So apparently the Academy Awards decided they want to add a new category to the Oscars in the hopes of drumming up views by average people. The solution is not to give movies most of us watch an honest assessment among the “smart” and “artsy” and “serious” films but to create a category just for movies enjoyed outside of the snooty critic, actors, producers, and other members of the Hollywood elite. Referred to as a “best popular film” category (whether or not this the final name they go with is currently unclear), it’s a chance for movies the actual moviegoing public go to see, the so-called “popcorn flicks” that allegedly have no substance to it, a chance to win something. The hope is that it will bring their ratings up on ABC every year.
I’m honestly a bit mixed here. On the one hand it’s a bone thrown to the average moviegoer. It doesn’t mean anything to the Hollywood elite, which if we’re honest are more like “elitists” at times. On the other hand it hopefully acknowledges there are other movies who deserve credit beyond the special effects category and maybe a movie score or some other minor category. I would need to see it in action to really develop an opinion, but I don’t work for Variety, one of the many entertainment news and gossip sources out there. They did three articles…three!…decrying this new category as the worst thing the Academy could do. It seems a bit harsh for a category they are only considering! They have nothing definite here and I’m not sure it’s had a chance to earn the bashing they’ve given it. Not that they don’t have some good points mind you.
I’ll start with Owen Gelberman’s commentary, and please read these to make sure I’m not getting the context wrong or something. Sorry about the video that keeps demanding you watch it. You can click the X when it pushes itself to the side of your browser. Man, I hate those autoplaying videos that follow you everywhere, muted or not! Anyway here are some highlights of what he had to say on the matter:
For a hundred years, movies have been a popular art form. So Wednesday morning, when the news came out that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is proposing to introduce a new category at the Oscars, one that would be called best popular film (or words to that effect), the first reaction I had — apart from my jaw dropping on the floor in shock and dismay — was: best popular film? What does that even mean?
Well, considering how many movies are praised by the average people versus the critics we can at least guess. Granted they’re probably going with scored on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, sites that collect “professional” critic data (i.e. people who get paid to review movies rather than some schmuck who can’t even get Patreon support or ad revenue but does it anyway for fun and improving his own story skills) and parse it down to a score like a game, and then let visitors also rate the movies so I don’t know if that’s what you should go on. But you can at times see the discrepancy between the two groupings. But I wonder if the Academy themselves know what they mean?
There’s growing conviction, and with good evidence, that “the mass audience” — the people who turn out to see comic-book movies, “Star Wars” movies, etc. — is less and less interested in the Oscars. Ratings for the show have been in a slow but steady decline, and out of that reality grows the conviction — and fear — that the Oscars have become marginalized.
The problem is real. But let’s be clear: This category is not the way to fix it. The notion of putting “popular” films in a section all their own isn’t just unworkable — and, the more you look it, nonsensical. It’s nothing short of reprehensible. It violates the very spirit of what movies have been ever since there have been movies.
I emphasized the part where I started to shake my head. It is a strange move and possibly “nonsensical”? Yes. But “reprehensible”? That seems a bit harsh.
I ask again: What, exactly, is a “popular” film? “Avengers: Infinity War”? Undoubtedly. “Mission: Impossible — Fallout”? Most certainly. And what about “La La Land,” the musical that became a mainstream phenomenon by grossing $150 million? I’d say that counts too. So should “La La Land” have been nominated in the best popular film category? It’s not a comic-book movie, but it is a highly entertaining work of popular appeal made in a time-honored Hollywood genre.
And a mostly abandoned one. Occasionally a classic-style musical pops up, and even less occasionally it’s an homage rather than subversion or whatever. I also don’t think “Mission: Impossible” is a comic-book movie either. It’s a franchise based on a TV show it spat on in the first movie by making the show’s hero into the movie’s villain, and became the Tom Cruise Stunt Show after that. Or does “comic-book movie” not mean based on an actual comic book? Wanted was based on a comic book and so was Men In Black. Do they count? No, really, I posted this in part because I’ve never understood how critics classify a “comic book movie”. Hancock is not a comic book movie.
Okay, it’s obvious that “La La Land” was trying to be a movie of genuine artistry. So should that, in fact, disqualify it from inclusion in the best popular film category? And if so, what do you do with “The Greatest Showman”? It wasn’t an acclaimed film like “La La Land” (though I gave it one of its rare rave reviews), but it, too, was a highly popular musical, grossing $175 million. Should that film have been nominated in the best popular film category? If so, should the category actually be called best popular film that critics don’t like?
