Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

Chasing the audience


August 16, 2018 | View PDF

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has added a new Oscars category for next year: Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film.

While the parameters for the award have not been set, the idea of it puts the blame on the audience for the telecast’s dwindling ratings over the last decade-plus.

Are you at fault?

Perhaps the Academy should look inward.

Because, while popularity and quality are separate things, more often than not they converge. Actual achievement in film results in a movie being popular, it's tough to avoid.

Because “The Piano” (1994) was good, it got talked about, word spread and more people bought tickets, thus it made more money. Same for “Shine,” “Sling Blade,” “Midnight in Paris,” etcetera.

It’s not just for the smaller numbers of the arthouse.

What for action-adventure movies and comedies?

Because “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Aliens” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” were good, they got talked about, word spread, and more (and more) people bought tickets, thus they made more money. So even in categories of movies that get derided as “just for 15-year-old boys,” the most popular ones (usually) come down to the best.

The Achievement in Popular Film category assumes there are different rules for “popular” movies and more “serious” independent and/or arthouse films. But the same attention to detail that made “Rocky” a Best Picture winner is the same lack of attention to detail that made “La La Land” a ho-hum exercise in what might have been.

It is true that certain subject matter holds down potential box office. But more often than not, the reason box office is middling is because we are in a sea of “okay” movies, no matter who pays for them to be made.

An example this year, “The Post,” a Best Picture nominee, caused a couple million people to walk out of the theater, turn to their spouse and say, “That was okay.”

And the spouse nodded. End of discussion. Is that going to result in more people watching the Academy Awards?

Another few million walked out of “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” and said, “I liked it. It was pretty dark, though.” How is that going to translate into people wanting to know if it wins Oscars?

In the end, if the Academy wants to “remain relevant in a changing world,” as its announcement last week stated, it would seem their main option would be to make better movies. If not that, what about another look at all the changes they've made to the Oscars in the past 20 years...?

The ceremony moved from the Shrine Auditorium to the Kodak/Dolby Theater, in a mall. The broadcast was moved from the first week of April to late February – putting the Golden Globes, the Grammys, the Super Bowl and the Oscars in the same six-week period. Best Picture nominees expanded from five to up to 10, making it now impossible for Best Picture nominees to be remembered over time. And they added an animated movie category so the 15 or so releases each year can go against each other.

Compare that to 1991, when “Beauty and the Beast” was nominated for Best Picture, no special category needed.

In other words, Achievement in Popular Film.


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