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Does an Academy Award Really Denote Quality?

• March 03, 2010 • 5:00 AM

Studies come to conflicting conclusions as to whether Academy Awards are a genuine measure of artistry.

A continuing debate among cineasts is whether the Academy Awards truly reward the best films of the year, or whether they’re highly publicized popularity contests. While the gap between critics’ top 10 lists and Oscar nominees has narrowed significantly over the past decade, conventional wisdom holds that truly groundbreaking work is seldom appreciated by the aesthetically conservative Academy.

The research points in different directions. In a 2004 edition of the Creativity Research Journal, University of California, Davis, psychologist Dean Keith Simonton looked at 1,132 films that had received at least one award or nomination from seven different sources: The Oscars, the Golden Globes, the British Academy Awards and four critics associations.

He found “a substantial consensus” among the peer-based and expert-based panels, “with the Oscars providing the best single indicator of that agreement.” He concluded that “Those who take an Oscar home can have a strong likelihood of having exhibited superlative cinematic creativity or achievement.”


Nothing stirs debates over movies like the Academy Awards. Researchers also argue about the Oscars: Does the Oscar represent artistic quality? Does winning the award help you live longer? Does the award increase box-office sales? For more on the studies of Oscar, check out these stories when they’re released in the coming days:
Predicting Oscars for Bigelow, Bridges, Bullock
Death and the Oscar Winner
Oscar Winners Should Thank Their Economist


But will that judgment pass the test of time? Two French scholars looked at the films nominated for the Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film Oscars from 1950 to 1970, as well as those winning the most prestigious awards at the Cannes Film Festival during those 20 years.

They then compared those 174 movies with the 122 films judged, in film guides published a generation later, to be the best of the era. They found a meager overlap of only 47 films.

“Judges in Cannes and Hollywood are thus both short-sighted and unselective,” they wrote in the Journal of Cultural Economics in 1999. “They cannot discriminate between good-quality movies and other movies.”

Of course, all that has changed in the decades since. Hasn’t it?

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Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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