The “Best Popular Film” Oscar: Not So Popular?

The recent announcement of an addition Oscar award by the Academy has led to a lot of discussion and most of the opinions are negative. In August, the Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences says they are creating a new award for “outstanding achievement in popular film”. This decision has been receiving huge backlash by the film industry and critics questioning the eligibility and criteria of box office hits making it into the Oscar categories. Also they suggest that the proposal would create a two-tier system for popular and unpopular film. Just a month later, due to the huge controversy brought by the announcement, the academy will no longer continue its newly proposed Oscar category in the upcoming 2019 award’s ceremony. “There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognize the need for further discussion with our members,” Academy Chief Executive Dawn Hudson said in a statement.

Even though such proposal was quickly revoked by the authority, the discussion of popular and unpopular films carries on. Traditionally, art-house films with much smaller box office and niche audience win more awards than commercial blockbusters with well-funded production and huge fan base. The reason why the academy is making the change is because the viewership of the live broadcast ceremony has been failing. The rating decrease effectively influences the advertising revenue of the event. The implementation of the new category is expected to attract more mainstream audience. Evidently, such move demonstrates the difficulty of supporting art film market and the dilemma between introducing more commercial cinema and upholding the dissemination of art house cinema. 

I noticed something different this year at MIFF as well. After watching various excellent art films screened at MIFF, I discovered a surprising encore – the winner of Sundance’s Audience Prize, Searching, was shlarge_searching-posterown in the last few days of the film festival. The film follows the searching of a missing daughter by her father, who uses social media to collaborate with the police to discover the truth about what actually happened to her daughter. Without leaving the interface of a computer, the story progresses as the father web-hunts on websites, apps and files to unfold the clues and information. Naturally the new form of narrating a story with a mere desktop and interface of websites and apps attracts me, but I also came to realise that the thriller is a quite mature commercial film which has the characteristics differentiated from classic art film. Although it was a pleasant experience to enjoy a good thriller at a film festival, I also wondered how the film festival curates films in terms of pandering the popularity and mainstream audience. In my opinion, strategies as introducing a new award for best popular film is reasonable in the context of highly institutionalised film industry. However, the details of the criteria and eligibility should be rigorous in terms of determining what kinds of films possess high value in both commercial performance and artistic scope.

Boyan Yi

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