'Tis the Season
October 14, 2016 10:59 AM   Subscribe

As we pass the film festivals and Oscar Season approaches, the question is asked: Is there such a thing as an "Oscar Bait" movie?
posted by Artw (20 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
This guy is not really on the fence: Why I Love Watching Oscar-Bait Movies Flop
posted by Artw at 11:01 AM on October 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


A history of Oscar Bait

(Basically Oscar Bait is a thing when none of the best picture nominees are within the top ten highest grossing pictures that year, that is the movies most people have seen, and marketing and ad campaigns are specifically built around them to increase their chances of winning awards, see the insane things done to promote The Deer Hunter like showing it in TV once to count as a national release and directly petitioning voters)
posted by The Whelk at 11:26 AM on October 14, 2016


15 Worst Oscar Bait Movies Of All Time

SPOILERS: They have Crash at number one, which seems about right.
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on October 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


The leaves are changing color, the air is getting cooler, and all around us, the superhero movies and sequels that filled up our multiplexes all summer are being replaced by quieter, more adult fare.

Tl;dr: these guys hate something most* people like, and yet are incapable of conceiving why someone would hate what they like.



* as in literal majority, not close-to-all
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:57 AM on October 14, 2016


Last year, The Revenant won three Academy Awards and Mad Max: Fury Road won six. So now, when I hear someone use the term “Oscar bait,” I start to think that maybe that person is not watching the same Academy Awards I am.

Anything with Leo until last year was bait, and Mad Max won technical oscars, which are great to put on the cover, but as far as I see it, "Oscar bait" movies are aimed at the prestige statues: best picture, best director and the four acting awards.

But in general, there's pretty much Oscar Bait movies, and modern ones always have a few common elements:
It's often biopics, period pieces, or worked around some major historical event. Likely a book adaptation. Occasionally, about showbiz because Hollywood loves itself. Usually a lot of detail gone into clothes and sets to make it look golden age expensive. Mostly dead serious (except maybe a few relief parts) because admission to The Academy for some reason requires funny bone removal. Stories about difficult decisions, love, pain, grave injustice, tragedy and loss that also feature superation and overcoming the odds. Roles designed so the actors and actresses can say it was "challenging" or "transformative" during the press rounds (bonus if they can squeeze a "method" in there), and try to get the critics to do the same. Usually feature a couple of huge reel-worthy scenes to send for consideration.

Now, these films can be good (although most of them are at worst a dull way to spend two hours, unless it's a trainwreck of a project). Doesn't mean you can't play bingo with what I've wrote and the list Artw posted.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:15 PM on October 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yes, there absolutely is such a thing: Formulaic mediocrity posing as ingenious originality, trite tonedeafness posing as thoughtful sensitivity, easy headline-ripping exploitation posing as tough political commentary, star casting posing as auteur directing, corporate Hollywood studios posing as independent filmmakers.

Which isn't to say that any of them are bad films necessarily. Plenty are, but so are plenty of summer blockbusters and indie darlings and grossout comedies and romcoms and mecha anime. But plenty of those are also very good, which is really the whole problem. Movies cynically designed to check all the award-giver-outers' boxes will always win more awards than movies that set out to entertain some other audience.

Even more unfair is that nowadays Hollywood seems to be of just two minds: Entertain the Oscar judges, or entertain the lowest common denominator. Anyone looking for filmmaking rather than reputation- or money-making has to look really hard to find it. Outside of the festival circuit, that sort of thing simply does not play in cinemas anymore, even in select cities.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:27 PM on October 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure what to make of the suggestion that Academy voters don't have a type of movie they respond to. They definitely do! They're a remarkably uniform group of people: 94% white, 77% men, average age of 63 years old. I'm assuming they're overwhelmingly college educated, probably a fair amount in humanities. If you told any ad agency in the world that this is the demographic they're catering to, their brains would instantly light up with ideas. Yet we're not allowed to think that this demographic doesn't have a set of tastes they've canonized and that they tend to respond to? Of course there are outliers, but for the most part, something you would consider a "prestige film" is going to be a huge draw for them. When googling that term I came across this description of how it was used in the 1930s. And I think not much has changed since then.

The canonical "Oscar bait" / prestige film in recent memory, for me, is The King's Speech. If I could roll my eyes throughout the entire running time of a feature film, I would. Play the Bingo game in your head: British biographical drama film, a lavish period piece. Where Colin Firth plays King George VI, in the run-up to a declaration of war on Germany in 1939. But it's not just any historical biography - the King has a stammer, you see, and it's all about overcoming these personal obstacles while under the pressure of giving the most important radio broadcast of the man's life. But wait, it's also about the transformative relationship between him and his speech therapist. And then there's his long-suffering wife. The big Oscar moment is literally the King's speech at the end.
posted by naju at 1:01 PM on October 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Like, just look at this list of 2017 nominee predictions and tell me there aren't some conclusions you could draw from it. Some interesting films there, but my eyes started glazing over halfway through. We've just seen these types of movies so many times, just a brief description gives you a basic understanding of how the entire movie will look and feel, what the music cues will be, how the trailers will be edited, what the big moments will be.
posted by naju at 1:13 PM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


If I can plug something, see Toni Erdmann if you get the chance over the next few months. It'd probably only play at arthouse theaters. There's buzz that it could win Best Foreign Language Picture. I think it might be my favorite film of the year, and I've never seen anything like it. It does have big, memorable moments, but one of those moments is very NSFW and the other is such a complicated, delightful, devastating surprise that it should not be ruined by even a short Oscar clip. A long movie that takes its time getting to its premise, but once it does, it sustains a high-wire act of being incredibly funny, uncomfortable, and moving, all at once.
posted by naju at 1:16 PM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't pay too much attention to the Oscars, but I'm pretty sure I know what Oscar bait is, and it's this, from the Esquire article linked in the first comment:

Think about his situation: He'd bought the most successful play of the previous decade, he'd put Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch in it, he'd thrown money at the project, he'd hired the fantastic and proven director John Wells, and it still didn't work.

