Awards Shows-Who’s Watching

Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks at the Oscars in Los Angeles in 2018.

When it comes to the Oscars, there are three rather big reasons why people don’t watch: viewers haven’t seen the nominated films, it is an uncomfortably long show and it is self-congratulatory.

Well, you’ll never get rid of the last complaint, the board of governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences appears to be listening.

The academy Wednesday announced to the public that it will be making three changes to its telecast: it will add a “popular film” category, it will cut its telecast to three hours instead of the four or longer, and it will run earlier in the year (starting in 2020).

The Hollywood Reporter released details about the changes from a memo sent to members of the academy. The 3-hour telecast will be possible by awarding some of the categories during commercial breaks, though the board hasn’t determined which categories won’t get the spotlight (but, likely, short films will get the short straw). Those winners will be edited and aired later in the broadcast, according to the memo.

The 92nd Oscars will also be moved up from Feb. 23, 2020, to Feb. 9, 2020, putting it in closer proximity to the Golden Globes, which usually airs in early January, but puts it almost at the same time as the BAFTAs. The new date will likely cause a number of changes in other awards ceremonies—almost assuredly for the Razzies, which is always held the night before the Oscars.

The major change is the new category of “popular film.” The board said details are “forthcoming” about what the category entails and who is eligible for it, but it’s clearly a category that is meant for the viewers as opposed to the filmmakers.

Because, really, who wants to win an award that says “people like your film, but your fellow academy members don’t.”

While it was assumed that a film couldn’t be a nominee in both popular film and Best Picture, apparently it is going the way of Best Foreign Language Film nominees. Those nominees do have the chance to still be nominated for Best Picture (making the foreign film category easy to predict), and Variety reported that “popular film” nominees also have the chance to be a Best Picture nominee.

While that may potentially calm some critics who are worried the new category was a way to shift “Black Panther” out of Best Picture running, it also makes the category pretty needless with the new clarification.

Popular films have managed to make their way into the Best Picture race over the years, though more so when the Oscars attempted to be more audience friendly when it expanded the Best Picture nominees from five to up to 10 in 2009. That year featured “Avatar,” “Up” and “Inglorious Basterds”—though it was Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” that won, which also ended up being the movie with the lowest box office draw of all nominees (but hardly undeserving of the award).

Since then, the increased nominee pool doesn’t seem to have worked out in the academy’s interest of being viewer-friendly. Most movies that make it to the list are still the independent movies that are mostly critically acclaimed but few people have seen.

Aside from Pixar and Christopher Nolan-directed films, big budget movies don’t often make the list. The most recent Best Picture nominees were almost all smaller budget movies (save for Nolan’s “Dunkirk”).

But while a movie budget may make it a potential blockbuster, the past nominated films have found success at the box office—“Get Out” and “The Post” both saw sizable audiences last year and early this year. Each of the nominees also gets that Oscar bump in theaters when they get a re-run or are released widely across the country for the first time (though maybe not in time for an earlier Oscars broadcast in 2020).

Adding a popular film category isn’t the worst idea the academy has had, but it must also feel like a consolation prize to the award winner, as well as to fans who wanted a bit more glory and recognition for a work that gets overlooked in awards season. The academy seems to treat “popular films” as second-rate no matter the quality, and a new category hardly rids them of that perception.

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