in Box Office History: Oscar
We’re kicking off Academy Awards month here at Deluxe Video, and with most of the Best Picture contenders hogging up the top positions at the Box Office, now seems like an ideal moment to examine the history of the Academy Awards. We’ll also take a quick look at non-Oscar fare this week, and get back into the swing of predicting winners. Lots to do, so let’s get cracking.
History of the Oscars
This year marks the 86th running of the Academy Awards. What has become a 3 ring circus of glitz and glamor started off as a modest affair on May 16, 1929. A total of 270 people attended the event, which was the definition of anticlimactic: the results had been announced 3 months prior to the event and the first statuette was already winging its way to Germany in the hands of Best Actor winner Emil Janning, who received his reward in advance due to prior commitments. After a long round of speeches, it took just 15 minutes to hand out the awards. Many of the modern categories were present, but two “special awards” needed to be created to fill in the gaps. Who won those special trophies?
The first was for an historical movie, both famous and infamous in our time. It was for the first sound picture, Al Jolson‘s The Jazz Singer. It was the first feature film to sync sound up with image, breaking the back of the silent era and ushering in a new format for cinema. It was a monumental achievement, including a full fledged soundtrack…but it was also emblematic of the insulting and embarrassing trend of “black-face” in musicals of the time. Al Jolson made nine movies appearing in face paint that approximated African-American appearance. The tradition of casting in these roles was a prevalent slight against talented actors of color. As a balm, The Jazz Singer actually addresses this issue, acknowledging that it is a shameful practice, and uses it to talk about the difficulty of Jewish entertainers to break into show biz. Al Jolson’s character is the sweet voiced son of a generation of Jewish singers, but must appear only in “black-face” in order to have his voice heard by a mainstream audience. A sad statement that one wrong can only be spoken of by hiding it in plain sight of an equally hateful wrong.
The other special award? The king of the silent era that had just been crushed, Charlie Chaplin himself. Much more drama was to come Chaplin’s way due to the Academy…
The Awards contracted to 7 categories for the next round, but has been slowly growing every since. As a particular note, the category of supporting actor/actress was only added in the 9th awards, and documentaries only received attention in the 14th Awards, during World War 2. By the 20th, even foreign language films were included, though many viewers do not understand the excruciating limits placed on foreign films. One film per country is allowed. One. There are 9 American film nominees for best film this year. They are apparently better than every filmed produced abroad. If the same rules applied at home, only one of those films could possibly be considered for best film, despite Hollywood’s assertion that all 9 are worthy of consideration.
Around this period, Hollywood entered a dark time: the black-list era. Next week we will discuss the red-eye Hollywood gave itself by participating in the Communist scare of the fever-addled Joseph McCarthy.
The Week that Was
This week The Lego Movie ripped apart the February doldrums, in which Kevin Hart and Ice Cube made insane money. It’s nice to see that I, Frankenstein is sucking eggs as I anticipated. The majority of the cash spent (that didn’t go to plastic bricks) was invested in Oscar hopefuls. Nine of the top twenty films this week are Academy nominated films. This mirrors recent Box Office history, as a good 50% of the list of top movies since 1982 is made up of Oscar nominated/winning films.
No predictions were made last week (except hoping a certain monster with a bolt in his neck would flop…) so no score-card to review.
The Week That Will Be
#3. About Last Night. Romantic comedy, plus raunch, on Valentine’s Day. Plus Kevin Hart, from Ride Along. Blah Blah Blah. We all know that Cube is the big draw for that movie. Right. Right? I feel sick for some reason…
#2. Robocop. There’s a nasty rumor wafting about, that About Last Night is going to clean up this week. It, like Robo, is a remake of an 80’s film, and has the current wunderkind Kevin Hart to give it some serious weight. It could be the romantic comedy people have been waiting for, that isn’t afraid to be both serious and funny. Funk dat. The story of a human cop who is so bad-ass that getting murdered doesn’t stop him from giving parking tickets will trump that crap easily. It has Gary Oldman! It is the return to fame vehicle of Michael Keaton! It has robots…who are cops! Oh God, About Last Night is going to destroy this film, isn’t it? ISN’T IT!?! Breath deep…believe that Robo can hold on…breath…OK, I got this. If this movie doesn’t take second, there will be…trouble.
#1. The Lego Movie. This movie could be around for a long time on the list. Frozen is still making bank this week, and I think that movie came out some time in the 12th century. Apparently families need something to see, and the marketing tie-ins for this film are going to drive sales for at least a month. Probably longer, as the next animated kid’s movie to come out will be Mr. Peabody and Sherman, which I’m not sure what completely out of touch studio exec thought was a good idea. I was around for the 80’s, and this show was irrelevant by THEN, so who on Earth do they think is clamoring for this? Expect a repeat of the 2000 flop, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.