He’s officially called the Academy Award of Merit, but usually he’s known by his more familiar name – Oscar. Though he’s only 13-and-a-half-inches tall, the gold-plated statuette stands as the greatest honor the motion picture industry can bestow. But what does he stand for? What makes a film the one that “the Oscar goes to”?
The nomination and voting process is straightforward, if complex. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has more than 6,000 members, who are inducted by invitation of its Board of Governors based on achievement in the film industry. Usually, they are members of the Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild, or the Directors Guild.
These members nominate five films in order of preference for best of the year in 25 categories including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Foreign Film. To qualify, films must be feature length and must have been released for a run of at least seven days within the award year. Once those paper ballots are tabulated and official nominees are selected, members of the Academy are invited to attend certain screenings to vote for who should receive the award. The criteria used for these votes, however, are more difficult to define.
Based on consistent observation of Oscar winners, Jim Kragel, professor of digital film, television and video production at Cedarville, has thoughts on what drives the voting.
Kragel said that films released later in the year tend to do better than ones with spring release dates.
“It just seems like people have such a short memory for films,” Kragel said. The Academy also tends to avoid big-budget films like “Transformers” and “Ghost Protocol.”
“They call them ‘tent poles’ because the money that they make off of that movie supports all the other movies that they want to make, so it holds up the tent for the rest of the company,” Kragel said.
Yet the most important factor Kragel has observed is the philosophy of the film.
“Those films that just scream out, ‘I just want to live my life, I want to make my choices and I don’t want to be judged for my choices’ – those films always do well,” Kragel said.
So should a Christian engage the Oscars as an event?
“Is it fun to watch? Yeah,” Kragel said. “But does it really help me as a disciple of Christ? Not in any tangible way that I can think of.”
Jon Purple, Dean of Student Life Programs and director of Cedarville’s “Films that Matter” series, had a different opinion.
“[Watching the Oscars] doesn’t mean that we worship at the altar of the music industry or the motion picture industry, but they’re impacting our world, and I think we ought to engage our culture, not withdraw from it,” Purple said.
“I think sometimes art should cause us to stop and think and ponder,” he continued. “Sometimes that makes us a little nervous. Sometimes maybe that’s good.”
This year’s contenders for Best Picture include “The Artist,” a (mostly) silent film about the end of a silent film star; “The Tree of Life,” an impressionistic parable about a child’s loss of innocence in the 1950s; and “Hugo,” an animated film about an orphan and an automaton hiding in a Paris train station.
Roger Gelwicks, a sophomore technical and professional communication major, compared following the Oscars to following March Madness but said that it was significant for the Christian.
“I think it’s important for Christians to know what excellence in film is,” Gelwicks said. He looks for films “that are well-made, that have a thoughtful message to convey, that really strive to do something different in the field that hasn’t been done,” but recognizes that “a lot of times I’m predicting films to win that I would never want to watch.”
In all, however, Gelwicks said the Oscars are a good indicator of what movies are worth watching.
“If you don’t have any problems with the [content of the] film, then by all means, broaden your horizons and get some great film into your culture,” Gelwicks suggested. “Christians need to be very cultured in the arts; it’s almost more of a relevance issue.”
Purple echoed this sentiment.
“Whether you watch it, at least be aware of what won. It might be a movie that you ought to see just because it won an Oscar and see what redemptive things there might be in that,” he said.
The Oscars will air live on Sunday at 7 p.m.