Who Benefits from New Oscar Category? You or Disney?

AMPAS announced Thursday (9/7/18) that because of negative response to last month’s announcement of changes to the Academy Awards, it would huddle longer and might not implement the Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category after all.

by Glenn Lovell

If the Academy Awards were telecast tomorrow instead of March 4, the five “nominees” for the newly minted Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film would be, in descending order: “Black Panther” (Disney), “Avengers: Infinity War” (Disney), “Incredibles 2” (Disney), “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (Universal), and “Deadpool 2” (Fox). (Of course one or two of these titles could be muscled out of contention with “Creed II” and DC’s “Aquaman” around the corner.)

So much for suspense. So much for variety. So much for a healthy mix of studio and indie releases. So much for avoiding perceived conflicts of interest.

The hydra-like Disney Company owns ABC, which as the network that televises the Academy Awards recommended the change, which will most benefit … you got it, Disney!

By adding this new category, Oscar has inched closer to the dumbest of dumb awards shows, the People’s Choice Awards, where besPanthert is synonymous with most popular. Past Favorite Movie winners: “Pretty Woman,” “Rocky II,” “Top Gun,” “Liar Liar,” “Twilight.”

Two questions about the new category loom:

Can a movie like “Black Panther” be nominated in both Best Picture and Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film? The Academy says yes. Doesn’t this, as others have opined, dilute or cheapen a best picture nomination?

Also, what happens when one of the years most popular films also happens to be really bad or politically embarrassing, like, say, Mike Todd’s moribund “Around the World in 80 Days” or John Wayne’s rightwing “The Green Berets” or Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic “The Passion of the Christ,” which at least one critic (myself) likened to “a religious snuff film”?

ABC suggested the new category because, in the network’s opinion, Oscar was in danger of becoming irrelevant. Top grossers like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Captain America” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” coincidentally all Disney releases, were being all but overlooked when it came time to divvy up the gold-plated hardware. (“Last Jedi” was nominated for f/x, music, and the two sound awards – losing in all four categories. “Guardians” was nominated for f/x, makeup and hairstyling.)

The argument went something like: Year in and year out, members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences favor offbeat, relatively low-budget film like “There Will be Blood,” “American Hustle,” “Birdman,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards,” “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “I, Tanya,” and so on.

Unquestionably audacious, these films are usually dark, depressing … unpopular. Mainstream audiences prefer upbeat, exhilarating, action-packed, i.e. the latest Marvel or DC superhero mashup.

And because their type of film isn’t rewarded come Oscar time, Hollywood’s target audience (male and somewhere between 14 and 35 year olds) could care less about who wins. Hence, the precipitous drop in viewership. According to the folks at Nielsen, the 90th Oscars attracted 26.5 million viewers worldwide, a drop of almost 20 percent from 2017 and, according to the trades, the worse turnout in the show’s history.

As a journalist who over the years deadlined backstage at either the Music Center or Shrine Auditorium, the Oscars, which could take almost four hours, seemed like a feat of stamina. So I applaud the Academy’s decision to hold the show to a strict three-hour format during which some of the less popular technical awards will be presented during commercial breaks and announced later. I’ve never cared much about the documentary short or sound mixing categories.

In 2020, the Oscar telecast will move to early February, further closing the gap between the Academy Awards and the Foreign Press’s more raucous and freewheeling Golden Globes (Jan. 6) and avoiding the dreaded awards-season burnout.

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