The Academy Awards announced changes to the ceremony Wednesday, including shortening the broadcast to three hours and introducing a new award for “outstanding achievement in popular film” in 2019.
The implications of both moves are troubling, smacking of ploys to boost ratings rather than honor cinematic art.
First, while grumbling about the length of the ceremony is a favorite pastime among even its most ardent viewers, the public awarding of unsung film artists such as sound mixers and short film directors stands as a needed annual reminder to audiences that filmmaking is a vast collective effort, far beyond actors, directors and screenwriters.
That’s lost when organizers co-opt the model of doling out lesser awards during commercial breaks, which is the plan to cut down on the ceremony’s typical four-hour runtime.
Far more disturbing, though, is the notion that the Oscars need to specifically honor “popular film.” After all, what does Best Picture mean, if not Best Picture, period. Smaller movies such as 2016’s winner “Moonlight” or 2014’s “Birdman” do not deserve to have their achievements implicitly lessened because they’re not “popular.”
And, beyond that, it’s not as if the Academy Awards haven’t honored big blockbusters with the top honor — if movies on the scale of “Gladiator” or “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” have what it takes to take home the big prize, let them compete on an even playing field to do it.