TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hollywood’s diversity problem goes beyond “Selma.” Asian and Latino stories and faces are missing.

By Jose Antonio Vargas and Janet Yang in the Los Angeles Times

2. Shifting the narrative away from religion is key to defeating ISIS.

By Dean Obeidallah in the Daily Beast

3. Innovation alone won’t fix social problems.

By Amanda Moore McBride and Eric Mlyn in the Chronicle of Higher Education

4. When the Ebola epidemic closed schools in Sierra Leone, radio stepped in to fill the void.

By Linda Poon at National Public Radio

5. The racial wealth gap we hardly talk about? Retirement.

By Jonnelle Marte in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME movies

Oscar Speech Study Shows Steven Spielberg Bigger Than God

Steven Spielberg arrives at the AFI Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 9, 2015.
Jordan Strauss—AP Steven Spielberg arrives at the AFI Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 9, 2015.

After all, God has only been thanked 19 out of 1,396 acceptance speeches ever given

When an Oscar winner walks up to the mic to give their acceptance speech, there are few things they can say that haven’t been said before. Many people thank their family, their film’s team, and/or their spouse (if they remember). It’s also not uncommon for any given person to thank God.

However, thanks to a study by Vocativ, in which all 1,396 acceptance speeches ever given were analyzed, there are five people in Hollywood who can say they’ve trumped God—at being mentioned in more speeches, at least.

In the study, Vocativ concluded that “The Academy” is thanked in 43 percent of all speeches, with Mom and Dad getting a shout-out 28 percent of the time. However, the most thanked person in Oscar history is Steven Spielberg, who has been thanked a total of 42 times.

As for God? He’s only been thanked 19 times. Check out the top six below:

  1. Steven Spielberg (thanked 42 times)
  2. Harvey Weinstein (thanked 34 times)
  3. James Cameron (thanked 28 times)
  4. George Lucas (thanked 23 times)
  5. Peter Jackson (thanked 22 times)
  6. God (thanked 19 times)

Rounding out the Top 10—with a few ties— are: Fran Walsh, writer of the Lord of the Rings screenplays, Sheila Nevins, president of HBO documentary film, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and producers Barrie Osborne and Saul Zaentz.

Perhaps we should all change our Martin Scorsese drinking game to a Steven Spielberg drinking game this year.

This article originally appeared on EW.com.


Binge-Watch Every Oscar-Nominated Movie for $65 (or Less) This Weekend

THE IMITATION GAME, from left: Allen Leech, Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Beard, 2014.
Jack English—Weinstein Company/Courtesy Evere THE IMITATION GAME, from left: Allen Leech, Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Beard, 2014.

It's not too late to get up to speed on all—or at least some—of the movies up for Academy Awards this Sunday.

So you plan on watching the Oscars on Sunday (who doesn’t?), but because you haven’t seen many—or any—of the films up for the big awards, it’s hard to figure out who to root for. Most of the jokes and references in the show will probably go over your head too. First off, you’re in good company. For the most part, the films with the most Academy Award nominations in 2015 skew anti-blockbuster, with only one Best Picture candidate (American Sniper) crossing the $100 million mark at the box office.

Second, there are ways to get up to speed on this year’s Oscar-nominated movies in a hurry. The simplest strategy is to seek out one of the select AMC Theatre locations around the country selling special “Best Picture Showcase” tickets. One $65 ticket grants admission to marathon back-to-back showings of all eight Best Picture nominees, starting with Boyhood at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 21, and ending early Sunday morning, after the credits roll for the final film, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The start time on Anderson’s film is … 3:45 a.m. And remember, the screening comes at the end of a movie marathon, following The Theory of Everything at 1:05 p.m., Birdman at 3:30 p.m., Selma at 5:50 p.m., American Sniper at 9 p.m., The Imitation Game at 11:30 p.m., and WHEW! Whiplash at 1:45 a.m.

This ticket is not for everyone. It wouldn’t be all that surprising that anyone who spent nearly 24 hours watching these films in a movie theater would wind up sleeping through the Oscar ceremonies on Sunday night. What’s more, while the price of admission breaks down to a reasonable $8 per movie, filmgoers should probably factor in $20, $30, or more in concession costs to make it through all eight movies. (The fine print on the AMC Theatre offer states: “Outside food and beverage is not allowed for this event. Limited seating. No passes or coupons accepted.”) Considering what you’ll be ordering at the movie theater—hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, Raisinets, giant sodas—you should plan ahead and factor in the cost of some Pepto Bismol too.

