A to Z of the Oscars
As the red carpet is rolled out tonight for some of the world's biggest stars, Ben Judge offers a guide to Hollywood's biggest party...
Leading the British challenge at the Oscars this year is Atonement, based on Ian McEwan's tragic war-time romance. Having picked up two Golden Globes last month for Best Drama and Best Original Score, Atonement is sitting on seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Disappointingly for stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, both were over-looked for Best Actor nominations.
In an attempt to throw some science into Oscar predictions, sociologists at the University of California have devised a formula to help betting types with their choices. Using the power of maths and the online film encyclopedia Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the boffins have concluded that an actor stands a better chance by starring in a film based on "serious subject matter" and by working alongside other talented actors. Go figure.
The Oscars ceremony is worth big bucks. With advertisers spending an average $1.6m for an advertising spot. Organisations queue up to sponsor the after-show parties for as much as $700,000. In addition to the millions of dollars swilling about Los Angeles, the Oscars are worth many times more to film studios, fashion designers, paparazzi and newspaper and magazine editors the world over, thanks to the unquenchable public interest in the glamorous contenders and the free publicity they generate.
The British actor is the odds-on favourite to take the Best Actor Oscar this year for his portrayal of turn-of-the-century oil baron, Daniel Plainview. Having made only 12 feature films – and being Oscar-nominated for four of them – Day-Lewis has a fearsome batting average. After receiving universal acclaim for There Will Be Blood, some see it as inconceivable that there won't be a new addition to the family trophy cabinet. However, with a reputation for being something of a luvvie and a ham, expect a somewhat ridiculous acceptance speech.
Not wanting to be upstaged by such a paltry event as the Super Bowl, the Oscars wouldn't be the same without a few tacked-on musical interludes to break up the awards format. Scheduled to play at the 2008 ceremony are the cast of Disney's Enchanted, performing numbers from the movie that are nominees in the Best Song category; Simone Nash with the IMPACT Repertory Theatre of Harlem; and folky duo Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
The one thing the Oscars can guarantee is a good frock. As the great and the glamorous descend on Los Angeles, the international press come out in force to snap away and yell "who are you wearing" as though it's a meaningful sentence. With the likes of Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Scarlett Johansson showing off the most predictably beautiful of frocks, enthusiasts can but hope for that once-in-a-decade spectacular, such as Bjrk's swan dress from 2001.
THE GOLDEN RASPBERRY AWARDS
Established in 1981, The Golden Raspberry Awards – or Razzies – are the counter-point to the Oscars, "celebrating" the worst acting, dialogue, direction and overall production from the year's cinematic offerings. Past winners of the statuette (valued at approximately $4.89) include Halle Berry, Ben Affleck and Eddie Murphy, who last year received a record five nominations for his performance in Norbit – a risible piece of celluloid that, incidentally, is in the running for the Academy's Best Make-Up gong.
With the Oscars entering its 80th year, a collection of pointless trivia is essential for getting through the late-night coverage and impressing friends and family. For all film buffs, the following is essential knowledge:
&149 The first Best Picture winner – a trick question. Wings won "Best Production" in 1929, with Cimarron winning the rebranded award in 1931;
&149 The most successful film – a tie between Ben Hur, Titanic, and Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King: each won 11 gongs;
&149 The most successful actor/actress – Katherine Hepburn, 4 Best Actress gongs;
• The number of Oscars nominations for Alfred Hitchcock – 7 nominations, no wins.
This year's greatest controversy comes, surprisingly, from the Best Foreign Language Film category. With the entire cinematic output of the non-English speaking world crammed into a list of just five films, some real gems were left out. Most conspicuous by its absence is the Romanian movie, 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days. The winner of the Palme D'Or at Cannes and countless critics' awards was sidelined alongside French film Persepolis in a move that isn't set to raise international estimations of the US on the European continent.
The highest-grossing film to be nominated this year, having taken $125m at the US box office, Juno, above, is the dark horse in the Oscar stable. A comedy about teen pregnancy, Juno is very much the rank outsider and is far lighter in tone than its rivals, There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men, but no less accomplished say fans.
With its young star Ellen Page nominated for her role as the eponymous heroine, and featuring a cast including the West Wing's Allison Janney, and Arrested Development's Michael Cera, Juno is the US public's choice for Best Film, according to a Reuters poll.
Opened in 2001 and the home of the Academy Awards since 2002, the Kodak Theatre was designed with the Oscars specifically in mind. It has a seating capacity of 3,401 people and boasts one of the largest stage areas in America. The building is specially 'dressed up' for the event, decked with a new sign and red carpet that make it largely unrecognisable. The American organisation Kodak paid $75m to have its name associated with the building.
