Trivial Matters #32 – The Evolution of the Oscars nomination record

As I mentioned in my trivia for the upcoming 89th Academy AwardsLa La Land, after setting a record by winning all seven Golden Globes for which it was nominated, leads the pack this year with a whopping 14 Academy Award nominations. This ties the record for most nominations at the Oscars, so I thought I’d tell the story of how this record evolved, and which films set it along the way to 1950’s Everest, All About Eve, as well as films that tied the record in between.

  • 5: At the first Academy Awards in 1929, there were only 12 awards to give, four of which were immediately retired. And Frank Borzage’s WWI love story Seventh Heaven picked up the most nominations, and also tied for the most wins with Sunrise (three).
    • In Old Arizona (2nd)
    • The Patriot (2nd)
  • 6: The Love Parade set a new record at the 3rd Academy Awards, but despite being my favorite of the Best Picture nominees that year, it didn’t win a single Oscar. This would be the last time to date that a film set the nominations record but did not win Best Picture.
  • 7: The godawful Cimarron, the Best Picture winner at the very subpar 4th Academy Awards, was one of the two first films to receive multiple acting nominations (the other was A Free Soul). It also won the most awards of the evening, picking up three.
  • 8: The record held for four years, until Mutiny on the Bounty scored eight nominations (including three for Best Actor, in the last year before supporting categories were introduced) at the 8th Academy Awards. Alas, it didn’t fare too well, becoming the third film, and last to date, to win Best Picture and nothing else.
  • 10: The Life of Emile Zola raised the bar at the 10th Academy Awards, but came away with only three awards. If you’re noticing a trend of the big nominees failing to win many awards, that’s about to end.
  • 13: The year was 1939, widely considered the best year in the history of American cinema, and the 12th Academy Awards‘ ten Best Picture nominees reflected that. But against all logic, even with films like Wuthering Heights and Goodbye Mr. Chips and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The goddamn Wizard of Oz competing, the Academy bestowed 13 nominations and 9 Oscars, both a record, on the ridiculous Gone with the Wind. Sorry, I’m still upset about this one, all these months later.
  • 14: No film tied Gone with the Wind‘s record for the next decade or so (though a few films came close, with Mrs. MiniverThe Song of Bernadette and Johnny Belinda scoring 12 nominations at their respective ceremonies), but it was beaten by All About Eve at the 23rd Academy Awards. These nominations included four female acting nominations, a record that has never been matched to this day, although none of them were successful. The film came away with six awards, including Best Picture.
    • Since then, the record has been tied twice, by Titanic in 1997 and La La Land in 2016.

And now, as a treat for those who have stuck with me, here is the progression of the record for most competitive Oscar wins (and those who tied it along the way):

  • 3: Again, we have to start at the beginning, at the 1st Academy Awards. As I mentioned above, Seventh Heaven and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans each came away with three Oscars.
    • Cimmaron (4th)
    • Cavalcade (6th)
  • 5: The record stood until the 7th Academy Awards, when It Happened One Night swept the Big Five (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay). Interestingly, every time a film has won these five awards (as regular readers or anyone who has ever talked to me knows, there have been three), they have never won a single other Oscar.
  • 8: Again, I have to deal with Gone with the Wind, so let’s make it quick. In addition to its eight competitive awards, it also received two special awards.
    • From Here to Eternity (26th)
    • On the Waterfront (27th)
  • 9: This time it took a while for the Academy to lavish so much love on a single film…Gone with the Wind‘s record stood for 19 years, until Gigi scored 9 Oscars at the 31st Academy Awards in 1958. But it didn’t last long…
  • 11: At the 32nd Academy Awards, William Wyler’s epic Ben-Hur won 11 of its 12 nominations, losing only Best Adapted Screenplay.
    • Since then, only three films have received 10 or more Oscars: West Side Story received 10 at the 34th Academy Awards, while Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King tied Ben-Hur‘s record at the 70th and 76th Academy Awards, respectively.
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It’s Hammer (Films) Time

For devotees of British horror films and lovers of sonorous voices that dance on the ears like a favorite melody, this is a weekend of celebration and tribute: yesterday (May 27) was the birthday of both Christopher Lee (1922-2015) and Vincent Price (1911-1993), and the day before was that of my favorite of the trio, Peter Cushing (1913-1994). While none of them found success at the Academy Awards, making this entry a bit of an extravagance (and a digression I can ill afford, given my recent neglect of the amazing 21st Academy Awards), I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay homage to this trio who–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here–changed life on this Earth for the better in every conceivable way.

