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Our Crack Tongue & Groove

toyoscar.jpg Popular doesn’t mean terrible

The Oscars have announced that next year they will be introducing a new category for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. It’s a move that’s widely being seen as a way of rewarding box-office biggies such as ‘Black Panther’ – which would otherwise miss out on the big awards. But why shouldn’t multiplex fodder win Best Film?

You don’t need to be Columbo to work out why the Film Academy have introduced this new category. Ratings for their annual back-slap have been on the slide in recent years, with many putting this down to the fact that the most popular films never walk away with any of the big awards including Best Film, Best Actress, Best Actor or Best Director. But this new category is less a sop to the masses than a slap in the face.

Yes, we all know that things can go hideously wrong when the general public decides what is good, with the ur-text on this being a Super Hans quote from ‘Peep Show’: “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis. You can’t trust people”. But sometimes popcorn munchers do know more than the Academy. Sometimes “popular” does equal “best”.

‘Toy Story 2’ (which rivals ‘Godfather 2’ as the greatest sequel of all time) massively out-grossed ‘American Beauty’ at the box-office, and is a much better film, but it was that overblown paean to middle-class angst that walked away with Best Film in 1999. ‘Back to the Future’ knocked ‘Out of Africa’ out of the park in 1985 but it was the bore-a-thon romance that won the Oscar. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ ran ‘Chariots of Fire’ ragged in 1981, and it should have been Indy standing on the Oscar podium rather than that bunch of fleet-footed poshos.It’s the same in the other categories.

There is no good reason why an actor playing a disabled scientist in some middlebrow plodder should automatically stand a better chance of winning something over someone giving a spectacular performance in a popular comedy or thriller. (And this isn’t a view I’ve come round to recently. I still have a diary from my teenage years where I’ve written, after watching ‘Carry On Again Doctor’ one Sunday afternoon, “It’s unfathomable that Jim Dale didn’t win an Academy Award for his sensitive portrayal of Doctor Nookie.”)

And it’s not just at the cinema where the public sometimes gets it right. The Beatles managed to shift a few records while simultaneously also being brilliant. Ditto Elvis, Madonna and Prince. And then there is ABBA. The masses have loved them since the 1970s, but it took decades for the ‘serious’ critics to catch up. Mind you, sometimes the critics and general public can both get it wrong. Step forward ‘Lost in Translation’ and everything by Radiohead.