Sitting through a marathon showing at the movie house isn’t the only way to prepare for Sunday’s Academy Awards, however. In order to have a clue what host Neil Patrick Harris and everyone else is talking about during the show, you could utilize some combination of the following cost-effective strategies:

Buy tickets to a few matinees. Again, the $65 ticket breaks down to around $8 per film. Matinees and early-bird seatings at movie theaters are often cheaper than that. Plunk down $5 or $6 apiece for the two or three nominated films you really want to see in the theater.

Rent DVDs. Best Picture nominee Boyhood has been available for rent at Redbox locations for weeks. And while they’re not BP contenders, films up for other Oscars, such as Gone Girl (Actress in a Leading Role: Rosamund Pike), and The Judge (Actor in a Supporting Roll: Robert Duvall) are rentable as well. So are Animated Feature Film nominees Boxtrolls and How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The Lego Movie, which was robbed of a nomination in that category but is up for best Original Song (“Everything Is Awesome”). One day’s DVD rental from Redbox starts at $1.50, and there always seem to be coupon codes bringing costs down even lower.

Borrow DVDs. Your local library may have copies of Oscar-nominated films available to borrow at no charge. This is only an option for movies that were released in theaters many months ago. DVDs of The Grand Budapest Hotel, for example, first went on sale last June, giving libraries plenty of time to buy copies of their own and lend them out to locals.

Rent Online. Among other options, Google Play is renting films such as Birdman and The Theory of Everything for $4.99 apiece.

Video on Demand. Check out what Oscar-nominated movies are being offered VOD by Dish, Comcast, or whatever pay TV service provider you use. The prices and options are usually similar to what’s available at Google Play and other online services.

TIME movies

This Is How to Fix the Oscars

Nate D. Sanders Auctions Collection Of Academy Award Oscar Statuettes Set To Be Auctioned
Toby Canham—Getty Images BRENTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Nate Sanders displays the collection of Oscar statuettes that his auction company will sell online to the highest bidder on February 24, 2012 in Brentwood, California. (Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images)

If we knew not just who won but also by how much, viewers would have a real, knowledgeable rooting interest in the big movie game

Oscar Night is this Sunday, and host Neil Patrick Harris can be counted on to make it fun for the swells at the Dolby Theatre and perhaps even for those 40-plus million watching at home. That will be a challenge for a show whose 24 awards mostly go to invisible craftsmen — what’s the diff between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, and why should any TV viewer care? — and to categories, like Best Documentary Short, that simply don’t exist in the movie marketplace. If you’re an average to avid filmgoer, you probably care about Best Picture, the four actors’ awards and maybe Best Director. The rest is the presentation of gold watches to anonymous artisans.

Like Fox News commentators poking at the excesses and failures of Barack Obama, critics of the Oscar show have floated all manner of remedies. Some have proposed a separate afternoon ceremony for the technical categories and the short films, thus allowing the evening to be a showcase of star actors, possibly with longer clips from their films. That’s what the Grammy show has become: an all-star concert, with only a few of the record industry’s 100-plus awards presented on the prime-time show. Or Oscar could go the full American Idol route, with the nominated thespians in an “act-off” of big movie scenes, and the viewing audience, not the Academy’s senior citizens, choosing the winner.

A simpler remedy: nominate movies the viewers have seen and liked — the action films and fantasies that Hollywood makes better than anyone. History tells us that the Oscar ceremony has registered its biggest jumps in viewership in years when an extraordinarily popular movie was eligible in many categories. 1983: 53.2 million viewers (up by 7 million from the previous year) for E.T. 1998: 55.2 million (up by 15 million) for Titanic. 2004: 43.5 million (up by 10 million) for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. And 2010: 41.7 million (up by 5 million) for Avatar. Last year’s broadcast got 43.7 million (up 3 million from 2013) for Gravity. The blockbusters don’t have to win Best Picture — Titanic and King did, E.T., Avatar and Gravity didn’t — but they have to be in the race, as a Best Picture finalist with lots of subsidiary nominations.

