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Should We Judge Books by Their Awards?

It seems news about the Oscars has started to die down a little now that the awards have been given. I started to think about all the movies/actors who didn’t win…and further to the movies/actors who NEVER win. It seems like we use awards in movies, as well as books, to judge the merit of the work. We allow ourselves to be compelled that this set of people said it was the best and therefore believe them. I started to wonder if awards are doing a disservice. Having a math background, I had to consider the probability of winning. Think of all the movies that come out in one year. The odds of being the best? That’s tough. Even if we look at the “smaller” Oscars, the probability of being singled out as best in any area is still small. 

So, I did a little research. The one that spurred it all is Captain Phillips. While it was nominated for a few categories, the movie didn’t win a single Oscar. Tom Hanks being snubbed for a lack of nomination altogether sent me looking for others. My first stop was Philadelphia. It won two Oscars, but not Best Picture. Okay, so at least it won something, right? Let’s look at ones who didn’t win a single Oscar. The list is shocking. My all-time favorite movie: Shawshank Redemption. Nominated, but did not win. How is that even possible? It gets better. The only black and white movie still played every single year—It’s a Wonderful Life—is on the list of snubs. The last one that shocked me: Psycho. What is even more surprising is that Alfred Hitchcock—a man who is revered as THE man of horror fiction and cinematography, someone to emulate—never won an Oscar, either. I think of these, then I think of movies I won’t mention that I can’t believe they were even nominated let alone won. 

Looking at actors, there’s Sigourney Weaver who didn’t even win for Alien—although I can’t think of many science fiction pieces recognized. Johnny Depp has never won. Okay, so maybe Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t something he should win for, but Edward Scissor Hands? Too Dark, maybe. Okay, my favorite movie of his: Benny and Joon (another movie not even nominated at Oscar time…actually for much of anything). Will Smith has never won. It would take too long to list the movies he should have won for. First movie I saw was Six Degrees of Separation, but not even The Pursuit of Happynessor Seven Pounds??

I mention these instead of books because I think it is easier for a movie to get nominated and win for something. What else would a book be recognized for? Best sentence structure? I think of all my favorite books and wonder if they ever won an award. Then I wonder if that is truly as grand as we proclaim. Don’t get me wrong. It is a stunning achievement. But should we discount books that haven’t won? I don’t think so. Charles Dickens was never appreciated during his time, but he is still remembered today. Don’t judge a book by the cover. Maybe we should extend this to don’t judge a book by its award.


  1. Daveler

    What’s funny about It’s a Wonderful Life, and this kind of goes into your point, was that it was a box office flop when it first came out, and ignored for many years after. It was so unpopular, NBC either forgot or didn’t bother to renew its copyright, and so the networks, looking for something cheap to show, realized they could show it for free. So they did. Constantly. Then when people started seeing it every single year, they assumed it must be some sort of classic–Why else would they play it all the time?–and thus it BECAME a classic. Because reputation–and reputation that comes from award winning–is a easy way for people to give something a chance, to allow themselves to commit to it instead of worrying if they’re wasting their time.

    Which, to me, either means that anything can be good given a chance, or people are too easily influenced by what they’res supposed to think.

  2. BJ Kurtz

    I love your last sentence. Can something unheard of become a classic if given a chance…I think so. But, I also know that I am swayed by “critic” opinion, which probably isn’t fair.

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