Uncle Oscar wants so badly to be cool. And that’s exactly how he’s doing it … badly.
Is anyone really surprised?
It’s weird to even be writing about the Oscars in mid-summer, but that’s what happens when the Academy gets desperate. And desperate it is. Ratings for the famed award show have been falling like the villain in a Disney movie. More and more, the Academy is seen as out of touch, reaching a hysterical climax in 2017 when it was even out of touch with its own program. (“And the winner is … La-La Land! Uh, hold that thought …”)
So they’re rolling the dice. Taking their shot. And this audacious, daring, newly revealed one-in-a-million top secret battle plan is … to give popular films their own special Oscar.
Gee, I can hear the audiences streaming back already. Or maybe that’s my migraine again.
OK, they’re looking at a few other changes as well, such as shortening the ceremony (gee, where have we heard THAT before?) and moving it to an earlier date. But it’s the “Popcorn Oscar” that has gotten the attention. After all, it’s hard to beat the power of a bad idea whose time has come.
Don’t get me wrong. The Oscars can be a wee bit snobbish. The Academy didn’t honor its first fantasy Best Picture winner until 2004, and “The Return of the King” remains the only one. “Silence of the Lambs” is still the only horror winner, despite the impact of films like “Jaws” or “The Sixth Sense.” It’s never given the top honor to a science fiction film (even with nominees like “Star Wars,” “E.T.” and “Inception”), or to an animated film (“Beauty and the Beast, “anyone?). So a little broadening is not a bad idea.
But setting aside a separate table for “the popular kids” is – well, cynical and clueless to say the least. Let me count the ways:
1) In an age of smartphones and Twitter, does anyone think that an audience will tune in to an epic-length award show for one category?
2) How do you define “popular?” Ticket sales? Online ballots? Number of illegal downloads? Buzzwords per minute?
3) As several commentators have noted, the superhero film “Black Panther” was a recent critical and commercial darling. Is it just a little tone deaf to announce a “separate but equal” film category for it in the same year?
4) Who says that a film the audience likes can’t actually be … how do I put this … good?
It does happen. Best Picture winners like “Schindler’s List” broke hearts and earned bucks. “Rocky” raised spirits and lifted a little trophy of its own. “The Godfather” made audiences and critics an offer they couldn’t refuse, and “Titanic” proved that every rule has its exception. (Is my snark showing?)
This shouldn’t be surprising. Films are stories, and stories depend on the audience as much as the author. A tale can be moving, vivid, true to the heart – but if no one hears it, it withers and dies forgotten.
I’m not saying that popular acclaim is the only measure of quality, or even a guaranteed one. If that were the case, the Transformers films would be among the great epics of our time. Small stories can be gems, and letting them shine in the spotlight is a worthy act. But that’s not because they’re “high art” or “low art” – it’s because they’re good art, something that any story can aspire to, from the biggest seller to the smallest silhouette.
If the Academy can take big films seriously as Best Picture possibilities, the new category is superfluous. If it can’t, it’s an insulting excuse to shunt “unworthy” films to the side. Either way, it’s time to put this one back in the envelope and just let good stories be good stories.
How cool would that be?