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Welcome to the Academy!

Wow.

The Academy might actually be serious about changing things. I was indifferent about the expansion of the Best Picture category, and a bit miffed about the demotion of the Honorary Awards to an event outside the regular show, but today’s list of new members of the Academy gives me a little cause for hope. These are the people who will vote on the nominees in coming years and I’m actually surprised: I recognise most of the names. Don’t get me wrong, these are only 134 new members in an organisation of 5000. This announcement by itself won’t move the Oscars back to the centre of popular culture where they belong, but – if the Academy can stick to its guns on this one – it may prove a better way of incorporating mainstream tastes than simply doubling the size of the Academy’s net.

Marlon Brando with his trophy... and his Oscar...

Marlon Brando with his trophy... and his Oscar...

The full list is available elsewhere, but here are some highlights of the new members:

  • Seth Rogan
  • James Franco
  • Brendan Gleeson
  • Anne Hathaway
  • Casey Affleck
  • Hugh Jackman
  • Paul Rudd
  • James McAvoy
  • Henry Selick
  • Tyler Perry (!)
  • Peter Gabriel

That’s a list brimming with hip comedic talent (Rogan, Rudd, Perry), some mainstream awards-friendly actors (Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Casey Affleck, James Franco) and Wolverine himself. Keep in mind that this was the organisation that snubbed Ellen Page for membership in order to give a place to the maid from Babel. I never get tired of that piece of trivia. Seriously though, it’s good to see the Academy moving closer to the centre of mainstream popular tastes. These are the people who will be voting on the movies that receive the nominations.

Being honest, I’m amazed the Academy has taken such a large step. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always said that this was the way that the Oscars could regain lost ground as the barometre of popular taste, but I never expected an organisation as downright stubborn as the Academy to move on the issue. Being fair, embracing the mainstream isn’t a particularly crass move on the part of the Academy – many of the old guard (Meryl Streep, Ernest Borgnine, Tony Curtis) would have been recruited in their heyday and many (Bob Hope, for example) would have been the equivalent to the comedians now appearing on the list.

It won’t happen overnight – nothing worth anything in Hollywood ever really does, despite what the media would have you believe – but, if Sid Ganis can stick to his guns on this one, we will see the benefits in about five years time. The problem is whether the President can stay the course that long. Elements within the Academy are fairly vocal about their opposition the expansion of the Best Picture category and most of their rhetoric seems to be of the ‘they’re doing this for the advertising revenue’ variety. It’s true to an extent, but this implies that the Oscars aren’t meant to be popular and embraced as the definitive selection of feature films from the past year. That’s what ticks me off about modern thinking in the Academy – the purpose of the awards is to recognise excellence, not just in the fields of abstract, unseen films. Not that we have a problem with that, only when it’s to the exclusion of all else.

Hugh's Jacked, Man... Okay, I'm sorry for that one...

Hugh's Jacked, Man... Okay, I'm sorry for that one...

As such, I can see an element of snobbishness creeping in about the new members, particularly the comedic talent. There might be some whining about the loss of prestige or the whoring out of the awards, but those voices would do well to remember that the Academy used to be just as populist – up until about a decade ago, when fringe tastes went from being a refreshing accompaniment to a distracting main course. This looks like it could be a welcome return to form.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe the nomination of one crappy holocaust movie had such a large impact on the way that the Academy looks at itself. I’m happy to see them actually serious try to embrace the mainstream again. I might actually tune in next year.

I’m not sure what to make of the Tyler Perry addition – the man’s only credit outside his own films is Star Trek, but hey, every year has its quirks.

I’m going to wait for any more surprises the Academy has up its sleeve before I take a look at the contenders for next year. And I’ll also probably do some sort of look at where the Academy itself stands in the wake of these individual decisions. In the meantime, let’s wait and see if there’s more to come…

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