The Academy recognized the power of big movies in 2009, the year after the box-office smash (and critical favorite) The Dark Knight got aced out of the final five Best Picture shortlist. The Academy’s solution: add more slots for the top award. It became known as the Christopher Nolan award. That worked splendidly for 2010, when the looming presence of Avatar, plus the duel between James Cameron and his glamorous ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow (for The Hurt Locker, the eventual winner), juiced up the competition.

This year, though, the membership reverted to its preference for indie and niche bio-pic fare. Yes, American Sniper has earned more than $300 million at the domestic box office after the nominations were announced; but it’s not considered a major player for either Best Picture or Best Actor Bradley Cooper. Of the other seven Picture nominees, only The Imitation Game has earned more than $60 million (which makes it the 44th most popular film of 2014, right behind Let’s Be Cops). The leading contenders for Best Picture, Birdman and Boyhood, have taken in little more than $60 million together. Why would 45 million people tune in to watch a runoff between two films that sold a total of about 7 million tickets? Still Alice and Whiplash, the movies predicted to win Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor for Julianne Moore and J.K. Simmons, have earned about $15 million between them.

While giving to the poor, the Academy snubbed the popular: a few technical citations for Nolan’s Interstellar, only one nomination for Gone Girl, last year’s top-grossing adult drama, and nothing for the one megahit animated feature (and critics’ darling) The LEGO Movie. It’s as if the Academy is telling the constituency of mass moviegoers: Don’t bother watching the Oscars. This one’s for us, not you.

Adding blockbusters to the nomination lists is part of the answer, but it’s not the big answer. The big answer is: make the voting public. Have a designated celebrity read out the five names in each major category in ascending order of the votes they received — the last-named being the winner.

In virtually every other competition, whether it’s the World Series or an Olympic marathon or a national election, viewers get to see how close the race was. The Super Bowl, for example: Would 114.5 million people have watched it if the Katy Perry halftime show were virtually the whole show and, at the end, Al Michaels simply announced, “The Patriots won,” instead of, “This was the closest, craziest, most thrilling fourth quarter in NFL freakin’ history!”?

Yet on Oscar night here’s what you get: five names, one winner, four losers; then it’s move on, dot, yawn. What if we learned, as the tally was shown on a big board behind the person reading out the nominations for Best Actor, what the names of the top two contenders were — and that they were just one vote apart? That actually happened in 1932, and the Oscar was given to both Fredric March and Wallace Beery. But we know that only because the Academy later changed the rule: to declare a tie, the figures had to be exactly even. We also know that, in 1969, Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand got the same number of votes for Best Actress — because they both were named winners. (Over the decades there have also been ties in three “minor” categories that had far fewer voters.)

What else do we know about the Oscar tallies? Nothing. Did Greta Garbo or Cary Grant or Alfred Hitchcock, to pick three distinguished artists who never got competitive Oscars, ever come close to winning? If Eddie Redmayne takes Best Actor this year, did Michael Keaton lose by just a handful of votes, or was it a wipeout? And how close did Bradley Cooper get? Which races were runaways over Oscar’s 86 years, and which were photo finishes? Wouldn’t you like to know? Wouldn’t the show have a little more interest if you did?

Making the vote tabulation public would also invigorate the weeks before the Oscar show. So-called experts give odds on the nominees in top categories, but the knowledge that only the winner will be revealed renders that exercise useless; now it’d mean something. And all those office Oscar pools could promote, in addition to the winners, any number of beguiling side bets. Who can pick the top five in the most categories — in order? In the Best Director race, how many votes will separate Alejandro Iñárritu from Richard Linklater? What’s the over-under on Patricia Arquette?

It’d be fun to know, but we won’t. And all because the Academy members value confidentiality in the process above the public’s interest in their product. What are they hiding — state secrets? Oh, that’s right: in our society you can’t hide a lot of secrets forever. In the past half-century, through the Freedom of Information Act, concerned citizens have unearthed documents whose publication resulted in the banning of Red Dye #2, the recalling of the Ford Pinto, the revelation that Agent Orange was used on Vietnamese civilians and the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew.

We need a Freedom of Infotainment Act. The Star Chamber of the Motion Picture Academy must be compelled to open its books and make the results public. At least confirm to us that in 1993, the Supporting Actress Oscar really did go to Marisa Tomei. Show us the numbers! Let the sunshine in.

