Oscar ‘Sweepers’ May Be Thing of the Past

Clayton Davis
·3-min read

The great sweeper, the film that runs away with the evening’s awards, has a strong history at the Oscars. Three films have won 11 Oscars in one night: “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003). Depending on where you stand on those movies, you could love it or hate it when one film dominates an Academy Awards ceremony.

Right behind those three is “West Side Story” (1961), with 10 wins, and “Gigi” (1958), “The Last Emperor” (1987) and “The English Patient” (1996) with nine.

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Since “Titanic,” the closest we’ve had to a sweeper was “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), which netted eight of its 10 nominations (one of those was a double nomination in original song) category. This all begs the question: Will we ever see a sweeper again, given the changing membership of the Academy and the way they’ve voted in the past decade? Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” (2013) is the most-winning film in the past decade, and it didn’t even win best picture. Three films have landed six Oscars on the night: Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” (2009), which won picture, and George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) and Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” (2016), two films that did not. In those years, the picture winners were “Spotlight” (with two awards overall) and “Moonlight” (with three overall).

The wealth is seemingly being spread, and the voting membership can make conscious decisions and differentiate a film’s merits in one category over another, rather than going “down the line” as they’ve done in the past. This allows moviegoers to engage more with the Oscar telecast because there’s a greater chance of them seeing a film they responded to getting kudos, versus a movie they’re less passionate about running away with multiple trophies.

This year, Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis are on the precipice of making history if the two manage to win lead actor and actress, respectively, for their performances in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Besides being the first film with two Black leads win, it would also be the first film to win two acting awards that weren’t from a best picture nominee.

An unprecedented year full of tragedy and frustration is well worth forgetting, but more positivity is always welcomed.

Awards strategists will need to learn and engage with this new generation of Oscar voters, and pundits will also need to learn to adapt to the changes in the Academy ranks. Does a coffee table book or a basket full of goodies really give a competitive edge to one film over another? But everything boils down to one important point, and that is “it’s about the movies.”

If your movie is great, people will respond to it.

The awards season campaign was done entirely remotely, likely leveling the playing field in a way not many would have expected. Not sure you see these historic acting lineups, with nine of the 20 slots going to POC if people were in-person.

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