It’s that time of year again. For many, January is the depressing doldrums of the year but for film fans it’s like Christmas 2.0 as we are bombarded with films vying for awards season glory.
Some films released at this time of year are genuinely brilliant whilst others are clearly made as box-ticking exercises in order to get Academy Award nominations. These movies are usually either lavish period dramas or films about ‘inspirational’ stories of characters overcoming something. This year, Will Smith’s attempt at an ‘Oscar bait’ film, ‘Collateral Beauty’, has already been slaughtered by critics and is now unlikely to receive any Oscar nominations. On the other hand, there are front-runners that are clearly ‘Oscar bait’ including ‘Jackie’, ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and ‘Hackshaw Ridge’.
The past year has been full of controversy for Hollywood, between the #Oscarssowhite backlash and the sexual assault accusations that have followed Casey Affleck and Nate Parker. But will these issues be reflected in the films that receive nominations this year. Maybe. Probably not, though.
While the President of the Academy who vote for the Oscars, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is the first African American to hold this office, and the third woman, the majority of voters are still older white men. With the number of biopics about prominent white people that win awards every year, such as ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Imitation Game’, it is clear that voters favour certain types of film. A couple of years ago, ‘American Sniper’ received six Academy Award nominations compared with only two for the far superior ‘Selma’. If this doesn’t highlight the issue of specific films being ‘Oscar bait’ then what does?
In terms of this year’s front-runners, ‘La La Land’ is the clear favourite for awards glory. There are a few films with an African American focus that are also vying for attention such as ‘Hidden Figures’, ‘Fences’ and ‘Moonlight’. Shane Slater (a fellow film writer) has shared his doubts over whether they can succeed. He said “Watching ‘Moonlight’ with my super-conservative mother… she bailed about 30 minutes in… this has me wondering how much of an Oscar contender ‘Moonlight’ is. She has very similar taste to AMPAS members.”
We’ll just have to wait until February 26th to see if the Academy votes for the usual ‘Oscar bait’ or tries something new for a change!