Sooo... awards season is in full swing, and I have something I need to confess:
I am an Oscars fan. I can't help it. I love the awards show. Not all of them. I'll watch the Golden Globes with a small measure of enjoyment and some excitement. I'll tolerate the MTV Movie Awards if they happen to be on in the same room as me. I loathe the Grammys and the Tonys and the Emmys and the whatever -eees happen to be on this week. Now don't misunderstand, I am not besmirching the noble work done in those fields, I am not looking down on television or music or theatre. I'm not saying those award shows hold any less weight or merit in their fields. But there is something about Oscar. The pomp, the circumstance, the overbearing superiority of it all. The class, the elegance, the history. The moments, the laughter, the tears, even the speeches.
I love it all. Every since I was a kid, I would watch every year, and even without really understanding the magnitude of what I was watching, I knew the import of the history that was unfolding up there on the screen. I knew, in the words of Roy Neary, "This means something. This is important."
And of course I held Oscar watch parties and submitted my picks, and bought books and read up on the history and the culture and the controversy. For where would the Academy Awards be without controversy?
And while the whole point of the Oscars is to celebrate excellence in film, recently the academy has become obsessed with it's broadcast ratings. The Academy has been broadcasting the awards since all the way back in 1953. But now we keep hearing about changes to keep the audience. Television viewers tend to stay away in years when heavy dramas are big nominees, the so-called "Oscar Bait" films. Comic Book/Sci-Fi/Action movies, so essential to Hollywood's bottom line, very rarely if ever get the nod. Look at The Dark Knight, which failed to earn a nomination for Best Picture despite its popularity and excellence in filmmaking. To combat that trend, in 2010 the Academy switched up the Best Picture category, allowing up to TEN films to be nominated up from five. "The Avatar Effect" as I have come to think of it, not only makes seeing everything nominated that much harder, it feels like the Academy is throwing up a few sacrificial lambs that really don't stand a chance, but were popular at the box office in order to try and fool viewers into sticking around to see what happens. The other side of the coin is getting several solid, good films, but no real standouts, which can be just as bad. Behind the scenes, the nomination process itself is ridiculously convoluted (which you can read about here).
(Back to 2016 and #OscarsSoWhite, in my mind the Academy double goofed that year. In addition to no minority actors of color being nominated, there were only 8 films submitted for Best Picture, and Straight Outta Compton was not one of them. It ticks so many boxes that Oscar normally likes: Biopic, popular, did well but wasn't a runaway blockbuster... films like this are the very reason they went up to ten. Are you telling me they honestly couldn't fill those slots? Don't get me wrong, I harbor no illusions that those films would have won, but still, why offer up to ten if you can't find ten to honor? Why not just leave it at five?)
This year, Black Panther was released to become box office gold. Not only was it a certified hit, not only was it a popular movie that played in theatres PAST it's home video/DVD release date, not only was it loved by critics everywhere, it was exceptionally well made.
Oh, and it was a comic book/sci-fi/action film.
What to do? Well the Academy came up with a brilliant idea for just such an emergency, a whole new category:
The Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film.
Dear Fellow Academy Members,
After months of anticipation and much talk, I’d like to address a topic that’s close to me.
Viewing patterns for the Academy Awards are changing quickly in our current multi-media world, and our show must also evolve to successfully continue promoting motion pictures to a worldwide audience. This has been our core mission since we were established 91 years ago—and it is the same today.
As you may remember, last summer the Academy’s Board of Governors committed to airing a three-hour show. I want to reiterate however, that all 24 Academy Award-winning presentations will be included in the broadcast. We believe we have come up with a great way to do this, and keep the show to three hours.
While still honoring the achievements of all 24 awards on the Oscars, four categories—Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling – will be presented during commercial breaks, with their winning speeches aired later in the broadcast.
And, with the help of our partners at ABC, we also will stream these four award presentations online for our global fans to enjoy, live, along with our audience. Fans will be able to watch on Oscar.com and on the Academy’s social channels. The live stream is a first for our show, and will help further awareness and promotion of these award categories.
The executive committees of six branches generously opted-in to have their awards presented in this slightly edited timeframe for this year’s show, and we selected four. In future years, four to six different categories may be selected for rotation, in collaboration with the show producers. (This year’s categories will be exempted in 2020.)
The Academy Awards honors the year’s best films and filmmakers. It is an international show, filled with great emotion, and (we hope) stirring acceptance speeches. This year, in addition to performances of all five nominated songs, the show will feature Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic playing during In Memoriam, as part of their own centennial celebration.
So, buckle up! We are committed to presenting a show which we all will be proud of.
John, you're making it hard for me to keep defending you guys here.
Yeah, those aren't important to the craft of fucking filmmaking or anything.
I'm not saying I have the solutions for Oscar, I don't. I don't have any suggestions for them on how to have their cake and eat it too. I know many friends who couldn't give two shits about the Oscars. And I don't blame them. I genuinely get their frustration and apathy. But the allure of the gold keeps bringing me back, like a broken down prospector who knows his claim is played out, but wants just one more shot for it to strike. In much the same way, I keep hoping that the Academy will wise up and return to the glitz and glamor of celebrating the achievement of film and stop worrying so much about the multimedia world, the viewing numbers, and what is "proper". A good movie should be celebrated regardless of its genre, and a well crafted one should get it's moment in the sun to celebrate those who crafted it.
Perhaps Guillermo del Toro said it best: