Why Oscars' new Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category is a joke on the filmmakers and viewers
The Oscars has for a long time enjoyed its seat high up on the pedestal, but this recent addition of Popular Film Category can easily pull it down from its position of authority.
So what makes a good film? Is it the soundtrack or the color palette or the script or is it just about some good acting? Probably all of it together. However, a good film is always something that appeals to its viewers in undefined ways. In 'Call Me By Your Name', when you see Elio and Oliver cycle down the well-trodden paths of the countryside in Italy, and the frame gradually slides from the left corner to the right to capture both the characters in full length, you cannot help but notice love bloom in the sun-splashed fields. That is the genius of filmmaking. It shows you things.
The Oscar Awards is held in high regard. It offers immense prestige value and has earned the position as one of the highest symbols of achievement in global entertainment by giving out awards to the deserving women and men of the industry whose films have touched the pinnacle of the subtle art of filmmaking. While throughout the years, it has been recognizing the various categories that make a good movie like set designing, screenplay, direction, and cinematography, the Oscars seem to be now more inclined into appeasing the common mass. Recognizing an entirely new category for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Films is not only a fall for the Academy Awards, but is also a departure from its initial ethic to give due recognition to good filmmaking.
Since the Academy has not yet defined the category it might once again give rise to several arguments as to what a popular film actually means. To put it simply a popular film could be anything that is being consumed by the common mass. However, does it necessarily mean that a popular film is an example of good filmmaking? Again, that can be argued upon too because some popular movies truly have the luck of being a good film as well. For an instance, 'Black Panther' which recently crossed the $700 million mark at the North American box-office, could very well be nominated in any given category at the Oscars.
In that case, opening up an Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film Category would mean that any movie which does not belong to the first class seats of the Oscars would literally slide down to the second class in order to carry one of the statuettes back home. In that way, keeping this particular category is basically an insult to the film industry. However, while viewers are mostly unaware of the films that make it to the Oscars, introducing an Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film Category might be of some excitement to them. However, this also undermines the Academy's moral liability. The tag of the popular film category is like a slap in the face for those whom the Academy would otherwise mock for their humbled taste in films.
Maybe it is the Academy's new stunt to get more viewership but it is certainly a rather crude way of saying, "There you go, dumbheads, that reward is for your brainless viewership." Technically, it is not a very wrong statement. After all we viewers are very much responsible for the kind of movies that make it to the hit list. We tend to judge a movie based on our personal emotional circuits, and not watch it as an effort of an entire film to present something good. It almost brings one back to the question if art should be appreciated for art's sake or should there be consumer value involved?
Of course, there should be consumer value involved. However, it shouldn't be just about amusing someone with a street full of cars tossing and turning around. Just as much art is considered to be an imitation of life, a film is probably that only form of art that holds itself true to the cause. Films have been imitating life in its more nascent form, and everything in life is not about race cars, romance, or good looking houses. Life is also about melancholy, joy, departure, and a lot of other things. Maybe a film should be considered "good" if it is able to convey those exact emotions in the exact same form to the audience.
For instance, you do not feel empathy when you look at Batman (I'm saying, Batman, because that's the superhero closest to the human form). You are more struck with wonder and awe, and you want to become that cool dude who stays in a cave underneath his million dollar mansion and rides an expensive bike. You do not feel sorry for Bruce being an orphan, you are probably even willing to look over that fact and concentrate more on his battles. But again, you are not a part of that battle.
But at the same time, when you see Llewyn from the Coen Brothers' movie 'Inside Llweyn Davis' get smacked in the face as his career literally goes down the gutter when a fresh, more young voice takes over the stage, you can almost see yourself in him. We have all been beaten to the ground, our hopes, dreams, and desires have been flushed out. We cannot do anything about it, probably other than just watching life get by. That is the very essence of the last scene when the camera closes up on Oscar Isaac's face as he watches the brute walk away after beating him up.
This is where the Academy Awards has drawn the line. Regardless of its misjudgment of films when it comes to distributing awards, it has always recognized movies which have told stories in ways that they almost feel real. Adding an Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film Category could only lead to more confusion because if a film is being voted as a popular movie, does it mean that it won't make it to the Best Pictures? Then what about the People's Choice Awards? Aren't the two just the similar things? The Academy Awards has introduced several movies on its list like 'Inception', 'Gravity', and 'Avatar', that have been huge box office hits. But that isn't the only reason why these films were taken up in the first place.
Every single one of them had immense potential. There was the good screenplay, amusing graphics, and CGI, some even had a good soundtrack. But most of all these films told stories in ways that they have never been said before. It could be said that a good film is like a good book. They all have the same plot, the same underlining meaning, and the same tragic/happy end. But at the end of the day, it is not about what you show in a film, it's more about how you show it. As Slavoj Žižek would say, "Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn't give you what you desire - it tells you how to desire.”
Probably bringing in the Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film Category is not a very good idea. It undermines both the viewer and the filmmaker, almost telling them that they don't know what a good film is. True, everyone has their subjective perception of a film. But it is the duty of the film workers to show its audience a story in a way that people will find it both appealing and relatable.