Gangs of New York – 285

Films That Finished in 1st Place in Points Without Winning Best Picture

* Seventh Heaven (1927-28) – 310
* The Patriot (1928-29) – 255
* The Champ (1931-32) – 245
* The Informer (1935) – 365
* The Song of Bernadette (1943) – 380
* Johnny Belinda (1948) – 415
* A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) – 485
* High Noon (1952) – 325
* Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) – 520
* Cabaret (1972) – 510
* Network (1976) – 490
* Star Wars (1977) – 455
* Reds (1981) – 445
* The Aviator (2004) – 450
* Brokeback Mountain (2005) – 390

Worst 5 Points for Best Picture Winner
1. Grand Hotel – 100
2. Wings – 140
3. The Broadway Melody – 180
4. Sunrise – 240
5. All Quiet on the Western Front – 255

Most Nominations:

* Total: 14 – All About Eve / Titanic
* Didn’t Win Best Picture: 13 – Mary Poppins / Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf / The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
* Not Nominated for Best Picture: 9 – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (if you count a Special Award for a normal category like Visual Effects as a nomination, then Poseidon Adventure and Close Encounters of the Third Kind tie for this with 9)
* Special Note: Dreamgirls is the only film to have the most in its respective year (8 in 2006) without a Best Picture nomination
* Most with no Wins: 11 – The Turning Point / The Color Purple
* Most with all Wins: 11 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Most Wins:

* Total: 11 – Ben-Hur / Titanic / The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
* Didn’t Win Best Picture: 8 – Cabaret
* Not Nominated for Best Picture: 5 – The Bad and the Beautiful

Random Trivia:

* Picture, Director and Screenplay usually go together, but rarely do the films match up perfectly. Since the number of Best Picture nominees was reduced to 5 in 1944, only thrice have the same 5 films been nominated for all three awards: 1964 (My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Dr. Strangelove, Becket, Zorba the Greek) 2005 (Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck) and this year (Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, Frost/Nixon and The Reader).

* Even Picture and Director don’t match up (even though every year, when there’s one film that’s nominated for Picture and someone says, “but how can you be the best film and not be nominated for Director?”). Only five times have these two categories even matched up since 1944: 1957 (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Peyton Place, Witness for the Prosecution, Sayonara and 12 Angry Men), 1964, 1981 (Chariots of Fire, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds, On Golden Pond, Atlantic City) 2005 and this year. And interestingly enough, in 81 and 05, the winners were split (Chariots and Crash won Best Picture, but Reds and Brokeback won Best Director).

* Director and Screenplay without Picture go together, though. 64 times a film has been nominated for Director and Screenplay without getting a Best Picture nomination. 17 of those were Foreign films (showing that the Directors and Writers like Foreign films, but not the Academy as a whole), and 4 times it was Woody Allen (Interiors, Broadway Danny Rose, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Bullets over Broadway). 3 of the last 4 to do this were Foreign films (Talk to Her, City of God, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – which I predicted last year would do this because history showed it was very likely).

* A film has been nominated for all 5 of the major technical awards (Editing, Score, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction) 45 times. Oddly enough, it was less common in the pre-1967 days when there were twice as many nominees for Cinematography, Score and Art Direction as it has been since. Of those 44, only 7 swept those awards, 6 Best Pictures (Ben-Hur, West Side Story, Lawrence of Arabia, The Last Emperor, The English Patient and Titanic). The other was Saving Private Ryan. That’s because Spielberg is the technical virtuoso. 5 times he has directed a film that has score all 5 nominations (his other four were Close Encounters, Raiders, Empire of the Sun and Schindler’s List). Close Encounters and Empire of the Sun are 2 of the 5 films to get all these nominations without a Best Picture nomination (the other three are The Rains Came, Pepe and The Poseidon Adventure). Close Encounters is the only one of those 5 to win any of those (it won
Cinematography). The only films to get nominated for all 5 and not win any of them are The Rains Came, Citizen Kane, Johnny Belinda, Pepe, Becket, The Sand Pebbles, Dr. Dolittle, Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Chinatown, Empire of the Sun and L.A. Confidential (the last two were up against The Last Emperor and Titanic, which swept the 5 awards). From 1993 to 2001, 9 films were nominated for all 5, but Benjamin Button is the first to do it since The Fellowship of the Ring.

* 2969 films have been nominated for a feature film award. The high year was 1944 when 65 different films were nominated (yet only 8 of those films actually won an Oscar), because the technical categories were split between color and black-and-white and didn’t have a limit of 5 nominees, and the lowest was 1931-32, which only had 17 films. The average these days is the mid to high 30’s. 1996, with 46 films is the only year to have more than 40 since 1956.  This year is a low blip with only 31 films.

* 809 films have won a feature film Oscar. The high was 1945 with 15. The low was 1930 with 6. Since the categories were increased in 1934, the only years with 7 are 1981 (when Raiders, Chariots and Reds each won 4), and 1997 (when Titanic won 11). 1927-28 spread the wealth the most, as 42% (11 out of 26) of the nominated films won Oscars. 1944 was the extreme low, with only 12%. For the last several years, except for 2003 when Return of the King swept, the average is around 33%.

* Best Picture is most often linked with Best Director (the BP wins Director 74% of the time) and Screenplay (65%). Editing (42%) is the only other category above the low 30’s. Sound Editing is the worst (2% – just Braveheart and Titanic), followed by Makeup and Song, with 4 winners each.

* Best Picture winners are nominated for Best Director 96% of the time (Driving Miss Daisy, Wings and Grand Hotel are the exceptions), Screenplay 91%, and Editing 87% (the last film to win Picture without getting nominated for Editing was Ordinary People in 1980). Actor, Supporting Actor and Cinematography are all in the 60’s. The worst are Sound Editing (5 nominations) and Song (7 nominations).

* Statistically, a Best Picture nominee is likely to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but not to win. While in almost every category (outside Director and Screenplay), they are half as likely to win, they win Supporting Actor less than 1 in 3 times for the number of films nominated. In the last thirty years, the Best Picture winner has been nominated for Supporting Actor 18 times, but only won 5 of those (Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, No Country for Old Men).

* 13 films have been nominated for all 4 acting awards. None of them won all 4. 2 films won 3 (Network won both leads and Supporting Actress, while A Streetcar Named Desire won Actress and both Supporting). 4 films won two (Coming Home won both leads, From Here to Eternity won both Supporting, while Mrs. Miniver and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf both won Actress and Supporting Actress). 5 films won 1 (Johnny Belinda and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner won Best Actress, while For Whom the Bell Tolls, Bonnie and Clyde and Reds won Best Supporting Actress), while the remaining 2 films (My Man Godfrey and Sunset Boulevard) didn’t win any. Network, Mrs. Miniver, From Here to Eternity and Bonnie and Clyde all gets marks for being nominated for 5 acting awards, while My Man Godfrey gets the Boobie Prize. It is the only film to ever be nominated for Director, Screenplay and all 4 acting awards without getting a Best Picture nomination. Ironically enough,
Libeled Lady, in the same year was nominated for Best Picture, but nothing else.


Read More of Erik’s Writing, and leave comments or questions by visiting his blog at

Author: Erik Beck, Special to CC2K

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