Getting to Know The Academy Awards: Five Rules for Staying Sane and Enjoying Oscar Season


January 15th, 8:30am: Academy Award nominations announced.

January 15th, 9:00am: Hundreds of articles, Facebook statuses, and tweets express their outrage over the nominations.

This happens every year: people drive themselves crazy with all that they thought the Oscars should have been. What is it about the Oscars that make people so angry? Why aren’t the blockbusters nominated? Why are there so many films I’ve never even heard of? Let’s get to know the Academy Awards and how to enjoy them, no matter what was nominated. Here are some of my rules for keeping my sanity during Oscar Season.

Oscars Primer-01

Rule #1: Forget Your Opinions

The first rule going into Oscar Season each year is pretty simple: forget your opinions. The Academy Awards are voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a group of 6,000 motion picture professionals (actors, directors, producers, etc.). You and I have nothing to do with this group. What I think of a film has nothing to do with its chances of an Oscar nomination. This first rule is often the hardest for people to get past.

“But that movie SUCKED!”

“I’ve never even heard of that movie. How is it nominated?”

I repeat: our opinions have nothing to do with who’s nominated or who wins. The Academy has their own opinions. Because members of the Academy are in for life unless they choose to leave, membership is very nearly exactly the same year after year after year. Their opinions are most likely not going to change drastically. This is why we’re able to predict the Oscar nominees with relative accuracy (more on this and statistics later).

Additionally, people in general seem to be shocked every year when their favorite blockbuster isn’t nominated. I’ll never forget in college when a classmate of mine butted into my Oscars conversation with the confident declaration:

The Avengers is going the WIN Best Picture, no question.”

Something like that will most likely never happen. The Academy doesn’t generally go for blockbusters. Are they biased? Perhaps. Are they ignorant for that? No. People (ALL people) have differing opinions on movies, which is what makes talking about movies so fun! But for some reason, people seem to think the Academy needs to award the highest grossing comic book movies. The Academy has a style. They seemingly have a collective taste in films. That’s why a film can be called “Oscar Bait,” because it checks all the boxes of things that generally win Oscars. There’s a type.

If you want to follow the Oscars each year, try to remember that it’s not about opinions. Otherwise you’ll be one of those disappointed people inevitably whining about the out of touch Oscars every year.

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Rule #2: Remember The Politics

Now, just because your personal favorite movies might not be nominated, that doesn’t mean there can’t be actual snubs (i.e. Selma, The Lego Movie). There are politics to the Academy Awards. The Oscars are voted on, and that means there are literal campaigns. You generally have to play the game. Millions of dollars are spent on For Your Consideration advertisements and screeners (dvds sent to all members so they can see your film for free). You’ll see the contenders visiting Jimmy Fallon and Ellen and schmoozing on the red carpets. There are some exceptions to this rule, when a performance is just so good and the performer is just not into “playing the game” (i.e. Mo’Nique for Precious).

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Actual snubs (not just the perceived snubs of blockbusters) can happen when a film checks off the right boxes, plays the game, does all the right things, and is still not nominated. Selma is a pretty good recent example (although it missed many precursor awards, more on those later).

Additionally, you have to factor in the other movies, the history of the nominee, and much more. For instance:

In 2009, a film came out called Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. Do you remember it? Probably not. Very few people saw it. I did, and it didn’t really stick. At this point, Bridges, 60 years old and an incredibly well-respected actor, had received four prior Oscar nominations. His age and track record played a significant role that year. When the film released, sporting a pretty good performance from Bridges, the general consensus rolled out that it was time the Academy honored the iconic actor. He was overdue.

As Oscar Season rambled on, many great performances came and went, and Bridges remained the easy frontrunner to win the Award–and he did just that. He won. Yes, it was for a good performance, but mainly because he was a legend without an Oscar. Maybe it would be his last chance to win the gold (they thought). Yet, just the following year we saw True Grit, which featured a performance from Bridges that was leaps and bounds ahead of Crazy Heart. But it was too late. He had just won the year before, and back-to-back Oscars are rare to come by. These are the politics of the Oscars, and they can’t be ignored.

