On August 8, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences made a few big announcements surrounding the annual awards show many of us know and love -- The Oscars. The changes are as follows:
1. A three-hour Oscars telecast
We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.
To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
2. New award category
We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.
3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars
The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.
The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
The last one isn’t that big a deal for most of us, however the first two have gotten the internet bickering back and forth as to their merits and problems. A lot of us here at Big Shiny are movie buffs and film critics, so we wanted to take a moment to weigh in and share our thoughts on it as well. So without further ado, here are Bryan and Adam to discuss it.
Adam: At first I kind of liked the idea of “Best Popular Movie.” It would finally give a chance for great films that deserve to be noticed but weren’t just because they don’t fall in the typical “Oscar Film” category. The Last Jedi, Blade Runner 2049 and Looper were all masterful films that were completely overlooked just because they were sci-fi.
Bryan: I’m not sure these films were overlooked because they were sci-fi or genre, per se, but I do see them in the running for this hypothetical achievement in popular film award. I mean, I keep hearing that this is somehow a preemptive move to prevent Black Panther from getting snubbed. Black Panther is a fine film, but there’s just nothing about it that screams “Best Picture Nominee” on any planet. The reason I really like this is because you watch different kinds of films differently. You don’t rate Star Wars on the same scale of art as Citizen Kane. It’s the same way you don’t compare a comic book artist with the Renaissance masters. This is an acknowledgement that these types of films have different goals and considerations from the outset and they can achieve them in different ways.
Adam: And I’m not suggesting that we watch a movie like Star Wars the same as The Godfather; both are such unique film experiences and genres that they have to be approached differently. Most films that get nominated for Best Picture definitely are some of the best of the year and tell stories or use filmmaking techniques that make them interesting. And granted, the average filmgoer probably wasn’t going to go see something like Birdman or even like it, despite the fact that it was one of the best things I had seen in years and told a story so differently than anything I had experienced in awhile; so from that viewpoint, I can fully understand why they would want to honor “popular” films because more people will be able to relate, and it will drive up viewership which is what they want.
Bryan: Best Picture is for Art films. Achievement in popular films is for more mainstream. Seems simple enough for me.
Adam: Then why the hell did Spotlight win?
Bryan: Spotlight was incredible. Was that in doubt? Films about news reporters blowing the lid on huge cases seems pretty arthouse to me. Especially since reporters are the enemy of the people these days, I’m told.
Adam: I’m not denying it was a great film. However it was hardly the best movie of that year
Bryan: Enough Academy voters thought it was, and that’s how the vote works. “Best” is subjective as it is, and when you get a group of industry professionals looking at a movie, they’re going to see different factors than audiences and critics do. It's all too easy to forget that these are industry awards.
Adam: Spotlight’s winning was political. If it had been about achievement, why didn’t it win other awards as well? I understand they’re industry awards, and they are looking at films differently than we are, it still doesn’t change the fact that to recognize a movie solely for a political statement means that they didn’t honor the best film of the year.
Bryan: Sometimes a political statement is an achievement as well. And telling a story that layers in a story so important and political is worth more points too. When you do it as well as Spotlight, a movie that still makes me cry, the sum is greater than its parts. A case can be made that it was the best, and I think you’re trying to die on the wrong hill with your point. I mean, they’ve let some downright bad films win for that reason. Crash, anyone? I just don’t think there’s any reason in getting hung up on what they decide to bestow an award to. I think Bridge of Spies was better, personally, maybe Crimson Peak, too, but that doesn’t mean a case can't be made for how great Spotlight is.
Adam: Don’t get me started on Crash.
In the end, I’m fine with whatever movie they decide to honor. I have no dog in the race. Oftentimes they get it right, and I’m also happy to voice my opinion when they don’t. After all being opinionated about my movies is my job.
