LA Awards Show Primer

By Nick Dawson | March 5, 2010
Red Carpet Photo by Getty Images

To celebrate Movie City Los Angeles, FilmInFocus' Nick Dawson rolls out the red carpet as he takes a look at the award show season's biggest bashes.

At the Oscars one year, Warren Beatty quipped, "We want to thank all of you for watching us congratulate ourselves tonight." It was a joke, of course, but at the same time there is something about awards shows that audiences - as well as the nominees - find hard to resist. And when it comes to movie awards shows, Los Angeles plays host to more than any other city. So, as part of Movie City Los Angeles, we now run through the big bashes the movie industry throws every year to celebrate its achievements.


The lull before the storm at the Academy Awards

The lull before the storm at the Academy

Academy Awards

Run by: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Founded in: 1929
Held: Originally April or May, now late February or early March
Where: For years the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Downtown LA was its home, but the Kodak Theatre (in a mall at Hollywood & Highland) has hosted the show since 2002.
History: The first Academy Awards show was held as a banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard on May 16, 1929, with a meager 270 people in attendance. However, the daddy of the movie awards shows has always been the most high profile due to it being broadcast on the radio between 1929 and 1952, and then on TV from 1953 onwards. The culmination of the awards season brings the career highpoint to a select few each year: the Oscar. The diminutive golden statuettes (designed by MGM's legendary art director Cedric Gibbons) are so called because in 1931 the Academy's Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, commented that it looked like her Uncle Oscar. A journalist got wind of the comment, mentioned it in his column, and the name caught on. (Bette Davis subsequently claimed that she coined the nickname, explaining the golden fellow reminded of her first husbands, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson.) More so than any other awards show, the Academy Awards honors the greatest cross-section of the cinematic profession, from the most glamorous, big league awards like Best Picture, Actor, Actress and Director all the way to prizes that honor those working in the more obscure corners of the industry, such as Best Sound Editing and Best Documentary Short. Only three films have ever won all five of the major Oscars, namely Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay, with the feat first being achieved in 1934 by Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, and then repeated in 1975 by Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and again in 1991 by Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs.


Golden Globes

Golden Globe Awards

Run by: Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Founded in: 1944
Held: Early January
Where: The Beverly Hilton has hosted proceedings (with a few gaps) since 1945. 
History: Shortly after the formation of the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association, the organization (now called the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) felt it was important to reflect the perspective on the global press on American movies and so in January 1944 held their inaugural awards dinner. That year, scrolls were handed out to the winners, however from that point onwards honorees were given golden statuettes depicting the world, surrounded by a strip of film, on a pedestal. This, of course, then went on to give the awards its name: the Golden Globes. Positioned some months ahead of the Academy Awards, the HFPA's grand gala has acted as something of an indicator for the rest of the awards season. That said, its decision in 1951 to split major categories into "drama" and "musical or comedy" and 1955's addition of television honors have meant that it judges different criteria (and in different media) than a lot of other award-giving bodies. (There are currently 14 cinematic and 11 televisual categories.) Because of its focus on multiple media, nominees can often have bumper years, such as Joan Plowright, who in 1993 won Best Supporting Actress for the movie Enchanted April as well as the equivalent award in the small screen section for the TV movie Stalin. Meanwhile, in 2009 Kate Winslet won Best Actress for Revolutionary Road, and Best Supporting Actress for The Reader (a role for which she won a Best Actress Oscar just a month or two later), in the process defeating Meryl Streep (a Best Actress nominee for Doubt), the performer who holds the record for most Golden Globe wins ever with six.

Kathryn Bigelow, this year's big winner at the most recent DGA Awards

Kathryn Bigelow, this year's big winner at
the most recent DGA Awards

DGA Awards

Run by: Directors Guild of America
Founded in: 1948
: Late January, early February
: The Beverly Hilton has been a popular location, but now the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Century City is the awards show's home.
: In 1948, George Marshall, the president of the Screen Directors Guild (which evolved into the DGA in 1960), announced the creation of a new award honoring the achievements of the union's members. Interestingly, initially prizes were handed out quarterly, and then a final winner was chosen at the end of the year. Though that curious mode of prizegiving is no longer employed, one all-important thing remains: the DGA Awards' reliability. Certain pre-Oscar award shows almost guarantee that its winners will go on to win the equivalent prize come Academy Awards night, and the DGA Awards is one of the most dependable of bellwethers. Since Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the very first Best Director award in 1948 (for A Letter to Three Wives), there have only been six instances of the DGA winner not repeating at the Oscars. (Those unlucky souls were Anthony Harvey for The Lion in Winter, Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather, Steven Spielberg for The Color Purple, Ron Howard for Apollo 13, Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Rob Marshall for Chicago.) Steven Spielberg is the only person to have won the DGA award three times (for The Color Purple, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan), while Ang Lee, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, Milos Forman, Robert Wise, David Lean, George Stevens, Fred Zinnemann, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz have two wins to their name. Over the years, the DGA has expanded its awards show, in 1953 adding directing awards for TV and TV movies, with commercial direction receiving its own category in 1979 and documentary direction in 1991. Nevertheless, it's interesting to note that Kathryn Bigelow, the most recent winner of the DGA Award for Theatrical Direction of Film for The Hurt Locker, is the first woman ever to win the recognition. (There have, however, been other female winners in the other categories, such as TV movie directors Lee Grant and Betty Thomas, and documentarians Barbara Kopple, Nanette Burstein, Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim, and Tasha Oldham.)