4018747705_90cff03a51_oPictured: the high watermark of the human species.

We’ve seen Vincent Price a couple times on Oscars and I…he played the Evil Atheist in The Song of Bernadette, a film so saccharine you can sweeten your coffee with it, and the hilariously-named William Gibbs McAdoo in 1944’s travesty Wilson. I was first introduced to him in Roger Corman’s delightfully campy The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), but my favorite of his films (so far…I still have roughly 600 to watch) is William Castle’s 1959 House on Haunted Hill:


I could post a clip, but do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing.

I also love his turn as The Devil in The Story of Mankind, which I only heard about and saw because it was the last film to feature the Marx Brothers (in separate scenes). My memories of the film are vague, but as I recall it, there’s a new Super Bomb available and the Devil and someone from the Other Place are debating whether humanity, up until 1957, has been a force for good or evil. Being as it was that era’s equivalent of an Ocean’s movie, you can guess the verdict. It’s not a good film by any stretch, but the collection of Golden Age talent is without equal and who other than Vincent Price could make the case for the irredeemability of the human species?

priceless“I know my mere existence suggests otherwise, but hear me out.”

This footage of Price reading Poe’s The Raven just confirms that his was the greatest speaking voice in cinema history. If I had one wish, it would be for his voice to narrate my internal monologue.

Christopher Lee, of course, needs no introduction for anyone who’s been to a movie theatre in the past 75 years. He appeared in over 200 movies and is the champion of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, able to be connected to literally anyone who has ever been in a feature film in an average of 1.2 steps. And, to justify this article a bit further, he holds the record for longest gap between appearances in Best Picture-winning films. He played a spear carrier alongside best friend Peter Cushing in Hamlet (1948), and then played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), an interim of 55 years (and yes, I know he only appears in the latter film in the Extended Edition).

A lot of people know that he was an avid Tolkien aficionado who read the books once a year, but my favorite bit of trivia is his involvement in the technical side of his character’s death scene in ROTK: a former SAS operative, he advised Peter Jackson on exactly the kind of noise a man will make when stabbed in the back. He is a great example of how a person can simultaneously be a lovable, grandfatherly figure and literally the most dangerous man alive.

Saruman's_death_3“No, no…when a body drops 200 feet and is impaled on a wooden spike, you get more of a starburst pattern when the blood sprays out. Amateurs.”

I suppose he’ll be remembered by many for his turn as Saruman, but he considered his best film to be the deeply creepy 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, in which he played the mysterious leader of a pagan cult on a remote Scottish island. I’d have to agree with his assessment, even though for me it’s a close race between this and Taste the Blood of Dracula.


I consider myself a fairly incredulous person, but I’d probably join this cult if he were the leader.

Finally, Peter Cushing. who lived in Whitstable. He’s probably best known nowadays for his role as Admiral Tarkin in the original Star Wars, a film now considered a classic but which starred fewer Oscar-winning actors than Caligula (true story). His role in the film might have been minor, but it was the one that always stuck with me. I don’t know about you, but when I saw the movie I got the sense that Princess Leia’s snide comment about him and Darth Vader wasn’t just a bit of space sass. There was definitely more to their relationship than the classic commander/weird-shiny-helmet-guy dynamic.

petercushingstarwarstarkin5756Sometimes, Vader held the leash.

But anyway, Cushing got his first major role in Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet, 1948’s Best Picture, as Osric, and the fact that he didn’t get typecast as the go-to Dandy Courtier in every period piece made in the next 45 years speaks volumes towards his versatility as an actor (even if I’d absolutely watch his entire oeuvre if it consisted only of that). The majority of his film career was spent alongside Christopher Lee in the Hammer films, often playing the scientist/policeman battling against Lee’s monsters, and he brought a quiet, avuncular dignity to every role he played.

star-wars“I can’t stay mad at you. Alderaan was a boring planet, anyway.”

