Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

How Are Each Year's Oscar Presenters Chosen?

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

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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Do 'Close Door' Buttons in Elevators Actually Do Anything?
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When you’re running late for work, one small comfort is finding an empty elevator waiting for you at your office building. You scurry inside, and since no one else is waiting to enter, you jab the 'close door' button. The doors comply, the elevator starts moving, and you breathe a sigh of relief.

This is a familiar scenario for many, but it’s also a big fat lie. That’s because most of the door-close buttons in U.S. elevators don’t actually work. In fact, they’re programmed that way.

But before you get ready to send off a strongly worded email to your office building’s elevator manufacturer, you may want to hear why this is the case. When the Americans With Disabilities Act was first passed in 1990, certain requirements for elevators were outlined, such as the installation of raised buttons, braille signs, and audible signals.

The act ensured that someone with a disability would have enough time to get inside, stipulating that elevator doors must remain fully open for at least three seconds and thereby preventing the button from cutting that time short. Some elevator manufacturers took it one step further by deactivating the button entirely.

Since the life span of an elevator is about 25 years and the Disabilities Act has been around for 28 years, it’s safe to assume that most of the elevators in operation today do not have a functioning 'close door' button, The New York Times reports. Only firefighters are able to close elevator doors manually through the use of a key.

It's important to note that there are exceptions to this rule, though. As the New York Daily News noted, New York City elevators are required by law to have working 'close door' buttons, even though some operate on a long delay (so long, in fact, that it calls the button's usefulness into question).

However, you’re in luck if you’re taking a lift (which, of course, is British for “elevator”). 'Close door' buttons are fully functional in most elevators in the UK, according to The Telegraph. A spokesman for the Lift and Escalator Industry Association told the newspaper that not all elevators have the button, but when they’re present, they do work. Again, the time it takes for the doors to shut after pressing the button varies from lift to lift.

While U.S. elevator manufacturers have a seemingly good reason for disabling the 'close door' button, some may question the point of propagating the myth and installing a button that serves no purpose in the first place. In response, some would argue that placebo buttons serve an important psychological function in society.

"Perceived control is very important," Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer told The New York Times. "It diminishes stress and promotes well-being."

That’s right: By believing that you’re in control of your fate—or at least how quickly you can make it up to the sixth floor—you’re better off. It doesn’t end with elevators, either. Buttons placed at city crosswalks are often disabled, and the thermostats in many office buildings are rigged so that the temperature can’t be altered (even if the numbers appear to change).

Some might swear up and down that elevator 'close door' buttons work, but this, too, could be your brain deceiving you. As author David McRaney wrote in an essay: “If you happen to find yourself pressing a nonfunctional close-door button, and later the doors close, you’ll probably never notice because a little spurt of happiness will cascade through your brain once you see what you believe is a response to your action. Your behavior was just reinforced. You will keep pressing the button in the future.”

According to The New Yorker, these buttons are designed to alleviate some of the subconscious anxiety that comes from stepping inside a tiny box that's hoisted up some 20 or 40 or 80 floors by a cable: “Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command."

So now you know: Next time you’re running late to work, take comfort in the fact that those few extra seconds you would’ve saved by pressing a functioning 'close door' button aren’t worth all that much in the long run.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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