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Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016

Small group choses Oscar's big winners

Sunday, February 27, 2005

SIKESTON -- It may be considered the Major Leagues of the film industry, but it's only a small group of Hollywood's elite who choose the winners of the Academy Awards.

"The Motion Picture Academy is like being in the U.S. Supreme Court. You're basically in it until you die," said Dr. Dale Haskell, English professor at Southeast Missouri State University.

Membership in the Academy is by invitation of the Board of Governors and is limited to those who have achieved distinction in the arts and sciences of motion pictures. Some of the criteria for admittance are: film credits that reflect the high standards of the Academy, receipt of an Academy Award nomination, achievement of unique distinction, earning of special merit or making an outstanding contribution to film.

About 5,800-plus voting members make up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Members represent 14 branches of the film industry including actors, cinematographers, music, public relations and writing.

"Very few of the members are younger than 40 and when you think of the medium for movies, you think of young people who go to the movies and the young actors who are in the movies," noted Haskell, who teaches a film studies course at the university.

"When you think of the Academy of Motion Picture and Science you tend to think of film makers, the old guys and insiders who have paid their dues," Haskell said.

Haskell said he thinks the voters select people who make them feel good about their industry, who are noble or politically correct or what movies have a meaning in people's lives; there's an inherent favoritism, too. They may also resist new or gimmicky things, he said.

Haskell predicts "The Aviator" will fare well.

"Martin Scorsese is a well-respected director and has sort of paid his dues. I saw the 'Aviator' and I didn't think it was that good, but it's his turn."

Over the years Scorsese has been nominated seven times for best director and his film credits include "Raging Bull," "Goodfellas," "Casino" and "Gangs of New York."

When it comes to choosing actors and actresses the voters typically choose someone who is a longstanding actor or a likable actor or good colleague or someone who it's about their turn to win, he said.

"It's like a popularity contest and it's inside the Hollywood contest," Haskell said.

For example, take for instance 1941's "Citizen Kane," now considered one of the best films of all time, yet it did not win an Oscar. A then 25-year-old Orson Welles directed, wrote and starred in the film.

"He (Welles) was a first-time director, an outsider and a young punk in their eyes," Haskell explained.

In addition, the film also appeared to parody certain events and people in the life of William Randolph Hearst.

"Hearst was this powerful newspaper owner and he knew people, and the film just didn't have a chance. When it got nominated and the name was called, it got booed," Haskell said.

The film was accused of drawing unflattering and uncomplimentary parallels to Hearst's real-life.

Haskell also incorporates the Academy Awards into his classroom by asking his students to write a research paper over past Academy Award winners and those that should've won. Students research who's in the Academy of Motion Picture and Science and what sorts them out from others. They read lots of movie reviews, too, he said.

Viewers of the Academy Awards program should practice some patience as the winners experience happiness in their moments of victory. "It's the high point to be nominated -- and to actually win, and they're overflowing with emotion," Haskell said.

Of course just being nominated is an honor, but an Oscar nomination can also save the year's bottom line for a studio, Haskell said.

"Everybody watches (the Oscars) and roots for a certain favorite movie if they've happened to see it, and if they haven't then they say, 'Gee I guess I better go see that,'" Haskell said. "Either way, they've got us."