He and Christopher Lee made many films together and became best friends over the years.  I love their Dracula films, with Lee as the vampire and Cushing battling him as Van Helsing, though occasionally their “roles” were reversed, as in the wonderfully silly Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, also available in its entirety online:


The film that tried to make us believe that a disembodied, malevolent hand is some kind of threat. Seriously, man, just pick it up and throw it away…its mobility is really limited.

These three combined to make some of the greatest films of the 20th century in any number of genres, but will always be remembered for their indelible impact on the horror film genre. Watching them perform, in particular watching Cushing and Lee perform together, is to witness three actors who adored their craft, who never took themselves too seriously and who must have been amazing to know and work with.

Christopher Lee’s words after Cushing’s death might just be the best eulogy to a lost friend I have ever heard, and the last line accurately describes the legacy of Price, Cushing, and Lee: “[A]t some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. …And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.”

hys-price-lee-cushing-thumb-630xauto-61299

Trivial Matters #30 – Oscar Siblings

If the Internet is to be believed, today is Sibling(s) Day (a.k.a. Parents’ Poor Financial Decisions Day). Coming from a family of four, this is a particularly meaningful day for me, and also for my three sisters; when I called my oldest sister and told her about this article, before hanging up she allowed me to post the photo below, albeit begrudgingly and with the caveat that I do not use her name.

1375847_605339654413_1864719581_n.jpg
My youngest sister, R., responded with “How did you get this number?”, so at least she’s interested in hearing about my life.

So in further honor of this occasion, I thought I’d take the time to consider the achievements of brothers and sisters at the Academy Awards through the years. Lately Joel and Ethan Coen have held the spotlight in this regard, winning for producing, directing, writing Best Picture No Country for Old Men in 2007, and writing Fargo in 1996, but siblings have been vying for and winning Oscars almost since the beginning.

It only took until 1929/1930, the 3rd Academy Awards, for the first set of siblings to take home Oscars (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that there were only about 25 people in the Academy at that time). That year, Norma Shearer won Best Actress for The Divorcee, and her brother, sound pioneer Douglas Shearer, took home the inaugural award for Best Sound Recording for The Big House, the first of his fourteen Oscars.

features-02bBy 1940 he was using them to fix wobbly tables.

These two were, to my mind, the most successful sibling pair at the Oscars, with Douglas being the first person to win consecutive Oscars (for Naughty Marietta in 1935 and San Francisco in 1936), and Norma getting to play Leslie Howard‘s romantic partner three timesBut they were only the beginning.

Probably the most famous sibling rivalry at the Oscars was between Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, intensely competitive actresses who are, to date, the only siblings to each win Oscars for acting in leading categories. Their disparate surnames neatly sum up the sisters’ troubled relationship: elder sister Olivia was the first to pursue an acting career, and when Joan tried to follow her lead, their mother Lilian wouldn’t allow her to use the family name, for fear it would detract from Olivia’s career.

abcwalter61She was used to it, though, after trying to break into professional Go after her father.

Between the two of them, they won three Best Actress statuettes in the 1940s–the first was Fontaine for Suspicion (1941), with de Havilland also nominated for her role in the hard-to-find melodrama Hold Back the Dawn. According to legend, de Havilland refused to congratulate Fontaine, and their mother’s manipulation was so extreme that Fontaine actually felt guilty for winning over her sister. De Havilland, of course, went on to win two Oscars herself, for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949), but their relationship continued to deteriorate and they allegedly did not speak to one another from 1975 until Fontaine’s death in late 2013.

Aside from them, the only sister duo to be nominated for Best Actress in the same year are Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave (in 1966, both lost to Elizabeth Taylor for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).

