I’m not the film snob I used to be. As a teenager I really cared about the films that other people watched, and tried to project a cool image of myself via the films I liked — in an attempt to impress girls. It did not work.
These days I still moan and whine about the state of the popular film industry, but I don’t begrudge anyone for watching those movies. Who am I to judge anyone who wants to watch the world get saved, over and over, by a person in a different costume each time? If that’s what people like, then that’s what they like.
The big, franchise, tentpole movies are going to succeed whether I complain about them or not. They might not win genuine critical acclaim, or be remembered more than a decade later, but the makers of those films at least have big stacks of cash that they can burn to keep warm in the winter months.
Money and fame are the award of the blockbuster. Well, until yesterday happened.
Yesterday the Academy Awards added a new Oscars category; Best Popular Film. While I’m sure the recipient of the award each year will be a great blockbuster (Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Transformers: The Last Knight), the Oscars are about celebrating achievement in the art of filmmaking. Taking an established, popular brand and adapting it for the big screen isn’t art — It’s outright business.
I know, I know — “But they made it as a separate category, it won’t take the spotlight away from the winner of Best Picture,” I hear you say. Which would be a valid point, if they hadn’t shortened the televised ceremony to three hours.
As a writer, who judges films largely on the quality of the screenplay, I look forward to seeing the two writing awards each year. Something tells me that they won’t make the televised cut, when the ceremony is made shorter and a blockbuster category is added. Selfish, I know — but I’m only human.
I can picture it now; The ‘Popular Film’ segment will be an hour long and feature five minute video packages about each of the nominees.
Cut to: Outside — Where thousands of fans cosplaying as the latest superheroes and Star Wars are lining the streets of Hollywood. Someone from daytime television interviews them all, one by one.
Do you think Fast & Furious 9 will get the Oscar?
Not this time — I think it’ll be Baywatch 2!
Either way, it looks like a good night for Dwayne Johnson.
A disgruntled and surly Mark Hamill comes on stage to announce the recipient of the first ever Popular Film Oscar.
And the winner is…Star Wars Episode 9… God damn it! F***! No! I hated filming it!
The curtain falls and music plays over a rage-filled Hamill.
Fade to black.
In all seriousness, the Oscars were the one pop-culture night of the year where I could still revel and celebrate in the form of film. Day-to-day film conversations are now dominated by anything that can be branded and marketed in groups of three, and so Oscar season chat was the time to exclusively discuss the great films of the year.
The sorts of films that a writer slaved over for two years, before a director agonised with the best way to present this story. The sorts of films that would be shot in new, unique or stylised ways — with music and sounds that send shivers down our spines. Films that talented actors would bring to life in ways that the writer couldn’t possibly have imagined, and that an editor would spend three months locked in a basement obsessing over.
Now, modern blockbusters do a lot of those things — because all I’ve done there is describe how movies are made in one paragraph or less — but they feel like they’ve fallen from an assembly line. At every stage someone has been involved and asking; “How can we make more money from this?”
A good filmmaker, a true filmmaker — They’re an artist who cares very little about how much money the film makes. They just want the film to be enjoyed by its audience, and to have them leave the viewing with a new experience or perspective.
As soon as I saw the announcement, my first thought was that award ceremonies already existed for money-making blockbusters. Isn’t that what the Saturn Awards and Empire Awards are for?
I’m not under any illusion that an award ceremony means anything to the Academy beyond marketing, politics and spectacle. They exist to make the giver look better than the recipient, but they do mean something to the person who has spent a lifetime working in the industry. When Guillermo Del Toro won for Shape of Water this year, I thought to myself that I prefer a couple of his other movies — but then I realised — To Del Toro, that Oscar was recognition from his peers that he was worthy of the award.
If a superhero film ever moves people the same way that an original drama or comedy can, then it absolutely deserves to be nominated for Best Picture. Films can be enjoyed on multiple levels. I might love a blockbuster as I’m watching it, but I’m not going to be talking about it and recommending it to everyone, as I would with something like Ladbybird.
Very talented people are involved in the crafting of some blockbusters, and they’ll receive a handsome prize-purse for their efforts. I just think that the Oscars should remain as the place where the best artists are praised for their craftsmanship.
I wonder how Del Toro would’ve felt if — ten minutes before he received his award for Best Director — he had to watch Tom Cruise collect his Oscar for Best Popular Actor. In which he promotes Scientology for ten minutes before ranting about being the greatest stuntman of all time, who definitely doesn’t own female slaves.
Reading this all back, I’m still trying to project the image of “cool cinema viewer” — I haven’t changed a bit.
Today is Thursday, August 9th and I’ve built a killer playlist for my YA dystopian WIP.
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