What does Oscar know about popular? Five films to consider for newest academy accolade

Libby Hill
Los Angeles Times

All hell broke loose when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a new category last week to honor “outstanding achievement in popular film.”

The highly criticized move raised far more questions than it answered.

When will the category be implemented?

What films will be eligible for consideration?

What does popularity mean, really?

And, my personal favorite, why is this happening?!

The cynical take is that the category is merely a consolation prize for “Black Panther” or a desperate attempt to get the people who keep going to “Jurassic Park” movies to tune in for the Oscars.

But let’s consider a future where a newly created Academy Award for Best Popular Picture is actually good. (Times film critic Justin Chang, for one, is pretty skeptical.)

Here are five films that could make the new category worthwhile.

“Black Panther”: I mean, the only way “Black Panther” doesn’t score a nomination in this category is if the new award isn’t implemented until the 2020 ceremony.

“Panther” is tailor-made for a fan-favorite honor – a superhero flick that brought in more than $1.3 billion globally and earned critical raves and invigorated interest in a genre that plenty of people thought was beyond saving.

There’s just one problem: “Black Panther” should be nominated for, nay, should win, best picture.

Sure, the academy says that films can be considered in both the picture and popular categories, but that’s what it said about animated films, too. Since the animated film category was created in 2001, only two films have earned best-picture nominations – “Up” (2009) and “Toy Story 3” (2010) – and those occurred only after expanding that category from five to 10 nominees.

“Black Panther” is the highest-grossing film of the year so far in addition to being one of the best-reviewed. It’s a lock.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”: If “Black Panther” is maybe too good for the popular-film category, then the latest installment of the “M:I” franchise is just right.

The sixth film is full of high-risk, high-reward stunt work and proves that it’s possible for a film series to still churn out exceptional quality this late in a run. (Sorry, “Transformers.”)

The movie is so good that it makes us forget how weird Tom Cruise is as a person and lets us get lost in how good Tom Cruise is as an action star. “Fallout” reminds audiences how much dumb fun can be had at the movies. It’s a shoo-in.

“Paddington 2”: I can hear your scoffs from here.

“That’s a dumb kids movie, a sequel and only made $40 million domestically. You’re mad.”

First of all, rude. Second, how quickly you forget that “Babe” was nominated for best picture in 1995.

Now, “Paddington 2” is – appallingly – not going to be nominated for the big prize come Oscar night, but the film scored rave reviews and brought in more than $220 million globally at the box office.

But more than that, “Paddington 2” shared a message of empathy and love at a time when such compassion is in short supply.

For me, having grown up in rural America with limited access to or understanding of Hollywood, Oscar nominations were a guide to films that I didn’t know existed.

That’s a service the “popular” category can provide. Maybe “Paddington 2” didn’t make the biggest splash at the box office, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have been more popular.

“A Quiet Place”: Give or take a “Get Out,” horror often has a difficult time getting a foothold at the Oscars, which is why a popular-film category is the perfect fit for “A Quiet Place.”

The sci-fi horror flick helmed by John Krasinski, who also starred alongside wife Emily Blunt, did major business at the box office, a clever, tense thriller for audiences eager to be scared silly.

The so-called “Popcorn Oscar” easily could go to a film like “The Incredibles 2,” a solid sequel to a beloved animated film, but the upside of the new category is the opportunity to reward films in often-marginalized genres.

“A Quiet Place” was smart and scary and deserves a little recognition beyond technical achievements come Oscar night.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: The heart-rending documentary about humble humanitarian Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” is both critically acclaimed and doing big bucks at the box office, especially for a doc.

The case for Mr. Rogers was perhaps best made on Twitter by journalist and author Mark Harris, who wrote on Thursday, “Which film is more ‘popular,’ ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ (gross: $21 million), which rode great word-of-mouth to become one of the highest-grossing docs ever, or ‘Solo’ (gross: $213 million), the first ‘Star Wars’ movie largely rejected by its core constituency?”

Like “Paddington,” it’s an easy call: For what it is, “Neighbor” is popular. And deserves to be more so. Include it in the category and boost its profile because films that are good, that are accessible and appealing to wide audiences deserve to be championed.