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. These 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.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, released in 2008, tells the story of a man who ages backwards. It had some Oscar success (winning for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects), but considering that it was nominated for 13 and only took home minor awards was certainly a disappointment for director David Fincher and stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette.
While Benjamin Button didn't perform as well on its big night as many hoped it would, it got relatively positive reviews across the board. Todd MacCarthy of Variety called it a "richly satisfying serving of deep-dish Hollywood storytelling." Which is kind of a dumb thing to write. You're reviewing a movie, Todd. Stop with the food metaphors.
Actors: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Elle Fanning, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson, + more
Directed by: David Fincher
Imagine the executive drooling over the pitch - "It's Ocean's 11 in World War II!"
The Monuments Men was George Clooney's attempt to become a two-time Academy Award nominated director (remember Good Night, and Good Luck?); with a cast loaded with award-winners, it looked to be a good bet. Alas, the picture, which tells the story of Allied soldiers trying to preserve some of Europe's most prized artistic treasures amidst the death and destruction of World War II, didn't resonate with the Academy.
Neither critics nor audiences bought into The Monuments Men, but it's not a bad way to spend a few hours. It tells the true story of men and women who put their lives on the line to conserve culture and art, and features very charming stars and an air of authenticity in character and place that brings Europe in World War II to life on the screen.
Actors: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, + more
Directed by: George Clooney
Stop whining. You know, deep down, The Revenant isn't a great movie. It's genre trash disguised as Oscar bait that only exists so Leo can keep trying to win his statue (he did, good for him) and director Alejandro González Iñárritu can continue his attempt to convince the world he's Alfonso Cuaron (he isn't).
Sure, The Revenant is visually stunning. It does a fantastic job of aping the mature style of Cuaron, as first exhibited in Y Tu Mama Tambien and developed in Children of Men and Gravity. There are also some wide lens close ups cribbed from Terence Malick, and in particular The New World. What a surprise, then, that the film's cinematographer is Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot all those movies.
The sparse revenge narrative of The Revenant feels a bit like dumbed down Tarantino coupled with the stark, singular drive of Gravity. In fact, this movie is basically Gravity on the tundra, with some revenge thrown in. Go see it. Your bros will totally watch it with you.
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
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.
Actors: Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, Richard Dreyfuss, + more
Directed by: Rob Reiner