It’s not that this commentary makes bad points. These are questions that the Oscars themselves should be asking when finalizing what this category is. I think they’re just floating the idea out and seeing if it takes hold with the public, and using that data to finalize what the category will be. Personally I don’t think what the critics liked or didn’t like should have anything to do with the category. Nobody in these articles note however, that it will be the Oscars choosing the nominees, which has been the concern. How does the Academy choose the movies worthy of nomination? And is there an opening for a “write-in” on the ballots? And it will still be the elite who vote on the nominees chosen by the Academy and not all the movies that came out this year who couldn’t put together a marketing campaign aimed at those voters.
But let’s assume that we have a best popular film category. You’d think that “Black Panther,” since it’s the top-grossing movie of the year, would be relegated — almost by definition — to that category. Later on Wednesday, though, the Academy issued a clarifying statement that said a movie could be nominated in both the best popular film and best picture categories. That solves one problem by creating another. Imagine that “Black Panther” was nominated in both categories. Wouldn’t there be at least some Academy voters who felt tempted to vote for it in one category (i.e., best popular film) instead of the other? Wouldn’t the movie, in effect, be competing against itself?
Considering how many films have won more than one category before (the term “sweeping the Oscars” comes to mind) I don’t think so. Plus there’s been more pressure to give more black creators a strong look after that year when no black creators were nominated. (I’d have to check to see if that includes the actors.)
Let’s be honest: The whole notion of a best popular film category feels chintzy and cheesy and superficial — very People’s Choice Awards, or MTV Movie & TV Awards.
What’s wrong with that? If it indeed turns out to be the Academy giving a category over to the fans to vote for, which as I said they probably actually won’t since they choose the nominees and are still voted on by the elites, why would that be a bad thing? Actually, that’s the same problems with the other award shows mentioned. THEY choose the nominees. Who decides what gets nominated?
And in the end, how much difference would it make anyway? Are the legions of blockbuster fans who, more and more, don’t even bother to tune into the Oscars really going to watch, all of a sudden, because there is now one category devoted to “their” movies?
Granted, I won’t and as he stated neither will most people.
Yet for all the ways that it’s unworkable, impractical, and not at all likely to succeed, the single worst aspect of the proposed best popular film category is that it feels not just tacky but corrupt. It’s a piece of cultural demagoguery. It commits a sin that I would call philosophical.
The whole notion of dividing movies into “art” and “entertainment,” with the suggestion that the “art” films appeal to a “small, elite” audience and that the “entertainment” films appeal to, you know, the people, has always been simplistic and, ultimately, untrue. And these days it comes with an unmistakable spin. The mainstream vs. the elites!
I took the politics out of that statement because this is a happy place and political discussion makes nobody happy these days. They ruin family gatherings, end friendships based on bad information, and crush lives. But since I’ve been using the “elite” commentary myself I couldn’t ignore it. I’m sure there are plenty of elites who enjoy Commando or RoboCop but how often is that reflected in movies nominated and winning lately? When has a “blockbuster” or “popcorn flick” been given the time of day? If it wasn’t for the racial angle Black Panther probably wouldn’t even be mentioned in the Oscars except for the effects. Science fiction only gets credit if it’s some emotional tear jerker or gets a special effect nomination, and that’s an award that doesn’t care about the quality of the rest of the film.
Then he starts talking about movies as art, and I don’t get into art discussion because then you start debating what is and isn’t art and I don’t know much about art as others decide what is or isn’t art, but I know what I like and what works. Even bad movies are “art” while some people call a crucifix in a jar of urine “art”. The term’s meaning is skewed these days.
This all came after another commentary by Kristopher Tapley but Gelberman’s was the one I saw first. So what did Tapley have to say?
There is no other way to read the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ moves this morning. This is desperation.
The program, already deemed interminable by many, will be fixed at three hours. That would be great if it meant a focus on the work, but apparently “the work” is going to be sidelined a bit, as the Academy has announced that certain awards will be handed out during commercial breaks, and those moments will be edited into a tidy package to be aired later in the telecast.
They kind of do that already. “Here are the awards that were handed out off-camera because those people weren’t important enough for us to care. Only big names matter but we’ll toss them a bone.” Notice they never get covered by the media in their winners lists either.
