Movie Maniac

Confusing things about the Oscars (sort of) explained

Denzel Washington received a lead actor Oscar nomination for “Fences” while Viola Davis received a supporting actress nom – even though she is clearly the female lead.
Denzel Washington received a lead actor Oscar nomination for “Fences” while Viola Davis received a supporting actress nom – even though she is clearly the female lead. Courtesy photo

The Oscars are on Sunday, to be hosted by first-timer Jimmy Kimmel. That needs no explaining.

But some things about the Oscars can be a little confusing. Here’s a primer:

Just who wins the award for best picture?

The film’s producing team. But a film can have dozens of producers, so the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has come up with guidelines on who can be nominated. To win, a producer must have a “producer” or “produced by” credit on the film, and only the three producers (determined by the Academy) who have done the most work to bring the film to fruition can be nominated.

So just what does a director do, exactly?

This person guides the actors’ performances, but is also responsible for the overall look, feel and tone of the film, and usually signs off on the final edit. (Again, there are varying degrees to this, depending on the studio involved, etc.). But different directors handle the job in many different ways, some more hands-on than others.

Who decides whether an actor is lead or supporting?

The Academy doesn’t have any regulations on who is lead or supporting. The actors and studios run campaigns (those “for your consideration” ads) suggesting where they would like to be placed, but it’s ultimately up to the Oscar voters, who make up their own minds on the categories.

Where the nominees end up can be confusing. For instance, this year Viola Davis is nominated for best supporting actress for her phenomenal work in “Fences,” and even though her character may have supported Denzel Washington’s character in the story, there’s nothing supporting about her role – it’s technically the lead female role in the film (Davis won a lead actress Tony Award for the Broadway stage version).

But the lead actress category was an overcrowded one this year, so that may have been why Davis and backing studio Paramount decided to run campaigns promoting her as supporting. If a performer gets votes in both categories, they get nominated in the one where they got the most votes.

Wacky category placement has happened before. Kate Winslet won a lead actress Oscar for “The Reader” even though she campaigned for supporting and even won the supporting Golden Globe and SAG award.

And Anthony Hopkins won a lead actor Oscar for “Silence of the Lambs,” even though he was only on screen for about 15 minutes.

What makes a screenplay original or adapted?

An adapted screenplay is based on an existing piece of work, say a play or novel. An original script is completely made up in the mind of the writer.

Sequels usually count as adapted screenplays even though they are original stories because they’re based on characters from the first screenplay.

But a screenplay isn’t just the film’s dialogue. The screenplay is the entire movie from opening frame to last in written form.

Who wins the foreign language film award?

Usually, the director accepts the award, but technically the award goes to its country of origin. Italy has won the most foreign film Oscars with 14. France has the most nominations with 39.

What is production design?

This used to be called “best art direction,” and rewards the sets and set decorations we see in the films.

What's the difference between sound mixing and sound editing?

Though they sound like the same thing they are distinctly different.

Sound editing used to be called “sound effects editing,” which is a better descriptor. All of the sound effects you hear in a film have to be created, and this prize goes to the best crafted ones (war, action and space films tend to do well here).

Sound mixing rewards the overall soundscape of the film, the mixing of all the elements to achieve the proper balance between music, dialogue, sound effects and any other audio elements.

Though we don’t see the work that goes into sound design, there is a definite artistry to it.

The nominees for the 89th Academy Awards were announced on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Jimmy Kimmel will host the awards show on Feb. 26. (Courtesy of Oscars/YouTube)

Rod Pocowatchit: 316-268-6638, @rawd

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