There's no moment more dramatic at the Academy Awards than those few seconds when the presenter opens that envelope and reads the name of the winner. For that brief pause, the presenter is probably the most important person in the film industry. But how are they chosen? Is it random, is there a tradition involved, or does the presenter have a relationship with the inevitable winner? As with most things, the answer is a bit of everything.
In 2012, Entertainment Weekly set out to debunk the myth that presenters usually had some sort of relationship with the winners. This isn’t a conspiracy theory of magic bullet proportions, but the article did find some evidence that was too coincidental to be left to chance. How else can you explain Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg presenting the Best Director award to Martin Scorsese in 2007? It’s well known that these four have a long history together and changed the movie industry forever back in the 1970s and ‘80s.
The article also points to other pieces of evidence, like Barbra Streisand awarding Clint Eastwood the Best Director award for both Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, and more than a few winners being presented awards by former co-stars. But these instances are few and far between: At the time the article was written, a presenter with a connection to a winner seemed to happen about 12 percent of the time. And, as the article points out, who knows how many of those just happened to be a coincidence—Reese Witherspoon presenting her American Psycho co-star Christian Bale with a Best Supporting Actor award for The Fighter isn’t exactly the type of wink-wink, nudge-nudge Easter egg that most people will really pay attention to. (Let's not forget that the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon theory is also at work here.)
There are also instances in which the reverse comes true—like when Harrison Ford presented the award for Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love rather than Saving Private Ryan, which would have allowed him to give the gold to his Indiana Jones helmsman Steven Spielberg.
So, then, how are the presenters chosen in most other instances? Film critic and historian Carrie Rickey gave the following answer on Quora:
"Traditionally, best actor from the prior year presents best actress and vice-versa; the best supporting actress of the prior year presents supporting actor and vice-versa. (Sometimes the prior award winners are making a film and can't be there.) "A sprinkling of other acting nominees (since they will be there) will present non-acting awards. "Typically the producers try to get the stars of the top box-office movies to present and get a spectrum of [new] and established performers."
Rickey also said that well-known foreign stars like Christoph Waltz and Penélope Cruz will usually have a spot presenting (Baby Driver star Eiza González will be one of 2018's presenters), as will musical acts when it comes to the award for Best Original Song.
So the answer comes down to a bit of everything: star power, tradition, national intrigue, and perhaps (if you believe in conspiracy theories) even a relationship between the presenter and the recipient. If you're taking bets on winners, you could possibly factor these relationships in, but you might wind up with another Shakespeare in Love switcheroo.
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