From Oscars to Razzies, there's no shortage of movie awards
By Jamie Allen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- It's the age of movie madness: Blockbuster is practically printing money, theaters are now called megaplexes and take in record gates every year, silver screen actors are earning Michael Jordan-sized paychecks, and everyone seems to have an opinion regarding movies.
And that probably explains why there are so many movie awards shows these days. It seems every other week, some group is naming someone best director or actress or hairstylist.
This time of year is particularly busy, leaving movie fans spinning in a daze of best and worst lists. From January to March, some of the United States' most respected (and some not-so-respected) movie groups hand out honors, with the crescendo coming with the annual Academy Awards ceremony in late March.
Before Oscar night, movie fans are treated to the opinions of groups like the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, and that most notable of notables (insert heavy sarcasm here), the Razzies, which honor (or dishonor) the year's worst silver screen offerings.
Who do you believe?
While some awards groups agree on who's the best and worst in the art of movie-making, others completely disagree.
For instance, Jim Carrey's performance in "The Truman Show" moved him to the upper echelon of dramatic actors, according to the Golden Globes, which named Carrey best actor in a dramatic role for 1998.
Others think Carrey's performance was nice, but not noteworthy. Neither the Oscars nor the Screen Actors Guild nominated him for their annual awards.
There's also a wide divide between what audiences think, and what the "experts" think. For instance, the 1999 People's Choice Awards -- voted on by the fans -- named Harrison Ford their all-time favorite motion picture actor, and Sandra Bullock was named everybody's favorite motion picture actress for the year.
Neither actor, however, has won an Oscar or a Screen Actors Guild award: Ford has been nominated for an Oscar once in his lengthy movie career, in 1986 for his lead role in "Witness"; Bullock has never been nominated by either organization.
So, with everyone offering opinions, who do you believe?
It depends on who you ask: Each group claims its own victories.
Oscar = respect
The Oscars, nearly everyone agrees, are the crème de la crème for filmmakers, the pinnacle of silver screen achievement, and the justification to brag over all competitors. Every actor or director, working or struggling, has dreamed of giving that speech that begins "I'd like to thank the Academy ... ," but far fewer have stood before a mirror and practiced their speech for the People's Choice Awards.
"What an Oscar means is that in that film, you were doing what you do better than anybody else that year," says Leslie Unger, publicity coordinator for the Academy. "It is a mark in history that you make."
How did the Oscar get to be so important? Aretha Franklin sang about it -- respect.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been dishing out its golden statuettes since 1929, relying on a voting process that allows the Academy's 5,500 voters (who work in the movie industry and know good movie-making when they see it) to focus on their area of expertise -- directors vote on directors, actors on actors, etc.
"The integrity of the process has never been questioned," says Unger. This comment, along with helping to promote the Oscars, is a semi-veiled stab at Oscar rival the Golden Globes, which has received criticism for its voting methods.
Another reason Oscar is the top award -- the Academy has long presented it as the top award.
"I think the way that we protect the image of our award and the way we protect the whole notion of the award -- we don't allow that icon, the Oscar statuette, to be used by anyone else in any other context," says Unger.
For this reason, a filmmaker's career can be made, or unmade, by the Oscar. In other words, Gwyneth Paltrow ("Shakespeare in Love") might have gotten teary-eyed when she won the Golden Globe for best actress this year, but she will become the leading actress of her generation if she takes home the Oscar.
The Guild triumvirate
The Academy has other rivals in the category of Hollywood respect. The Screen Actor's Guild, a union of 95,000 voting thespians, each year picks the best actors and actresses of the silver screen and television.
The same is true for the Directors Guild, and the Writers Guild of America. A nomination from any one of the Guild triumvirate is a nod from the largest group of peers, something the Academy cannot claim.
"When an actor gets an award from SAG, it's a sense of fulfillment that they have joined the club, that people they work with appreciate what they do," says Karla Tamburrelli, a producer for SAG.
But SAG doesn't see itself as a competitor to Oscar, according to another producer with the guild, Yale Summers.
"I really don't like the notion of competition," he says. "I just feel it is misplaced. The Oscars are the Oscars and they are the awards. They are solely confined to feature films, but they cover everyone that works for feature films -- the hairdressers, the producers, the directors. ... We only deal with performances by actors. We don't deal with the rest of the stuff because we feel we are the experts in what we do."
Representatives of the Writers Guild express similar sentiments.
