Is there a formula for winning an Academy Award?
We take a look back at the phenomenon known as "Oscar Bait."
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What is Oscar bait? Is it a derogatory term? The phrase gets thrown around fairly loosely every awards season, but what does it really imply? Oscar bait refers to films that seem to have been produced for the sole purpose of Oscar nominations. These films are usually released around the end of the year, when the Academy begins to vote, and they cater to the tastes of the voters. History has shown that the Academy tends to acknowledge biopics, war epics, films that take aim at social issues, films that focus on real-life tragedies, and films based on Hollywood, among many others. Though studios have always catered to the Academy with at least a few releases, the first explicit use of baiting dates back to 1978 with Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. Not only did the film appeal to the Academy's liking for war epics, it also only screened for limited audiences filled with Oscar voters just long enough to be eligible for consideration. The film didn't receive a wide release until it received its nine Academy Award nominations. The Deer Hunter went on to take home five Oscars, including Best Picture.
But the question still remains: Is Oscar bait a derogatory term? Well, the answer is yes and no. While the term is demeaning to the studios and the filmmakers to a certain extent, there seems to be good Oscar bait and bad Oscar bait. Maybe it's only a derogatory term when the film itself truly isn't deserving of award consideration. For instance, The Deer Hunter was very much geared toward award nominations, but it's also widely celebrated and is often considered one of the best films ever made. Despite the intentions of its release and marketing, the film still has substance and is artfully crafted. On the other hand, a film like 2011's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close could be deemed bad Oscar bait. Released in the heat of Awards season, the film used 9/11 to entice Oscar voters (the lead character is even named Oskar). This particular instance of baiting was deemed to be rather tasteless and the majority of critics panned the film. Regardless, voters still took the bait and the film was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Picture. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is often cited as the worst film to be nominated for Best Picture, and proved just how effective Oscar bait can be—even a bad film can snag a nomination with the right lures.