Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Oscar bait movies are destined to make their appearance in theaters every November, and 2021 was no exception. From “Belfast” to “Licorice Pizza” the Academy was fed a number of films last year that were sure to strike their fancy come awards season. VALLEY is here to give you the rundown on 2022’s Academy Awards, Oscar bait and all.
So, What is Oscar Bait?
“Oscar bait” is a term used to define a certain genre of movie that is clearly crafted to pander to the Academy’s taste. Whether you’re aware of the term or not, you’re certain to have come across your fair share of Oscar bait over the years. Think about the slew of artsy movies that seem to come out every November and December — those are Oscar bait.
While there’s no guidebook for directors on what to include in a film to ensure Oscar nomination, there is a list of qualities that nearly all Best Picture nominees possess, give or take a few. Oscar bait movies tend to have themes of Hollywood, they focus on overcoming the odds (addiction, grief, disability, you name it), they often depict historical events that carry generational trauma, such as the Holocaust or slavery. Coming-of-age stories are commonplace, as are casts and crews that include previous Academy Award winners and nominees. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the slow-burn, character-driven plots that are simply a necessity for any Oscar bait movie.
Naturally, there are a plethora of previous Best Picture winners and nominees that perfectly exemplify what Oscar bait is. In 2015’s winner “Birdman” we see an actor, played by Michael Keaton, face the internal struggle of trying to remain a relevant artist as he feels he is slipping into the role of washed-up actor. In 1994’s winner, “Schindler’s List,” Spielberg gives us a character-driven, historical film about some of the most atrocious acts in human history. “Manchester by the Sea,” “Marriage Story,” “Lady Bird,” are all Oscar bait in one way or another.
2022’s Best Picture Nominees
As would be expected, 2022’s Best Picture nominee list includes its fair share of Oscar bait. However, there is a significant amount of diversity in the subject matter and atmosphere of the films up for the “award of the year.”
“Belfast” is a coming-of-age drama centered around The Troubles of Northern Ireland. “The Troubles” is a term used to define a period of unrest in Ireland wherein Protestant Loyalist forces attempted to eradicate certain areas of Catholics. This film, featuring the likes of Judi Dench and Jamie Dornan, premiered on Nov. 12 and has many Oscar bait features — from the memoir-like storytelling to the religious conflict, this story of a young movie-lover was destined to catch the Academy’s attention.
“CODA,” which premiered on Aug. 13, tells the story of a young girl from a deaf family with dreams of becoming a singer. In this coming-of-age tale, the protagonist must navigate family conflict and expectations while coping with the harsh realities of what it’s like to be disabled. “CODA” is undoubtedly Oscar bait heaven.
Don’t Look Up
“Don’t Look Up” may not be your classic Oscar bait, but it compensates with its massive cast. Any movie with Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio is automatically Oscar bait, but add names like Jennifer Lawrence, Timotheé Chalamet, Cate Blanchett and Jonah Hill and Oscar nomination is a given. Debuting on Dec. 24, “Don’t Look Up” considers issues of climate change and capitalism through a comedic lens.
Drive My Car
“Drive My Car” is unlike any of the other best picture nominees in the sense that it is Japanese. After “Parasite” broke barriers for international movies in the Academy Awards, it only seems right that other foreign films have their shot at best picture. Premiering with a limited theatrical release on Nov. 24, “Drive My Car” is the definition of a character-driven plot.
“Dune,” featuring Timotheé Chalamet and Zendaya, is not your typical Best Picture nominee. Premiering on Oct. 22, this sci-fi retelling of the world-famous novel by the same name captivates audiences with its visually stunning atmosphere and emotional performances.
“King Richard,” released on Nov. 19, is classic Oscar bait. The biopic is centered around Venus and Serena Williams and their father, Richard. This film is deeply personal and concerned with depicting character changes — both internally and in relation to one another. Simply put, there is nothing that screams Oscar bait more than a biopic about a famous person, especially if Will Smith is in the mix.
“Licorice Pizza,” which premiered on Dec. 25, is certainly the most artsy and independent feeling movie nominated for best picture this year. From the mind of Oscar-winning Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza” is a truly unique coming-of-age experience. Featuring themes of Hollywood and mentions of icons such as Barbra Streisand, it’s clear that Anderson didn’t shy away from pandering to what the Academy wants. Throw in a few massive actors like Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn and you’ve got yourself some Oscar bait.
“Nightmare Alley,” featuring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe and Toni Collette, has the potential to be Guillermo Del Torro’s second Best Picture winner in just five years. At its Dec. 17 premiere, Del Torro met audiences with a gritty atmosphere and mystical story that set it apart from the other nominees.
The Power of the Dog
“The Power of the Dog” is a western — immediately setting it apart from its best picture nominee counterparts. With a limited theatrical release on Nov. 17, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemmons deliver a tense, slow-burning character drama that is sure to leave an impression (and catch the Academy’s eye).
West Side Story
“West Side Story,” Spielberg’s newest film that premiered on Dec. 10, is a reimagining of the classic musical. Joining “Dune,” it is the second remake to be nominated for Best Picture this year. Despite it being a Spielberg film (Oscar bait in and of itself), “West Side Story” is a film that aims to appeal to broad audiences more than it does the Academy — a refreshing feat.
Oscar bait, at its core, is not a bad thing. In fact, there have been many incredible movies made with intentions of obtaining Oscar nominations — a truth that is clear even from 2022’s nominations alone. It is, however, interesting to examine how culture influences art and to ask questions like, “Are we missing out on truly unique and groundbreaking films as this formula is repeated?” Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, with your pick for 2022’s Best Picture.