Thursday, August 09, 2018

On the "Popular Film" Oscar

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this week that they would be making a few changes to the awards, some of which start with the 91st Academy Awards in February. The least contentious of the three was that they will be moving the Oscars to an earlier time in February, thereby shortening the interminable awards season.

The other mostly-not-controversial announcement was that the Academy would be shortening the length of the ceremony to three hours, in part by giving some awards (read: short films) during the commercial breaks and then running some clips of those awards later in the show. It seems like it's not a terrible decision to make, although there has been some chatter online about how the whole "The Oscars are too long" narrative is overwrought and likely not as responsible for the decline in ratings as some pundits have proposed.

But it was the final announcement of the three that has already been regarded with a mix of derision, skepticism, and puzzlement: the Academy, at some point in the future - perhaps as soon as the next Oscars - will be introducing a heretofore unheralded category for "Best Achievement in Popular Film". They released very few details about the criteria for the award or the timeline in which it will be introduced, but that has not stopped critics from reacting.

There have already been a few takes published: Vanity Fair said it is likely only to make things worse for these kinds of movies; Rolling Stone's Tim Grierson framed his criticism of the decision by examining how the move seems ill-fated and reactionary; and, perhaps most directly, Vulture's Kyle Buchanan's opinion is expressed in his headline: "The Oscars Made Some Dumb Decisions Today".

I have a number of thoughts of my own that I wanted to share as a result of this decision, so I thought it would be useful to present my ideas in a series of posts. This post, the first of the three, will go through some of the questions that arise as a result of this new category, along with my initial thoughts on its inception. The next post will serve as an extended thought experiment of what might have been, and the final post will consist of some of the other ways that the Oscars might make some changes. But for now, here are the questions that are raised as well as some of my initial thoughts.


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