Yeah, Mark Wahlberg, you can be as happy about this new category as you’d like, but almost everyone else reacted negatively when the Academy announced that some changes were to take place in the near future.
In what seems to be a desparate attempt to get ratings back up, the Academy has stated that a new “popular film” nomination category is going to now be included. This is likely an effort to try and attract fans of blockbuster, comic book, action and horror films, of whom usually get no love during the Academy Awards (unless the film is Mad Max: Fury Road).
Now, this is not meant to bash the Academy Awards. For some reason, I cannot shake off the guilty (not guilty) pleasure I get from these awards. Sure, many of the nominations and even wins can go to the wrong person or film, and art is subjective at the end of the day (so even the “bad” winners are my own opinion, of course). Yes, many of the winners garner their trophies because of promotion and politics and not simply on talent alone.
However, I still love discussing film and analyzing it in any way, shape and form. I’ve ranked every Best Picture winner for Taste of Cinema before, so I clearly cannot shake off these ceremonies.
However, this new declaration is such a glaring mistake that I cannot just sit still. Will I stop trying to promote the positives the Academy Awards can bring? No, but like being a Kanye West fan, it’s starting to get really difficult defending something or someone that continues to make embarrassing decisions.
As someone who can see some sort of worth in the Academy Awards over other ceremonies like the Grammys, this new path is infuriating. Here are five reasons why this is a terrible idea.
1. It diminishes the validity of every other award category
Right off the bat, nothing else matters no matter which way you look at it. Either this “popular film” category is going to make a portion of the show irrelevant to any viewer. To someone like me (I watch every single nominee every year and make my own rankings and predictions. Shut up. It’s fun for me.), this category is a sore thumb that is to be ignored on a night where I usually try and take everything for granted.
Hell, popular films DO get nominated at the Academy Awards (but we will go into that later); what we DON’T have is a category that celebrates independent or experimental works. It’s the same deal, though, because sometimes indie or avant-garde works get noticed by the Academy in different ways (either through the Foreign Film category, or in other ways). Having the separate category functions as a hiccup or a momentary lapse for people like me.
Then there’s the demographic that this category is made for. This means the entire rest of the ceremony means nothing to these viewers. Their Marvel or Michael Bay film wins something. Congratulations. They’re going to tune out afterwards anyways. Worse; they won’t even tune in for one award at all, and will likely read the winner on Twitter or Wikipedia. Your strategy to boost ratings may fail, Academy.
2. It casts aside the important technical awards and emphasizes that common movie goers shouldn’t care about them
Another announcement that was made is that some of the technical awards will now take place outside of the ceremony. This mimics what the Grammys have been doing for years. Awards that aren’t “important” enough to be seen by everyone will have their own little ceremony that completely skips over the actual necessity for these nominees.
The Grammys have shamelessly been skimping over many technical and genre-based categories, but at least with the Grammys, there are so many damn categories that it only makes sense to do this. Who they decide to celebrate less than others is problematic, but that’s a discussion for another day (and another site). With the Academy Awards, there is no excuse.
The announcement stated that they want to cut the ceremony down to 3 hours, but eliminating some vital awards for this new shallow category is a complete waste of time. For people like me, witnessing the sound mixing and editing, production, editing, and other technical categories is some of the most fun we get watching the Academy Awards. Seeing Dunkirk win for its sound was huge, because part of the thrill of that film was hearing each and every miniscule sound cue that immersed me in this war.
For new cinephiles, these categories are important, because they teach you to appreciate more about films than just the pretty faces and melodramatic monologues they exude. The Academy was doing a good job promoting these categories by explaining them in the last few ceremonies, but they’re throwing this noble idea away by replacing them with one stupid category that does the opposite of educate when it comes to cinema; it caters, as a surrender, instead of appreciating the cinephiles that love more than the seventieth Fast and the Stupid Furious.
3. It removes the authenticity that popular movies would get being nominated in other categories
Remember then Logan got an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay? What about The Dark Knight winning an acting Oscar (something that is rare for comic book films)? What about Mad Max kicking the asses of every other nominee in 2016 for all of the technical awards? Didn’t that feel good? Wasn’t it great that the Academy, of which had turned into a swirling pool of different kinds of cinema (mostly mainstream, but with the odd head-turning pick here and there) was acknowledging talent when it was required? That’s all going to be removed now.
The popular film category will do one of two things. It will replace the necessity of bringing up a film in other areas. An example that has been discussed often is the idea that Black Panther would be up for the Best Picture award. I personally found that prediction unlikely, even though the film itself is exemplary for a comic book film (it was almost a reenactment with what happened with Wonder Woman last year), but who knows. Now, it will likely win this new category and not even be up for Best Picture at all.
If that doesn’t happen, each additional nomination these films garner may be shoehorned attempts at making these films worthy of their selection at all. You may be seeing some nominations that really don’t make sense as a means of justifying their worthiness of being nominated at all. Let’s face it. A popular movie category won’t just feature films that aren’t featured anywhere else. These films are likely going to be cemented within the ceremony as a means of making their worth known (whatever that worth may be).
