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The Best-Popular-Film Oscar Was an Attempt to Save Ratings, Academy President Confirms

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The best-popular-film category might not be presented at next years Oscars, but the Academy is still keeping the idea in its back pocket. Film Academy president John Bailey confirmed as much during a recent talk at the EnergaCamerimage Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, according to Variety—saying that while the parameters for the award might shift, having a category designed to reward a “best general release is very much on our minds.”

Bailey also confirmed that the award was designed as a direct response to the ceremonys disappointing ratings, which have fallen steadily over the last few years. Drawing viewers in by catering to mainstream hits “seemed like a good idea” to the board at the time, he said, but the pushback against the proposed new category was strong enough that the Academy ultimately announced that it would no longer introduce the prize at the 2019 ceremony. However, that is “not to say that the idea is dead,” he added. “Even after a stake was driven through its heart, theres still interest.”

Bailey pointed out that there is Oscar precedent for handing out two different sorts of best-picture awards. At the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, the best-picture category was split into two sections, with one recognizing the best-box-office hit (Wings), and the other the best artistic production (Sunrise). The newly created best-popular-film category was intended to be a stand-in for the section that awarded Wings. But to the modern film world, the new category smacked of condescension—a way to reward blockbuster movies otherwise not considered prestigious enough to warrant Oscars on their own. The award was instantly nicknamed the “Black Panther award,” since the Marvel film presumably would have been a front-runner for the category—and its creation would have been an easy way for the Academy to decorate it, even though Academy members typically snub superhero offerings in the best-picture category.

Bailey also tipped off some of the Academys ongoing conversations about the future of the organization and the televised Oscar ceremony, noting that Disney, which owns ABC, is trying to “expand the awards to millennials,” in order to help the telecast thrive through ABCs 2028 contract. In addition, Bailey wants to draw in a more global audience. “One of the things I am most committed to is expanding awareness and visibility for the foreign-language award,” he said. “To me, that award is every bit as important as the best-picture award—its the best-picture award for the rest of the world.”

In the meantime, the Academy isnt courting any new categories or branches (such as one for stunt performers) just yet. “A number of different crafts would like to be represented, and there are ongoing discussions about creating new branches,” he noted. “But right now, were trying to reduce the size of the board. However, nothing is written in stone.”

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Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:The History of the Vanity Fair Oscar PartyJessica Chastain outside the 2012 Vanity Fair Oscar party.Kim Basinger with her Oscar for *L.A. Confidential,* 1998.          Kim Basinger with her Oscar for L.A. Confidential, 1998.The first *Vanity Fair* Oscar party, co-hosted by Steve Tisch, at Mortons, 1994. *Inset,* Matches, 2011.       The first Vanity Fair Oscar party, co-hosted by Steve Tisch, at Mortons, 1994. Inset, Matches, 2011.Donna Karan, Oprah Winfrey, Mary J. Blige, and Kendu Isaacs at dinner, watching Jennifer Hudson win best supporting actress for *Dreamgirls,* 2007.    Donna Karan, Oprah Winfrey, Mary J. Blige, and Kendu Isaacs at dinner, watching Jennifer Hudson win best supporting actress for Dreamgirls, 2007.Jamie Foxx, Vince Vaughn, and Helen Mirren, with her Oscar for *The Queen,* 2007.       Jamie Foxx, Vince Vaughn, and Helen Mirren, with her Oscar for The Queen, 2007.Uma Thurman and Tom Ford, 1999.       Uma Thurman and Tom Ford, 1999.Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep, with Winslets Oscar for *The Reader,* 2009.       Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep, with Winslets Oscar for The Reader, 2009.PreviousNext