That's how you make an Oscar bait movie. You buy an already successful or at least predictable story, then you hire famous actors and a compliant and reliable director and other crew and they make it to spec.

That's not how you make a great movie, though. Great movies are art, and they're made by artists, not by committees, and not by just plugging together pieces like that. Great movies take chances, and the best movies usually don't have the sort of broad appeal that safer projects like that do. You might end up with something pretty good, something engaging, interesting, and appealing to audiences, but you're probably not going to end up with a truly great movie just painting by numbers like that.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:53 PM on October 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's often biopics, period pieces, or worked around some major historical event. Likely a book adaptation. Occasionally, about showbiz because Hollywood loves itself. Usually a lot of detail gone into clothes and sets to make it look golden age expensive.

Its like going to the rooms of some old, traditional tailor and the wizened old gent measures you up then takes you through the various cloths, all the time whispering in your ear, 'Feel the quality, fell the quality...'.
posted by biffa at 4:30 PM on October 14, 2016


That's not how you make a great movie, though. Great movies are art, and they're made by artists, not by committees, and not by just plugging together pieces like that.

My impression is that making a feature film is a collaborative process, and while the "committee" responsible for a strong movie may have a chairperson who's crucial to the process, I can't think of a great movie that wasn't made by a committee. The auteur theory may be useful for analyzing cinema, but I think the notion that a film is best described as the accomplishment of a single artist is often an overstatement.
posted by layceepee at 5:42 PM on October 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh, I don't mean that directors are solely responsible. Most of the great auteur directors work with their own teams, including writers, cinematographers, actors, musicians, and plenty of other people. Auteur theory is not completely absurd or anything, but it's also not that simple.

When I say committee, I mean it in the (pejorative) sense of a committee of executives and financiers who think of film as a financial investment, specifically designed to make money or win awards. Those types of committees don't take the kinds of chances that artists do, and they don't really care about film as an art form. They take known successful formulas, they use focus groups, they hire and fire directors and actors based on things like name recognition and how compliant they are. Really great films are made by artists (not just directors) working on the projects they've chosen and developed and are passionate about.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:51 PM on October 14, 2016


What are the best Oscar movies that aren't "Oscar bait"?
posted by gucci mane at 7:24 PM on October 14, 2016


When I say committee, I mean it in the (pejorative) sense of a committee of executives and financiers who think of film as a financial investment, specifically designed to make money or win awards.

What are some really great movies of the past 25 years that were made without the active participation of executives and financiers who think of film as a financial investment?
posted by layceepee at 8:48 PM on October 14, 2016


Largest voting group in the Academy are actors.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:29 PM on October 14, 2016


I thought the Weinstein brothers were the stereotypical Oscar bait producers.
Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film.(2004) Simon & Schuster, was a highly readable book on the subject.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 2:16 AM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


What are the best Oscar movies that aren't "Oscar bait"?

From the Best Picture winners, the most recent film that ticks less boxes is No Country for Old Men. It's a grim book adaptation, but I think it stops there - it's in the past, but not period (and I'm not reminding it with rosy specs - didn't like it). Before it, American Beauty, which ticks... none? I didn't see The Departed, but they tell me it also qualifies.
posted by lmfsilva at 3:16 AM on October 15, 2016


What are the best Oscar movies that aren't "Oscar bait"?
The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film almost never fail to move me, although finding them can be difficult. I had the chance to see last year's awkwardly-titled Embrace of the Serpent which was stunning from visual, cultural, and natural perspectives. The other nominee from that year that I saw, Mustang, might have been Cannes-bait, reflecting a political perspective on teenage girls' lives in rural Turkey, and I've certainly read criticism that it was just reflecting Western (European) ideas about Turkish culture (which I do see as the impetus for the film's being made, but an unfair criticism), but I still found it beautiful and moving.

Same (and even more film-nerd-points) for all Best Documentary and Best Short Film nominees. I imagine the Best Documentary (Short Subject) films are good if your friend the director showed you her copy off of her laptop, but I have no idea how you get to watch those things otherwise.
posted by Theiform at 5:07 AM on October 15, 2016


What are some really great movies of the past 25 years that were made without the active participation of executives and financiers who think of film as a financial investment?

You could start with the vast majority of these.

Of course, many if not all of them did have investors, but the common thread is that nearly all of them were chosen and created by the people who made them, rather than the sort of thing described with August Osage County, where the studio purchased the story, then hired people to make it to their specifications.

I don't have the time to go through and check, but I'm pretty sure that very few of those won any of the big Oscars. I did check Mulholland Drive, and it wasn't even nominated for Best Picture.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:05 AM on October 15, 2016


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