With Hilary Swank's Oscar win in 2000 and Gywneth Paltrow taking it the year before, it seemed Hollywood had entered an enlightened and tolerant age of understanding when dealing with transgender characters. But, truth is, the Academy has always loved a good tranny. Since Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, the Oscars have long celebrated the art of cross-dressing. Notably, however, Linda Hunt is the only performer to win for actually portraying a member of the opposite sex, in 1983's The Year Of Living Dangerously.
MATURE LEADING LADIES
After years of complaining about the limited opportunities for older women in Hollywood, the last two years have been dominated by actresses of pensionable age. With Dame Helen Mirren taking the Best Actress gong for The Queen in 2007, this year's favourite – another British actress – is Julie Christie for her role in Away From Her. At 66 years old, this is the fourth Oscar nomination for the legendary star of classics such as Darling and Dr Zhivago.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
The Coen brothers' widely acclaimed picture is this year's favourite to claim the Best Film gong, while the star turn from Javier Barden as the film's psychopathic serial killer is a hot bet for Best Supporting Actor.
In total, No Country For Old Men is nominated for eight awards, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Critics are saying There Will Be Blood is the only film able to give the Coens a run for their money.
The Oscar statuettes, officially known as the Academy Awards of Merit, are – contrary to popular opinion – not solid gold, but rather gold-plated britannium sculptures of a crusading knight standing upon a five-spoked film reel. The origin of the "Oscar" label is unclear, with the earliest recorded usage being attributed to Bette Davis, who apparently named her statuette after her husband Harmon Oscar Nelson.
The hottest after-show party has always been Vanity Fair's. But not this year. The magazine's shindig was cancelled in support of the writers' strike. The magazine's editor, Graydon Carter, is excited about slumming it, saying: "There will be something sort of liberating about ordering Chinese food and watching the Oscars in bed."
With Chicago inexplicably taking up position alongside the likes of Schindler's List and The Godfather, and with Crash beating Brokeback Mountain to the Best Picture award amid allegations of foul play, the Oscars are famous for throwing up a few questionable results. More surprising, though, is a run-down of classic films snubbed by the Academy, including ET, Goodfellas, Apocalypse Now, Psycho and Citizen Kane.
The Oscars are famously derided by the right-wing US press as being a strong-hold for sandal-wearing liberals. Over the years, politically motivated acceptance speeches have become popular with figures such as Sean Penn and George Clooney. In 2003 Michael Moore described George Bush as "the fictitious president".
A favourite among liberal intellectuals in the US, Stewart has been satirising and generally poking fun at the neo-con establishment from his Comedy Central pulpit on a nightly basis for the past two years. He has avoided being panned by critics and is seen as a safe pair of hands.
No ceremony can be considered a success unless at least one leading actor turns on the waterworks. Who can forget Halle Berry, who – on becoming the first black woman to win a Best Actress award in 2002 – gushed: "This moment is so much bigger than me. It's for the women that stand beside me... and it's for every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you (etc]." Pass the Kleenex.
Behind the cameras lurk many an unsung hero, but few more so than Englishman Roger Deakins. The cinematographer received his sixth and seventh nominations for his work on The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and No Country For Old Men this year and is one of Britain's most successful exports.
Academy insiders are notoriously secretive about the voting process and little, if any, details regarding results are ever released to the public. What is known, is that the 6,000 members of the Academy vote using a variant of the Single Transferable Voting system – which gives each voter the option to choose up to five people in their category to nominate. After lots of careful processing by boffin types, a list of nominees is eventually produced which the members then vote on again to produce the winners. Easy.
Up to $2bn worth of damage done to the Los Angeles economy; production halted on numerous TV and film sets... all sacrifices made by Hollywood's Powers That Be in the fight against the Writers' Guild of America. But no Oscars? Well, that won't do. A resolution was hammered out 10 days before the ceremony.
The Academy Awards has recognised only one X-rated film in its roster of Best Picture winners. Midnight Cowboy, right, starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, voluntarily adopted the X certification because of its rape scenes and dark themes. It won three awards.
Ellen Page, the Oscar-nominated star of Juno, was only 19 at the time of the film's release, but the title of youngest ever nominee goes to Justin Henry, who was just eight when nominated for the Best Supporting Actor for his role in Kramer Vs Kramer. The youngest ever Academy Award winner was Tatum O'Neal, Best Supporting Actress for Paper Moon.
Should you decide to stay up tonight to watch the Oscars live, starting at 1am UK time, zzz's are what you'll be likely to be giving it when you fall asleep at your desk during a very long Monday. Have espressos and Red Bulls at the ready.
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