The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences has been presenting the Academy Awards for achievements in film since 1929. Since that first ceremony, the Oscars have become the most celebrated award ceremony in modern art. Legacies have been cemented. Careers have changed overnight. The Oscars have a certain magic to them that other awards ceremonies cannot touch. On August 8, the academy announced changes to the Oscars that will hurt the Academy Awards and box office numbers.
There are three changes to the Academy Awards. The ceremony is now on an earlier date. The telecast will now be three hours long. A new category has been created for achievement in popular film.
All three of these changes are short-term fixes that will negatively impact the industry over time. Technical artistry will be neglected and controversy over what is a “popular film” will further widen the divide between Hollywood and its public. Most importantly, they will hurt the industry’s box office numbers.
The 2020 Oscar Ceremony Date Will Hurt Box Office Numbers
The next Oscars will air on February 23, 2019. The 2020 Oscars will air on February 9, 2020. This is a minor inconvenience that contradicts the purpose of having an expanded Best Picture category.
In 2011 the limit on the number of Best Picture nominations was changed so more movies could be recognized. The previous standard of five films was elevated to a maximum of ten Best Picture nominees. Studios use this to re-screen movies in theaters or bring attention to movies that had a lackluster box office performance.
By altering the date, the Academy Awards give people less time to catch up on under the radar movies before the ceremony. This will negatively impact the box office intake of many of these films.
Lesser known films like Call Me By Your Name and Phantom Thread that receive attention because of their sudden Best Picture prestige will not benefit like they should under the expanded Best Picture tent. If the Oscars want to help Hollywood’s declining box office numbers, they would give audiences a better chance to see every nominee.
A Shorter Oscar Disrespects The Technical Awards
No one will mind a shorter Academy Awards ceremony, although hardcore movie fans love the lengthy show. With the biggest cinematic stars reveling in the art form they love, what’s not to like?
The negative aspects to this condensed Oscar show are what we will not be seeing: the people behind the scenes.
In their statement, the Academy said:
“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.”
This means that the technical categories will be pushed aside. I always appreciate that the movie industry’s technical artists get to celebrate their achievements just like Hollywood A-listers. It is a collective acknowledgement of the multi-faceted art of film. That will no longer be the case with the Oscars. These speeches will be clipped and repackaged in a way that is disingenuous to the recipient’s accomplishments.
I cannot tell you the different between sound mixing and sound editing, but the behind-the-scenes people are an important part of any movie.
Sound, makeup, costume design, and visual effects are critical for every film. An actor can deliver an amazing monologue, but it is laughable if the CGI looks terrible. These artists have been receiving a prestigious award for their craft for decades and deserve to receive the same platform that Meryl Streep does.
In some ways, the technical categories reflect the quality of a film that more celebrated nominations do not. Dunkirk may not have snagged Best Picture last year, but it took home three technical Oscars. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy won seventeen Academy Awards. Not one actor received an Oscar.
Any film that wins that many technical awards has been made well. The ability for the Oscars to properly honor the technical aspects of film is important. They are as important to the success of a movie as any actor.
The Popular Film Category Is A Mess
The Academy also announced the creation of a new Oscar for Popular Film. This is designed for award show ratings and not a genuine cinematic accomplishment that they want to honor.
“We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.”
The award is a bone to a public that does not understand why The Shape of Water is the Best Picture winner instead of a more accessible (and better) film like Get Out. A movie like Black Panther could now win an award and not sully the Best Picture category with artistry that appeals to a broader audience. Prior Best Picture nominees like Rocky and Star Wars may have been relegated to the “popular” film category.
This is a slap in the face to movies like Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Mission Impossible: Fallout. Popular Film will come to mean the best movie that the plebeians liked instead of just honoring a great movie. Make no mistake, this is a secondary award.
The true “Best Popular Film” is usually settled in the box office. This is Hollywood elitism dividing the passengers on the Titanic. The movie that the masses enjoyed is acceptable, but is still in a different steerage compartment in an industry that has been sinking for a little while.
Changes That Should Come To The Academy Awards
Best Motion Capture Oscar – This would not work on an individual level. Andy Serkis would win every year and motion capture is a true team effort. An overall motion capture category would be more appropriate. CGI is used to enhance films, but is now a common way to make a movie. An award like this would finally recognize the way films have pushed the creative envelope for decades.
Many films with the best CGI tend to be “popular” blockbusters. This would fulfill the idea of broadening the Academy’s appeal to regular audiences. Had this award been created in 1990, movies like Jurassic Park and Avatar would have been recognized for their remarkable accomplishments.
Fewer Best Picture Nominees – There are too many Best Picture nominees. The wealth of nominations waters down the idea of “best.” Many of these nominees are really only very good movies.
The category is not nearly as elite as it used to be. Having so many nominees promotes the perception that the Oscars do not choose movies that people have actually seen. People might actually go out and catch up on one movie in advance of the Academy Awards. They will not see four or five. I enjoyed watching all of the nominees last year, but it was also an experience that drained my finances and time. Having as many as ten is a disproportional inflation of the category.
When looking at the 2018 nominees, it is easy to lop off a few movies from the category. The Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri were fine movies. At no point did I think they were the game-changing movies that defined the year in cinema. They all fell short of being the true “best” that the nomination pretends to honor.