Oscar bait; you’ll know it when you see it. From day one of marketing they are hungry for Academy Award nominations. You’ll feel it from their frenzied press tours and crammed twitter feeds. Think serious, dramatic, probably starring Jennifer Lawrence, and there you have it: this year’s Best Picture. Or at least one of the most talked about nominations. They aren’t bad, Oscar bait isn’t intended to hurt you, it wants to sedate you, to reel you in. It manipulates your viewing habits before you realise you’ve watched three thrillers ending in life clarifying monologues in one week. It restricts your viewing and then begs for praise.
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) February 5, 2018
When it comes to Oscar season in Hollywood, depressing is deemed synonymous with profound. Cue the mass production of films intended to win over judges with their insight and pithy social relevance. This definition of Oscar bait should chime with most of last years prize winners, including Manchester by the Sea. The incredibly downbeat film dominated awards season. It’s brilliant but unlikely to have won over casual cinema goers. They won’t rewatch it on a quiet Sunday afternoon. However, it doesn’t matter because it got what it wanted; nominations.
The problem with Oscar bait isn’t that the films aren’t good. They often are. It’s that they are one type of film. When the awards highlight only one genre, one actor or one writer they negate to recognise the breadth of talent in Hollywood. Award based production makes cinema trips boring: bait is basic. It is no secret that the Oscars need to improve diversity, and nominations are no exception. One more biopic with greyish tones and I’ll scream. How many years have to pass for a comedy to be nominated for best picture?
As viewers, it’s boring to see the same thing and patronising to be told it’s different. Oscar bait is one of the many ways nominations and awards shows are being narrowed and unfortunately it’s the viewers that suffer.