"Our awards are purely voted on by writers, so you're getting what the writers think are the best-written films of the year," says Cheryl Rhoden, director of public affairs for the Writer's Guild. "Ironically, we parallel closely with the Oscars."
As the Globes turn
Then there are the Golden Globes. As mentioned, the organization doesn't get top respect for its voting methods -- mainly because the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is only made up of 92 critics who do not actually work in the industry.
But in recent years, the Globes ceremony has moved from cable to network TV, transforming it into the most popular movie awards show next to the Oscars. The Globes now have a reputation for being the Oscars minus the sweaty palms and make-or-break-your-career status, according to Michael Russell, who does PR for the Globes.
"There's more of a good-natured feeling. Everybody's celebrating and there are no winners or losers," he says. "With the Oscars, there seems to be more of an urgency about winning."
Russell also says that the actual Golden Globes awards ceremony -- which includes television honors -- is attractive to stars and viewers alike.
"It's a elegant slumber party," he says. "It's 1,200 people in a ballroom having dinner and they just happen to be A-list Hollywood. You never find those people under one roof anywhere else."
Coast to coast
Rivaling the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are two major critical organizations on either coast of the United States.
The New York Film Critics Circle was founded in 1935 because many East Coast movie insiders at the time thought Oscar weighed Hollywood politics over performance. The organization has, over the years, developed a reputation for having the courage to step out of the mainstream.
For instance, on January 10 the New York critics picked Cameron Diaz as best actress for her role in the low-brow comedy "There's Something About Mary." But they also picked "Saving Private Ryan" as best picture, and "Shakespeare in Love" as best screenplay, two movies that are favorites in the hunt for Oscar.
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association, meanwhile, also picked "Saving Private Ryan" as best picture. But for best actress they couldn't decide on just one, so they picked two: Fernanda Montenegro for her role in "Central Station," and Ally Sheedy for "High Art."
Across the pond
Of course, the previously mentioned awards are really just the American version of what is "best." Even the Globes focus on the pickings from Hollywood.
Meanwhile, the British Academy Film Awards, picked by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA members induct new members from the television and film industries), are considered the Oscars of the United Kingdom, according to Amanda Berry, the director of development and events for BAFTA.
The awards -- some chosen by the 3,000 strong membership of BAFTA, others picked by specialized juries within the organization -- will be announced on April 11 this year, and are often a reflection of what the British audiences are watching, Berry says. That means the honorees are often different from the Oscars.
For instance, last year's "Titanic" cruise at the Oscars didn't make it across the Atlantic -- the movie didn't win a single British Academy Film Award.
But that's not to say BAFTA tries to be different from the Oscars. This year, Berry expects the two organizations to share praise for movies like "Elizabeth," "Little Voice," and "Shakespeare in Love."
"I think we're both aiming to promote excellence in our fields," Berry says. "I think it's friendly competition. The Oscars come out before we do. We're interested to see what is nominated, and I'm keen to see who wins what. I think it's interesting to see how people on different sides of this pond are voting."
The worst of the worst
And just when you thought people were starting to take this whole awards thing too seriously, along comes the Razzies -- or, more precisely, The Golden Raspberry Award Foundation, which is the antithesis to the Academy.
Headed by John Wilson, who works in the advertising and promotions of Hollywood films, the Razzies are handed out the day before the Oscars. A membership of 465 film fans across the country (OK, so it doesn't have the prestige of the Oscars), vote on 12 "worst" categories, from worst picture to worst actor to worst screenplay.
Wilson said he started the Razzies 19 years ago because the film industry needed a wake-up call.
"They are a logical counterpoint to the endless sea of self-congratulations" this time of year, Wilson says. "We take ourselves a little less seriously than the others awards groups. We're basically here to poke fun of everyone else. It's not so much a slap in the face as a banana peel on the floor."
This year, nominees for best picture include the top-grossing film of 1998, "Armageddon." Also, Joe Eszterhas is nominated in four categories -- a Razzie record -- for his work in "An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood, Burn."
"Eszterhas is what we call a repeat offender," Wilson says. "In fact, we have named our screenplay award after him. Even if he only did 'Showgirls,' he would be an icon to the Razzies."
The Razzies, perhaps more than the Oscars or any other awards show, are reflective of the reason behind why there are so many movie awards groups.
As Berry, from BAFTA, notes, "Everybody has an opinion on their favorite movie or actor."
And no one is shy about giving it.
Academy in love with 'Shakespeare In Love'
The Official Academy Awards Site
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