Defending the Academy’s Best Popular Film Award

Image Credit to Showbiz 411

It is a rare thing to see the world change for the better. So it came as a shock when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced a new Oscar category: Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. While the details of what this category celebrates are unclear, this is undoubtedly exciting and pleasing news. Finally, popular cinema has its day!

Even rarer than seeing a positive transformation is seeing people embrace revolutionary upheaval. So it came as little surprise that the media criticized the Academy’s blow for progress. Todd VanDerWerff called the new award a sign of a “panicked organization” (so says the man who works for Vox). The Washington Free Beacon’s Sonny Bunch had the gall to poke fun at the idea by creating fake questions meant to tease the Academy over the award’s logistics (note to Bunch: creating a popular film award isn’t the same thing as creating a porn award; nobody feels good after watching porn). Vulture’s Mark Harris tweeted that money is already an award for profitable work (if Harris believed this, why did he write his thoughts for hearts and RTs instead of pay, huh?).

All of this is just noise, loud noise, but not loud enough to be heard over the sounds of smashing, bashing, and exploding that each Best Popular Movie nominee will contain next year. I’m amazed at the elitism and snobbery of these men: how can they be against something so obviously healthy?

Then again, what else should I have expected? All of them are critics, after all. And this Oscar isn’t for critics, it’s for fans. It’s for the people who want to escape the cinema. The boys and girls who demand that every theater have giant, comfy, reclining seats to enhance the entertainment experience. The masses who don’t watch the Oscars because they don’t care if The Shape of You wins Best Picture. The Americans who recognize that since the premiere episode of Game of Thrones, the beginning of TV’s Golden Age, the small screen has surpassed the big screen unequivocally.

Simply put, it’s not for them, but for people like me. That should end the discussion, but because I enjoy forcing people to agree with me, because I side with the popular, I’ve created a list of top five reasons the Academy made the right call. Hopefully, the nerds who prefer Lady Bird (which I have yet to see) to Wonder Woman have their minds, hearts, and eyes opened by my thoughtful comments below:

  1. The main reason this award is good is simple: the Oscars don’t recognize popular cinema enough. Sure, voters nominate a blockbuster every so often for Best Picture. But what about MCU films? Zack Snyder’s oeuvre? Fast and Furious masterpieces? None of these films has ever been nominated. This country’s best work is being ignored. Now, we have the opportunity to rectify that.
  1. People’s core argument against this award is that instead of supporting popular works, it condescends towards them. I can’t fathom believing this. The Academy, after years of being falsely accused of elitism, has finally explained why popular films don’t receive as much Awards recognition as smaller, inferior product: turns out those associated with the Academy don’t have the same perspective on pop art as they do on smaller works they champion and adore. So now, for progress’ sake, the Academy’s leadership has decided its members will no longer need to weigh the accomplishments of a big-budget movie against the achievements of a lower-budgeted creation. Instead, they can just reward a popcorn flick even if they don’t feel as close to it as they do to an independent art-house masterpiece. How is that reinforcing the idea that the Academy is snooty? That its members don’t love mass entertainment?
  1. Some haterz complain it’s difficult to define what is popular. What are these killjoys worried about? Do they think if an extremely high-grossing franchise film loses to a picture that is only arguably mainstream, the fans of the franchise will be upset? Do they believe that these die-hard lovers of one product will complain the winner shouldn’t have even been nominated? Do they imagine such insatiable viewers will protest the Academy to change its qualifications for what is deemed popular? Obviously, this is a paranoid fantasy. Fans are, above everything else, known for taking controversial choices peacefully and calmly. This is why we should create an Oscar category they can invest in and argue about.
  1. As much as it pains me to say it, this award not only helps moneymakers, but also works that end up in the shadow of popular cinema. The year the Academy awarded Spotlight Best Picture, everyone spent the next day praising Mad Max: Fury Road, claiming that maybe it deserved the statue more. Now imagine if the latter film had won this new Oscar? The next day would’ve been spent celebrating Spotlight’s triumph, not constantly comparing it to George Miller’s action art.
  1. A product of popular moviemaking has certain virtues that smaller films, despite their own unique joys, cannot duplicate. When you are profoundly moved by something very intimate and deeply personal in a blockbuster (such as, and this is a purely hypothetical example, crying at Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb reuniting with his children during Inception’s ending) the recognition that this feeling is intended to be communicated to tens of millions of people, that it is possible that many of those millions have shared the same emotion you are experiencing at this moment, can be revelatory. Unlike smaller movies that cause you to feel recognized or believe that you can be part of the world, an experience like this makes you think you are part of the world. It doesn’t convince you that the loneliness inside of yourself will disappear; it erases that loneliness, if only for a moment. It is important that the Academy not associate this experience with seeing the Best Picture of the Year. The Oscars should emphasize that this relationship to an artwork means that you are engaging with something popular, not the best of what cinema has to offer.

So there you have it: the five best arguments for why the Academy’s creation of a Best Popular Film Award shifts the culture in a way that we should be thankful, not angry, for. Will this convince the critics? Probably not. They are, ultimately, professional trolls, haterz, and snobs. It’s sad, really, the position they are in. They see a picture like Phantom Thread (another unpopular work I smartly avoided) and think it is equally as amazing as a film like Mission Impossible: Fallout. They think it’s possible to love both movies, to cherish them as cinematic masterpieces that, despite many differences, uplift you equally by providing beautiful, unforgettable emotional experiences. Luckily, the Oscars know better.

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