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I have a love/hate relationship with the Academy Awards. In that order, chronologically.
The first time I watched the Academy Awards, I was but a child in the mid-90s at my grandmother’s house. I remember seeing that room of people I admired: Tom Cruise from Mission: Impossible, Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones and Star Wars, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the first two directors I could recognize, as well as Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, who made most of the comedies I enjoyed at the time. I wanted to be in that room, among that company. They were really there when the band played the Mission: Impossible theme as Cruise took the stage to announce an award. It was magical.
I knew, after that experience, I wanted to get into filmmaking so that I too, could be part of the magic that was the Oscars in person, among my favorite stars. It took me until college to narrow down my choice to screenwriting, but from that day on, I knew what I would do when I grew up.
But, things don’t always go exactly as planned.
I went to film school a decade later, and it was a great and rewarding experience, even though I no longer work in the industry. During that time I interned at several studios and production companies, as well as several jobs post-graduation including being an NBC Page (like Kenneth, only on the opposite coast). Mostly due to film school, this is the period in my life that I was most open to what the Oscars considered “Best Picture.” I would watch independent films regularly, films I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole now that I’m 10 years from college.
But I also learned what a sham the Oscars were. All the Awards, for that matter. But, the Academy Awards specifically, as this is the “one true award show,” the one that matters more than Golden Globes, foreign award shows, and Guild-given awards. Yet, it is still just a popularity contest or a chance to bag you an Oscar winner for your next film.
I will explain with a vague story that happened to me when I was interning at a production company on a major studio lot. My boss, an executive producer, member of the WGA, and Oscar-Winning writer I worked for, who will remain nameless, only filled out one category on his Oscar Ballet. He voted for the supporting actor that was Award-less, but would be in a film he was executive producing that came out later in the year. You see, he voted for this actor, and this actor alone, so that when the time came, they could put “Starring Academy Award Winner…..” in the trailer.
Needless to say, this actor didn’t win. And his assistant and I filled out the rest of the ballet, then I hand delivered it to the correct skyscraper in downtown LA for it to be counted. I can’t imagine all ballets are handled that way, with a great degree of carelessness and picking people you are set to work with, but it can’t be the only case of undermining the Oscars, can it?
After experiencing this, the dream was shattered. I realized the Oscars were a joke, and was awakened to another fact that was right in front of my nose all along; the only films that when awards are dramas, or worse, low budget dramas. There really is no room for anything else. Even expanding the number of Best Picture nominees following The Dark Knight doesn’t always result in a wider berth of genre or budgets. Popular films, aka blockbusters, sometimes make the list, but a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road never had a chance of winning.
So, here we all are, in 2018, with the Academy Awards adding a “Popular Movie” category.
No. Not cool.
Though I want the films I actually like to be nominated, this isn’t the way to go about it. Best Popular Picture is a lesser prize than Best Picture, as Best Animated Feature was before it. So, I have a better idea.
Genres. We replace all three “Best Picture” awards with distinct genres and add a few more. No one is held above any other, except in the hearts of snooty actors, directors, producers, and writers who will surely keep what I would name “Best Drama” or “Best Independent Film” at the end of the show, and treat it with the most respect.
I believe the following genres could cover all nominees, and give films of all types a fair shake:
Best Comedy Picture
Best Horror Picture
Best Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Picture
Best Animated Picture
Best Drama Picture
I say just 5 nominees each, now that we are diversifying. As I said, these genres should encompass everything. For example, “Romance” doesn’t need its own category, it usually fits into Drama or Comedy, though could also fall under any other category, really.
In a world where the Academy only really recognizes drama (mostly… mostly), these categories feel necessary so that all genres are considered, forcing the snooty Academy to be more open to more films. More people would watch the show, as it will be more than film students and the Hollywood elite watching again. It is a system that tries to keep all the awards equal, rather than Best Popular Picture becoming a consolation prize for Blockbusters that also keep them becoming “real” Best Pictures. After all, while I don’t have trouble comparing horror to action to drama, it is harder to for me to compare “serious films” vs “comedies.” It’s hindered me every time I’ve tried to write a Top 100 films list.
At the very least, the Oscars need a non-disputable rule about Best Picture vs Best Popular Picture. Like every film that grosses $100 million plus most be under Popular, even if it is an indie drama that just hit it big.
You may be wondering, “won’t my categories make the show longer?” No. Though ideally, we’d have some more acting categories to go with more genres, so we don’t end up with a bunch of stupidly subtle performances taking home all the Oscar gold – maybe even just Best Motion Capture Suit performance, Best Vocal Performance, and a few others in addition to best actor and best supporting actor awards. Then, we scrap basically everything else except for director — which should be expanded to 10 to cover more Best Picture noms – writer, and a few others. Dump most the technical awards on another night like so many other technical awards have already been bumped. If you want eyeballs, no one cares about Best Sound Editing and Best Costumes. Come on!
It’s not a perfect plan, or fully thought out at this point, but these are the changes I think the Oscars should make, not the oversimplified Best Picture, Best Animated Picture, and Best Popular Picture. Then, maybe, just maybe, I’d actually watch as Hollywood pats themselves on the back.
On the other hand… we could scrap the whole Award Season. I’m fine with that too.