When the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced Aug. 8 that it had created a new Oscar category—Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film—it didn't take long for some of the nation's top critics to slam the idea.
"It's a desperate ratings attempt," wrote IndieWire.com's Anne Thompson, one of the most respected Oscar-watchers in Hollywood.
"It's a golden pacifier for the 40-year-old manbabies who are always boo-hooing that their precious superhero movies never get nominated," wrote NPR contributor Sean Burns.
LA Weekly film critic Amy Nicholson fanned the flames on Twitter, writing, "New Oscar category for making me feel like I'm in sixth grade again and can't afford Guess Jeans."
Anyone paying attention to the steadily slumping ratings for the annual award show knows the Academy is in desperate need of improving the broadcast, and it seems honoring a film that most moviegoers have actually seen could be a major boost. Film buffs have to look back 15 years to find the last box office hit to win Best Picture: 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Lest we forget, the Academy Awards was created by movie studios back in the 1920s to promote the motion picture industry, and when an increasing number of moviegoers started staying home to watch television in the 1950s and 60s, the Academy decided to reinvent its annual show into a three-hour television commercial. For the past few decades, the show has ballooned to four hours (or longer). Frankly, there's a reason they call it "show business," and while the Oscars are still king, the Academy's loyal subjects need to do something quickly to protect the throne.
For those reasons, I wholeheartedly endorse a statuette for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film at next year's Oscars. Anyone (and yes, that includes you, fellow critics) who mistakes the Academy Awards for high-brow entertainment believes in something that hasn't existed for decades. The Oscars are nothing more than a flashy TV variety show, and the Academy is long overdue in embracing that fact.