Re­peat views should get you to best pic­ture

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel & Life - By Mary McNa­mara Los Angeles Times

As with Congress, we know the Academy Awards to be an im­por­tant and quintessen­tially Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tion be­cause ev­ery­one loves to com­plain about how ab­surd, in­ef­fec­tual and mean­ing­less it is un­til any type of change is sug­gested or, God for­bid, im­ple­mented.

Then the out­rage rises to vol­umes loud enough to be heard at the rebel base on red-vel­vet-cake planet Crait.

No doubt the en­tire “Star Wars” uni­verse re­ver­ber­ated with the dis­plea­sure voiced over the film academy’s pro­posal last year to in­tro­duce a new cat­e­gory for out­stand­ing achieve­ment in pop­u­lar film. WWWHHHHAAAATTTT??? came the col­lec­tive roar.

Was the academy try­ing to dumb down the Os­cars? Ghet­toize films like “Black Pan­ther” and “A Star Is Born”?

Iron­i­cally, some of those roar­ing were the same folks who reg­u­larly whine about the cinephile-elitism of the best pic­ture nom­i­nees, which, they say, is the rea­son for the tele­cast’s everde­clin­ing rat­ings.

Why would peo­ple spend three hours watch­ing a show about films most have never seen?

Still, with Olympicswor­thy backpedal­ing, the academy quickly made it clear that this new pop­u­lar cat­e­gory would not be in place for this year’s award. As if in re­lief, vot­ing mem­bers pro­duced one of the most di­verse nom­i­nee lists in re­cent his­tory. “BlacKkKlans­man” marks the first time a Spike Lee film is in con­tention for best pic­ture, and “Roma” is the first Net­flix film to make the cut.

More im­por­tant, al­though vot­ers couldn’t quite bring them­selves to lift the as­ton­ish­ing “Spi­der­man: John David Wash­ing­ton and Laura Har­rier star in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlans­man.”

Into the Spi­derVerse” out of the an­i­mated film cat­e­gory, they did in­clude the global block­buster “Black Pan­ther” and other box-of­fice bo­nan­zas — “A Star Is Born” and “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” — along­side the type of small but crit­i­cally ac­claimed films that have, in re­cent years, dom­i­nated the cat­e­gory.

In other words, ex­actly the kind of list the academy had in mind when it dou­bled the num­ber of po­ten­tial best pic­ture nom­i­nees in 2011 after “The Dark Knight” was shut out of the top race be­cause, well, it was about Bat­man.

Which film wins is an­other story.

As it has been for years, the win­ner will be cho­sen by a pref­er­en­tial bal­lot. This process is only slightly less con­fus­ing and coun­ter­in­tu­itive than the Elec­toral Col­lege; in both cases, it is pos­si­ble that the nom­i­nee ranked No. 1 by the most peo­ple will not ac­tu­ally win the race.

Process aside, the com­pe­ti­tion

is not about which film vot­ers con­sider “best” but which def­i­ni­tion of “best” they are us­ing. Best in terms of crafts­man­ship or story? In per­fectly show­cas­ing the power of film or push­ing its bound­aries? In im­press­ing au­di­ences or the film com­mu­nity?

As re­cently as the late ’90s, most best pic­tures were also very pop­u­lar films, but in the new mil­len­nium, that be­gan to change. As the mi­dlevel movie moved to­ward ex­tinc­tion, film in­creas­ingly came in two sizes: art house and fran­chise.

The last smash hit to win that ti­tle was “The Lord of the Rings: Re­turn of the King” and it’s hard not to feel like academy vot­ers have spent the past 15 years try­ing to make up for it in some way. In re­cent years, it’s a rare nom­i­nee list that in­cludes more than one big box-of­fice hit.

It is the film com­mu­nity not the hoi pol­loi that is vot­ing after all, and smaller films need to be sup­ported to en­sure they con­tinue to

be made. Big hits are not al­ways ex­cel­lent films. But some­times they are. I am not a mem­ber of the film academy but I watch A LOT of movies, and the ones I con­sider best are the ones I watch multiple times.

Which seems like a sim­ple enough rule when it comes to vot­ing for best pic­ture: Would you, for rea­sons other than pro­fes­sional re­quire­ments, watch this movie more than once?

I’m not talk­ing about re­peat view­ings of con­ve­nience, like you hap­pen to be watch­ing TNT’s “Os­car win­ners” week while you’re try­ing to catch up on the iron­ing, or a friend has never seen, say, “Argo” and so rather than fight about it, you just go along.

No, it must be a re­peat view­ing of in­tent, one that re­quires go­ing to the trou­ble to buy it, rent it or seek it out on a stream­ing ser­vice just be­cause you want to see it again.

Be­cause if a movie is re­ally the best of this year, it should be good next year Miles Mo­rales (Shameik Moore), left, Peter Parker (Jake John­son) and Spi­der-Gwen (Hailee Ste­in­feld) in “Spi­der­Man: Into the Spi­der-Verse.” Eli­jah Wood, from left, Andy Serkis and Sean Astin in 2003’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Re­turn of the King.”

and the year after that.

So, show of hands (and be hon­est now), how many of us who are not film crit­ics have sat through re­peat per­for­mances of “Bird­man”? Or “The Artist”? Or “The De­parted”? “Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire,” OK; “Crash,” not even on an air­plane. “Argo”? See above. “The Si­lence of the Lambs,” oh yeah; “The Last Em­peror,” maybe; “Dances With Wolves”? Ha­ha­ha­haha.

I re­al­ize this is a very sub­jec­tive test — I watch “Re­turn of the King” each and ev­ery year and most non-Tolkien-ob­sessed peo­ple prob­a­bly do not — and not a per­fect sys­tem by which to judge past win­ners. Many fac­tors out­side cin­e­matic ex­cel­lence con­trib­ute to a film’s longevity.

The pain and power of some films — “12 Years a Slave,” “Schindler’s List” — make them dif­fi­cult to watch again, while our ex­pand­ing cul­tural con­scious­ness make oth­ers, like “Driv­ing Miss Daisy” or “Gone With the Wind” painful in dif­fer­ent ways.

But still I think it is a worth­while ques­tion for those vot­ers sift­ing through their screen­ers or re­clin­ing in a free screen­ing. (Ac­tu­ally, the first ques­tion might be: Would I pay to see this movie? Even if, as in the case of “Roma,” it is al­ready avail­able on Net­flix.)

I, for ex­am­ple, have seen “Black Pan­ther” and “BlacKkKlans­man” three times each, so they would top my best pic­ture list, not that any­one is ask­ing.

Cer­tainly, one of the pur­poses of the Os­cars is to alert the pub­lic to films that they oth­er­wise might not see, and for the film com­mu­nity to honor re­ward­ing films it be­lieves are con­tribut­ing to the art form. But while the word “out­stand­ing” is elas­tic, it doesn’t mean “ground­break­ing film that most peo­ple won’t en­joy enough to ever watch again.” So maybe in­stead of a sep­a­rate best pic­ture Os­car for “pop­u­lar” films, we need one for those types of movies. I’ll leave it to the academy to come up with a bet­ter name.

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