Image: PublicDomainPictures‘Oscar-bait’ is a term that is bandied around a lot this time of year. It’s inescapable that the Oscars like to go after a certain kind of film, and there seem to be three main generic camps into which we can sort Best Picture nominees.
Firstly, it’s the Hollywood flick about how fantastic the movie industry is. You think the ceremony itself is just rich celebrities patting themselves on the back? Well, that’s not quite enough for them – they want to pat each other on the back about a film they made about how great they are. And they say Hollywood is narcissistic. Notable entires into this camp include La La Land, Birdman and The Artist. La La Land even has LA in the title. Twice.
The second genre is ‘based on a true story’, because nothing will make a film seem more important than if it’s actually grounded in reality. Bonus points if it’s to do with war – here’s looking at you, Hacksaw Ridge.
The third genre is your archetypal tear-jerker; Manchester by the Sea, Brokeback Mountain, Room, et al. Because what’s so deep about happiness? Art is in the misery, and awards shows are in the happiness of this misery. Think I’m exaggerating? The last six big picture winners slot nicely into these categories, as well as most of the nominees.
Trends in the Oscars cannot be denied, but is this an inherently bad thing? The term ‘Oscar-bait’ is used as a derogatory term, often regardless of the quality of the film itself. People cry that nobody watches the Oscar films, that they are all just pretentious, arthouse affairs. Still, there are some exceptions – Lord of the Rings, Inception, and Mad Max all made appearances during awards season, so blockbusters do get some nods. Still, Marvel films and Transformers aren’t going to be nominated for Best Picture anytime soon.
However, Oscar winners aren’t only immensely arty, pretentious films. They only choose the edgier pictures that also have some mainstream appeal – ones which often fit nicely into the three categories listed before. Less out of touch, and more bent over backwards trying to appease everybody.
Another thing people dislike about ‘Oscar-bait’ is predictability – its not hard to guess the outcome, and people like rooting for the underdog. The Oscars is a show like any other, and people want drama. The whole Oscars rigmarole becomes more tiresome when everybody knows the outcome from the start.
Because the movie industry isn’t one of pure creativity and sudden inspirations, like all arts there are fashions and trends, and never are they so heavily shown as in the Oscars. It’s important to remember that the Oscars have a long and renowned history of being wrong nearly all of the time.
Many Best Picture winners end up unseen and forgotten, up for discussion only when they’re the answer to a question in a pub quiz. Q: ‘What was the film that beat Citizen Kane to Best Picture’ / A: ‘How Green Was My Valley’. A film that I haven’t seen, and I doubt that anybody else has, about a Welsh mining village. The film pantheon will be dictated by those in the future, and from our seats in the present we must concede to fads and trends and wait in anticipation for the very sad film based on a true story of a skinny white man sobbing for three hours straight, coming to theatres near you.