With no more film awards shows to look forward to this year, we can take a moment to look back on the season—not at what was, but at what should have been. “Snubs,” as they are popularly called, are always a hot topic of Oscars review. In such a non-objective industry, these complaints are bound to include a wide variety of stars, films and crew members.
But they never do. Though the awards season takes place mainly in January and February, film critics begin releasing Academy Award predictions long before the new year, staking their reputations on films months before they are even released. Such early predictions are indeed possible to make accurately, due to the fact that the Academy Awards tend to nominate the same types of films each year, and tend to nominate cast and crew members from only a handful of these films.
It makes perfect sense that the Academy, especially due to the fact that its members all work in the film industry, gravitate towards renowned directors. What does not make sense is why these “renowned” directors, even years after their rise to fame, rarely take on any projects other than so-called “indie” movies that only appeal to a small, intellectual elite. For a long time, the Best Picture category has been dominated by this type of film—a great many of which are hyperbolic biopics, are based on a novel, or are centered around a mainstream political or social issue—to such an extent that they are often negatively nicknamed “Oscar bait.”
It always comes as a relief when the Academy passes up one or more Oscar bait films to leave room for a truly independent movie—such as “Moonlight”—or even more uncommonly, a blockbuster—such as “Inception,” in the Best Picture category. Indie films are often more genuine, especially when made on a low budget. They may seem unconventional in comparison with the usual pool of nominees, but more often than not, that speaks to their authenticity. And although most blockbuster films are conceived with profit as the primary motive, it is to be expected that at least a handful of these pop culture flicks are worthy of some creative recognition. Besides, if there is any such thing as objectivity in art, popularity should certainly be factored into the equation.
Some examples of recent movies that could be described as Oscar bait are “Sully,” a film about the pilot who landed a plane on the Hudson River during an emergency; “The Light Between Oceans,” based on the book by M.L. Stedman; and “The Founder,” about the founder of McDonald’s. All three of the aforementioned films came out last year, yet between the three of them they received only a single Oscar nomination. The bad press over no black people being nominated for Oscars in 2016 served as an important reminder of the whitewashing and lack of representation in Hollywood, and in an effort to increase their diversity, the Academy inducted 683 new members—over twice as many as the previous record for any given year. The change in chemistry not only improved the racial representation of nominees in 2017, but also seems to have resulted in a selection of movies that appeal to a wider variety of audiences—not just the intellectual elite.
After all, despite the Academy’s tendency to take the Oscar bait, most films of this type have rarely endured. This should be no surprise, for people produce their best work when they are passionate about what they are working on, and it must be hard to feel passion about work when all one cares about is an award.