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Pretty Good Oscar Bait Movies

Updated October 23, 2019 1.4k votes 266 voters 9.1k views19 items

List RulesVote up the Oscar bait movies that have you saying "meh" the least.

Every year, Hollywood holds its collective breath to find out which films, actors, directors, and more will be awarded for their work in the previous year at the Academy Awards. The film industry's obsession with awards and prestige led to the creation of an entire genre of films catered specifically to garnering such accolades, Oscar bait films. The glut of such pictures resulted in a bizarre class structure, at the top of which you have Oscar winning classics, at the bottom of which you have god-awful catastrophes like J. Edgar, and in the middle you have pretty good Oscar bait movies, some of which may have even won a trophy or two. 

Mediocre Oscar bait films are okay movies that failed to live up to awards season ambitions but are still worth checking out. On the far end of the spectrum are Oscar bait movies that are rightfully forgotten.

The following films probably didn't win any major awards (okay, The Revenant won some big ones, but come on), but that doesn't mean they aren't decent prestige pictures. Those films that fail to win, or even get nominated for, awards and have no value beyond being awards bait often get lost in the crevices of time. Not all these movies deserve such a fate, as is the case with the so-so awards bait pictures worth watching on this list. 

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    Anna Karenina

    There have been almost 20 adaptations of Anna Karenina made all over the world and across numerous decades, though only one was written by Sir Tom Stoppard OM CBE FRSL, famed playwright and winner of an Oscar and four Tonys. 

    Directed by Atonement's Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and future Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, 2012's Anna Karenina got four Oscar Nominations but only took home Best Costume Design. It earned $70 million at the international box office on a purported production budget of around $45 million; not a great showing. 

    The Achilles heel of the film is also its greatest selling point - it's so highly stylized as to be like nothing you've ever seen and so Brechtian as to alienate viewers from the emotional lives of the characters and, therefore, the point of the story. It's most certainly worth watching, as all the talent involved behind and in front of the camera turns in mesmerizing performances. Unfortunately, those performances aren't all on the same page, and the whole thing never quite clicks. 

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    • Not to be confused with Come and See, one of the most stunning and soul-destroying films you're likely to ever see, Come See the Paradise tells the story of Japanese-Americans in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Though well-received, it was a box office disaster, earning a paltry  $947,306.

      Yet all of this is somewhat beside the point. Come See the Paradise was named the most Oscar bait movie of all time by UCLA professors Gabriel Rossman and Oliver Schilke in a paper published in the American Sociological Review in 2014. Why? It's a period piece, it concerns racism, it's about World War II, it takes place in Hollywood/Los Angeles, and the protagonist, a white man drafted into war while his Japanese-American wife and child end up in an interment camp, is a film projectionist. It was directed by Alan Parker, whose credits include Mississippi Burning and Midnight Express, and released two days before Christmas, when all the most Oscary movies come out.

      Is it great? No. Will it blow your mind? Nah. But pretty good? Damn straight. 

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      • Australia is a massive, Titanic-like historical adventure drama that gave Baz Luhrmann, a director mostly commonly associated with manic visuals and glamor the opportunity to bust out some earth tones and dirt with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. It was one of the most anticipated Oscar bait films of 2008. Alas, going all the way with the Academy on the first date wasn't meant to be: Australia received mixed reviews and only did moderately well at the box office. 

        Still, without the pressure of expecting something great, you can watch Australia and enjoy its campy look at World War II Australia with some unexpected Western flourishes.

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        • Rob Reiner directed it! Aaron Sorkin wrote it! Michael Douglas stars! Based on that, you might expect The American President to be an prodigiously made, relatively meaningless reiteration of vague, upper-middle-class, private liberal-arts-school decency and the joys of neoliberalism (cleverly disguised as good ol' fashioned socialist democracy).

          It is exactly that. And it's pretty good. And Oscar baity as hell. Martin Sheen shows up, and that, coupled with Sorkin's inimitable dialogue, might make you super confused, like you're watching an alternate timeline version of The West Wing. The real prize of The American President, though, is Annette Bennng, who's always the best thing about every movie she's in. 

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