It isn’t like the films nominated in the Foreign Film, Animation or Documentary categories which rarely (but can) find success in other categories. These are “popular” films which could very well have been found in these other categories if they were good enough anyways. Now, we may find many nominees that simply aren’t good enough but are there anyways.
4. It shifts the direction the Academy Awards was heading into the complete and opposite direction, promising an awful new era
Let’s go back and slam the Grammys again! Well, let’s maybe not quite do that, but hear me out. I adore music as well, and listen to everything under the sun. The Grammys celebrate the most popular of almost every single genre, and even then, they usually award the safest and least-risky nominees of them all. I’m looking at Bruno Mars beating Kendrick Lamar or, hell, even Childish Gambino with his drastic change in style.
These nominees weren’t even the best of their year (sans Kendrick, arguably), but out of the five nominees (Lorde and Jay-Z, too), the blandest pick won in shocking (and, sadly, unsurprising) fashion. The Grammys continue to wow us in the worst and most formulaic ways; it’s the weirdest paradox. We have many other fan-based awards shows like the Music Video Awards and the Peoples’ Choice. The Golden Globes are usually insanely sanitary compared to the Baftas and Oscars.
The reality is, yes, the Oscars are heading this direction with a move like the one they just made. For the last—at least—ten years, the Oscars have celebrated many things that most of these other awards shows simply don’t. When the Hurt Locker won, that was a change. A smaller film by a woman COULD win the top prize over the most successful movie of all time (sans inflation, of course), Avatar.
A silent film in 2011 that was made only on niches and artistic merits could triumph as a bold move. Moonlight (a smaller film that was catered for marginalized peoples) won Best Picture, and won deservedly so (and for the world to see). Foreign films like Amour could be nominated for the biggest awards of that year; even if it lost, it still had a chance. The same goes with an arthouse film like The Tree of Life; sure, it isn’t the most difficult film ever, but it’s a damn start.
You’ll NEVER find out-there music like Shabazz Palaces, Flying Lotus, or, god forbid, Death Grips being nominated for any high honour awards (maybe for electronic or alternative categories, but that’s it), and these are nominees that take part in the very few genres the Grammys are even willing to televise now (electronic and hip hop).
The Oscars thrived with focusing on the smaller names and films of some years. Viggo Mortensen being nominated for Captain Fantastic was a win in itself, despite the actor not taking home the top prize. The point is, the smaller voices are getting heard. We don’t need to take away from them with a mundane category that will start the shift towards these other awards shows. In fact, this awful mistake brings me to the final point here, and it may actually shock you.
5. It mirrors the very first Academy Awards show which had two best picture winners, which was dropped immediately the year after
Yeah, you heard me. While it wasn’t distinctly a popular film and a best picture deal like we have now, it may have well been the same thing. At the very first Academy Awards show that wasn’t even televised (back in 1929), a closed ceremony took place to celebrate film in California.
We had three “best picture” nominees split into two categories (with three apiece); these two categories were “Outstanding Picture” and “Best Unique and Artistic Picture”. The latter category celebrated aesthetically pleasing works, and the sole winner of this award was F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. The “Outstanding Picture” award was based on the best production and common filmmaking elements found within a film; the award went to Wings.
You usually don’t hear about Sunrise winning a Best Picture award, because the Outstanding Picture category remained while the “Unique and Artistic” category was dropped a year later. It was decided that the best picture of a year should definitively be the only best picture winner. Yes, the artistic option for Best Picture was dropped, but the “Outstanding Picture” category was to cover all bases from there on out; it wasn’t as if artsy films were to be ignored by the Academy from here on out (I can sense the negative comments disagreeing coming from a mile away).
Nonetheless, each and every decision from the Academy Awards from there on out was made to be definite. When black and white cinematography was becoming less common, the two cinematography categories became one. The rising star awards got removed to celebrate younger talents in competition with people of all ages (with stars like Anna Paquin even winning against their older competitors).
The Academy usually works to remove sloppiness, ambiguity and vague scenarios, so any winner usually meant this was the winner (no ifs, ands or buts). This is one of the rare times the Academy has moved forward in making a category that adds the lack of absolution; “so, is the popular film the next best picture, or is it not a best picture of sorts at all? Do we even need it then?”.
This is a backwards decision that is so dated, that even the very first iteration of the Academy knew it was a stupid idea to do (despite both Sunrise and Wings being spectacular films). Hell, the Academy was still awarding racist, sexist, and bigoted works (like Cimarron, which is an awful film even without all of that) that have aged as well as old cheese left on the counter for a year, and they still knew that having two “best picture” categories was wrong.
One final thought:
Let’s keep in mind that new categories are still fine as long as they make sense. Other publications have covered what countless categories need recognition, so I won’t go too deeply into these. However, motion capture, stunt actors, voice acting, and other major components of popular films won’t get the time of day they deserve; this would be the killing of two birds with one stone, because it would enforce the inclusion of popular films in the ceremony.
No. Instead, we get a lazy, half-assed category that goes against the small-but-strong surviving audience the Academy still had. Why fight for people who will not care even after these new changes take place, instead for those of us that have been keenly watching and celebrating the Academy Awards for years despite their faults? We’re almost at 100 years, and the Academy—while seemingly heading in the right direction initially—has taken a nose dive.