Oh boy. So, apparently after the massive ratings drop earlier this year, ABC executives had a sit-down with the Academy board members to pressure them to do something to improve the telecast, the biggest demand being that they had to find some way to force "popular movies" (meaning box office hits) into the big nominations. So, the Academy has come up with a list of changes: 1) Remove several of the craft categories from the telecast and give out those awards during commercial breaks to ensure a three hour show, 2) move the ceremony up by two weeks in 2020 so that it will now air in early February and not at the end of the month, behind all the other awards shows and 3) which is by far the biggest change- the creation of a brand new category to be awarded, entitled "Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film." Not surprisingly, this has caused a massive reaction in the film world, almost universally negative, not that ABC cares of course. But it looks like there will be a new Oscar for Best Popular Film (whatever that means) given out, essentially ghettoizing big moneymakers to the kids table at the Academy Awards.
I think this is absurd. First of all, the Oscars have done this before! The very first ceremony, back in 1928, actually gave out two awards for Best Picture- one was deemed "Best Picture," while the other was "Best Unique and Artistic Picture," implying (obviously) that there's a difference between art and commerce. But that whole thing was scrapped after one year because they realized the inherent problem with saying popular movies are not "artistic." Because of course they are and if a hugely popular movie is good enough to get nominated for Best Picture then it should be! There shouldn't have to be some special category where it can be relegated to second class status. A lot of people think this is premature concern that Black Panther won't get nominated due to the Academy's long history of ignoring superhero movies (most famously 2008's The Dark Knight, which was the omission that caused them to change the number of nominees in the first place), and ABC wants to make sure it get recognized somewhere. But I think Black Panther could easily get into Best Picture and that the memory of The Dark Knight's snub is one of the things that will make it happen.
In a more general sense, there is a much easier fix for this problem of not having enough box office hits nominated for the top awards, and that's to simply go back to nominating ten films. When they first expanded the nominees, they did nominate ten for a period of two years (2009-10), which allowed movies like The Blind Side, Toy Story 3, Up, Inception, District 9 and Avatar to be nominated alongside critically acclaimed arthouse films. It was kind of the perfect mix of what they said they wanted. But then voters apparently complained that it was too hard to fill out ten slots, so the Academy complied and allowed them to go back to picking five, which they extrapolated the top vote getters from, resulting in a total that now varies from 7-9 nominees every year. When they did this, no animated movies or franchise films got in anymore, so the pretty obvious solution here is to go back to a flat ten and tell the voters to suck it up. If you can't see ten movies over the course of a year, you probably shouldn't be a voting member of the Academy. You guys get screeners and everything, it's not that hard.
As for the other changes, I've long thought there was a need to remove the shorts and perhaps a couple of the craft categories from the telecast (like sound mixing and editing), so that doesn't bother me, but don't give them out during the commercial breaks! Give them the dignity of their own separate ceremony at least, like the Governor's Awards, where lifetime achievement honors are now handed out. And as far moving the show up a couple weeks, that means nothing. The other pre-cursor ceremonies will follow suit (BAFTA has already said they're moving their show ahead of it), and there is simply nothing you can do about the fact that the Oscars are the belated climax of a long, tiresome awards season where everyone else gets to go first. That's not changing. If anything, they should probably embrace it and move the ceremony back to the end of March, where it used to reside for decades. There are ways to adapt the ceremony, but these people managed to come up with the stupidest ideas possible, and I'm not sure why these simple fixes aren't even considered. Best Popular Movie? Really? Come on.