As far as brother-sister teams go, the only other acting duo were Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, who respectively won Best Supporting Actress for None but the Lonely Heart (1944) and Best Actor for A Free Soul (1931). Years later, Shirley MacLaine won Best Actress in 1983 for Terms of Endearment, two years after her younger brother Warren Beatty was named Best Director for Reds (1981), for which he was also nominated for Best Actor.

Other, less well known sibling winners include:

  • Twins Julius and Philip Epstein, who won for their screenplay for Casablanca (1943).
  • James Goldman won Best Adapted Screenplay for The Lion in Winter (1968); the next year, younger brother William Goldman took Best Original Screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (and would later win Adapted Screenplay himself for All the President’s Men [1976]).
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz got his own back for elder brother Herman J.’s Best Original Screenplay win for Citizen Kane (1941) by winning Best Screenplay and Best Director two years in a row (A Letter to Three Wives [1949] and All About Eve [1950]).
  • Composers Alfred Newman and Lionel Newman between them received 56 nominations and 10 Oscars for their film music (though I’m sure Alfred, who won 9 of them from 45 nominations, always qualified that statement at parties).

Finally, the Coppolas, one of only two families with three generations of Oscar winners, have two sets of Oscar-winning/nominated siblings:

  • Francis Ford Coppola (multiple wins, including three for Best Screenplay) and sister Talia Shire (nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Godfather Part II [1974] and Best Actress for Rocky [1976]).
  • Francis’ children Sofia Coppola (winner of Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation [2003]) and Roman Coppola (nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Moonrise Kingdom [2012]).

Trivial Matters #29 – Years in Which All Four Acting Winners were from Best Picture nominees

A long while ago (in fact, during my live trivia updates for the 87th Academy Awards), I discovered that there have only been three years in which all acting winners came from films not nominated for Best Picture (1930/31, 1969, and 1995). So I got to wondering how often all of the acting winners were from Best Picture nominees, and as you might expect, it’s far more common…15 times so far:

(* = Best Picture winner)

  • 3rd Academy Awards (1929/30)
    • Best Actor: George Arliss, Disraeli
    • Best Actress: Norma Shearer, The Divorcee
  • 7th Academy Awards (1934)
    • Best Actor: Clark Gable, It Happened One Night*
    • Best Actress: Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night*
  • 10th Academy Awards (1937)
    • Best Actor: Spencer Tracy, Captains Courageous
    • Best Actress: Luise Rainer, The Good Earth
    • Best Sup. Actor: Joseph Schildkraut, The Life of Emile Zola*
    • Best Sup. Actress: Gale Sondergaard, Anthony Adverse
  • 12th Academy Awards (1939)
    • Best Actor: Robert Donat, Goodbye, Mr. Chips
    • Best Actress: Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind*
    • Best Sup. Actor: Robert Mitchell, Stagecoach
    • Best Sup. Actress: Hattie McDaniel, Gone with the Wind*
  • 16th Academy Awards (1943)
    • Best Actor: Paul Lukas, Watch on the Rhine
    • Best Actress: Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette
    • Best Sup. Actor: Charles Coburn, The More the Merrier
    • Best Sup. Actress: Katina Paxinou, For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • 22nd Academy Awards (1949)
    • Best Actor: Broderick Crawford, All the King’s Men*
    • Best Actress: Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
    • Best Sup. Actor: Dean Jagger, Twelve O’Clock High
    • Best Sup. Actress: Mercedes McCambridge, All the King’s Men*
  • 32nd Academy Awards (1959)
    • Best Actor: Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur*
    • Best Actress: Simone Signoret, Room at the Top
    • Best Sup. Actor: Hugh Griffith, Ben-Hur*
    • Best Sup. Actress: Shelley Winters, The Diary of Anne Frank
  • 49th Academy Awards (1976)
    • Best Actor: Peter Finch, Network
    • Best Actress: Faye Dunaway, Network
    • Best Sup. Actor: Jason Robards, All the President’s Men
    • Best Sup. Actress: Beatrice Straight, Network
  • 50th Academy Awards (1977)
    • Best Actor: Richard Dreyfuss, The Goodbye Girl
    • Best Actress: Diane Keaton, Annie Hall*
    • Best Sup. Actor: Jason Robards, Julia
    • Best Sup. Actress: Vanessa Redgrave, Julia
  • 57th Academy Awards (1984)
    • Best Actor: F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus*
    • Best Actress: Sally Field, Places in the Heart
    • Best Sup. Actor: Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields
    • Best Sup. Actress: Peggy Ashcroft, A Passage to India
  • 69th Academy Awards (1996)
    • Best Actor: Geoffrey Rush, Shine
    • Best Actress: Frances McDormand, Fargo
    • Best Sup. Actor: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jerry Maguire
    • Best Sup. Actress: Juliette Binoche, The English Patient*
  • 70th Academy Awards (1997)
    • Best Actor: Jack Nicholson, As Good as it Gets
    • Best Actress: Helen Hunt, As Good as it Gets
    • Best Sup. Actor: Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting
    • Best Sup. Actress: Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential
  • 77th Academy Awards (2004)
    • Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
    • Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby*
    • Best Sup. Actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby*
    • Best Sup. Actress: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
  • 83rd Academy Awards (2010)
    • Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech*
    • Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swam
    • Best Sup. Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
    • Best Sup. Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • 85th Academy Awards (2012)
    • Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
    • Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
    • Best Sup. Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
    • Best Sup. Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

