Earlier in the week, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, or the Academy, announced that they were changing up some of their policies for future Oscar award ceremonies. Most of the announcements were humdrum topics, like changing the date for the 2020 Oscars or letting everyone know that the Oscars are going to be three hours on the dot and not take an eternity to air. The big issue that has everyone all in a huff though is that the Oscars are going to announce a new category, one dedicated to popular films released during the year.
Once the news hit, people began to immediately cry that “The Oscars have sold out!”, or “Artistic integrity is dead!”, or my personal favorite, “It’s cheapening the value of the Oscars!”. You would think that the Acamdey came to every film critic’s house and proceeded to kill their puppy based on how universally panned the idea is. Me personally, I actually think it’s a pretty good idea.
No seriously, I think that the Oscars are taking a solid step forward to being relevant again and not just for film snobs with a lot of time on their hands. It’s no secret that the Oscars have been dealing with declining viewership for years. Even with all of the recent changes to membership and having a huge platform for the Time’s Up movement that was meant to bring in more viewers, the 2018 Oscars had the lowest viewership ever, sinking to under 30 million for the night. The Oscars has tried to get more people to tune in but they just keep failing. Making a popular film category seems like the next logical step.
Before we go any further, I think it’s important to actually address what the Acamdey said about this new film category and what they intend to use it for. That way, we’re all on the same page. And not just my interpretation either, we’re going to examine the press release sent out by the Academy about this new category. According to them, this new category is, and I quote:
…A new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.
That’s it. That is all that we know about this category. It is a category honoring the popular movies of the year. Nothing more, nothing less.
But in the absence of concrete details and information, speculation has run wild with what exactly the Academy could honor and how they’d honor it. That speculation means that the Academy is somehow sacrificing its artistic integrity to appeal to the common folk. I’m sorry, is that a problem? So what if there’s a category honoring the popular films of the year? Truthfully, a lot of those movies wouldn’t really get Oscar nominations outside of maybe special effects, costume design, or hair and makeup. I’m all for giving more movies that chance to shine.
Since the category will be in place for the 2019 Oscars, we can assume that a “popular film” is a movie that had a huge box office. Makes sense, right? So by that logic, that means that potential candidates would be Black Panther, Infinity War, A Quiet Place, maybe the new Fantastic Beasts movie, and possibly Predator if it actually is as good as the trailers are. For the movies that came out already, I think that they’re all good movies… so what’s the problem? Why is honoring good movies at an awards ceremony dedicated to the best in the industry not allowed to celebrate the movies that rake in billions of dollars that also happened to be good?
Oh, and if you think the “artistic integrity” of the Oscars is at risk, please watch this opening ceremony skit from 2013. I think we’re beyond that argument now.
Getting back to the point at hand, I will admit that the Oscars have been out of touch with what most people watch on average at the movies. Most people didn’t go out to see Lady Bird, The Post, or Darkest Hour last year. They went to go see movies like It, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2., and The Last Jedi. Massive blockbusters that both fans and critics loved don’t usually get multiple Oscar nomination. Occasionally there will be some crossover, most notably with Mad Max: Fury Road, Get Out, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but those examples are few and far between.
That disconnect makes it hard for the average person to care about the Oscars. I mean, I’ll watch the Oscars no matter what, but that’s cause I’m a film guy. I love to see Best Picture nominees and fill out my own personal Oscar ballot. Hell, I even have a yearly Oscar viewing party cause I’m a dork like that. But I will fully admit that I’m the odd one out here and that most people just don’t care about the Oscars, especially if you’re Best Picture winner is about how a woman wants to have sex with a fish that not many people saw.
And don’t forget, this isn’t some massive, sweeping change that’s occurring. It’s one category. It’s not replacing a pre-existing category, it’s just a single category being added to a night already full of other categories. It’s going to be another two, maybe three minutes of hearing some filmmaker talk about the success of their movie before being played off. It’s going to be banal when all’s said and done.
Now could all of this change when the Academy decides to detail what the award entails? Maybe, but if they’re announcing it in a press release explaining how they’re making their telecast more tolerable, then I don’t think this is going to be some end of the world issue. The Oscars are long and can most definitely be boring, so what the Academy is doing is trying to let everyone know that they’re actually listening to what their biggest critics, everyday people, have been saying. If the Oscars are too long, shorten them. If no one knows any of the movies, nominate more popular movies.
But then there’s the catch. Without a popular movie category, the Academy would have to work within the framework of the categories it already has. We’ve talked about which categories blockbusters usually fall into, but with rare exception, most popular movies don’t have the chops to cut it in other categories. I know that Chadwick Boseman did a great job in Black Panther, but can anyone say that his performance was truly Oscar-worthy? Black Panther was great, but within the current framework of the Oscars, it wouldn’t be able to cut it against some legitimately fantastic performances.
With this popular film category, the Oscars can have their cake and eat it too. They can increase viewership by nominating more well-known movies while still having business as usual for the rest of the award show. Some people may say though that it’s essentially placing blockbusters at the kid’s table while the “real movies” get all of the awards. First, the blockbusters still made hundreds of millions of dollars. Who cares if they don’t get to sit at the adult’s table, they’re still worth more than all of them combined.
Second, remember when Suicide Squad won an Academy Award? I remember when people threw a hissy fit about it, saying that a bad action blockbuster won an Oscar and that the Academy Awards lost their integrity for allowing a movie like Suicide Squad to win an award. Sure, I don’t think Suicide Squad should have won, but the fact that people are still talking about it two years later shows that the Academy actually was relevant in pop culture. When you think of Suicide Squad, you’re now going to remember that it has an Oscar for hair and makeup.
With this popular film category, the Oscars can still stay relevant, at least for a while longer. Having a single award for popular movies is a bandaid for a bigger issue. There is a disconnect between what the Academy thinks is a good movie and what the rest of the world thinks is a good movie. This new category, whatever it ends up being, may be a bridge between the two factions. But whether or not it is, there should be no reason why film critics should be declaring that the Academy are sellouts because of two flimsy, vague sentences. It’s sensationalism, plain and simple. Wait for more info, but why we do have to hate on big blockbusters that people flock to theatres to see? Art is art.