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Tuesday, Jan 31, 2023

Academy on Target

Fault might be found in the seemingly sudden decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create a new Oscar for Achievement in Popular Film.

The academy also might have invited legitimate controversy by leaving some of its members out of the decision-making process that led up to the Aug. 8 announcement of the new category.

The nature of the newest Academy Award itself is sure to keep the controversy churning for some time, igniting another version of the age-old “art-versus-commerce” argument.

Good stuff on all three counts.

It’s interesting to see an entity such as the academy – long shrouded in mystery in the minds of most moviegoers – do something sudden.

Feuding among academy members, meanwhile, is the sort of Hollywood fodder that serves as a drum beat to draw the interest of fans.

And the tension between art and commerce is worthy of examination and argument, especially so in an industry that must accommodate and foster both.

Whether art and commerce are accommodated concurrently or separately is open to a case-by-case consideration. Some films sell popcorn while others warm the cockles of critics’ hearts. A rare production does both – but not many.

Enter the Oscar for Achievement in Popular Film, which has everyone from poseurs to purists wringing their hands while more measured professionals raise legitimate questions about the potential for confusion or dilution of the essence of the Oscar’s, still Hollywood’s most famous award show brand.

Fret not.

The academy is onto something, showing a remarkable political instinct – and we mean political in the broad sense rather than a point of reference in relation to whatever Democrats and Republicans are up to these days.

Anyone with a broad political instinct knows that the middle is where you win or lose.

It’s true in chess, soccer, the economy – and even in the narrower political art, where candidates for public office might win nomination on the fringes but must then race back to the middle for any hope of winning an actual seat.

The middle tends away from idealistic views of the world because it’s a place where compromise is a must – an acknowledgement that most of us live lives that might be described as long series of choices. First choices aren’t always possible. Compromises often must be made. Gratification often must be delayed. Sacrifices often are necessary.

Middle is not synonymous with mediocre, though, and such decisions don’t make anyone a loser.

They more often serve to confirm the decision makers’ simple will to proceed and to help their family, friends, employees, colleagues or constituents along with them.

Popular films represent the middle for Hollywood – a segment the Oscars has overlooked ever since the first statuettes were handed out at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929.

The new Oscar for popular film changes that – and the decision to do so might just spark the sort of annual conversation that yields a greater understanding and appreciation for both the art and commerce of Hollywood.


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