If Oscars were awarded to trailers instead of actual movies

We round up the trailers of the past year’s most Oscar-worthy films (and the less deserving films that were nominated anyway) and take our picks

by Mio Borromeo, photo by Mags Ocampo

It’s that time of the year again. After much speculation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally announced their nominations for the 2016 Oscars last night. Rather than wait another month for the winners to claim their golden statuettes, we round up the trailers of the past year’s most Oscar-worthy films (and the less deserving films that were nominated anyway) and take our picks

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One of the biggest questions raised as this piece came together was whether one should consider the trailer something to be judged for its own merit or something that ought to make us want to see the bigger picture—the film per se.

We settled on the former, realizing that the trailer, initially conceived to promote films, has become an art in itself. With so many movies being made every year (and so many trailers being made to accompany them), it’s refreshing to come across a trailer that doesn’t adhere to a formulaic structure established by earlier successes, play for cheap laughs by having the characters laugh after a punchline, or submit to jump scares.

Just as much as good trailers hint at good films, we realized that a good trailer can come from a bad film, and vice versa. That being said, as we watched the trailers of last night’s nominated films (and the films we were betting on), we saw a lot of trailers that were bad on their own. The categories below represent the things we were looking for in particular in a good trailer—by no means an exhaustive set of criteria. Here are the year’s best of the best:

Least Skippable Trailer

Whether you’re watching a trailer in the cinema or on your devices, there are some trailers you’d really rather get out of the way. We looked for the trailer that didn’t demand our attention, but earned it. If this doesn’t catch you within the first twenty seconds, you’re not paying attention.

Most Original Trailer

This trailer needs to show us something fresh, approach the preview from an unconventional direction. A great example of this is the classic trailer for Kubrick’s The Shining, in which the audience is treated to a minute and thirty seconds of blood flooding out of elevator doors. What’s original about our choice is that it takes the conventional order of the action film trailer and plays around with it: there’s action in the start, gentle exposition in the middle followed by a longer action sequence that feels more like an exhibition of the film’s technical prowess and breathtaking imagery.

Best Soundtrack

Don’t worry, this next one doesn’t go to Mad Max. The debate that came here was whether a trailer soundtrack had to be good on its own (apart from the trailer) or serving the trailer in some way. We went for the latter, especially when considering how this trailer opens by fully integrating the film’s sound into the music. It sets the pace and motif for the trailer’s later parts.

Best Closing Line

The last line of a trailer is the line that sticks with the audience (and ultimately sells the film). In this case, it’s as far as a trailer should go in establishing a quotable quote, in suggesting the power of a screenplay. You should definitely worry if a trailer closes with a character saying the movie title before showing the movie title. For our winner, we picked the line, “They knew and they let it happen! It could’ve been you, it could’ve been me, it could’ve been any of us!”

Best Overall Trailer

The Best Overall Trailer must be a film in itself, a piece that suggests unity, a whole. Personally, I really wanted to give this award to Carol, no doubt a beautiful trailer. Its sound and color are moving, chilling even, and every shot of Cate Blanchett reminds us of her immeasurable skill in nuanced emotion. But we couldn’t give this award to the Carol trailer because it simply assembled beautiful images and made us want to see the full film instead. We couldn’t appreciate the trailer without speculating the merits of the bigger picture. Instead, our Best Overall Trailer for this year’s awards season is one that hinges its structure on a musical cue and juxtaposes two situations, surprising us with the emotions felt by the characters in each one. And the Oscar goes to…

Disagree with our selections? Let us know what you think in the comments!