Oscar Winners by Genre

Is it true that dramas are more likely to win best picture than other genres?  I decided to run the numbers.  It turns out, the trend is very true and growing stronger.

Best Picture Nominees for 1927 – 2001

(data source: http://www.filmsite.org/bestpics2.html)

Dramas: 48% (click chart to enlarge)

Best Picture Winners for 1927 – 2001

(data source: http://www.filmsite.org/bestpics2.html)

Dramas: 39% (click chart to enlarge)

As you can see, dramas are heavily favored.  But interestingly, the trend grows even stronger in the past dozen years.

Best Picture Nominees (2002 – 2014)

Dramas: 62% (click chart to enlarge)

Best Picture Winners (2002 – 2014)

Dramas: 61% (click chart to enlarge)

They might as well call it the Academy Award for Best Drama.  Granted, in 2009, the Academy began nominating as many as 10 movies for best picture.  This allowed Sci Fi movies like District 9 and Animated movies like Up to gain nominations.

Academy Awards for Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplay are similarly weighted toward dramas.  Two-thirds of best picture winners also win either of the two best screenplay awards, so there is a strong correlation.

Best Adapted Screenplays (2002 – 2014)

Dramas: 46% (click chart to enlarge)

Best Original Screenplays (2002 – 2014)

Dramas: 54% (click chart to enlarge)

The upshot here is that if you’re looking to win a writing Oscar, it’s best to write a drama!

Prepping for the Academy Awards

The Academy Awards are tomorrow, and Hollywood Boulevard is shut down for blocks. Appropriately, the awards are run like a big budget movie set, controlled for light, sound, and weather.  Los Angelinos get miffed because Hollywood traffic is rerouted all week.   It’s difficult to imagine the budget for this event – it must run in the tens of millions – but I’m sure they make a tidy profit on the television rights.

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Platoons of security guards protect every ten feet of space for acres around the Kodak Theater. And just above your head is a spiderweb of camera cranes and jibs, with nests of gelled barn door lights making every square inch of red carpet glow like a Christmas tree.

Tomorrow night, Academy Award guests will enter the Kodak theater and proceed up the red carpet (below).  If the carpet doesn’t look red yet, it’s because everything is still covered in protective plastic as grip and electrical equipment is dollied into place.

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Oscar statues are carried in, wrapped in plastic (below).  There is a nervous energy among the armies of crew members loading and setting equipment.  The vibe feels like when you’re preparing for a party and the dinner isn’t cooked and you still haven’t showered and the guests are arriving in one hour.

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Guests will proceed down this long, red carpeted hallway.  The pillars are inscribed with the names of Oscar winning movies.

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Finally, the guests climb these steps to enter the theater.  It looks to be a magnificent event.  There are already swarms of press everywhere getting a lay of the land and rehearsing for tomorrow.  I saw press badges from as far away as Japan.  This is good for our town.  Despite or because of the recession, the Hollywood box office is having a record-breaking 2009.  A good Academy Awards only helps these numbers!

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Academy Award Nominated Editors

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) hosted their 9th annual “Invisible Art, Visible Artists” series, where all five of the Academy Award Nominated Editors meet on stage at the Egyptian Theater to discuss their craft.  What an absolute treat.  Editing is alchemy.  And almost by definition, the best editing is invisible.  Or to put it differently, if you notice the editing in a movie, then the editor is probably doing a poor job.

It follows that good editing is one of the above-the-line arts that rarely receives the credit it is due (casting director is, I think, the only above-the-line credit that still does not receive an Academy Award).

Jay and I arrived on Hollywood Boulevard at 8:30am…

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We trekked past the security fences, past all the press tents (below) set up for the Academy Awards…

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And we arrived at the historic Egyptian Theater, replete with Egyptian fonts, phallic pillars, and a Spanish tiled roof.

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This year’s editing nominees spoke for several hours, showing clips of their movies and discussing how they constructed the scenes.  The editors were:

*Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

*Chris Dickens for Slumdog Millionaire

*Lee Smith for The Dark Knight

*Mike Hill and Dan Hanley for Frost/Nixon

*Elliot Graham for Milk

Discussing their process, nearly all the editors seemed to start with a first cut of their movie that was three or four hours long, and then chisel away material from there.  The gift of editing an academy award nominated movie is the plethora of good material and great performances to choose from.  On an independent level, it often feels like the editor’s job is to cut around poor performances, bad footage, or to make sense of an incoherent story.  All of the editors who spoke today had the opposite problem; when you have Josh Brolin and Sean Penn both giving great performances in a scene (Milk), how do you decide which actor to cut away from?  When you have reels of gorgeous material, how do you decide what to leave out?

These are good problems to have.

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If you TiVo the Academy Awards tomorrow, please don’t fast forward when the editors receive their awards.  They have one of the most painstaking and difficult tasks in the film making process.  Editing is often a thankless task: audiences don’t notice when you do a good job, they only notice when you screw up.  Yet the editor is truly the last writer of the film, often constructing a narrative or finding solutions that can rescue a troubled film, or make a good film great.