88th Academy Awards – Live Trivia Updates!

20:32 – The ceremony is streaming, my bourbon glass is full, and I am ready for the 88th Academy Awards. Just like last year, I’ll be watching the ceremony and updating this entry as it progresses, with trivia that pops into my head (or which is created by the winners) and just thoughts that arise from the proceedings. My feeling is that Alejandro G. Iñárritu will repeat as Best Director for The Revenant, which will also win Best Picture…and it should win Best Picture, but I’d rather see Best Director go to George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road.

the-revenant-film-still-large.jpgFor those who haven’t seen it, The Revenant tells the harrowing story of one man’s desperate search for the Oscar for Best Actor.

20:52 – Okay, so since I don’t have cable I can’t use the official ABC website to watch the awards. At the moment I’m streaming it via Colombia with rather distracting Spanish overdubbing, but can’t have everything. Spotlight‘s win for Best Original Screenplay certainly gives it a fighting chance for the top prize.

21:09 – Alright, got the streaming issue sorted. Fortunately this bastard takes so damn long I still only missed the presentation of two awards.

21:11 – Best Supporting Actress. First impressions, I am digging J.K. Simmons’ beard.

21:14 – First time winner, and thus useless for trivia. Ah well. This will not be a year in which a performer joins the elite who have won in both lead and supporting categories (indeed, it seems likely that it will be entirely first-time winners).

21:24 – Not that it means anything, but Costume Design has predicted the Best Picture winner on 20 previous occasions. Production Design (and it’s predecessor, Art Design), 27 times. Mad Max gains momentum.

21:28 – I suppose I should mention that the record for most Oscars won by a film that did not win Best Picture is eight, by Cabaret in 1972. Of course, Mad Max hasn’t come up against Star Wars yet.

21:40 – Three consecutive Oscars for Emmanuel Lubezki, nearly unprecedented (the Visual Effects team of the Lord of the Rings trilogy previously won for all three of those films, and Walt Disney won a whole bunch in a row for films he didn’t actually make).

21:42 – Film Editing…that is a good prognosticator of Best Picture success. It’s predicted the winner on 34 previous occasions, and only 10 films have won without a nomination in that category (to  be fair, that includes the last two Best Pictures).

And with that, The Bad and the Beautiful‘s record is secure against Star Wars and Carol, and after its loss for Cinematography, it is unlikely that Mad Max will match Cabaret.

22:10 – Haven’t seen Bear Story, but I was pulling for Don Hertzfeldt. World of Tomorrow is amazing. Also, I just realized my stream is about three minutes behind the broadcast, so apologies if I seem a bit slow in my updates.

22:40 – Because I’m a bit of a nerd, I figured out that of the acting categories, Best Actor is the one that has the most overlap with Best Picture–27 of 87 previous Best Pictures also produced the year’s Best Actor, and 56 had at least one nominee. The least is Best Actress…only 11 of 87, and of those 87, just 26 have a Best Actress nominated performance. After Greer Garson won Actress for Mrs. Miniver in 1942, Best Picture and Best Actress did not correlate until Louise Fletcher won for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nestin 1975.

