Oh boy did the Academy Awards stir the pot yesterday. In a letter to their members, they announced that a new category for “outstanding achievement in popular films” will be included in the next Oscars telecast on Feb. 24.
The details, including eligibility requirements, will be dealt with later, although a spokesperson later confirmed that a film nominated in the new category could still be nominated for best picture.
The Academy board also “voted to keep the telecast to three hours,” the New York Times reported. And, starting in 2020, they’ll telecast the show earlier in the year—before viewers are exhausted by other film award shows, including the Golden Globes.
But it was the addition of the new category that left the Twitter universe scratching its head and mocking the Academy for behaving like high school students. What’s next, Variety asked, Best Reboot? Best Performance in a Meryl Streep Film That’s Not Meryl Streep?
The argument goes that films like Wonder Woman, Black Panther, and The Last Jedi aren’t just seen by the masses: they are, according to most critics, actually really good—making the popular category redundant. Ok, we’re really only talking about Black Panther here, right? So what is this really about?
It truly is something that in the year Black Panther, a movie made just about entirely by and with black people, grosses $700 million, the Academy’s reaction is, “We need to invent something separate…but equal.”
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) August 8, 2018
Besides, after the Dark Knight got snubbed in 2008, didn’t the Academy up their best picture nominees from five to 10 films in order to combat the sometimes esoteric—even snobbish—tastes of their voters?
Back then, “there was also a hope that if superhero films and animated hits were recognized, the Oscars telecast would see ratings gains, as it did in 1998, hitting record highs as Titanic swept the awards,” Variety reported last year. “It helped that Titanic was the highest- grossing movie in history at that time.”
Which makes yesterday’s announcement even more confusing: The Academy has awarded blockbuster films not just best picture nominations but actual wins.
Even before the advent of the Blockbuster, which most film aficionados say began with Star Wars, Rocky, and in particular, Jaws—Spielberg’s shark epic opened in nearly 500 films across the country rather than on a few screens in LA and New York as was the norm—popular films won best picture: Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (’34), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (’40), and Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (’42) were all massive crowd pleasers and made studios’ lots of money, and they all took home the Oscar for best picture. (Also, they’re all incredible pictures.)
And, for the record, Star Wars may not have been nominated for best picture, but Jaws was. And Rocky won, beating out critical darlings like Network, Taxi Driver, and All the President’s Men!
My point is: from nearly the beginning, the Academy has a history of ignoring the movies that everyone goes to see, like anything starring Shirley Temple in the ‘30s and King King in ’33, but they also have a history of being populist, aka Rocky and Titanic.
So what’s changed today? Why separate categories for blockbusters and best pictures when a blockbuster can also be a best picture? Is it simply that they don’t know what to do with films that have more CGI and green screens than lines of dialogue? Are they just trying to up their telecast viewership numbers by appealing to the popular kids who saw Wonder Woman three times in theatres but have never heard of Barry Jenkins or Yorgos Lanthimos?
Probably. But surely, with a whopping 10 nominations available for best picture, there’s room for everyone.
2018: The Academy announces a new award for “Popular Film”!
2020: The Academy announces a new award for “Best Cinematic Universe!”
2022: The Academy announces a new award for “TV Shows that Feel Like 10-Hour Movies!”
2024: The Academy announces that “gifs are the new cinema!”
— david ehrlich (@davidehrlich) August 8, 2018