The Academy is making some changes, and they are—to be frank—absolutely terrible. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been trying for years to woo younger viewers to its telecast, and to make the Oscars more “relevant,” despite the fact that, for those cinephiles who actually care about the Oscars, they’re doing just fine by awarding exciting films like Moonlight and Mad Max: Fury Road. Apparently that’s not good enough, as the Academy’s board of governors announced some massive changes to the Oscars: They’re adding a new category called “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”, and they’re limiting the telecast to three hours, which means presenting some awards off-air. They also announced that the 2020 Oscars will be held much earlier, on February 9, 2020, which means a shorter voting window.
So let’s start with the new category. In 2008, The Dark Knight was a lock for a Best Picture nomination, until The Weinstein Company strong-armed The Reader into its place. The next year, the Academy expanded its Best Picture category to 10 nominees to try and recognize more “populist” films like The Dark Knight. In 2009 it largely worked, with films like Up, District 9, and The Blind Side scoring nominations. After that, however, expanding the Best Picture field has largely just meant adding more indies that no one’s seen to the lineup. Not that films like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Whiplash aren’t deserving, but this wasn’t necessarily what the Academy had in mind.
This experiment failed, and it felt as though the only way to “fix” it was to just go back to five Best Picture nominations. That’s not what the Academy is doing, and instead they’re just adding a separate category for “populist” movies. This is a very bad idea. For one, it denigrates blockbusters as not worthy of sitting at the adult’s table—they have their own, special place. Specific details about eligibility have not been revealed, but one has to wonder if films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Inception, or The Martian may no longer be Best Picture candidates.
My feeling is this: If Mission: Impossible – Fallout or Black Panther is one of the best films of the year, it’s one of the best films of the year. Period. There’s no need to put a “popular film” label on it. Yes, The Dark Knight is a very different movie than Moonlight, but that doesn’t mean they’re not both incredible filmmaking feats.
Moreover, there’s been widespread support for the Academy adding a category for Best Stunts or Best Casting for years, and this is the category they decide to add? Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film? Give me a break.
But apparently the Academy couldn’t stick with just one bad decision, as they’re now going to be presenting certain categories during commercial breaks. This is offensive to the filmmaking community and to all nominees. Getting an Oscar nomination is a huge, huge deal, whether it’s for Best Actor or Best Costume Design. It honors the very best of all the craftspeople involved in making a film, and to suddenly deem certain categories unworthy of being part of the actual broadcast is a slap in the face. Everyone knows the Oscars run long. They always run long. That’s the deal. It’s one night a year, I think folks can handle it.
Essentially, with these changes, the Oscars are looking to become more like the MTV Movie Awards, and that’s a damn shame. I’ve watched the Oscars since I was a kid. I love the pomp and circumstance, I love seeing those who work so hard to create art get recognized for outstanding filmmaking, and I love seeing the reaction of people winning such a prestigious award. The Oscars should be about celebrating movies, not wooing viewers to a telecast, and these changes do serious harm to the Academy’s reputation. But I guess if Avengers: Infinity War has a shot at winning “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” it’s all worth it. Yippee.