August seems a little early for an Oscar controversy, but why not?
In a world of constant and often mindless change, even the oldest and most visible institutions have to adapt. Having feet of clay might as well be added to the list of seven, 17 or 700 deadly sins. So they assess, poll and plan. They make a move.
And as soon as you zig, all of Twitter says you should have zagged, and what’s wrong with you anyway?
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences does two things at once: It gives out prestigious awards that celebrate achievement, sell tickets and make careers. And it puts on a TV show. Guess which one has the powers that be losing sleep?
Art and commerce have an uneasy relationship. Always have. We can get three, 20 or 300 experts to arrive at some degree of consensus on what excellence looks like – and that has great value – but that’s not always the same as mass appeal, which also has value. I don’t give two hoots about Harry Potter or his movies, but they created paychecks to sustain the careers of a whole lot of actors I like in other settings. We can have the pop stuff and the good stuff, and once in a great while a movie, a song or a book can be both. Signs and wonders, friends.
The Oscar people are guilty of giving their top awards to the best movies, which happen to be the ones with smaller audiences. Sure, they got great ratings the year “Titanic” won best picture, but in retrospect was that really a good call?
A few years ago they widened the field for best picture so movies such as “Gravity” and “The Help” would get in and maybe attract some viewers. It also means some forgettable movies (again, “Gravity”) slipped in there. Still, it didn’t make the Oscars less magical.
Now the Oscar people are creating a special award just for popular films, which is going to be read by many as Best Achievement in Film for a Film We Would Not Otherwise Be Caught Dead Considering. It might come off as a little condescending.
Hollywood already gets grief for that, though to be fair studios produce what moviegoers have proven will sell. It’s business. It’s a learned response. It’s not very complicated.
Will Best Flick for the Masses be booed off the stage? I doubt it. It will sell tickets and make careers. It’s change. The republic will survive.
Half a century ago, a popular TV show called “Laugh-In” would mention “the fickle finger of fate.” You can zig, zag or stand pat. Sometimes you win, sometimes you skate by, sometimes you become the village fool. It’s a cruel game with shifting rules. Sounds like the basis of a movie.
– Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. He’s at 816-350-6365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.