OSCARS: Will Critics & Precursor Awards Carry More Weight In A Jam-Packed Year?

The volume of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters who’ve admitted they’ve barely AwardsLine.LogoBWseen any films so close to ballot opening on December 27 is surprising. One Oscar-winning member of the actors branch, who has been working nonstop, actually revealed she has seen nothing except her own film. This is after studios have spent millions of dollars sending out DVD screeners, conducting special screenings and Q&As, and booking their contenders on every talk show and morning show in existence, all in an effort oscarto get the attention of those 6,028 members who must select their nominees by January 8. One Oscar-nominated writer-director has only seen Nebraska and a couple of other films but had recently broken up with his girlfriend and didn’t want to watch his screeners alone. “My son did tell me 12 Years A Slave was the best movie he saw all year, so I will try to see that one,” he says. To be fair, I also spoke to numerous Academy members who were trying to keep up with the films, but—as one busy voter confessed— didn’t want to rely solely on screeners, which makes it all the more difficult to find time to see everything. “I really don’t want to watch these things on my television set. I want to go to a theater,” the voter says.

Related: OSCARS: Ballots Are Out And The Race Is On

There are plenty of Academy members who are trying to see as much as they can, but how exactly do campaigners reach this elusive voter, who has far less time on their hands and way too many movies to watch? This is where critics—often a nemesis of many of these Academy members—can suddenly come in handy. If the ever-growing barrage of awards-giving critics groups across the country appears to reach a consensus, it can be a huge boost to a film hoping to get in the Academy conversation.

“This movie lives or dies12-Years-A-Slave with critics and awards. They are extremely important to a smaller film like this,” Fox Searchlight co-president Nancy Utley told me after 12 Years A Slave premiered at the Telluride Film Festival over Labor Day weekend. Since then, the acclaimed film has won a majority of year-end critics awards, even though early in the process it failed to pick up the top prize from some of the more prominent groups, including the Los Angeles and New York film critics as well as the National Board of Review. Pundits immediately warned the film could be in trouble Oscar-wise because it didn’t sweep everything in sight. 12 Years did rebound thanks to making the AFI Awards list as well as culling impressive nominations from the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics Choice Movie Awards. Just like that, it was back at the top of the contender heap. The sheer volume of honors it can boast about in TV, newspaper and trade ads makes it hard for even the most reticent of Oscar voters to ignore. American Hustle, Her, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue Jasmine are the other films making the most noise among the pre-Oscar awards pack.

The key is to get voters to heed the heat, and these precursor groups can definitely play a part. However, it doesn’t mean the Academy will fall right in line. In 2010, The Social Network pulled off a clean sweep of the precursors right through the Golden Globes, but saw its momentum stop when it got to the guild awards and, eventually, to the Academy, which gave best picture to The King’s Speech.

Many of the more prominent precursorgoldenglobe awards have their own red carpet and TV deals that help expose contenders. Of course, the Golden Globes lead that pack with a high-rated broadcast on NBC (January 12), but there’s also the SAG Awards on TNT/TBS (January 18) and the CCMAs on The CW (January 16). Although all of these shows will happen after the Oscar nomination ballots are in, they can be enormously influential in Phase 2, creating a wave of wins for contenders to take right through to Oscar night several weeks later.

ben_affleckLast year, Ben Affleck was famously snubbed by Oscar, failing to get an expected directing nom. He was obviously depressed, but thanks to the CCMAs, which were held later that same day, he came roaring back when he won the group’s best director prize along with best picture for Argo. He began his acceptance speech saying, “I’d like to thank the Academy…” It’s almost as if the snub somehow helped as he gained attention and continued to triumph at multiple pre-Oscar events, ultimately taking the best picture Oscar—not a bad consolation prize.

The CCMAs, hoping lightning will strike twice (ratings on The CW were strong), is once again holding its awards show the same day as the Oscar nominations. BFCA president Joey Berlin even boasts of the group’s attempts to influence Oscar voters. “We can’t wait for January 16, when the Academy Award nominations will be announced in the morning,” he says. “So many of their honorees will then make their first public appearance as Oscar nominees on our red carpet.”

