For your consideration

February 2, 2010 at 4:32 pm 5 comments

| Gabriel |

So the Oscar nominees were announced at dawn this morning and half of the ten best picture nominees had done appreciable box office. Likewise, many of the other categories had nominees from self-important movies that nobody saw like “Invictus.” Of course, the reason we have ten best picture nominees is that the Academy realized that the last few years’ Oscars were of no interest to the average moviegoer because the total box office of all the nominees combined was less than the Kelly Blue Book value of a three year old Honda Civic. You could just see the Academy board of governors thinking, “If only we had nominated ‘The Dark Knight,’ people might have tuned in to see the vaudevillian razzamatazz of Hugh Jackman!” Of course, there are two reasons why Dark Knight wasn’t nominated. One is that “Oscar bait” now has highly stylized genre conventions (like close-ups of Sean Penn looking constipated) which the Dark Knight didn’t meet (it was more interested in being watchable).

The other is that Dark Knight didn’t really need an Oscar nomination as it already made plenty of money and had good word of mouth. In contrast, your classic Oscar bait movie extends its theatrical run and/or sells more dvds after a nomination. Oscars are an essential resource for Oscar bait films, which nobody will watch until they are consecrated. When something is valuable, people tend to pursue it, and hence we have the aggressive “for your consideration” Oscar campaigning, as discussed at length a few weeks ago on The Business.

According to industry legend, this began in a really serious way when Miramax elbowed its way to a best picture for “Shakespeare in Love,” displacing the obvious favorite of “Saving Private Ryan.” I realized that I could test this by looking at my data to see signs of the development of Oscar performativity. One of the clearest examples of the film industry organizing itself around the Oscars is the concentration of Oscar bait in December. Late released films are both more salient to the Oscar voters and thus more likely to be nominated and still in theaters in February and thus more likely to be able to exploit nomination. By looking at the interaction between decade of release and day of the year, we can thus track the development of Oscar performativity. As seen below, there was basically no Oscar performativity in the late 30s and early 40s. From the late 40s through the early 90s there was a steady but low level of performativity. Then in the late 90s and early aughts the performativity gets really strong.

So basically, it looks like it really was “Shakespeare in Love” that set the precedent for all the artsy movies being crammed into December. Thanks Bob and Harvey!

Here’s the code:

set matsize 1000
gen decade=year
recode decade 1900/1935=. 1936/1945=1 1946/1955=2 1956/1965=3 1966/1975=4 1976/1985=5 1986/1995=6 1996/2005=7
capture lab drop decade
lab def decade 1 "1936-1945" 2 "1946-1955" 3 "1956-1965" 4 "1966-1975" 5 "1976-1985" 6 "1986-1995" 7 "1996-2005"
lab val decade decade
replace date=round(date)
logit actor_nom female major FPY g_drama centrality pWnom pDnom
esttab, se
*have a nice day

Here are the results.

female              0.924***

major               0.538***

FPY00              -0.326***

g_drama             1.814***

centrality         0.0635***

pWnom               0.253***

pDnom               1.026***

date              0.00185**

1b.decade               0

2.decade           -0.597*

3.decade           -0.450

4.decade          -0.0529

5.decade           -0.220

6.decade           -1.051***

7.decade           -1.994***

1b.decade#~e            0

2.decade#c~e      0.00362***

3.decade#c~e      0.00442***

4.decade#c~e      0.00325**

5.decade#c~e      0.00348***

6.decade#c~e      0.00465***

7.decade#c~e      0.00766***

_cons              -12.43***
N                  147908
Standard errors in parentheses
* p<0.05, ** p<0.01, *** p<0.001

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  • 1. perchesk  |  February 2, 2010 at 10:30 pm


    I thought of you and Nicole this morning with the release of the Oscar nominees. When does the paper come out?

    • 2. gabrielrossman  |  February 2, 2010 at 11:21 pm

      it’ll be in the february issue. i don’t know exactly when that is but I’ll fess up that i subscribed to the ASR RSS feed so i’ll find out when it does happen. i wouldn’t be surprised if the issue comes out a little late as there were some minor typesetting snags associating with changing publishers.

  • 3. mike3550  |  February 3, 2010 at 10:18 am

    This is really fascinating. I wonder if there is a way to examine whether there is a feedback loop. Now that most studios have started cramming artsy films into December, whether the Academy now discounts films not released in the “Oscar bait” time period more than they would have otherwise. I can see a member of the Academy saying, “Well, I like this movie, but since the studio released it so early in the year, they must not think that it has a shot.” Of course, that process could also happen subconsciously.

    • 4. gabrielrossman  |  February 3, 2010 at 1:43 pm

      i think that’s part of it (or at least it is now, but wasn’t necessarily 15 years ago). for instance, when “shutter island” lost its award season release there was a lot of speculation that it must not be very good. i agree that it’s probably really difficult to measure this with any validity. nonetheless it wouldn’t hurt to have qualitative or quantitative data w academy members instead of just film-level data like i have.

  • […] picture” category at the Oscars. I’m reproducing my answer here. Also see my previous post on the increasing performativity of Oscar bait. Finally, the official version of the article on […]

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