23:10 – Very, very pleased to see Son of Saul take Best Foreign Language Film. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so as soon as possible (New Yorkers, it’s playing at Film Forum!).

This is Hungary’s first win for Best Foreign Language Film since 1981’s Mephisto.

23:41 – Alejandro G. Iñárritu becomes the third director to win Best Director twice in a row (after John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz).

23:57 – No surprise, but…FINALLY. As usual, the winner that has waited the longest for the Oscar is given as much time as required for the speech.

0:01 – For the first time in Academy history, two Best Pictures in a row were directed by the same person. The Revenant becomes the…wait, what? …Wow.

Okay. For the first time since 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth, the winner for Best Picture wins just two Oscars.

The Revenant is the ninth film to win Best Director and an acting Oscar, but not Best Picture. It is also the sixth to win Director without a writing nomination (seventh, if one counts Two Arabian Knights [Best Director – Comedy] at the 1st Academy Awards).

Spotlight is the 38th Best Picture with no acting awards.

8:47 – 2009’s Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, won six Academy Awards, and ever since then we’ve seen a succession of Best Pictures that win only a few Oscars. The King’s Speech won four, The Artist five, Argo three, 12 Years a Slave three, Birdman four, and now Spotlight with only two. This is probably a consequence of the expansion of the field of nominees, and it could mean that the time when the year’s Best Picture is expected to win the most awards is over.

When the Awards first started, this was not uncommon, and given that three of the previous four years have seen a split between Director and Picture, it seems to me that we’re swinging back to that philosophy of spreading the awards around and considering Best Picture as a separate category rather than an amalgamation of all the others.

Trivial Matters #28 – Most nominations for a non-Best Picture nominee

While I was writing the last trivia entry, I got to Carol‘s six nominations without one for Best Picture, and I got to wondering which non-Best Picture nominated films in Academy history have received the most. Here, then, are the 18 films with at least seven nominations but no love in the Best Picture category, with number of wins in brackets:

  • 21st (1948) – Joan of Arc – 7 (2)
  • 22nd (1949) – Come to the Stable – 7 (0)
  • 37th (1964) – Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte – 7 (0)
  • 39th (1966) – Hawaii – 7 (0)
  • 40th (1967) – Thoroughly Modern Millie – 7 (1)
  • 41st (1968) – Star! – 7 (0)
  • 42nd (1969) – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – 9 (1) – The record!
  • 45th (1972) – The Poseidon Adventure – 8 (1)
  • 50th (1977) – Close Encounters of the Third Kind – 8 (2)
  • 54th (1981) – Ragtime – 8 (0)
  • 55th (1982) – Victor/Victoria – 7 (1)
  • 59th (1986) – Aliens – 7 (2)
  • 61st (1988) – Who Framed Roger Rabbit – 7 (4)
  • 63rd (1990) – Dick Tracy – 7 (3)
  • 67th (1994) – Bullets Over Broadway – 7 (1)
  • 76th (2003) – Cold Mountain – 7 (1)
  • 79th (2006) – Dreamgirls – 8 (2)
    • This is the only time in Academy history that the film with the most nominations of the year did not receive one for Best Picture.
  • 81st (2008) – The Dark Knight – 8 (2)

Incidentally, there have been three years in which two films not nominated for Best Picture received more nominations than the winner:

  • 5th Academy Awards (1931/32)
    • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (3); The Guardsman (2)
    • Winner: Grand Hotel (1)
  • 25th Academy Awards (1952)
    • The Bad and the Beautiful (6); Hans Christian Andersen (6)
    • Winner: The Greatest Show on Earth (5)
  • 79th Academy Awards (2006)
    • Dreamgirls (8); Pan’s Labyrinth (6)
    • Winner: The Departed (5)

Trivial Matters #25 – Retired Awards

Before I get to the trivia today, I want to take a moment to say “Happy birthday!”, or rather “z okazji urodzin!”, to a good friend of mine, who’s been with me for three years now through thick and thin. He’s well-traveled, always down for a pint, and, as you’ll see, very photogenic. He’s an owl, and his name is Mortimer:

IMG_0038

He also speaks Swahili, so furaha ya kuzaliwa, bundi rafiki yangu!

