What is Armchair Oscars?

Around my house the annual Academy Awards telecast is treated in much the same way that most people treat the Super Bowl.  There is a party, we have guests, there is an Oscar guessing game and, inevitably, there are disappointments when the awards go to the wrong films.  Plus there are the usual complaints about boring speeches, unfunny hosts, interpretive dance, lousy musical numbers, and the show’s infamous running time.

Why do I tune in every year?  What keeps me coming back to this unapologetically garish display that seems to stoke the concept of celebrity for celebrity sake?  Why do we want to spend four hours watching people that we don’t know thanking people we’ve never met while winning awards for films we didn’t even see?

I’ll tell you why . . .

There is just something disgustingly wonderful about this whole mess. Something delightfully, gloriously phony about the gathering of Hollywood hotshots parading around in outfits and jewelry that cost more than our cars.  We love this stuff.  We love it when something goes wrong.  We love it when someone makes a fool of themselves. We love this whole disgusting, amazing, overhyped display of display. You just have to love it!

The Academy Awards began in the late 1920s, established by MGM overlord Louis B. Mayer as a way for the studios to self-congratulate themselves.  They were created amid the formation of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which was created to – among other things – stem the tide of unions that were cropping up all over Hollywood among motion picture craftsmen.

The very first Oscar ceremony was a small industry party held in The Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angelas on May 16th, 1929.  There were 250 invited guests – all Academy members – who gathered to dance, dine on lobster, and then watch as the awards were handed out.  The actual award winners had been announced on the back of the academy bulletin in February so there were no surprises.  The winners got statues while the nominees got an honorable mention.

The first Best Picture winner (then called “Best Production”) was Wings, a war picture about two buddies in love with the same girl who become fighter pilots during the first world war. The acting awards were given for a year’s worth of work rather than a single performance.  The first Best Actor winner was German heartthrob Emil Jannings who won for two performances, The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh.  The Best Actress winner was Janet Gaynor who won for three performances Street Angel, Sunrise and 7th Heaven.

The Academy got it wrong then . . . and they’re still getting it wrong today.

The awards are suppose to symbolize the peak of artistic merit but in 80 years, it is hard to find many cases where the winners weren’t manipulated by politics, prestige, hype, sympathy or a million dollar studio campaign.  I consider myself an armchair Oscar historian, which basically means that I have studied the history of the academy awards but I don’t get paid for it.  In that spirit, I present Jerry’s Armchair Oscar (or . . . They Wuz Robbed), a personal essay on the winners for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress from 1927 through 2011 which offers reasons for the win, reasons why it was a mistake, then my personal choice in all three categories

In each year, I have started with Best Picture, giving the academy’s selection, followed by their nominees.  Then I offer my own personal choice and the films that I felt should have been nominated.  Then I move on to Best Actor and Best Actress in the same manner (supporting performances will come later). I am not manipulated by hype or sympathy but by the things that I see on the screen.  I have tried my best to explain in full why I think my selection is the best.

In many cases I have selected an actor several times over (Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn more than any other) but I have never pulled back from selecting a performance because I rewarded them before. My selections are based on who I think was the best in that particular year.

I also do not abide by some of the academy’s rules. Between 1943 and 2009, the academy limited their nominees for Best Picture to five, but my number of nominees is unlimited. In some years there may be only one nominee, in another there may be as many as 20. I also do not limit my Best Picture winners when it comes to foreign or animated films. I have selected at least three films from overseas and at least three animated films. Again, this is only because I felt that they were the best choice.

Please remember, this is not an exact science.  Every selection made on this website is completely personal.  In some cases, you may agree with me but in most cases you probably will not. Also note that I have seen every single film that I have rewarded or nominated on this website.  Sometime two or three times. I have seen all of the Oscar winners in all three categories. There is no guess-work here.

In cases in which I haven’t seen the film in some time, I have gone back and revisited the film or the performance for a fresh perspective (which is why this website was 12 years in the making).

You should also be aware that my essays contain crucial plot points and, in some cases, major spoilers! I will confess upfront that I am no expert. I am just a guy who loves the movies. That’s why I’m here, so share my love . . . and more than a few of my aggravations.

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