As someone who follows the Oscars and observes reportings from other Oscarologists, I've initially picked up the idea that campaigning is the sure fire way to pick up at least an Oscar nomination which is hard to get even if you're a frontrunner. But then I began to realize that campaigning isn't everything and I'll give some examples as to why that is.
When Michael Fassbender said back in 2013 that he wasn't going to campaign for an Oscar for 12 Years A Slave, it didn't hurt his chances at a nomination because not only did he deliver, but the movie itself delivered, eventually winning Best Picture.
This year, we saw Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Rylance get nominated without really doing anything because their films as a whole delivered. Tom Hardy was in the two most nominated films, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, so he was able to get pulled along and make the final cut. While not campaigning hurt critical favorite Kristen Stewart's chances for her work in Clouds of Sils Maria, that's mainly because IFC didn't send out screeners until the critics spoke.
We also saw names like Will Smith, Carey Mulligan, and Jane Fonda work tirelessly on the campaign trail, appearing at roundtables, the Governors Awards, Q&A's, etc.. Yet they still fell short mainly because their films didn't really deliver, critically or financially. So if you're the MVP of a crappy team, you're not exactly going to make your way to the Super Bowl.
If you do campaign tirelessly, aiming to claim one of those coveted golden boys, your film has to deliver. It has to have critical praise since critics are as political as voters are and at least do solid b.o. business. It also helps if your film comes out ahead of December since that month tends to be the kiss of death for Oscar contenders these days.
But if you don't want to do any back-slapping or baby-kissing, then as long as your film is a strong contender in other areas, including Best Picture, you can easily let the film do the work for you.
Although what happens if your film delivers and you have a strong campaign yet you still miss out? Well, that could mean you're up against a stacked category or maybe voters don't respond to your film as well as you hoped. Look at Nightcrawler. It had a strong guild showing, including Producers and Writers Guild noms, and had solid critical praise, yet it only managed an Original Screenplay nomination. Stuff happens.
So those are my thoughts on why campaigning isn't everything. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!