Mortimer’s retired (although he keeps up with mousing, he’s maintained his amateur status), so today I’d like to tell you about the various awards that have been retired by the Academy over the years.

The 1st Academy Awards, perhaps unsurprisingly, featured no less than four awards that were immediately discarded:

  • Unique and Artistic Quality of Production

Won by Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, this category was conceived on an equal footing with Outstanding Production. I think this category had legs, and the Academy should have tried it out a while longer. Perhaps they worried that the prestige of winning Best Picture would be weakened through the split. Still, I’d like to have seen what films would have been nominated here…most of the films up for Best Picture I’ve seen thus far would not have fit the criteria of being “unique” and/or “artistic” (with a few exceptions, such as Grand Illusion or even Lost Horizon).

Of course, had the Academy kept this category, my slate of films for this project would double and I’d never get through it (24 films each in 1934 and ’35…), so perhaps it’s just as well for my sake that they eliminated it early.

  • Title Writing

Won by Joseph Farnham for The Red Mill, the decline and fall of silents is the obvious reason this award was dropped. This was an award for writing such gems as “A trip over the door still would have been a vacation for Tina” (from the winner), or, for pathos, the flowery prose of a D.W. Griffith drama, where characters’ “youthful dreams come to wreck against the sordid realities of life” (Broken Blossoms, 1919).

  • Engineering Effects (eventually found an equivalent in Visual Effects)

Won by Roy Pomeroy for Wings (hardly surprising). Pomeroy would go on to be an important figure in bringing sound to film, although his strange ideas of how audiences would react to spoken dialogue made for some odd scenes in early talkies. He thought that without a noticeable gap between lines, audiences would get confused and fall into drink and vice (probably). In Old Arizona (1929) is the finest example of this dubious, and thankfully short-lived, technique.

  • Best Director, Comedy

Won by Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights. With the relative dearth of comedy films represented by Best Picture and Best Director, this is a category that, had it survived, may have given some legitimacy to the genre within the Academy, but without splitting Best Picture into similar drama and comedy categories (which I am against), it probably wouldn’t have worked out in the long run.

Following that first cull, there have been four further categories that have come and gone over the years:

  • Best Assistant Director (1933-1937) and Best Dance Direction (1935-1937)

These two came and went pretty quickly due to pressure from the Director’s Guild of America, who felt that recognition for “direction” shouldn’t be split up or shared. The latter category, you may recall, represented the only Oscar win by a Marx Brothers film (A Day at the Races, 1937).

  • Best Original Story (1927/28-1956)

This category actually existed at the same time as Original and Adapted Screenplay for 16 years after the introduction of the former in 1940, until it was finally dropped as redundant. It was a confusing time and one of the reasons why my list of memorized Oscar categories does not include those for writing (yet).

  • Best Live-Action Short Film, or at least a few subcategories thereof: Comedy (1932-1935); Novelty (1932-1935); Color (1936-37); and One- and Two-Reel (1936-1956)

It says a lot about short films back then that the only two categories the Academy could think of were Comedy and Novelty. Surely twenty minutes isn’t enough time to tell a serious story.

Novelty is one I’d like to see brought back, to be honest, and I’d expand it to include features as well. With so many cookie-cutter films being released nowadays, an Oscar recognizing silliness would inject some much-needed life into both the awards and Hollywood at large.

  • There’s also the category of Best Original Musical, which hasn’t been awarded since 1984 but is still technically active. The Beatles won it in 1970 for Let It Be!

There you have it, the retired Academy Awards. For the most part they are things that were phased out as technology changed or the awards coalesced, but a few definitely got a raw deal.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mortimer! And, lest you think that he spends all his time since retirement just hanging out in luxury hotels, here he is taking in the National Air and Space Museum:

He’s a cultured owl.