Jessica Chastain outside the 2012 Vanity Fair Oscar party.
Kim Basinger with her Oscar for L.A. Confidential, 1998.
The first Vanity Fair Oscar party, co-hosted by Steve Tisch, at Mortons, 1994. Inset, Matches, 2011.
Donna Karan, Oprah Winfrey, Mary J. Blige, and Kendu Isaacs at dinner, watching Jennifer Hudson win best supporting actress for Dreamgirls, 2007.
The scene at the Sunset Tower Hotel, 2011.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Harvey Weinstein with their Oscars for Shakespeare in Love, 1999.
Carolina Herrera, Ahmet Ertegun, and Reinaldo Herrera, 2000.
Madonna and her brother Christopher Ciccone, 1999.
Martin Short, Tom Hanks, and Larry David, 2011.
Inside the “nightclub” built over the Sunset Towers pool, 2011.
Donald and Susan Newhouse, Graydon Carter, and Si Newhouse, 1997.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone, and Ellen Barkin, 1999.
Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin, 1996.
Kevin Spacey and Nicolas Cage—with their Oscars for, respectively, The Usual Suspects and Leaving Las Vegas—and Patricia Arquette, 1996.
Tim Tebow and Jon Hamm, 2012.
Hilary Swank with her Oscar for Boys Dont Cry, 2000.
Michael Douglas and Kirk Douglas, 2012.
Jean Pigozzi, LWren Scott, and Mick Jagger, 2011.
Brian Grazer and Ron Howard with their Oscars for A Beautiful Mind, 2002.
Jennifer Lopez, 2001.
Martin Short exiting the partys photo booth, 2011.
Jamie Foxx, Vince Vaughn, and Helen Mirren, with her Oscar for The Queen, 2007.
Uma Thurman and Tom Ford, 1999.
Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep, with Winslets Oscar for The Reader, 2009.

Yohana DestaYohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.

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Celebrities

The Best-Popular-Film Oscar Was an Attempt to Save Ratings, Academy President Confirms

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The best-popular-film category might not be presented at next years Oscars, but the Academy is still keeping the idea in its back pocket. Film Academy president John Bailey confirmed as much during a recent talk at the EnergaCamerimage Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, according to Variety—saying that while the parameters for the award might shift, having a category designed to reward a “best general release is very much on our minds.”

Bailey also confirmed that the award was designed as a direct response to the ceremonys disappointing ratings, which have fallen steadily over the last few years. Drawing viewers in by catering to mainstream hits “seemed like a good idea” to the board at the time, he said, but the pushback against the proposed new category was strong enough that the Academy ultimately announced that it would no longer introduce the prize at the 2019 ceremony. However, that is “not to say that the idea is dead,” he added. “Even after a stake was driven through its heart, theres still interest.”

Bailey pointed out that there is Oscar precedent for handing out two different sorts of best-picture awards. At the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, the best-picture category was split into two sections, with one recognizing the best-box-office hit (Wings), and the other the best artistic production (Sunrise). The newly created best-popular-film category was intended to be a stand-in for the section that awarded Wings. But to the modern film world, the new category smacked of condescension—a way to reward blockbuster movies otherwise not considered prestigious enough to warrant Oscars on their own. The award was instantly nicknamed the “Black Panther award,” since the Marvel film presumably would have been a front-runner for the category—and its creation would have been an easy way for the Academy to decorate it, even though Academy members typically snub superhero offerings in the best-picture category.

Bailey also tipped off some of the Academys ongoing conversations about the future of the organization and the televised Oscar ceremony, noting that Disney, which owns ABC, is trying to “expand the awards to millennials,” in order to help the telecast thrive through ABCs 2028 contract. In addition, Bailey wants to draw in a more global audience. “One of the things I am most committed to is expanding awareness and visibility for the foreign-language award,” he said. “To me, that award is every bit as important as the best-picture award—its the best-picture award for the rest of the world.”

In the meantime, the Academy isnt courting any new categories or branches (such as one for stunt performers) just yet. “A number of different crafts would like to be represented, and there are ongoing discussions about creating new branches,” he noted. “But right now, were trying to reduce the size of the board. However, nothing is written in stone.”

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— What Louis C.K. should actually talk about in his stand-up sets

— The truth about Freddie Mercurys love life

— Natalie Portman finds a new voice

— Diane Lane is here for female fury

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