Oscar upheaval: Best Popular Film added to the list of categories, and the telecast gets a trim

The motion picture academy has made the biggest changes to the Oscars since expanding the Best Picture category from 5 nominees to 10 back in 2009. The telecast is getting cut down to three hours, but even more substantial is the addition of a new category awarding the best achievement in “popular films.” What do you think of the changes? Good news for films like “Black Panther” and “A Quiet Place”? Scroll down to vote in our poll at the bottom of this post.

Academy president John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson wrote in a note to academy members, “We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.” But the academy didn’t specify what films would be categorized as “popular” or when this change would take effect.

This may be inspired by declining Oscar ratings over the years as well as the Best Picture victories for more niche movies like “Spotlight” (2015), “Moonlight” (2016) and “The Shape of Water” (2017). Meanwhile, acclaimed blockbusters like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) have typically been relegated to below-the-line categories, while some films like “Wonder Woman” are shut out altogether.

But there are still plenty of popular films that earn Oscar recognition in top categories, like “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), “The Martian” (2015) and “Get Out” (2017). If those films had been diverted into a category for “popular” movies it might have hurt them more than helped them, creating a perception among academy members that they’re not truly among the best films, they’re just the best of the films that reached the widest audience.

And what about films like “Black Swan” (2010), “The Revenant” (2015) and “La La Land” (2016)? Those were more art house-friendly, but they all made hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. “The Revenant” even grossed half a billion dollars. Would they have been too popular for the official Best Picture category?

The Oscars were previously taken to task for snubbing popular films during the awards honoring the best films of 2008. “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E” were adored by critics and made a killing at the box office, but despite a combined 14 Oscar nominations neither of them was up for Best Picture or Best Director.

That is part of what prompted the academy to expand Best Picture to 10 nominees (and now there is a sliding scale between 5 and 10 nominees), but while some blockbusters got in that might not otherwise have (“The Blind Side,” “District 9,” “Toy Story 3”), it’s more often the case that smaller movies break through like “Call Me by Your Name” and “Phantom Thread” this year.

The academy will also try to boost Oscar viewership by trimming the telecast itself. The ceremony often runs close to four hours since all 24 categories are handed out on the air, from Best Picture all the way to Best Documentary Short. Now the Oscars will take a page from the Tony Awards playbook by announcing some of the categories during commercial breaks. Those winners’ speeches will then be edited and shown during the telecast. But it’s uncertain which categories would get that treatment and whether that would change from year to year.

What do you think of these Oscar changes? Will they make the academy great again, or are they making a mistake?

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