Tom O’Neil on Oscars shame: OMG, who wants to win Best Unpopular Picture?

Yeah, yeah, we know: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences means no insult by creating the ridiculous new category of Best Popular Picture, but it will soon deal an inevitable slap at whatever ends up winning the main Best Picture race at the Oscars in the future. By inference, that champ will be derided by cynics as the year’s Best Unpopular Picture.

Of course, the academy will permit popular films to compete for both categories just like contenders for Best Foreign-Language Film can do, but let’s be honest: few non-English-speaking flicks make it into the top race. Pretending that the top Best Picture race at the Academy Awards encompasses all international productions is as absurd as calling the American baseball run-offs the “World Series.”

Seventeen years ago the academy confronted its shameful history of skunking animated films in the Best Picture race by creating a separate contest for Best Animated Feature, but that just gave voters permission to shove them over there and thus continue to exclude them from Best Picture where only two animated contenders have managed to sneak in since 2001: “Toy Story 3” and “Up.”

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What’s next? A new category for oft-shunned comedies? Sci-fi/ fantasy flicks? But, wait, those are popular picture genres, right? So they should be included in this new category. Yeah, but so are animated features. Will AMPAS now shutter that category? And will there now be separate categories for Best Popular Actor and Actress? No, of course not, and thus Oscar leaders seem fine creating such a web of crazy inconsistencies.

Attention, Academy: Stop it! Stop running away from your noble mandate to do the greatest job of hailing the best filmmaking of the year. Just best, period. Not best with qualifications.

You’re creating this new category for the wrong reason, AMPAS: to hike TV ratings. That means you’re not a true, high-brow “academy” anymore – not as long as you seem hellbent to resurrect and dole out those once universally ridiculed Blockbuster Awards.

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Everybody in the film world has their own Top 10 List. Oscar should, too — in all categories: Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, etc., and then just put on the best TV show possible. That kind of expansion should help you academy leaders to add more starpower to bolster viewership. OK, we’ll let you push off those low-wattage awards for crafts and shorts to a separate ceremony for the Creative Arts like the Emmys do. That should boost your TV ratings, but that’s it. No more.

If you academy leaders don’t want to do the lofty job that Hollywood has tasked you to do, then step aside and let real heroes take over. You’re poorly cast. You’re lucky that there isn’t a new Oscar category for Best Casting. (The Emmys have it.) You’d lose.

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