MATTHEW LIEDKE COLUMN: The Oscars scrapping Best Popular category was a good move
We can all breathe a sigh of relief, for now.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced recently a new Oscar category for "popular" films has been benched and won't be featured at the 91st annual ceremony.
According to Variety, the Academy stated that the new award "creates challenges for films that have already been released."
Despite the Academy saying that the cause was because of timing, though, I'm not really buying it. I suspect that the reason is because right after the Academy made the announcement in early August, the backlash was heavy and immediate.
Count me in as one of the people who was massively skeptical of the Academy's move. The moment it was announced, it seemed like a simple, thoughtless attempt to pander to a new set of movie fans and boost ceremony ratings.
Now, don't get me wrong, I want these types of films the Academy had in mind to get recognition as much as the next guy. "Avengers: Infinity War" is likely a lock for my top 10 movies of 2018. However, a gold statue from the popular film category just seems like a meaningless trophy.
If it did exist, I have a feeling it wouldn't carry any weight. Let's say the Academy gave its popular film award to "Infinity War" during its 2019 ceremony. My prediction is that the Academy would pat itself on the back for giving a genre film an award, but there wouldn't be much honor for the crew that worked on the picture. It would still look like a sort of "other" award compared to Best Picture.
Keep in mind also, that another phrase for each Oscar is "Best Achievement In." When you have an award category manufactured to just snag some viewers, though, the aspect of achievement is lessened.
Another issue with this is defining popular. Does it have to be based off novels or comic books like "The Hunger Games" or "Avengers?" Does it have to earn a certain amount of money? Does it have to have a certain amount of critical reception? Would "Titanic" have been nominated for popular movie or just the normal Best Picture category?
Those are important questions and it didn't seem like the Academy really had an answer.
These are questions even the Golden Globes ceremony hasn't fully grasped, even though it has something similar. At their ceremony, the Hollywood Foreign Press has a Best Musical/Comedy category, and sometimes it simply leads to odd results. The best example is when "The Martian," a sci-fi drama won this category.
The fact is, when you try to break categories down by genre, something a popular category would almost certainly do considering what films are ruling the box office, things get messy.
If the Academy wants to recognize a "popular" movie, it should nominate it for Best Picture. It's a category that doesn't discriminate. It's about selecting a movie that has hit all the marks of great filmmaking. It's about honoring the best the art form has to offer that year.
This past year should especially show that genre films outside of straightforward dramas can get recognition. "The Shape of Water," a sci-fi/fairy tale/romance earned Best Picture. Plus, in other years, sci-fi films like "Avatar" and "District 9," along with action movies including "Inception" and "Mad Max Fury Road" have all been nominated. More examples from this past ceremony include "Logan," a comic book film nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and the horror movie "Get Out," nominated for Best Picture.
As long as the Academy gives opportunities to films of unconventional award genres, 'popular films' should already have a chance for recognition without creating a pandering category.
Editor's note: Matthew Liedke also writes movie reviews and other film columns at https://matthewliedkeonfilm.com/.