Depending on how much you're into movies, the awards season can be an exciting or infuriating time — but unless you know the ins and outs of the industry, it's confusing both to those who look forward to the #Oscars and the rest. Why are there so many awards shows, and which prizes actually matter? Is it all just a parade of cocktails and parties until the Academy Awards come around, or is there more to be found in the shows that occupy so much TV space every winter?
To help you understand how many awards shows there are, what they're for and what they represent, here's a little guide to the main events of the awards season (not including film festivals), with the months they took place in in 2016–2017, and a rating between 1 and 5 Oscar statues indicating the overall importance of the show compared to the Oscars (whether we should hail the Oscars as the go-to event for film is another discussion). Basically, if you want to know where to look to spot potential Oscar winners, the shows with the most statues are the ones you won't want to miss.
- Britannia Awards Gala (BAFTA LA)
BAFTA stands for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and the BAFTA Awards take place later in February. Since they're not ones to stay on their island, though, the BAFTAs have an American branch called BAFTA LA, defined as "a bridge between the Hollywood and British production and entertainment business communities." The gala gives out 6 honorary awards, from the Britannia Humanitarian Award to the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment.
Overall importance: Not meant for Oscars nominees, this gala is a small event — and it's barely the beginning of awards season.
- AMPAS Governors Awards
The AMPAS is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — that's right, the very Academy that hosts the Oscars. They get way less publicity, but the Governors Awards are like the Oscars' wise old grandfather, giving out 3 lifetime achievement awards. While they used to be presented during the Oscars ceremony, they got their own show in 2009.
Overall importance: The Governors Awards are rather disconnected from the Oscars, so no need to look here to place your bets on the winner.
- Gotham Awards
An initiative of the Independent Filmmaker Project, the Gotham Awards celebrate independent cinema each year in New York City. While it started out as a show dedicated to the North East of the United States, soon it took into account all American film.
Overall importance: Since the Gothams focus on independent film, they don't act as warmup for the Oscars and aren't so much a necessary stop of the awards journey.
- National Board of Review Awards
Though the gala takes place in January, the winners selected by the National Board of Review are already announced in November. The Board is one of the major critical bodies in the American film industry, having started a list of best movies of the year in 1930. Unlike the Academy Awards, however, the NBR Awards are determined not by the jury, but with the votes of its hundred or so members, from academics to filmmakers. The results are more of a list for film aficionados, and less of a show made for entertainment.
Overall importance: The winners selected by the NBR are well-regarded, but the structural difference with the Oscars means that you can't really compare both shows.
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- British Independent Film Awards
Similarly to the Gotham Awards (and the Independent Spirit Awards, just before the Oscars), the British Independent Film Awards are a celebration of independent British cinema. But contrary to the BAFTAs, they don't have an American branch.
Overall importance: A specifically British event dedicated to only independent film has less visibility on the road to the Oscars.
- Critics' Choice Movie Awards
The Critics' Choice Movie Awards are held by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the largest organization of film critics in the US. It's less elitist than the National Board of Review, but the awards are given out with the same system: Members can submit their voting ballots, and the winners are revealed at the ceremony.
Overall importance: Though they reflect the year's most appreciated movies, the Critics' Choice Awards tend to award a much broader selection than the Oscars. Those hoping for early signs of an Oscar winner should look elsewhere.
- Golden Globe Awards
While it's one of the biggest shows in terms of turnout and audience, the Golden Globes is also one of the most controversial award ceremonies. Held by the small and exclusive Hollywood Foreign Press Association, it's been heavily criticized for awarding prizes based on the bribes and lobbying from the contenders.
In 2013, Deadline writer Nikki Finge decided to boycott the covering of the Globes, calling it a "completely meaningless awards show from a scandal-riddled organization aired by a production company desperate for money on a network praying for ratings." She writes that it might be a press association, but the HFPA isn't the group of renowned journalists you'd expect — and that makes it really hard to get a foot in the door:
The HFPA clique doesn't want to dilute the financial bonanza it receives from the studios and networks who arrange exclusive interviews about each year's movies and TV shows. [...] The HFPA was even accused in a lawsuit filed by its former publicist of accepting "payola" — like taking lavish gifts from studios in exchange for nominations — and other questionable business practices.
All this scandal obviously means owning a Globe isn't as prestigious an achievement as getting an Oscar. But that's exactly why the show itself is much more fun to watch than the Academy's grand ceremony, so don't miss the Globes if you like watching celebrities getting tipsy on TV.
Overall importance: While it's a major event of awards season thanks to the entertaining show and the stars attending, the Golden Globes aren't taken nearly as seriously as the Oscars. You'll obviously find similarities in the results, but both ceremonies are organized completely differently, and winning a Globe doesn't necessarily make you a stronger Oscar contender.