You need to factor these things in when predicting and looking at the Oscars. We’re seeing a similar narrative this year with Julianne Moore and Still Alice. A great performance, absolutely, but she’s far and away the frontrunner because “she’s overdue.” History, campaigning, screeners – these are vitally important in looking at the nominees.

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Rule #3: Buzz is a Rolling Snowball

The so-called “Oscar Season” refers to the time of year, around September-December, when the more “award-worthy” films come out, so that buzz can start. Films come out near the end of the year, closer to the voting date, so that they can remain in the conversation. This is only a suggestion, but it makes a lot of sense. The later a film is released, the less time the campaign has to remain relevant and new. If a film is released in, say, March, people have to try to remember their love for it for a lot longer than a film released closer to the vote. This is sort of rare, but certainly not unheard of. The Grand Budapest Hotel for instance was released in March of this year, yet tied for the highest number of Oscar nominations. But still, releasing in the fall helps.

What helps even more, however, are the precursor awards. PGA, SAG, DGA, Critics Awards, Top Ten Best Films lists, etc. If you want to try to figure out who’s going to be nominated or win, keep an eye on all the different awards that happen during this season.

Films need to gather these awards to grow buzz, to show that they’re worth the Oscar. If people are talking about the film, the performance, whatever, it keeps the film at the front of the voters minds. You want to see film sites writing articles. They need to be giving those thank-yous at the awards shows, to show they’re a gracious winner. The movie needs movement. Foxcatcher had a tough time with that this year. It came out in Cannes in May, and had to try to generate conversation through the rest of the year. They didn’t do a great job. They still got a few key nominations, but missed out on Best Picture. Here’s a hint: if you haven’t seen blogs or websites talking about the film much in regards to awards, it’s probably not going to get many.

Oscar Season is great, because a ton of excellent movies come out throughout those months. It’s a great time to be a film lover. But in terms of awards, it’s the time to get buzz started and rolling, and hopefully at the end of the road they’re holding that gold statue.

Rule #4: Stats Matter

This is a minor point, but don’t ignore statistics when looking at predicting the Oscars. These aren’t rules, but it’s probability. There are a thousand different statistics you can look at, so I won’t get into everything, but I’ll give a few examples:

Look at how often the precursor awards line up with the award. The Producers Guild Awards lines up very often with Best Picture at the Oscars (85% of the time). So, naturally, if a film is not even nominated at the PGA, there’s a slim chance it’ll win.

You can also look at the nominations themselves. Every Best Picture winner since 1980 has also been nominated for Best Editing. So, statistically speaking, if it’s not nominated for Best Editing, it’s probably not going to win.

There are tons of these type of precursor stats. GoldDerby.com is a great resource for these statistics. They look at all types of awards from an analytical, statistics point-of-view. Again, these stats are not foolproof. They’re merely odds. Sometimes a film can beat the odds. For instance, only four films in the 86 years of the Oscars have won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. But it happened only two years ago with Argo. These things can happen.

interstellar new banner

Rule #5: Enjoy the Movies!

Here is my most important rule: watch and enjoy movies! It doesn’t matter if your favorite film isn’t nominated for a single award. That absolutely does not mean it’s a bad movie, and that doesn’t mean it’s a snub. Above all, that doesn’t (necessarily) mean the Academy is out of touch. It simply means they enjoyed different films than you.

Finally, watch the nominated movies! I can’t tell you how many friends of mine got mad when their favorite blockbuster didn’t get nominated, so they blew off nominees.

Relax. There are some amazing movies nominated for Oscars this year. You may have loved Interstellar (I did too), but just because it missed Best Picture doesn’t mean the other movies suck. In fact, they’re really, really good. Watch more movies. Enjoy them. You might be surprised at some movies that you might not have heard of if it wasn’t for the Oscars. Give them a try. You might just have a new favorite–or at the very least gain an appreciation for the Oscar process.

Just a couple great resources that can help you stay up to date on the buzz each Oscar Season:

goldderby.com

hitfix.com/contenders

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3 thoughts on “Getting to Know The Academy Awards: Five Rules for Staying Sane and Enjoying Oscar Season

  1. Pingback: Oscars 2015: Best Picture Roundup | Elementary, My Dear Reader

  2. Pingback: Oscars 2015: Best Actress Roundup | Elementary, My Dear Reader

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