Bryan: I just don’t understand why this is being met with such cynicism from a lot of sectors. At the end of the day, the Academy is a group of filmmakers who celebrate their peers by awarding them a golden statuette. If they want to award more statuettes for different kinds of films, I don’t see anything wrong with it. This is part of the fluctuation that happens over the years. There used to be separate awards for color films vs. black and white. There used to be awards for all kinds of different things and they morph over the years to keep up with how the industry works.
Adam: To me, it just comes across as pandering and also problematic in a “separate but equal” way. It’s like they created a “kid’s table” award just so we geeks can feel like our films are legitimate. This way Marvel and LucasFilm can finally say they’ve got a best picture winner on their hands and geeks can feel validated. I don’t need that however, and I don’t think that anyone else really does. The Last Jedi is a masterpiece and one of my favorite Star Wars films ever. I figured it would get nominated for special effects and the technical categories (which it did), and I knew it would get snubbed for other awards as it wasn’t a “prestige” film. Had it been nominated for “best popular movie,” I would almost have been offended. It's as if they were saying, “we don’t think your film is ‘good enough,’ so here’s a pity award.”
Bryan: Yeah, I think they are separate but equal and there’s nothing wrong with that in the context of art like this. We’ve separated animated films from “Best picture,” “Foreign language film,” “Documentary,” “Short subject,” and so on. They’ve sliced it up a lot of different ways and if a film is the best film, than surely all of those categories should be considered too; right? Do we pity a foreign or animated film that wins their award? No. It’s just a different category. “Popular films” (depending on how the end up defining it) are practically a different media the same way oil painting, and watercolors are different. There’s no reason not to separate them by technique just because they both might be paint on a canvas.
Adam: Right, but those are different types of films. A documentary is telling a story with a completely different approach than a drama or comedy would. While sometimes we do see crossover between categories (Fahrenheit 9/11 or Toy Story 3), it’s not based on the appeal of the film but simply excellence in the film-making process (when it’s not politically motivated). And it’s interesting you brought up Black Panther because that does bring up a big problem that could very well be racially motivated. We are both in agreement that Black Panther will most likely not get nominated for Best Picture. So let’s say they DO throw it in the Popular category because they feel guilty for not throwing a bone to a really good movie with a very diverse cast including plenty of people of color. Now they can wash their hands and say, “See, we did a good thing and recognized diversity.” But this doesn’t solve the problem or address the racism, sexism, homophobia, or any of the other issues rampant in Hollywood and our society; it merely puts a band aid over it and kind of lets them off the hook instead of actually fixing the problem. I don’t see this boding well for further diversity or discussion in our movies and entertainment.
Bryan: I don’t think this is meant to throw a band aid on diversity. Earlier this year they added something like 900 new members, mostly diverse, to combat that. That’s what they’re doing in that regard. Not this.
Adam: Plus, when it comes down to it, the whole reason they are doing this is to get higher ratings for their telecast. And I fully understand and support finding ways to get more people to watch. Before I started reviewing movies, I loved watching the Academy Awards because it would expose me to movies I had never heard of before which led to my discovering films that I now adore and wouldn’t have known about had I not watched. So throwing Star Wars, Black Panther and others into the mix to win a “prestige” award in most people’s eyes will most likely get more people to tune in, but in my opinion it feel like a gimmick
Bryan: Maybe I’m just not that cynical. I really do think it’s about awarding excellence in different types of films.
Adam: In the end, the Academy should make changes to make their show more watchable and interesting to everyone and not just film buffs, critics or art house aficionados. I love the Oscars and have a blast each year trying to guess the winners and hugely enjoy the show, and I know I’m not in the majority with that.
I’m glad to see that they are bringing in younger and more diverse voters to their rolls in order to change the landscape of the awards (Oscars so white, anyone?), but making a pity award to try to include people they feel as plebes just isn’t going to do it for me.
Bryan: Do they need to make it more watchable to civilians? I’m happy with their honoring their members and peers how they want as long as they continue to diversify their voices. The landscape of awards will change as the voices from within the organization do, and hopefully, we’ll all be around to see it.