The importance of getting nominationsdallasb1 and being seen holding trophies at these precursor awards cannot be underestimated. “It’s very important, and they help set the pace for the film during the season,” says Karen Fried, an awards consultant for Focus Features who’s campaigning for Dallas Buyers Club, which has been picking up notice for stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. “The awards attention Dallas Buyers Club has been receiving should have a strong impact on the Academy for what is essentially a smaller film than many of the other contenders. They will have an impact because we are being noticed, and that means more voters will be inclined to see the movie.”

Not every Academy member is impressed by all the noise created in the run-up to the Oscars. In fact, one prominent member of the directors branch, Paul Schrader, is fed up with all of it and went on a rant on his Facebook page that he later expanded on IndieWire. “I find this escalating media chatter regarding film-society awards, Oscar handicapping and promotional gimmicks increasingly tiresome,” he wrote. “I stopped voting for DGA and WGA awards last year, and for the first time since 1976, when I was privileged to be accepted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, I may leave my Oscar ballot unopened. Why? Every year I’ve exercised my deeply appreciated right to vote for the annual Oscar awards. But now I am sickened by the shameless monied huckstering of the vote-procuring process.”

Whether Schrader’s opinion is widely shared in the Academy is questionable, but as long as the studios and distributors continue to elevate the importance of the proliferating precursor awards business, it will only increase the number of Oscar whisperers out there trying to cut their own slice of awards season pie.

  1. It’s a interesting Oscar race this year and Academy voters should watch all the films they can before the deadline. In my opinion, 12 Years a Slave was a great film but not necessarily worthy of Best Picture. American Hustle was overrated. Saving Mr. Banks surprised me, well written, and great performance by Emma Thompson. I also hope some of the smaller films get nominated.

  2. Hopefully enough voters will remember BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR.

    The lead actress, ADELE EXARCHOPOULOS, gives the performance of the year in it.

  3. Paul Schrader threatens to boycott the vote, why not just vote for his favorite films or films that were not heavily promoted? That would be more effective imo.

    #TeamMr.Banks (Pic. et al.) #TeamSallyHawkins (supp. actress) #TeamYoung&Beautiful (song) #TeamErnest&Celestine (anim.)

    1. Agreed. While I get why Schrader may be upset by the process, I’d much rather have his opinion on Best Screenplay or Best Director than Abigail Breslin, Anna Paquin or (with all due respect) some CGI effects guy in his 20s.

  4. You shouldn’t be allowed to vote unless you’ve seen the films. This is how less worthy stuff wins based on chatter rather then merit.

  5. Wholeheartedly agree with you, Trisha! Blue is an amazing film and Adele deserves to be nominated. If she isn’t, it’ll be a shame. But the real shame is that not enough people have seen this film!

  6. American Hustle is far overrated. Many of the performances are indeed good, but the film’s a bit of a mess.

    12 Years a Slave is solid, but didn’t stand out to me.

    Gravity remains by far the most deserving to me. I’d be thrilled if it won. Nebraska’s my #2 of all the real contenders (otherwise, it’d be Place Beyond the Pines)…though I have yet to see Saving Mr. Banks.

  7. Don’t understand the rush to get the nominations out. The Oscars were in April for DECADES. It’s no big deal. Give the Academy Members time to see the movies.

    Either that, or impose a deadline like December 1st for movies to be considered. The last minute deluge in December is just too overwhelming for many members to sort through them all to have their votes in by Early January.


  8. So you’re saying that the voters are people who don’t watch movies unless they have to and now they have to binge-watch? That’s f-ing pathetic.

    I hope SAVING MR. BANKS gets the recognition it deserves. It has some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen all year and it’s also very touching. Thankfully, it does lack embarrassingly voyeuristic shots like the ones we had to witness in other movies such as AMERICAN HUSTLE.

  9. I would love to know what m.Paul Schrader opinion is on the BOOK THIEF’s top 3 oscar nominating deserving performances in my book , in particular performance of that young talented SOPHIE NELISSEN. She did an out standing performance but in a film the critics opinion diverges completaly from the general viewers who mostly loved it. She is as good as any of the top five presently out there but, i know 90 % of the voters have seen her work because she is not known and the film was poorly publicized…i hope they all wake up be fore it is too late to vote!!!

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