Tonight is the night that Hollywood comes to a standstill to watch the glitz and glamor of its stars. While often criticized for its liberally-dominated crowd and exuberant excess, I like to see it as the one night that tinseltown, mostly dominated nowadays by stars who prefer to go to premiers in jeans and t-shirts, returns to that good old Hollywood glamor. Despite how it has often become a soundstage in recent years for certain actors or directors to espouse their political beliefs, the Academy itself tends to choose well its winners (though they are, of course, sometimes prone to making horrible decisions, such as snubbing Waiting for Superman
at this years awards). I think that, more often than not, they do tend to reward excellence in the individual crafts of filmmaking.
Many friends of mine have asked how exactly these awards are chosen. Hollywood native that I am, I decided to put it in writing for them. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of some 5700 voting members who are sorted by their individual crafts-- music, costumes, film editing, directing, documentaries, etc. Members of each individual craft are able to nominate within their field. All members are allowed to nominate films for Best Picture. Once all of the nominations have been finalized, all members of the Academy are able to vote on the winners-- provided that they can prove they have seen the movies. The Academy will usually ship copies of all nominated films to members in order to help with their voting (the films have "Property of the MPAS" pasted upon the screen sometimes, and must be returned after voting is closed). Once ballots are collected, if a film has more than 50% of the vote, it will be the winner-- if not, then the Academy will eliminate the smallest vote-getter from the pile and send out new ballots until one reaches 50%.
So, for example, my grandmother is a costumer (most noted for getting an Emmy nomination for her work on MacGyver) who votes in the Academy. She is only allowed to nominate people for the Costume Design and Best Picture categories, but is allowed to vote in all categories provided she watches the films (as a child I remembered loving the month of January because she would have dozens of new movies for us to watch with her). Tonight, the results are stuffed in envelopes and only two individuals from the accounting firm that counted the results will know what the envelopes say before they are opened. Only films from the preceding year are considered (so the 2011 Oscars honor films made in the year 2010).
I've personally been pushing for The Kings Speech and its star, Colin Firth, among people I know. It is an excellent film and, while not perhaps as "hip" as its main contender, The Social Network (about the rise of Facebook), it is a far, far superior film than all others this year in almost all aspects. I have a feeling that the Academy will reward excellence tonight in the Best Film category. If not... well, my hope that the stunted glamor of Hollywood might have some redemption in it will continue to fade.