Why Does the Oscar Race Starts in September?


By the end of September last year, after the annual onslaught of festival premieres, we’d already witnessed seven of the year’s nine best picture nominees. And if you follow the entertainment industry at all, you know that every September is when you start seeing a bunch of articles and predictions about the upcoming Oscar race. Again, we’re back at the apprised notional theorization and prediction stage: the reviews are in, the first trophies have been handed out and we can commence assembling a loose, yet likely, list of potential candidates.

And you may be wondering, “Hey, the Oscars are in 2018. What gives?” Well, the Oscar race is about much more than the couple of months leading up to the ceremony; it’s a long, twisty, calculated road that involves special screenings, Q&A’s, critics awards, backlash, backlash to the backlash, and then, of course, the actual Oscars. So in truth, while the 90th Academy Awards won’t take place until March 4, 2018, the race is already well underway.

We’re currently in the plethora of what’s commonly known as the Oscars season. The Oscars season is the time period in which Hollywood studios release their more critically acclaimed films hoping to win the Academy Awards. The Oscars season begins in the late fall/early winter and ends on the last night of December.

Although the date in which summer blockbusters season ends and the Oscars season begins are ambiguous and dependent on the year, The Academy Awards occur every late February (or eccentrically early March, like next year) and films that win festivals awards typically see a boost in sales. To take advantage of this, the studios release films deemed Oscar-worthy in the fall before the eligibility cutoff so that the films remain fresh in the memories of critics and Academy members right before the awards, thus increasing their chances of being nominated.

Guillermo Del Toro's "The Shape of Water" is a major Oscar contender for next year. Photo by Kerry Hayes/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is a major Oscar contender for next year. Photo by Kerry Hayes/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

During Oscar season, studios heavily campaign for their films to win, spending a large amount of money in an attempt to influence Academy voters. Harvey Weinstein of Miramax is especially notorious for his campaigning. Weinstein was alleged to have spread rumours that John Nash was anti-semitic to hurt the chances of A Beautiful Mind which was competing for the Best Picture award with the Miramax film In The Bedroom.

The Oscars represent a rare slice of Hollywood, where independent film distributors with their moderate and low-budget films can best the major studios and their blockbusters because Oscar voters gravitate to serious content that is abundant in indie films. And also not to forget, there are a handful of possibilities from the early months that will continue to hang tough through the season. Films like The Grand Budapest Hotel or Mad Max: Fury Road made a strong impression before September and, since the studio behind said films did the work to keep it fresh in voters’ minds, they went on to Oscar glory. It’s an uphill battle of sorts because voters are inundated with so many new movies in the October-December corridor that films released earlier in the year can start to fade. That’s why Warner Bros. has kept Christopher Nolan on the circuit for Dunkirk even though the film was released in July, and why Warner Bros. set up a special IMAX screening in Toronto during TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) with Nolan in attendance. It’s all still in the game.

Christopher Nolan and Fionn Whitehead on the set of "Dunkirk." Photo Courtesy: Melinda Sue Gordon.
Christopher Nolan and Fionn Whitehead on the set of “Dunkirk.” Photo Courtesy: Melinda Sue Gordon.

There’s still always a long road to go, and a frontrunner in September is not always a frontrunner in December (just ask 2013’s Prisoners), but you can set your watches that every year, this month marks the official start of awards season because it’s where 70-80% of the major players are revealed for the very first time. As such, studios start to settle into the angles of their campaigns, and Academy voters get a heads up on which films they should prioritize when those sweet, sweet screeners come in. The ceremony may be months away, but boy, Oscar season is here.




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A devoted cinephile. A lover of venture and emprise. I also enjoy taking long walks to the fridge.