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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Evolution of Oscar Awards Categories: Remembering the Discontinued Ones

It’s remarkable that many crucial aspects of the Academy Awards have remained unchanged since its inception. Despite having 94 ceremonies, the show has consistently featured a host, as well as categories like Best Actor/Actress and Best Cinematography. This consistency has made the Academy Awards appealing to both casual viewers and award-season enthusiasts. However, not all categories introduced into the ceremony have become a permanent fixture of the show. Throughout the years, several Oscar categories have been discontinued. Although many have been forgotten by the general public, it’s still essential to recall their existence and understand why they were eventually removed.

The First Discontinued Oscars Categories

In the inaugural Academy Awards ceremony, while some key categories became permanent fixtures, there were also several categories that were immediately discontinued. These categories were created to expand the scope of recognition for outstanding films of the year. One such example was the division of Best Director into two categories: Best Director, Comedy Picture and Best Director, Dramatic Picture. The winners in these categories were Lewis Milestone for “Two Arabian Knights” and Frank Borzage for “7th Heaven,” respectively. However, the following year saw the consolidation of these categories into a single Best Director category.

During the first Academy Awards, the Best Picture category was divided into two separate categories: the Academy Award for Outstanding Picture and the Academy Award for Best Unique and Artistic Direction. This decision allowed both “Wings” and “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” to receive the most prestigious awards of the night. However, in retrospect, it seems like an odd distinction to make between films. The Academy apparently shared this sentiment, as the two categories were quickly consolidated into a single Best Picture category the following year. According to film historian Monica Roxanne Sandler, the decision to abandon the two categories likely stemmed from the fact that the terms used to differentiate them were too similar. While it’s understandable to divide categories based on genres like Comedy/Musical and Drama, having two Best Picture categories that were not substantially different from each other did not make sense.

The final category to be eliminated from the Oscars was Best Title Writing. The exclusion of this category was influenced by a broader shift in the kind of films being produced. According to Awards and Shows, this award was designed to recognize the best writing of dialogue titles in silent movies. It was considered an important category during the first Academy Awards, where both Best Picture winners were silent features. However, the advent of talkies, exemplified by the success of “The Jazz Singer,” quickly rendered the Best Title Writing category obsolete within a year. Unlike the discarded additional Best Director or Best Picture categories, there was no modern successor to carry on the spirit of Best Title Writing in the subsequent Oscar ceremonies. It was simply relegated to the Academy Awards trash heap.

The 1930s Sees the Oscars Discard More Categories

During the 1930s, the Academy Awards witnessed a significant turnover in terms of categories being introduced and subsequently discarded. Two categories, Best Short Subject – Comedy and Best Short Subject – Novelty, marked the first time that live-action short films were recognized at the Oscars. This was a welcome change that allowed exceptional filmmakers and their brief works to receive recognition. However, by the end of the decade, these categories were replaced by Best Short Subject – 1 Reel and Best Short Subject – 2 Reel. It was not until the 30th Academy Awards ceremony in the late 1950s that all these categories were consolidated into a single Best Live-Action Short Film category.

At the 6th Academy Awards, a Best Assistant Director category was introduced, allowing for seven different winners in its inaugural year. However, subsequent iterations of the category only allowed for one winner, and it was eventually removed by the end of the 1930s. The mid-1930s also saw the introduction of a Best Dance Direction category, aimed at recognizing the flourishing musical genre. However, this category did not last long and was eventually discarded. In hindsight, this decision proved to be wise, given the dearth of musical films during the 1970s and 1980s, making it difficult to justify the annual inclusion of the category.

Following the 1930s, the Academy Awards generally maintained the categories it had introduced, aside from the consolidation of the Live-Action short film categories. Although new categories were still introduced, such as Best Original Screenplay and Best Documentary Feature in the 1940s, they were more likely to become permanent fixtures than in the past. Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply that the Oscars haven’t eliminated some categories in recent years that had previously appeared to be permanent parts of the show.

Which Categories Have the Oscars Removed Recently?

In the mid-1990s, the Best Original Score category was divided into two distinct categories based on genre. The Academy Awards now presented awards for Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score. According to The Los Angeles Times, this decision was made in response to a series of Disney animated musicals that swept the category in the early 1990s. The perception was that voters were selecting movies with big musical numbers rather than instrumental scores. However, the Best Original Musical or Comedy Score category was discontinued by the 72nd Academy Awards, the first ceremony of the new century. This decision proved to be fortuitous, as Disney’s animated musical dominance waned by the end of the 1990s. The Best Original Score category would remain divided into only one category from then on.

The category known today as Best Sound Editing had a complicated history, starting out as Best Sound Effects at the Oscars. However, it was only awarded sporadically as a Special Achievement category during the 1970s and 1980s. Renamed Best Sound Effects Editing, it finally became a regular category by the 1990s. Along with the renamed Best Sound Mixing category, it was merged back into the Best Sound category in the early 2000s. This move was met with mixed reactions from the sound effects industry. Nevertheless, it was widely believed that the decision was inevitable, as many Oscar voters were perceived to lack a proper understanding of the differences between Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

The only Oscars category that has been permanently removed from the ceremony in the 21st century is the Best Sound Editing category. This highlights the significant progress the Academy Awards have made since the early days, where everything was undefined and even the number of Best Picture categories was undecided. Nowadays, the Academy Awards have a fixed number of categories, which provides consistency for viewers and organizers alike. Nevertheless, it’s still valuable to look back on past Oscar categories such as Best Assistant Director and Best Title Writing, which offer a glimpse into the history of cinema and how the Oscars have evolved with it. While the Oscars may seem unchanging from the outside, the removal of certain categories reflects broader cinematic trends and demonstrates that the Academy Awards are always growing and adapting.

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