I’ve waited a week’s time to release my thoughts on the decision from The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to include a Best Achievement in Popular Film category for the 2020 Oscars. President John Bailey made the announcement last Wednesday, in addition to revealing changed details in the production of the show which will now be cut down to a three-hour broadcast, as well as bumping up it's cast date from early March too early February. In conclusion to those revisions, the Academy will also un-air the small awards such as Sound Mixing and Production Design, revealing those winners throughout the broadcast, instead of including them as a part of the show.
It’s a whole new age for the Academy, one met by disdain and vitreal by Twitter. Many claiming that the move by the Board of Governors is one that collapses the integrity and legitimacy of the ceremony, celebrating spectacle and dismissing artistry. It’s a conversation that has sparked debate and consumed the fandom of filmmaking over the last week, and I’ve had my fair share of contradictions and changes of heart.
It’s a bold move, one that invokes a response, to make a separate category that favors “popularity.” How the Academy will measure those qualifications for such a group remains unknown, but box office growth will most definitely partake a role in the classifications for achievement in this tier of filmmaking. The charts below display some evidence to the argument that the Academy doesn’t favor popularity as a criterion for best picture, as the last seven ceremonies rarely included films that were beloved by audiences. The most notable exception to that argument is James Cameron’s “Avatar” which remains to be the highest grossing film of all-time in global measurements, grossing $2.7 billion. The film would do well in the states as well, with a $749 million domestic cume. It’s the prime example for the counterargument, but many have described the nomination of “Avatar” as a plead or an apologetic move by the Academy in response to the criticism of their treatment of “The Dark Knight.”
Highest Grossing Best Picture Nominees
Highest Grossing Movies
"Avatar" received a mediocre approval from critics as well, standing at an 83% rating on RottenTomatoes, the average rating being 7.5/10. On top of that, the film still lost out to Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” a film that grossed $17 million at the domestic box office. So the question remains, is this move by The Academy to become more “accessible” to a larger audience necessary or egregious?
Being constantly reminded of the ratings drop that the ceremony has suffered over the years, it's worth mentioning that The Oscar’s was never meant to be a wildly popular show. It was a private party, a gathering of elitists, the night where “Hollywood pats itself on the back.” It was always meant to be that, so the films nominated or appreciated we’re meant to be the most artistic, the most daring, the most politically charged/relevant examples of filmmaking. In recent years, the political dilemma of the program has grown in waves, becoming the number one draw at times, to see how much trash these Hollywood celebs will talk about the president. (Not that I am opposed to that, he brings it on himself.)
It’s never been surprising for me to see films such as “The Reader” get nominated over “The Dark Knight” or “Iron Man.” The Academy has never appreciated the experience of spectacle as much as geekdom or fandom. It’s always been far more attracted to reflection, specifically dramatic reflection. The hefty sweeps of emotion, the shouting and screaming, the films that reflect the power we have as human beings to intimately affect one another. These are necessary films, good ones too. Genre filmmaking has grown in popularity over the last decade in half though, as science fiction tales and caped crusaders have become the talk of the town at hair salons, coffee houses, and restaurants. No longer caged behind the doors of comic books shops or “Clerk” stores.
While that evolution and development and diversification of fandom has blossomed, the Academy has remained fixated on the artistic shine of Hollywood. Providing footing and a platform for smaller and unknown films to gain some attention for the fresh voices they share with us as moviegoers.
For me, I always saw the Academy as the night where my artistic side as a film lover was satisfied, where we honored those films that were relatively unnoticed by the masses. Not that movies like “Logan” or “Deadpool” or “Wonder Woman” shouldn’t be in the conversations for Best Picture or Best Director or Best Screenplay. These are movies that excite us and transport us to different places, but the Academy has never been about those movies.
The Academy is fabricating a category as a necessary trait of modernization. It’s meant to be an example of their growing efforts to match the pace of fandom, an un-achievable feat seeing as nerdom changes and grows at a far more rapid rate than can be predicted. The point is to save ratings, to save face, and to give non-film nerds a reason to watch, hopefully. There is no reason for them to watch, and for most of us, there never was one. The Oscars can be a valuable tool in building someone’s careers, in providing a platform for new voices in the industry to be heard, in spreading messages of equality or #MeToo. It's a platform, a grand and prestigious one at that. It is both a night of self-indulgence and self-recognition for Hollywood folk, where they can sit back and reflect upon the greatness of the past and the future, while also providing legitimacy to societal grievances or cultural stigmas.
It’s a stage, for many things, none of which involve naming the best films of the last year, because the solution to the Academy’s problem, if they wish to address it directly, is quite simple. Open your mind. Open up to new ideas, to new genres, to new stories, to a new fandom. We all have our fair share of revelations as filmgoers, mine was recognizing my neglection for geekdom. Succumbing to the seduction of a “snob” critic’s ideology, pretending that a film with capes and quips is objectively worse than one that is sad, low-budget, and an indie-darling. Becoming more excited for films with the Sundance reefs than one with Marvel logos, despite growing up a comic book fan, despite growing up a fan of movies like “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars.” Excluding my childhood, I thought to become a film critic was the equivalent of falling into the formula for the disapproval of popularity and the endorsement of artistry, as if they couldn’t co-exist, a similar dilemma the Academy faces.
I recognized my blissful appreciation for spectacle, to be wowed by the silver screen, to be engulfed by an adventure or a character or a scene that reminds me of why I love movies. The Academy has to find that same moxie. Needing to discover what makes them who they are, if that is the constant celebration of indie filmmaking, so be it, if it’s an inclusion of genre filmmaking, excellent. Either way, The Academy will still need to discover what they’re stage is meant to be used for, if not the propagating of required societal progressions or the pampering of Hollywood, then what?