As long as the particulars of Academy voting are suppressed, we movie lovers will find Oscar night less exciting as we watch it, less likely to lodge in our collective memory. (“Hey, remember how close that Best Actor race was in 2015?”) The people who run Hollywood are supposed to be masters at creating drama, suspense, thrills — at putting on a great show. If we knew not only who the winners were but also by how much they won, the Oscar show could actually be the Super Bowl of movies.

TIME movies

Here’s Why the Oscar Race for Best Picture Is Unusually Tricky This Year

Fox Searchlight; Diaphana Films Michael Keaton in Birdman and Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

It's not too late for the Academy to decide that Boyhood and Birdman are all form and little substance

It should come as no surprise that Boyhood and Birdman are the frontrunners in the Best Picture Oscar race. Each film took an exciting risk: the former captured an actual childhood by filming over the course of 12 years, while the latter told its frenetic tale in what looked like one long tracking shot. They must feel like a breath of fresh air to Academy voters who, year after year, choose from among several grueling and formulaic prestige films.

But don’t count Birdman’s eggs before they hatch. Bubbling up under the excitement for Birdman and Boyhood are complaints that both films felt too “gimmicky.”

The argument goes something like this: If Birdman and Boyhood are more interesting than the other Oscar films—which retread classic but tired themes like the good war, or the tortured genius—it’s because they cheated. Compared to The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, these films feel inventive, daring and masterful. But the voters who are dazzled by these cinematic tricks may not be looking past them.

And as the Oscars approach, the detractors of Boyhood and Birdman are only getting louder. The Hollywood Reporter recently published a brutally honest Oscar ballot in which one voter declared she was voting for The Imitation Game because she wanted to pick a film people would still watch and discuss 50 years from now.

This was widely criticized on Twitter, and it’s worth noting that this single member of the Academy in no way reflects the views of the Academy as a whole. Still, at least one voter believes that the achievements of directors Richard Linklater or Alejandro González Iñárritu in Boyhood and Birdman, respectively, are nothing more than sleight of hand.

This voter’s attitude might explain why year after year, the same type of films seem to win Oscars. There have been actual studies conducted on this topic: an analysis conducted by two sociologists at UCLA of 3,000 movies on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) released between 1985 and 2009 found that war movies, historical epics and biographies were the movies most likely to earn Oscar nominations. (You know, like The Imitation Game, Theory of Everything, American Sniper and Selma.) Other key topics for Oscar-bait films included political intrigue, disabilities and war crimes.

MORE The True Story of The Imitation Game

Oscar movies are so formulaic that last year TIME was able to create a shockingly accurate Oscar movie generator by throwing together random tropes from award-winning films. (Try this: in the 1800s, a bipolar, closeted anti-hero confronts mental illness through classical music.)

Diverging from this tried and true method can be risky. This is especially true for both Birdman and Boyhood — films that commit to their conceits in a way that other movies haven’t before. Linklater has experimented with the passage of time with his Before movies, and Birdman cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki made his name with an infamous tracking shot in Children of Men in 2006. But these two Oscar contenders take those small tricks and turn them into the bases for entire films.

Audiences and critics seem to agree that Birdman and Boyhood both transcend their gimmicks, embracing Boyhood in particular as an accomplished cinematic work that captures time with a patience no fictional film has done before. Birdman‘s exhaustingly fast pace, beating drums and swerving camera have proven more divisive with viewers, but its wins at the Golden Globes and SAGs have proven that more Hollywood insiders seem to love it than hate it.

Still, both films have support. If the Oscar voters end up running more conservative with their tastes this year, a struggling British genius could easily win—again.

Read next: What Happened at the First-Ever Oscars

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME movies

What Happened at the First-Ever Oscars

Charles 'Buddy' Rogers And Richard Arlen In 'Wings'
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, Clara Bow, and Richard Arlen in publicity portrait for the film 'Wings'

The ceremony wasn't even known as the Oscars yet

It was May of 1929 when members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first gathered to fête their own. Decades later, the annual ceremony is the event for which the Academy is best-known — last year’s Oscars telecast was watched by tens of millions of people — but, back then, the occasion only merited a single paragraph of attention in the pages of TIME.

