How Many 'Starts' Does Awards Season Really Need?

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The Hollywood Film Awards, which took place on Sunday evening at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, is a shindig that TheWrap tends to ignore. But it’s also “the official launch of awards season.” I know that because on the HFA website, there’s a ® mark next to that phrase. And it couldn’t have a registered trademark that wasn’t true, right?

The thing is, I was at the Academy’s Governors Awards, an event we do cover, a week before the HFA. And in his speech, Academy president David Rubin said that his show was the beginning of awards season. So who should I trust? I mean, the HFA has that ®, but the Academy is pretty much the whole reason why an awards season even exists, so shouldn’t they get to decide when it starts?

But I’ve made up my own mind on this one: Both of them are lying. By the time the Governors Awards rolled around on Oct. 27, we’d already had BAFTA Los Angeles’ Britannia Awards, the American Society of Cinematographers’ Student Heritage Awards and the Student Academy Awards, plus the nominations for the Gotham Awards, the IDA Documentary Awards and the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards.

By the time the Hollywood Film Awards took place, nominations had been announced by the British Independent Film Awards, voting had begun in the Writers Guild Awards’ TV series categories, Oscar voters in the Best International Feature Film category had already seen 38 of the contending films at Academy screenings, and voters in the Documentary Branch of the Academy had already been given access to 154 screening links of eligible films.

More to the point, people had been buzzing about and handicapping potential Oscar films for months: “The Irishman” since the New York Film Festival in late September, “Jojo Rabbit” since the Toronto Film Festival earlier that month, “Marriage Story” since the Venice Film Festival in August, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” since their premieres in Cannes in May.

Plus, directors, producers, actors and others who worked on those films have been making the rounds of parties, premieres and interview suites for months.

So no, the Hollywood Film Awards were not the launch of awards season, and the Governors Awards were not the start of awards season. Awards season, particularly in this year of an earlier Oscars show, has been here for a while and is going to be here for a while longer.

But here’s one thing we do know: The official end of awards season, trademarked or not, will be on the evening of February 9,  just after the Oscars hand out the Best Picture award.

And by that point, of course, we’ll have already seen the unofficial launch of Emmy season.



This week’s awards tempest in a teapot is over the Academy’s disqualification of Nigeria’s first-ever submission to the international-feature category, which until this year was the Best Foreign Language Film category. I wrote about this at some length on Tuesday, but maybe it’s worth reiterating that Nigeria is free to submit films that aren’t in English, just as the U.K., Ireland and Australia are (and do).

And it’s odd that the Nigerian selection committee describes the disqualification as “eye-opening,” since the Academy’s announcement of the category name change included these lines (emphasis mine):

“The category name change does not change any existing category rules, the submission process, or eligibility requirements. An international feature film is defined as a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track.

The Nigerian committee not only agreed to those rules, which were reiterated in conversations with the Academy, it signed a paper saying that it agreed to them.

One would think it shouldn’t have taken a disqualification to open their eyes.

51 Movies With A+ CinemaScore Since 2000, From 'Remember the Titans' to 'Harriet' (Photos)

  • “Finding Forrester” (2000) 

    A writing prodigy finds an unlikely mentor in a reclusive author played by Sean Connery in this feel-good drama that won over first-weekend audiences.


  • “Remember the Titans” (2000) 

    Audiences cheered for the high school football drama starring Denzel Washington as a tough-talking coach.


  • “Monsters, Inc.” (2001) 

    Pixar animated hits like this one consistently get high marks from CinemaScore moviegoers.


  • “Antwone Fisher” (2002) 

    Denzel Washington plays a Navy shrink treating a troubled sailor (Derek Luke).

  • “Drumline” (2002) 

    Nick Cannon plays a Harlem street drummer recruited to play for a Southern university’s marching band.


  • “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (2002) 

    The second film in the eight-film saga won a grade that would have pleased Hermione — though all the others rated an A– or better.

    Warner Bros.

  • “Finding Nemo” (2003) 

    Another beloved Pixar hit.


  • “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) 

    The Oscar-winning finale of Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien saga was the one ring that ruled them all.

    New Line

  • “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) 

    Mel Gibson’s biblical epic won a passionate response from filmgoers.

  • “The Incredibles” (2004) 

    Another Pixar film that won over audiences in a superhero-size way.


  • “The Polar Express” (2004) 

    Tom Hanks’ CG conductor now looks a little creepy, but this holiday-set animated film was cutting edge at the time of its release.


  • “Ray” (2004) 

    Jamie Foxx’s Oscar-winning turn as music legend Ray Charles hit high notes with filmgoers.


  • “Dreamer” (2005) 

    A heart-tugging story about a racehorse who came back after breaking a leg is a natural to win high marks.


  • “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” (2005) 

    Tyler Perry’s early Madea film won over first-weekend audiences.

  • “Cinderella Man” (2005) 

    Ron Howard’s drama about a real-life boxer (Russell Crowe) knocked out moviegoers.


