The 800-lb. Golden Gorilla

An Academy Award is the ultimate stamp of quality. But what does it really reward?

Toby Canham / Getty

2008 Academy Award statuettes

It is the magic phrase that brings luster to any career, sells tickets at the box office, moves millions of dvds. It's the gold standard for the film industry, pop culture's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Get one, and when you die, the headline on your obit will proclaim oscar winner.

On Feb. 24, the industry's glamourati will assemble in all their post-writers'-strike glory at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles for the 80th awards bash of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hundreds of millions of people around the world will tune in as prizes are doled out...

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