In the May 27, 1929, issue, as part of a round-up of the week’s news, TIME commented that:

Douglas Fairbanks, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, presided in Los Angeles last week when the Academy’s annual prizes were awarded. Among the winners : Acting — Janet Gaynor (Seventh Heaven) ; Emil Jannings (The Way of All Flesh, The Last Command) ; Directing — Frank Borzage (Seventh Heaven) ; Engineering Effects — Roy Pomeroy (Wings) ; Outstanding Picture — Paramount Famous Lasky Corp. (Wings). Charles Chaplin was specially rewarded for being writer, actor, director, producer of The Circus.

Also on that printed page: John D. Rockefeller III had been voted “third most pious” by his Princeton class and a ground had been broken for a new Ford plant being built in England.

Observant movie buffs may note that Wings, the best-picture winner, actually came out in 1927. That’s because the first Oscars (not that they were called the Oscars back then; the nickname didn’t stick until the mid-1930s) took a while to put together, and though they took place in mid-1929 were honoring movies from the year that began in August of 1927.

Though the first Oscars were a star-studded affair, the event might not even be recognizable to today’s home viewers. For one thing, there were no home viewers — obviously, since television was barely being broadcast at all — and only a couple hundred people in the actual audience. Plus, though the ceremony came in May, the winners had already been announced a few months earlier. There were 12 categories: cinematography, actor, actress, art direction, two director categories (comedy and drama), effects, two best-picture categories (“outstanding picture” and “unique and artistic picture,” which went to the film Sunrise) and three writing categories (adaptation, original story and silent-movie title cards). Several of the winners were victorious for multiple movies; for example, actress Janet Gaynor’s performances in three separate films were honored with one award. By the next year, the number of categories had decreased, as directing, writing and best picture were each combined into a single race.

And, though TIME only commented on Charlie Chaplin’s special award, another special prize went to Warner Bros. for something that ended up changing the film industry forever: The Jazz Singer, the movie that showed the future was for “talkies.”

This year’s Oscars will take place on Sunday, Feb. 22.


Can You Guess the Oscar Winner?

Play the game to see how well you know movie history

Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony features a raft of powerful performances from the nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress. Will Reese Witherspoon take home a second statue for Wild, or will Julianne Moore take home her first for Still Alice? Can Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking out-compute Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing?

To see what factors have historically weighed on the Academy’s selection, TIME built a simple guessing game that allows you explore the entire history of best actors and actresses by asking the computer questions about them. Give it a whirl and see our analysis below.


A few observations we took away from the game:

Although the Academy Awards are an American production, we import a lot of our best actresses–27 out of 71 actresses and 27 out of 77 actors were born abroad.

Fortune does not favor the elders. Only 21 of the Best Actress winners were over 40 at the time the award was presented, and only seven were over 50. (Jessica Tandy, notably, was 80 when she won for “Driving Miss Daisy.”) The men tend to be a bit older, but there are still only 15 winners over age 50.

Dramas are the overwhelming favorite genre for winners. Only three women have won best actress for a movie that is not characterized by the online film information site IMDB at least in part as a drama: Claudette Colbert for “It Happened One Night,” Loretta Young for “The Farmer’s Daughter” and Julie Andrews for “Mary Poppins.” Likewise, there are only five Best Actor winners in non-dramas. (Romance is a far better way to narrow down the Best Actress field, with about half the movies falling into that category as well.)

Notes: Age is computed on the day the actor or actress receives the award.

Data comes from IMDB.com. All photos courtesy Getty Images. Design by Bronson Stamp, code by Chris Wilson and research by Joseph Lin.

TIME Televison

Watch Kelly Ripa Describe How She Freaked Out Madonna at an Oscars Party

Madge wasn't happy after Kelly smelled her

Television host and Madonna super fan Kelly Ripa appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Thursday night and revealed how she once creeped out her idol.

Ripa said that she’d been invited to an Oscars party hosted by Madonna a few years ago and, upon meeting the legendary singer, hugged her and smelled her. According to Ripa, Madonna was not impressed with the “weirdo” behavior.

Despite the frosty reaction, Ripa still seems to think fondly of the encounter. Beaming, she excitedly told Kimmel, “She smells like gardenias!”

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