  • “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005) 

    The C.S. Lewis story ticked the right boxes for CinemaScore audiences with its appeal to both faith-based and family audiences.

  • “Akeelah and the Bee” (2006) 

    A girl from South Los Angeles tries to compete in the National Spelling Bee in this feel-good drama.

  • “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?” (2007) 

    CinemaScore grades tend to get a boost when super-fans turn out in force on opening weekend — like Tyler Perry enthusiasts.


  • “Up” (2009) 

    Filmgoer affection kept the score aloft for this Pixar hit.


  • “The Blind Side” (2009) 

    Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-winning feel-good drama blindsided audiences with its heartfelt true-life story.

    Warner Bros.

  • “The King’s Speech” (2010) 

    Colin Firth’s true-life story of King George VI became the latest Oscar Best Picture winner to appeal to audiences as well.


  • “Tangled” (2010) 

    Disney’s spin on Rapunzel was just another one of its much-loved princess yarns.


  • “Soul Surfer” (2011) 

    Filmgoers latched onto a film about Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who got back on the board even after losing an arm in a shark attack.

  • “Courageous” (2011) 

    This faith-based indie about four cops who reassess their lives after a tragedy hit home with audiences.

  • “Dolphin Tale” (2011) 

    Family audiences flipped for this one.

  • “The Help” (2011) 

    Tate Taylor’s civil rights drama became a giant summer hit on the heels of some very positive word of mouth.


  • “The Avengers” (2012) 

    Marvel’s superhero-palooza became the first comic-book movie to land a perfect grade.


  • “Argo” (2012) 

    Ben Affleck’s fact-based drama connected with audiences — and Academy voters.

    Warner Bros.

  • “42” (2013) 

    Five years before his “Black Panther” landed an A+, Chadwick Boseman starred in this biopic of Jackie Robinson.

  • “Instructions Not Included” (2013) 

    This Spanish-language comedy became a surprise hit — and the audience response meant strong word of mouth.



  • “The Best Man Holiday” (2013) 

    Fans of Malcolm D. Lee’s original 1999 best-friends melodrama had to wait more than a decade for this sequel — and they went home satisfied.


  • “Frozen” (2013) 

    Filmgoers just couldn’t let this one go.


  • “Lone Survivor” (2014) 

    CinemaScore audiences love Peter Berg’s true-life tales of American heroism, this time with Mark Wahlberg as a Navy SEAL on the run from the Taliban.

  • “Woodlawn” (2015) 

    Recipe for success with CinemaScore audiences: Faith-based football drama starring an African American young man who must overcome obstacles to succeed.


  • “Selma” (2015) 

    Ava DuVernay’s stirring portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. marched forward with strong word of mouth.

  • “American Sniper” (2015) 

    Clint Eastwood’s searing portrait of an American military hero (Bradley Cooper) was a hit with audiences.

    Warner Bros.

  • “Miracles From Heaven” (2016) 

    CinemaScore audiences again fancied this religiously themed Jennifer Garner drama.

  • “Queen of Katwe” (2016) 

    This unfortunately little-seen film about a young girl in rural Uganda who becomes an unlikely chess champion was loved by those who did see it.


  • “Patriots Day” (2016) 

    Peter Berg’s drama about the Boston Marathon bombing case wasn’t a hit, but CinemaScore filmgoers loved it.

  • “Hidden Figures” (2016) 

    The true-life tale of African-American women who helped NASA’s space program blasted off with filmgoers.


  • “Girls Trip” (2017) 

    Another film starring African-American women aced it with audiences.

  • “Wonder” (2017)

    The heartwarming story of a boy with a facial deformity checked all the right boxes for first-weekend audiences.


  • “Coco” (2017) 

    Pixar’s animated feature won over audiences with its take on Mexico’s Day of the Dead.


  • “Black Panther” (2018)

    The Disney/Marvel blockbuster became only the second superhero movie to nab a perfect grade.


  • “I Can Only Imagine” (2018) 

    The Erwin brothers’ latest faith-based movie told the story behind Christian band MercyMe’s hit song of the same name.

    Roadside Attractions

  • “Love, Simon” (2018)  

    Fox’s teen rom-com about a closeted high schooler drew rabid support from first-night audiences who were no doubt fans of the YA novel on which it’s based.


  • “Incredibles 2” (2018)  

    Just like the original 14 years before, the sequel about a superhero family achieved a perfect score.

  • “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) 

    Sony’s animated spinoff of its Spidey franchise scored with audiences big time.

  • “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) 

    The Russo brothers’ blockbuster becomes the latest Marvel movie to win over audiences.

  • “Overcomer” (2019) 

    “Courageous” director Alex Kendrick scores with another faith-based film about a high school coach and the unlikely cross country star he trains both on and off the course.

  • “Harriet” (2019) 

    Kasi Lemmons won over audiences with her fact-based film about escaped slave turned abolitionist activist Harriet Tubman.

    Focus Features

  • If you’re curious, click on to see all the movies that have flunked in the CinemaScore survey.

These movies were big, big hits with audiences surveyed on opening weekend

Steve Pond

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