OP-ED: The Oscars’ “Popular Film” Category Puts Studios Over Creators

Wait. Why.

At long last, the internet has been united in its outrage over one issue. Sure, the issue may not have anything to do with immigration, or the economy, or any of the other deeply important issues it would be lovely if we got to unite on. No, the outrage came from the Academy Awards, and their introduction of a category of “outstanding achievement in popular film”. Huh.

And um. Huh. Okay. Um.

So, the Academy Awards have, since say– the era when E.T. could have slid in easily into the Best Picture category, often ignored the kinds of movies pushed forward by studios. This is for a very simple reason: those movies tend not to be made with an artistic goal in mind, as much as a financial one. They’re there to make the studio money.

Sometimes the needs intersect — Lord of the Rings swept the Academy Awards in nominations and eventually in wins in the three years the trilogy was released — but usually in 2018 the grand blockbuster represents a financial agreement. (Iron Man 2, the first two Thor movies, splitting Harry Potter’s seventh book into two movies– they all represent studios making a financial agreement in franchise upkeep rather than people going for the artistic representation of film).

Sure, The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman and Logan were excellent movies that were snubbed for Best Picture, but so many movies I love were snubbed for Best Picture — Where the Wild Things Are, The Triplets of Belleville — Guillermo Del Toro just now won Best Director!? Movies get snubbed all the time, and I’m more concerned that a movie like “Sorry to Bother You” won’t get the nomination over “Avengers: Infinity War”.

These movies can and should be nominated for their merits (and were — The Dark Knight won for Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, Logan received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay). But the term popular seems to mean a very specific thing.

Would “Get Out” be nominated in this category? It’s an artistic feat, and won for Best Original Screenplay. It’s ridiculously popular in terms of discussion– more so than the blockbusters that were released this year — but would it be defined as a ‘popular movie’?

The term popular movie seems both condescending and cynical. It’s a reference to a blockbuster that is meant to grab a massive audience. Rewarding that kind of financial upkeep seems… condescending. To everyone. Any movie that beats it will know that its a masterpiece in a financial bracket where Michael Bay comfortably makes upteenth Transformers sequels. And frankly Black Panther, the rare blockbuster that could comfortably be nominated for “Best Picture” without anyone batting an eye, deserves better than a condescending win.

Also, as many on Twitter point out uhh… does this mean, the movies that actually win are unpopular?

Still, it’s understandable why the Academy Awards are doing this, as the telecast has often been written as not retaining viewers due to the lack of popular movies for the viewers to root for. One could hope that viewers could come out to support the artistry of film, the power of a cultural moment or an actor, but… then they’d have to see them.

Unfortunately, in 2018 it seems that blockbuster are the movies that the public talks about at large.

Gone is the age where something as mainstream like ‘The Simpsons’ can reference an art movie with ease, or Animaniacs can do an entire segment based on ‘The Goodfellas’. We’re not really in the age of a culture where the majority celebrates its adult movies on the most basic level of mainstream acceptance. A part of the mainstream movie discussion is of people analyzing just how faithful the Venom trailer is to the comic book from 30 years ago — a conversation seemingly aimed at an ever shrinking audience of comic book purists.

As much as we mock the category, in order to make a meaningful change to it, we would have to become a culture that watches and celebrates movies on a grand scale. That audience moved to television of course. Where once The Godfather, Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction and countless others dominated the acting imagination, so now comes Atlanta, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Girls, and so so so so so many more.

The artistic discussion has moved to television. But why is that? The popular conversation has pointed to the comfort of streaming services, but given the popularity of MoviePass, another theory should be discussed.

Maybe movie theaters are too expensive for a casual experience in 2018.

Anyway, I don’t know why this category is necessary. It’s an award for how much money a movie made rather than its quality, and it seems to take away what makes the Oscars so special by making it more like the ever popularity awards MTV awards.

Anyway remember when Monsters Inc. lost to Shrek in 2002? The Academy Awards never needed an excuse to reward the much more popular thing.

Also… All this to get away with not giving Black Panther the Best Picture Award, huh?

Anyway, here is the video that would have played if Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius won Best Animated Feature in 2002.

What do you think though? Is this category actually good and not deeply stupid? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @WhatsTrending.

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