- People's Choice Awards
Since they're organized by Procter & Gamble and not a film critics organization, the People's Choice Awards are a bit of an exception on the list. But it's no coincidence that they take place in the middle of awards season, and they offer a nice alternative to those who don't believe in listening to the opinion of professionals.
Overall importance: The PCA are more of a commercial show that doesn't take into account the opinion of film professionals, so consider them more like a chaser than an appetizer.
- ACE Eddie Awards Gala
The society of American Cinema Editors (ACE) is comprised of the best professionals in the editing world. It started getting involved in the awards season by inviting the Oscars nominees to an honorary dinner, before creating its own awards gala in the '60s. You won't find a famous host and a jokes-riddled TV show here — coverage of the Eddie Awards is mostly sought after by editing professionals.
Overall importance: Though it'd be nice to see different professions of the movie world get more time in the spotlight, coverage of the awards circuit doesn't pay so much attention to the Eddies.
- Producers Guild of America Awards
There's pretty much a Guild for each category you can see at the Oscars, and each likes to hold their own Awards. The Producers Guild of America (PGA) represents film and television producers, and has been rewarding the best of production work since 1990.
In film, the Awards select a Best Theatrical Motion Picture and a Best Animated Motion Picture, and give the Stanley Kramer Award to a movie that highlights major social issues.
Overall importance: Films rewarded at the PGA Awards can be quite indicative of Oscar winners, though television takes up most of the show.
- Screen Actor's Guild Awards
Of all the Guild Awards, the Screen Actor's Guild's (SAG) is the most famous one — perhaps because actors are always the ones who get the most visibility among all the people involved in a movie. That's why the SAG Awards are considered the closest to the Oscars, as the Academy puts a strong emphasis on performance as well.
That's the kind of approach that upsets directors such as James Cameron, who believes visual effects would get more recognition if the Oscars weren't so focused on acting. In a recent interview with the Daily Beast, he denounced this "actors bias":
"There's definitely a bias. The Academy still has a majority of its members that are actors. Look, I love actors, but that's how they think — they're generally skeptical of technology. So when they see a film that’s too dependent on visual effects, they say, oh, that's not an acting movie."
Overall importance: Those who think the Academy is too focused on acting will say there's barely any difference between the SAG Awards and the Oscars. In any case, SAG Awards winners tend to be the strongest Oscars contenders.
- DGA Awards
After actors, we could easily say directors come in second place on the scale of fame in the eyes of the general public. Their choices are even better regarded than the SAG Awards, as only seven DGA winners haven't also received the Academy Award for Best Director since the Awards were established in 1948. You can trust the winners of the DGA Awards to represent the best of the year in film.
Overall importance: The DGA Awards are a great indicator of Oscar favorites.
- Annie Awards
A bit of an outsider on this list, the Annie Awards are exclusively dedicated to animation — which means they feel less important compared to the other film events of the season, but are an absolute reference in the animation industry. Until 1992, the Annies only gave out lifetime achievement awards, but they've focused on current films ever since.
Overall importance: You can expect the Annie Awards to give you a hint of what film will win Best Animated Feature, though the criteria can be different for both juries.
- BAFTA Awards
After the Britannia Awards come the best of British film: the BAFTA Awards, usually preceded by a tea party the month before. They aren't limited to British film, however, and like the SAG Awards they give great visibility to actors. But their roots on another continent mean they have little influence over the Academy Awards.
Overall importance: The BAFTAs are a major event of awards season and an important stop for actors, but their winners list, being based in the UK, won't give you many hints as to what the Academy will favor.
- WGA Awards
Another job, another guild: the Writers Guild of America gives out its own writing awards for film, television, radio and even video games. It's only been broadcast on television since 2004, and the guild doesn't include some writers — which means a few movies that could pretend to the award aren't necessarily included.
Overall importance: The WGA Awards aren't as well regarded as the SAG Awards or the DGA Awards, but they could use more visibility. After all, the best screenplays should be a great indication of which movies will convince the Academy.
- Independent Spirit Awards
Independent film gets a lot of awards shows, from the Gothams to the Independent Spirit Awards. Presented by the non-profit organization Film Independent, it's traditionally held on a beach in Santa Monica the day before the Oscars. It's like a fun, more relaxed amuse-bouche before the reveal of the highly anticipated Oscar winners.
Overall importance: Here it's actually the other way around: Films predicted to win at the Oscars tend to be favored by the Independent Spirit Awards, which means the night won't bring many surprises — but it's a fun time nonetheless.
- Academy Awards
Do the Oscars still need an introduction? Hosted by the AMPAS, they're the film equivalent of the Emmy Awards for television, the Tony Awards for theater, and the Grammy Awards for music. The Academy has around 6,000 members, the majority of whom are American, but the list is never revealed. The influence of their Awards is considerable, as an Oscar (or lack thereof) can completely define a career.
Do you watch any awards shows? Which ones do you like to follow?
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