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What wins awards and what doesn’t

Getting to the bottom of Oscar bait this award show season.
Image by Ava Weinreis
Certain criteria in award shows make it tough to gauge whether a nomination was created for the audience or for the award.

With award show season currently underway, many are beginning to question the standards on which the awards are given. 

A majority of the Emmy awards were given to more esteemed TV shows. “The Bear” won six out of the nine awards in the comedy category. “Succession” won six of the nine awards in drama, and “Beef” won five of the nine awards in the limited or anthology series category.

This heavy bias towards certain shows raises the question if these awards are chosen on true merit, or if certain qualities of a show or movie make it more likely to win an award.

“Oscar bait,” or “awards bait,” is a common pejorative given to films full of qualities that typically appeal to award shows.

Brad Stiffler, a film professor at the University of Minnesota, said a typical “awards bait” film involves a Hollywood actor either playing an important historical figure or a role that is out of their comfort zone. 

“There is a sense that this is a difficult performance role so they are going to get more points for pulling it off,” Stiffler said.

Another trope that potentially baits awards is the lack of a specific genre. Comedy, horror or noir films rarely, if ever, receive nominations outside of their given category. Instead, award shows often opt for more serious or solemn movies. 

The Golden Globes created a new category this year titled “Award for Cinematic and Box Office Achievement,” which gives recognition to movies with a lot of commercial success. The winner of the Box Office Achievement this year was “Barbie,” with other movies nominated being “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour.”

“Succession,” “The Bear” and “Beef” also had wide success at the Golden Globes this year in the TV show category. As for motion pictures, “Oppenheimer” was a clear favorite of the judges, with “Poor Things,” “The Holdovers” and “Anatomy of a Fall” also winning some recognition.

The preference for these movies carries over to the Oscar nominations. “Oppenheimer” received 13 nominations, “Poor Things” received 11 and “Killers of the Flower Moon” received nine. 

This has caused many to air their grievances on what they feel got “snubbed.” Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie were not included in the best director or best actress nominations, despite being big names in the industry who were a part of a blockbuster hit. “Asteroid City” is another film with a star-studded cast and unique cinematography that was not nominated for any award this year.

“The Academy likes period pieces and big-budget fantasy films because the effort that goes into the craft is hard to ignore,” said amateur filmmaker Jack Rahill. “A lot of great movies get ignored every year because they’re not so showboaty.”

These criteria for what makes a movie “Oscar-worthy” can have an influence on a director’s creativity. The pressure to follow a predetermined list of award-winning tropes may impede storytelling variation and innovation. 

“I think that there’s always a conflict between money and art, between the blockbuster and niche film and between the comfort movie and the one you have to watch three times just to understand,” said the president of StudioU Eric Patton.

Filmmakers may struggle to balance their need for recognition in the industry with their artistic expression. Although strategic choices can boost the likelihood of receiving recognition, they also bring up significant issues of maintaining artistic integrity while pursuing industry recognition. 

This year’s Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will air on ABC March 10 at 6 p.m. CDT.

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