Is The Oscar Category For Popular Film Really That Bad Of An Idea?
Let’s get one thing straight. Henceforth, I’m referring to this award as Best Popular Film because “Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” is just too damn cumbersome. Sound good?
OK then, moving on.
We tend to live in a reactionary film culture where any major change is often met with either blind dogmatic support or with outright vitriolic scorn. As such I’ve learned to temper my response to anything film related by giving it a few days to percolate in my mind. Case in point was four years ago when Warner Bros. cast Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight for BvS. My initial reaction was outright rejection but I gave it a few days and decided while it was an odd and surprising bit of casting, it wasn’t necessarily bad.
I decided to afford the recent Oscar ceremony changes the same courtesy.
Earlier this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in an effort to drum up ratings, made three changes to the Oscars. The first was that starting in 2020 the ceremony would be moved up to the beginning of February rather than the traditional end of February/beginning of March air date. The second was that the show would be trimmed to three hours by showing only select awards live while others would be given out during commercial breaks. A highlight reel at the end of the night will show the acceptance and presumably brief speeches of the recipients. (Side Note: While I get the concept of wanting to cut down on the run-time of the Oscars, this is more than a little insulting to people receiving awards in the “minor” categories. With this move the Academy is essentially saying that they’re really not that important.) The third change, the one almost buried in the lead, was that the Oscars would now have a Popular Film category.
In the ensuing days every blogger, pundit, critic, and keyboard cowboy weighed in on the topic. The majority response was…shall I say…less than favorable. After several days of mulling the topic over I came to one irrevocable conclusion.
The vocal majority, in this instance, was correct.
Look, I get what the Academy is trying to do, which is bolster ratings. The ceremony goes on forever. It’s become a viable platform for everyone in the movie industry to push the current hot button cause. Most of the hosts in the last ten years have been a bust. (Anne Hathaway and James Franco anyone?) No one denies that the show contains inherent problems. However, adding a Best Popular Film category is not the way to go about it.
First off, the award comes across as extremely condescending. Giving “popular” films their own category is akin to decorating the kids table at Thanksgiving with neon colored papier-mache. It may look appealing….but it’s still not the adults table. It gives the Academy license to not award popular films a Best Picture nomination. Why should they when they now have their own category? That’s not to say a film won’t still qualify for both categories (it can) but this is a clear out for the Academy. All this award serves to do is reinforce the prevailing notion that the Oscars are an elitist self-rewarding institution that doesn’t reflect the majority of audiences’ take on what the “best” movies are. No one gives a flying fuck about The Artist, The Social Network is a far superior film to The King’s Speech, and the less said about Shakespeare In Love the better.
While we are at it, we might as well address the Wakanda sized elephant in the room. Since its release in February, Black Panther has become the highest grossing solo superhero film of all-time and made over a billion dollars world-wide. It has also met with critical acclaim from both audiences and critics alike. It’s a multi-layered, well acted, well-written film that I’d offer is one of the best MCU films to date. Furthermore, it’s not just a great film “for a comic book movie,” it’s a great film period. Small wonder then that there’s been a Best Picture Oscar push since its release. I would tend to agree that it deserves Oscar consideration. However, with the new Popular Film category, the likelihood of Black Panther receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Picture seems in doubt. It will undoubtedly be nominated in the Best Popular Film category and has a strong chance to win. While I don’t think the idea for a Best Popular Film category was cooked up INTENTIONALLY in the same year Black Panther released, you have to admit it’s not a good look for the Academy. This holds doubly true in a year when the Academy vastly expanded their membership to increase diversity.
Another problem with this award is the criteria itself. To call it nebulous would be a vast understatement. In fact a more accurate statement would be that there currently is no criteria. The Academy has as yet to release the qualification criteria. What metric(s) do you even go by? Box office? Cinemascore? Rotten Tomatoes? Audience to theater ratio? If your Uncle Sal liked it or not? Let’s say we meant merely by 2018 box office alone. Currently the five nominees (assuming there are five which I hope to God there are) would be: Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Incredibles 2, and Deadpool 2. Where does that leave a film like Aquaman then, a film that doesn’t come out until December? By all accounts the final box office totals wouldn’t be available probably until March or April which would not only be passed the voting time but the ceremony itself. Or what about Mission: Impossible Fallout, a film that hasn’t lit the box office on fire but has great word of mouth and is by all accounts awesome. Hell what about gems like A Quiet Place arguably the most popular horror film of 2018? There seems little rhyme or reason to this category at present and anywhere you turn someone will get the shaft.
Additionally, I find it hilarious to the point of absurdity that the Academy can trot this award out and yet stuntmen and stuntwomen, a vital part of the movie industry, are still mostly ignored. You don’t think the stunt coordinators and people involved in Mission: Impossible Fallout or John Wick or Upgrade deserve recognition? Where’s their category? And for the love of all that is holy, can we please get a category for Best Ensemble Cast already? Films like Hidden Figures and literally any of The Lord of the Rings movies would have nailed that category easily.
Lastly, lets not ignore that fact that in all likelihood Disney will dominate this category. Of the top five highest grossing films of 2018, three of them are from the House of Mouse. Is there any doubt that from year to year a Marvel film or a Star Wars film or a Pixar film will take this puppy home? How can a film like Mission: Impossible compete? And don’t forget the station the Oscars airs on–ABC. Who owns ABC? You guessed it! Disney. Across the multiverse this category seems like nothing more than a way for Disney to perform self-fellatio and award itself an empty trophy. Mickey you’ve got all the cash, do you really need a participant trophy too?
In short the idea of a Best Popular Film category is in fact that bad.
It really, REALLY is.
You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1