The 2014 Academy Awards, often referred to as the "Oscars" because of the gold statuette that is given to winners, will be presented on March 2, recognizing the best of motion pictures in 2013. Dr. Jeff Marker, head of the Department of Communication, Media and Journalism at the University of North Georgia, talks about the history and influence of the Oscars and this year's nominees.
How have the awards changed since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the first awards in 1929?
Compared to how much the movie industry has changed since 1929, the awards themselves have changed remarkably little. In fact, perhaps the most powerful allure of the Oscars is that they have not changed. They are a throwback, a reminder of classic Hollywood glamour.
The awards originally were intended to lend credibility to an industry and a form of entertainment regarded as vulgar and having little, if any, artistic value. The Oscars still fill virtually the same purpose, to create an aura of artist achievement.
The categories have changed a bit over the years, but the Academy still doesn't recognize the convergence of the theatrical movie industry with the home video industry, largely ignores independent cinema, and rarely rewards formal innovation or truly challenging social content.
How much do the Academy Awards influence the industry and the viewing public?
The most ironic thing about the Oscars is that most critics and cinephiles agree the Academy gets the awards wrong as much as they get them right, yet an Oscar is still the most coveted film award in America. No other award can equal the Oscar's power to catapult a film to greater box office performance and cultural significance, and no other award immediately raises an actor, writer, or director to A-list status the way an Oscar can.
There is a thriving independent cinema in the United States right now, and that is where ground is broken and trends are set. However, given how many smaller production firms either are subsidiaries of the same conglomerates that own the major Hollywood studios or depend on major distribution corporations, the Academy exerts some degree of influence on every sector of American cinema.
Which awards or nominees are the ones to watch this year?
The Academy Awards ceremony takes place after every other awards proceeding, so Oscar prognosticators have a lot of data on which to base their predictions and clear favorites have emerged in most races. All of the acting awards have strong frontrunners (Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Jared Leto, and Lupita Nyong'o), and Best Director seems to be a two-way race between Alfonso Cuarón for "Gravity" and Steve McQueen for "12 Years A Slave." The latter film will also likely win for Best Adapted Screenplay. "Gravity," "12 Years A Slave," and "American Hustle" are the frontrunners for Best Picture, in that order.
One interesting possibility is that "American Hustle" might not win any awards despite being nominated for 10. It's the most entertaining of all the major nominees but also offers the lightest narrative.
The least predictable race is probably for Best Documentary Feature; 2013 was an incredibly strong year for documentaries, and one could make a convincing argument that "The Act of Killing," "Stories We Tell," "20 Feet From Stardom," and "The Square" are all deserving.