The new category is a lob towards enticing new viewers to the aging ceremony.
On Tuesday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors met to vote and elect executive members, reinstating John Bailey as the group's president, as well as to vote to add a new category to the Oscars. Each year, the over 7,000 Academy voters weigh in on the best films and filmmakers in 24 categories covering almost every aspect of filmmaking.
Like the Olympics, for years groups of people have offered ideas for new categories for consideration at the annual ceremony celebrating film's best. The most popular category offers have been in terms of Best Stunts, Best Animal Actors, and Best Ensemble Casts. Other suggestions have usually been in favor of increasing the number of nominations allowed in the Best Picture category. That particular offer was investigated a decade ago after The Dark Knight and Wall-E failed to earn Best Picture nominees, despite being two of the year's strongest films, both critically and commercially. The Academy acted swiftly, increasing the number of eligible films to 10 and then, in years later, maneuvering to a voting structure that would hope to nominate and award the film that was most likely 'liked' by the most people. Never bowing to popularity, the new structure would still celebrate quality of craft while give a hat tip towards those films that were more or less audience favorites as well as craftily created.
There is an argument to be had that some Academy members, generally the older members, have been slow to adapting to new techniques and new voices. When The Dark Knight was overlooked, it was a clear indicator that the pulse of cinema was not being felt in the membership of film's most notable organization. The film was a box office success that had the pedigree filmmaking behind it to boot. Has there been a similar outing in either the comic book adaptation world or box office blockbusters? Perhaps, no. Mad Max: Fury Road could be the closest contender to that, and that film was awarded multiple nominations, including one for Best Picture. The idea that "Oscar movies" are not popular films is a weak argument, to say the least. There are certainly films released each year that are Oscar-bait to the max, like last year's Darkest Hour, but there are also releases every year the match audiences, critics, and filmmakers alike. La La Land was a huge box office success, a surprise for an original musical, and a record-tying Oscar nominated film. This past year's awards contenders included multiple box office successes, like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Get Out, Lady Bird, and Dunkirk. Audiences are seeing the Oscar-loved films. So what's the problem? The Academy is trying to figure it out.
After the Board of Governors meeting, the Academy has now adopted a new awards ceremony structure, eliminating minutes during the telecast focused on 'lesser than' awards (most likely categories such as Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing) in hopes that it will allow the ceremony to stick to no-more-than three hours. And, like other awards show, the move will hope to keep the attention of viewers who may not be inclined to care about the 'lesser than' technical categories.
The group will also move future ceremonies to earlier in the season, opting to host the 2020 ceremony on February 9th, the earliest the ceremony will have ever taken place.
And, perhaps the biggest change, the group voted to create a 25th category: Best Popular Film. As we approach the awards season, many prognosticators still have money on Marvel's Black Panther edging into several categories, including Best Picture. Will this new move eliminate those prospects? While the Marvel films, especially, have tackled the box office, they've failed to earn much love from the Academy over the years. This move to add this new category is no doubt hoping to entice the fans of the blockbuster popcorn genre to tune in. But, at what cost will this new category come to the quality of future blockbuster content, as well as the status of the Oscar award itself?
Opinions are glaring with the new announcement. Shaping the awards around audience tastes serves to hurt some of the Oscars' pedigree as an award to celebrate craft, not popularity. Plus, removing certain awards from the telecast could diminish the importance of the specific craft, all around. Who's to say Best Sound Mixing isn't just as important, especially to popular blockbuster fare, than a Screenplay award or an Acting award? The Academy seems to be trying to say that, where inadvertently or not.
Have the Oscars lost their relevance? Somewhat. But, that could typically lean more towards the studios' handling of films over the years, putting too much focus on awards season friendly release dates instead of watching the conversations taking place on new medium like social media. Last year, Get Out was able to stay in the conversation the entire year, ending with a Screenplay win and a Best Picture nomination. The old way of watching viewer's choices has changed. Netflix and other streaming services are on the forefront of figuring it out, but if the major and minor studios don't keep up, the idea of cinema-going will lose its luster, much like the awards ceremony has in recent years. Instead of spending lucrative ceremony time on mindless schticks (like host Jimmy Kimmel's man-on-the-street bits), give ceremony time to the montages and feel-good moments that remind the audience why they love movies to begin with.
After Tuesday night's meeting, Academy members were served a letter from CEO Dawn Hudson that outlined all of the changes:
Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.
The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.
Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:
1. A three-hour Oscars telecast
We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.
To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
2. New award category
We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.
3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars
The date of the 92d Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.
The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.
We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.
John Bailey and Dawn Hudson