Does that mean more Disney-pandering skits like last year’s stale “Wrinkle in Time” bit (Disney-owned ABC airs the Oscars)?
Dumb skits in an awards show? Next you’ll tell me there will be huge but boring dance numbers and comedians who somehow aren’t funny while the winners sound more like they’re at a political rally than an awards show. Hey, maybe that’s the problem with a lot of awards shows now. The continued inescapably of “my superior political/social cause” to the point that the people who agree with you want out just so they can stop hearing about it for five seconds!
The pièce de résistance of (Academy President John) Bailey’s letter was the addition of a category that reveals these moves for the craven scrambling that they are. “We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film,” Bailey wrote. “Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.”
Again, we don’t know what it’s going to be but we’re going to throw a fit over it and call it the worst thing done to cinema right in our headlines.
This is the worst of these ham-fisted maneuvers because it’s such a condescending stance toward “popular” cinema to take at a time when the Academy is making as many moves as possible to open the gates to all forms of cinema (i.e., waving in a thousand new members, being aggressively proactive on diversity in the voting ranks, etc.). It’s a stiff backhand to those efforts, in fact, because it outright states that popular films need to be ghettoized.
“Ghettoized”? We’re again assuming that being given this award means you won’t get another award. This isn’t animation we’re talking about here. Oh yeah, about that.
The Academy has done this before, you just didn’t quite pick up on it. “The dirty little secret about the animated feature category is they created it so popular films could pick up nominations,” one longtime Academy member told me. Now this.
More like the actors got mad that the cartoons were getting nominated for Movie Of The Year and have a fit. Beauty And The Beast and Shrek (talk about polar opposites) had a chance to win and apparently voice acting is still a joke to these celebs and Best Animated Picture was the bone thrown to them while still making the animated movie fans happy…except we saw right through that.
He also seems to believe that this is another attempt to push Black Panther to the minor categories. Whether he’s blaming that on superheroes or the mainly black cast I can’t say. I haven’t seen the movie but all my friends who have gotten to see it say it’s good. Like, actual quality, not “hurray, we finally have a black superhero headlining, right Meteor Man, Blankman, Spawn, Steel, Hancock, and Blade?” Look, they should give more black heroes a chance. I’ve advocated for a Prowler or Icon & Rocket movie for years and it seems more likely than ever, or at least a Static movie. But let’s not act like this is the first time it’s ever happened, which is what the hype keeps suggesting. Meanwhile you have Wesley Snipes, Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, and other black main characters in action movies of the past who have done quite well. It just hasn’t translated to superheroes. Also Steel wasn’t very good but might have worked as a made-for-TV movie (but still a bad adaptation), Hancock and Spawn didn’t interest me and usually neither do vampire movies, and Blankman just makes me mad. The Meteor Man I liked.
Was there some internal panic that the movie might not be recognized otherwise? Is this a move to help carve out a place for it and therefore avoid a potential PR headache? Maybe. But, again, it’s a condescending move and it may have just undercut efforts to push Coogler’s film into competition with all worthy contenders, not just the ones that busted blocks. (And what an irony that would be if indeed Disney/ABC pushed for these changes.)
So we ARE still assuming that the Academy is racist?
This? Bad all around. It’s not dignified to relegate the live televised glory of artisans to commercial breaks.
Just the behind-the-scenes people who make those artisans look good.
It’s not dignified to quarantine a whole brand of cinema in the hopes that someone will tune into your show because “Mamma Mia!” is an Oscar nominee.
Don’t even joke about that! Why is that getting a sequel?
Finally we have this article about celebs taking to Twitter to treat this as the worst act ever committed in Hollywood. Next to the sexual assaults and making jokes about raping young boys, actually raping young boys and girls, and drug use. I’ve been posting some of my “favorites” throughout the article to break up the text wall. But you can see more reactions from the Hollywood elite there.
Look, it IS a dumb idea, it IS a way to push for ratings that will fail, and it IS a smokescreen because the Oscar people will still be the ones deciding who gets nominated while whomever votes chooses who will win, so we still won’t have any say. It’s a waste of time and won’t get the results they want. But the death of the film industry? Really? Even if they actually were allowing the general public, the folks who as a total probably have the biggest say in whether the movie succeeds or not, were in charge of this category it would be a good thing. That’s not what’s happening and it’s all a smokescreen but it’s not the end of Hollywood. So go back to blaming other things. Like YouTube or video games.