Sparky’s Quill: The Academy Awards

Today marks the 85th annual Academy Awards. There’s some big competition at this year’s Oscars. With Seth Macfarlane hosting, it’s gearing up to be a night of laughs as well as its traditional sophistication. But what’s the story behind this yearly tradition of highlighting the best new movies?

The first awards ceremony was a private event held on May 16, 1929. With a guest list of only 270 people and tickets selling for $5, it was the smallest and most intimate academy ceremony. They used to announce the winners beforehand, sending out the names to newspapers to be published at the time of the ceremony. However, the Los Angeles Times just couldn’t help themselves and published the names of the winners early. Since that incident in 1941, they have taken to keeping the winners a secret, using those envelopes that presenters have so much trouble opening.

The first annual Academy Awards held in 1929. Courtesy of lovetwenty.com

The first annual Academy Awards held in 1929. Courtesy of lovetwenty.com

And how did the Oscar statuette get its name? Well, no one knows. Everyone and their mother have written in their autobiography that they were responsible for naming the trophy. Bette Davis, Walt Disney and an Academy librarian are all credited as giving the Oscar its name. Its official title is “The Academy Award of Merit” and 2,809 of them have been awarded since 1929. The statuette used to be made of solid bronze and was gold-plated. During WWII, the Academy made the statues out of plaster once the bronze metal became scarce. Soon after the war, the Academy switched from solid bronze to tin, a less expensive and more abundant metal. It’s still gold-plated.

Now I’ll hand it off to Tom, who’ll tell you about the historical movies nominated for this year’s Oscars!

If you look at this year’s nominees you get to see our love for history combined with great cinematography! As a history major, this year is very exciting and will be a truly historical academy awards.

Quick note: You can read this if you have not seen the movies, no spoilers.

Let’s focus on the category that gets all the hype — the best picture nominees.

Argo – Ben Affleck directs and leads in a dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. This thrilling film is filled with superb acting and doubles as a great opportunity to promote further research into this fascinating event in American history. There are several historical inaccuracies, but I will leave it up to you to do the research.

Lincoln – This movie speaks for itself. Daniel Day-Lewis (yes, the Brit) portrays a delicate Lincoln working to pass the Thirteenth Amendment (spoiler alert: it passes!). I think Daniel Day-Lewis deserves to win best actor for this one. The movie is great historically and is also entertaining, which is often hard to pull off. If you read about a historian’s discontent with the movie because of historical inaccuracies just ignore it — some historians will never be satisfied with any historical-themed movie. If you have not seen “Lincoln” I encourage you to not walk but RUN and go see it wherever you can. I swear you will not notice the fact that our most beloved president is being played by a redcoat.

Zero Dark Thirty – Okay this is an interesting one to put on my list, but it is a portrayal of modern day history. It revolves around a significant event in our recent past, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

Django Unchained – Well the only historical thing about this movie is the fact that the setting is in the past. However, the constant racial remarks regarding Jamie Foxx’s character on a horse is quite accurate to history.  In the deep South at that period in time it was unusual to see a black man riding a horse. Also mandingo (slave fighting) did not actually happen (thank god) so DiCaprio’s terrifying character would have to find a different way to pass time. On another note Leonardo DiCaprio deserved at LEAST a nomination for best supporting actor (Give Leo his Oscar already!!).

Les Misérables – Holly and I both highlighted this movie in this post. Les Mis is a great movie that is fictional, but takes place during the Paris Uprising.

I think the academy is going to choose “Lincoln” as the winner for best picture, but personally I would not be able to choose and just give best picture to “Lincoln”, “Argo”, “Django Unchained”, and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Seriously they are all amazing in their own way and I cannot put one as better than the other, but maybe that is why I am a history buff and not in the academy. Holly is a little more decisive and goes with “Les Misérables.”

 

Have any questions regarding film and history? Drop us a line at sparkysquill@gmail.com or find us on Twitter @sparkysquill.