'And the Oscar goes to... ' review: History, heart of Academy Awards

Directors Jeffrey Friedman, left, and Rob Epstein during

Directors Jeffrey Friedman, left, and Rob Epstein during an interview In this Jan. 24, 2014 in Los Angeles. Their latest film, "And the Oscar Goes To...," documents the history and current significance of the Academy Awards. It airs at 8 p.m. EST on Feb. 1, 2014 on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). (Credit: AP)

DOCUMENTARY SPECIAL "And the Oscar Goes to... "

WHEN|WHERE Saturday 8-10 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies

WHAT IT'S ABOUT What's it like to win an Oscar? What's it like to lose (11 times)? How have the Oscars evolved over the years? And what's with those Price Waterhouse guys?

"And the Oscar Goes to ... " goes there, and everywhere (almost), tracing the history and heart behind the Academy Awards. Quietly launched in 1929 to position motion pictures as "a serious art form," the Oscars have mushroomed into a global spectacle with lifelong impact on those honored.

About which they happily expound here, as illustrated by generous clips of both films and Oscar ceremonies. Cher and Whoopi Goldberg discuss being taken seriously. Jane Fonda recalls the politics behind her own '70s victory speech and the emotion of her '80s acceptance for ailing dad Henry. Tom Hanks and George Clooney are omnipresent, as now seems requisite in any show-biz documentary. But so, too, are Helen Mirren, Benicio Del Toro, "Juno" director Jason Reitman and Long Beach-born "Field of Dreams" auteur Phil Alden Robinson.

MY SAY Who needs David Niven's famed streaker retort? This history isn't about the telecast, despite Billy Crystal's memory of watching '50s black-and-white in Long Beach. It's about the Academy Awards themselves, their industry influence and their cultural impact. So be warned that -- because the Academy just can't help itself -- these 95 minutes also range into art direction, editing and other categories during which Oscar watchers retreat for refreshments (here, at the 50-minute mark). Also covered are diversity and lack thereof, the '50s anti-communist blacklist, the role of ceremony host and backstage press blather.

More on the Oscars' early years would have been nice, but film footage and talking heads are in short supply. We do hear of the winning-names leak that birthed the onstage bow of Price Waterhouse accountants. We get a quick brief on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And we feast on cool clips and comments, some of which bear little awards reference, yet epitomize the movie love that's made the Oscars such an annual urge.

BOTTOM LINE If not all things to all people, this Oscar salute should be enough for most.

GRADE B

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31 DAYS OF OSCAR ON TCM

Turner Classic Movies presents Saturday's Academy Awards history to launch its annual 31 Days of Oscar festival. (The 2014 Oscars air March 2 on ABC.) Once again rethinking the themes by which films are scheduled, TCM groups them by category nominees from specific years.

Nightly themes include these highlights (full schedule at 31days.tcm.com):

SATURDAY. Best Picture nominees, all 10, from the legendary year 1939 (starts 6 a.m. for 24 hours), including "Stagecoach" (2 p.m.), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (3:45 p.m.), "The Wizard of Oz" (6 p.m.), winner "Gone With the Wind" (10 p.m.).

SUNDAY. Best Picture nominees, 1945, including "The Lost Weekend" (8 p.m.)

MONDAY. Costume Design, Color, 1954, with nominee "A Star Is Born" (8 p.m.) and Japan-made winner "Gate of Hell" (11 p.m.)

WEDNESDAY. Supporting Actor, 1946, with double-amputee Harold Russell in "The Best Years of Our Lives" (8 p.m.)

FEB. 14. Actor, 1955: Ernest Borgnine, James Cagney, Frank Sinatra, Spencer Tracy, posthumously nominated James Dean

MARCH 1. Best Picture, 1967: "In the Heat of the Night," "The Graduate," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Doctor Dolittle"

Year-by-year Oscar details are abundant in TCM host Robert Osborne's lavishly updated coffeetable book, "85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards" (Abbeville Press). Or go online at oscar.com.

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