Milk's Dustin Lance Black was a double WGA Award winner last year

Milk's Dustin Lance Black
was a double WGA Award
winner last year

WGA Awards

Run by: Writers Guild of America
Founded in: 1949
Held: February or March
Where: Just like the DGA Awards, the WGAs have quit their longtime home at the Beverly Hilton for Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Century City.
History: In 1949, a year after the Directors Guilds of America organized its first award show, the Writers Guild of America followed suit with their own. That year, its categories were Best Written Comedy, Best Written Drama, Best Written Musical, Best Western and (amazingly) Best Written Film Concerning Problems With The American Scene. The latter category was phased out in 1953, and the awards were later slimmed down to honor original and adapted screenplays, with just the comedy and drama categories surviving. It was not until 1985 that the WGA fell into step with the Academy Awards by dropping genre as a consideration and simply handing out two prizes. The WGA Awards are a (relatively) good indicator of Oscar success, with only six deviations in the original screenplay category and five in the adapted screenplay category since 1990. In 1996, there was a radical expansion at the awards show, expanding from just two awards that only covered big screen writing to 17 awards, with the additional 15 covering writing for TV and radio. Since then, the numbers of awards has once again ballooned, doubling to include documentary film, more TV and radio categories plus an acknowledgment of achievements in advertising, animation, and video games.

Independent Spirit Awards

Independent Spirit Awards

Run by: Film Independent
Founded in: 1984
Held: Just before the Academy Awards
Where: 2010 is the first year the Spirits have quit the beach at Santa Monica for Downtown.
History: In 1984, the Friends of Independents Awards (or "the FINDIE Awards") became the very first awards show to solely honor low budget American Filmmaking. In 1986, it was rebooted as the Independent Spirit Awards, with Martin Scorsese's After Hours and the Coen brothers' Blood Simple the big winners that year. The event's independent nature was reflected in its original statuette - a glass pyramid with shoelaces inside, a graphic acknowledgment of the shoestring budgets the filmmakers being honored had grappled with. Now, the trophies handed out are a little more traditional: a bird with its wings outstretched, sat on top of a pedestal which, if you look closely, has shoelaces wrapped around it. Over the years, the Spirits established themselves as the indie world's (more irrevent and convivial) answer to the Academy Awards, taking place the afternoon before the glitzier event, in a tent on the beach at Santa Monica. (In 2010, for the first time, however, the bash will be held in LA's Downtown area, and on the Friday night before the Academy Awards.) Aside from the fact that big budget movies do not qualify at the Spirits, the awards have also set themselves apart by honoring debutant filmmakers (Spike Lee was the first winner of that award for his 1987 She's Gotta Have It) and first time actors, up and coming filmmakers (with the Someone to Watch Award) and ultra low budget movies (the John Cassavetes Award). In 1997, FilmInFocus' own Scott Macaulay was the inaugural winner (along with his producing partner Robin O'Hara) of the Producer's Award.


Screen Actors Guild Awards

SAG Awards

Run by: Screen Actors Guild
Founded in: 1995
Held: February
Where: Since 1997, the Shrine Exposition Center on the USC campus has been the host of the show.
History: Of the high profile guild awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards is very much the newcomer to the scene, having only been in existence since 1995. Winners receive a bronze statuette (very logically called the Actor) which depicts a thespian holding a smiling mask in one hand and a sad-looking mask in the other, symbolizing the dual recognition of both comedy and tragedy. Like the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards rivals the Oscars for star power because every year it hosts the creme de la creme of the worlds of both the big and small screen. Interestingly, the nominations are chosen by a randomly selected group of 4200 union members - though all of the 120,000 members are of course eligible to vote on the awards themselves. Admirably, the SAG awards honor the full spectrum of their members: in addition to individual awards for film and TV, there are also ensemble cast awards and, impressively, also a category that recognizes the contributions of stunt crews in both media. Over the years, Frasier stars David Hyde Pierce (19) and Kelsey Grammer (18) have won the most nods for TV acting, with Cate Blanchett the most nominated big screen actor with 12. The biggest winners over the 16 years of the award have been ER's Julianna Margulies (7) on the TV side, while Helen Mirren has three wins for her work on celluloid.

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