An indispensable guide to the film awards season: from Golden Globes to Oscars

Between February and April, six film ceremonies are on the calendar

Powered by automated translation

Do you know your Guild from your Critics and your Bafta from your Oscar? The film industry likes to go big, when it comes to awards. Why have one ceremony when a whole season will suffice, culminating in the collision of high fashion on the red carpet, ostentatious gold statuettes and celebrity sparkle that is the Oscars?

In all honesty, it could be argued that the annual awards season never really begins or ends for the industry. A year-round cycle of festivals, beginning with Sundance in January and never really taking a break until the Golden Globes nominations are announced, usually in December, ensures that barely a week passes without awards being given to films somewhere in the world.

It's the two months or so leading up to the Oscars, however (usually in February, although delayed this year by Covid-19), when things really go into overdrive, as a host of glitzy warm-up events take place in the preceding weeks.

You've probably heard of some of them, but what exactly are all these awards? Why do they exist? And should you really care?

Find out with our indispensable guide to awards season.

The Golden Globes

What? The awards handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Founded in 1944.

Where / when? The Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills. Usually in January, but this year on Sunday, February 28.

Why should you care? The Globes is something of a wild child among the annual glut of awards ceremonies. The panel of about 100 foreign journalists, based in Los Angeles, can make some fairly idiosyncratic choices, frequently offering a very different perspective from the other major awards.

Its hosts, meanwhile, in particular Ricky Gervais, who has hosted the event five times since 2010, are happy to poke fun at Hollywood and its stars in a way you simply wouldn't see at the more prestigious events on the calendar. All this has led to the awards being seen as something of a fun event to kick off the season before the more serious awards take place.

The Globes isn't without its faults, though. Its insistence on placing films in categories such as Best Motion Picture: Comedy or Musical seems outdated and can lead to some bizarre results (for example when the decidedly non-comedic The Martian won the award in 2016).

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will host a bicoastal event this year, with Fey at New York's Rainbow Room, so those invited from the East Coast don't have to make the cross-country trip.

See the best red-carpet looks from last year's event:

Critics Choice Awards

What? The awards voted for by the Critics Choice Association, which is made up of US and Canadian film and TV critics. Founded in 1996.

Where / when? The Barker Hangar, Santa Monica Airport. Usually in January, but this year on Sunday, March 7.

Why should you care? There are numerous critics' awards handed out over the course of the season, since every major US city has its own circle of critics, but by far the highest profile event is the Critics Choice Awards. Winners are voted for by the hundreds of members of the Critics Choice Association, and film and TV are represented.

The event is televised in the US on the CW network, although this year's will be a hybrid in-person and online affair.

How much importance you may want to attach to the awards probably depends on your opinion of film critics, but the Critics Choice Awards is historically the best indicator of Oscar winners, frequently lining up with the same nominees and winners in most of the biggest categories.

The Screen Actors' Guild Awards

What? The awards presented by the US Screen Actors Guild. Founded in 1995.
Where / when? The Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles. Usually in January, but this year on Sunday, April 4.

Why should you care? The Hollywood Guilds are essentially the unions that members of the film industry belong to.

All the guilds – writers’, producers’, directors’ and actors’ –

have their own awards, but it's the SAG Awards that you'll hear most about, perhaps unsurprisingly given the profile of the guild's members and that it is the only guild awards ceremony to be televised annually. Actors love to receive the awards since it's a form of recognition from their peers.

Like the Baftas, the SAGs is an indicator of what to expect at the Oscars, but it could learn a few things from the British Academy about time restrictions on acceptance speeches.

Take a look through images from last year's red carpet:

The Baftas

What? The awards presented by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Founded in 1949.

Where / when? The Royal Albert Hall, London. Usually in February, but this year on Sunday, April 11.

Why should you care? The British Academy of Film and Television Arts is the UK equivalent of the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars. Like the Oscars, the awards are voted on by the Academy's members – 6,500 professionals in all areas of the film industry in this case.

Although the event has a strong British focus, with specific awards for British films, directors and new talent, the major categories can usually be taken as a good indicator of what will be picking up Oscars a couple of weeks later.

This year, in common with the other major awards, the event has been moved back, but it still holds its usual slot two weeks prior to the Oscars, and should remain a good barometer of what to expect in Hollywood.

See red-carpet looks from last year's event:

Independent Spirit Awards

What? The leading awards for independent cinema outside of the festival circuit. Founded in 1984.
Where / when? Santa Monica Pier. Usually in February, but this year on Thursday, April 22.
Why should you care? The Independent Spirit Awards are voted on by members of Film Independent, the non-profit providing support to independent filmmakers in the US and beyond.

Given the event's whole­hearted dedication to independent cinema, there's not usually a lot of Oscars crossover, but the Independent Spirit Awards nonetheless attracts plenty of A-listers eager to show their support for the underground scene.

The awards offers some fascinatingly niche trophies, such as the Robert Altman Award for ensemble casts and casting directors, and the Bonnie Award for mid-career female directors.

It's a healthy art house antidote to the glitz and glam of the other awards, and usually takes place in a tent on the beach the day before the Oscars, although with this year's frantic rescheduling, it takes place three days prior.

Take a look at the best-dressed attendees from last year's event:

The Academy Awards

What? You probably know this one – it's better known as the Oscars. Founded in 1929.
Where / when? The Dolby Theatre, Hollywood. Usually in February, but this year on Sunday, April 25.

Why should you care? Well, it's the biggest, most respected, highest profile movie awards in the world. If you have even a passing interest in film, you might at least take note of what picked up Best Picture each year.

The winners are decided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' almost 8,500 members from all over the world, and a membership increase of more than a third since 2015 has made the ­Academy seek to address an imbalance towards white, male voters in the wake of campaigns such as #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo. Rami Malek and Mohamed Diab were among regional beneficiaries of the recent diversification and now sit on the voting panel.

It remains a mystery why, or exactly when, the Academy Award picked up its "Oscar" nickname, though a number of possible explanations exist in urban legend.

A favourite is that at some point in the 1930s, Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky grew tired of writing the cumbersome “The Golden Statue of the Academy” every time he discussed the awards and picked a shorter moniker that gradually entered popular usage.

This seems entirely ­believable, and was certainly a much-appreciated service
to film journalists of the future.

Take a look through the best-dressed Oscars attendees of all time: