Best Pop­u­lar Movie Os­car: Does any­one care?

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - VOICES - Con­tact Shawn Ryan at mshawn­

Just go ahead and hand the Os­car to “Black Pan­ther.”

There’s lit­tle doubt that it’s the movie that will win the first Best Pop­u­lar Movie cat­e­gory in this year’s Os­car race. A week or so ago, the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sciences an­nounced it would in­tro­duce the Best Pop­u­lar Movie into the run­ning, but it didn’t give any more de­tails.

What cri­te­ria would go into the choos­ing of the movie? Amount of cash earned? High­est Rot­ten Toma­toes rat­ing? Most so­cial-me­dia posts? The cat­e­gory is, af­ter all, de­signed to get more peo­ple to care about the Os­cars.

Some have her­alded the new award, say­ing the Academy Awards have got­ten too cere­bral, too “high art,” too “im­por­tant so­cial com­men­tary” in its Best Pic­ture se­lec­tion. Far and away, the ma­jor­ity of can­di­dates in the cat­e­gory have leaned in the lat­ter’s di­rec­tion, although you cer­tainly could ar­gue that last year’s win­ner, “The Shape of Wa­ter,” was off the beaten path.

Since 2010, how­ever, only a few films off that path have even been nom­i­nated, and usu­ally only one a year — “Toy Story 3” in 2010, “Beasts of the South­ern Wild” and “Life of Pi” in 2012, “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015, “Get Out” in 2017.

Os­cars are def­i­nitely snobby when it comes to Best Pic­ture. Be­cause they’re voted on by mem­bers of the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sciences, the films that have got­ten the high­est praise from print, TV and in­ter­net crit­ics tend to win. (When re­fer­ring to the in­ter­net, Rot­ten Toma­toes doesn’t count.)

Many in the film in­dus­try who are mem­bers of the Academy — and they in­clude pub­lic-re­la­tions man­agers, elec­tri­cians, grips and the guy who ham­mers the lum­ber to build a set — don’t have time to see all the films nom­i­nated, so they rely on out­side sources. The same is true for the Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards.

But on a re­lated an­gle, do the Os­cars even mean much th­ese days? Cer­tainly they do to the peo­ple who win them or work on the nom­i­nated films, but the gen­eral pub­lic seems to be giv­ing some­thing of a col­lec­tive shrug when the films are nom­i­nated and when the stat­uettes are handed out.

Mil­len­ni­als and those younger (now called Gen Z or iGen­er­a­tion) don’t re­ally care about the Os­cars. They get their in­for­ma­tion from the web or friends. Folks in their 40s and above may be more in­ter­ested in the Os­cars but, like those who work in the film in­dus­try, they gen­er­ally don’t have time to go see every film.

Th­ese days, a large per­cent­age of movie lovers sim­ply wait for the film to show up on Net­flix or HBO.

Per­haps the Best Pop­u­lar Movie cat­e­gory will grab more at­ten­tion from more peo­ple; that’s the point.

Don’t hold your breath.

Shawn Ryan

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