As the Motion Picture Academy walks back its decision, just two years ago, to expand the field of Best Picture nominees to an even 10, it’s interesting to recall some of the other changes that were made, or almost made, during the Academy’s history. Here are the top five Oscars — per Wikipedia’s entry on the Academy — that you may never have known existed.
1) Best Dance Direction
Handed out only in 1935, 1936, and 1937, you might expect that this award existed in part to confer annual recognition upon Busby Berkeley, the great choreographer on those oversized Warner Bros. musicals of the 1930s and the closest thing to a household name in dance choreography. (A typically elaborate Busby Berkeley dance number is pictured at the top of this entry.) But you’d be wrong. Though Berkeley was nominated in the category each year, he was a three-time loser. Instead, Hermes Pan, Seymour Felix, and Dave Gould took home the gold. Wikipedia says the DGA lobbied for the category’s elimination three years later!
2) Best Assistant Director
Bet you didn’t know the humble AD had his own Oscar category from 1933 to 1937.
3) Best Unique and Artistic Production
Given out only in 1928 at the very first Academy Awards ceremony, this award honored director F.W. Murnau’s classic Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans as a sort of art-film counterpart to the film chosen as “Outstanding Picture” (the Best Picture precursor), Wings.
4) Best Musical or Comedy Score
For a few years in the 1990s, the Academy decided it would be a good idea to put music written for musicals or comedies in its own category, inaugurating the award with an Oscar for the music of Alan Menken and the lyrics of Stephen Schwartz in Disney’s Pocahontas. The award limped along for a few more years, but it was accepted by score composers, rather than the songwriter-and-lyricist teams the Academy originally had in mind. Stephen Warbeck received the last one for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love.
5) Special Award to Charles Chaplin, for acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus.
This remarkable honor was bestowed upon Chaplin as part of a unanimous decision by the Academy Board of Judges to remove the multi-talented auteur’s name from consideration in all competitive categories. “The collective accomplishments thus displayed place you in a class by yourself,” the Academy wrote in a letter to Chaplin dated Feb. 19, 1929. Walt Disney won a similar award a few years later for creating Mickey Mouse, and the Academy has kept the “Special Award” or “Honorary Award” in its bag of tricks since then (Bob Hope got four of ’em), but none of them tied to so broad an accomplishment by a single artist working on a single film.
In 1999, the Academy’s Board of Governors rejected three more potential categories that would have broadened the scope of the award: Best Casting, Best Stunt Coordination, and Best Title Design. The proposal for an Oscar honoring stunts was knocked down again in 2005. Hey, at least that one could make the annual Oscars telecast a little more exciting!
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