John C. Reilly and other TIFF stars weigh in on Oscars popular film category

TORONTO — John C. Reilly has what might be an unpopular opinion on the popular film category being proposed at the Academy Awards.

“I do think there’s room in the Oscars (for it),” the Oscar-nominated actor said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he’s starring in the darkly comic western ”The Sisters Brothers,” which he also co-produced.

“If you want to say ‘popular,’ well, let’s just go for the pure definition of the word — the most people that showed up, that’s the most popular. Like, why not? Then it’s not even a competition.

“Then it’s just like, by the end of the year, by this date, whatever movie made the most, that’s going to have a spot in the awards. I think that’s a cool thing. Rather than people being told what to like, it’s just a representation of what we did like.”

The topic became a hot one at the festival after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced last Thursday it had suspended plans to award a new Oscar for popular films at the upcoming ceremony. The category “merits further study,” it said in a statement.

The academy was reacting to widespread backlash over last month’s announcement of the new category, which is part of several changes being made to keep the Oscars “relevant in a changing world.”

“It’s a really crazy idea to have a category like that,” said Micah Bloomberg, who co-created the popular “Homecoming” podcast and co-wrote the upcoming Amazon series adaptation that’s at the festival.

“How do you qualify a movie as popular and what does that mean? I just fundamentally didn’t understand what they were trying to do other than just give more awards.

“And I think there is this stink to it from the beginning that it was like a step-kid category, that it was never going to be the same thing as having a best picture (nomination).”

Kim Masters, editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter, said it didn’t seem to be a well-thought-out idea.

“Many people were baffled: What does it mean?” Masters said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

“They seemed to have reacted to pressure to improve the ratings of the telecast without necessarily considering what the impact would be.”

Masters noted the academy “has a very large, cumbersome board” that has had trouble weighing the ratings interests of ABC owner Disney against the desires of those in the craft and assistant categories to be represented on the Oscars show.

This year’s Oscars saw historically low ratings and the academy now plans to shorten next year’s show to three hours, partly by handing out some trophies during commercial breaks.

The academy says it will rotate the categories that are not in the live broadcast from year to year, but it’s still a blow to some academy members, said Masters.

The popular film category is the academy’s second attempt to recognize movies with mass appeal, after it started allowing up to 10 films to be nominated for best picture in 2009.

But many in the industry say the prestigious Oscars isn’t the right place for such an award, noting such a category is already covered by the People’s Choice Awards.

“The Oscars, that’s not why they started,” said “Homecoming” cast member Jeremy Allen White.

“It wasn’t for pop film. There are great movies that are blockbusters and that people can enjoy, but I don’t think it would have been true to the beginning of why the academy was put together.”

But Reilly said he feels a popular film category gives significance to projects the public has embraced.

He said he’d love to see the category modelled after the one recently created by France’s Cesar Award academy, which goes to the film with the most ticket sales in the previous year.

“It’s very democratic, it’s very clear, you don’t have to vote on it,” Reilly said.

“The people vote and I think that’s actually a really cool thing, because then that transcends whatever opinions or tastemakers think of this or that.

“It really gives the audience a clear voice. It’s like a vote — you vote with your dollars and the most dollars gets recognized. I think that’s a really elegant kind of simple way to get to the point.”

Joel Edgerton, who directed and stars in “Boy Erased,” sees room at the Oscars for a category that draws more attention to comedies.

“People get recognized for comic turns, but it’s really rare,” he said, pointing to Kevin Kline’s win for “A Fish Called Wanda,” and Tiffany Haddish’s breakout role in ”Girls Trip,” which was snubbed at the Oscars.

With a comedy category he said smaller films, like his recent favourite “The Death of Stalin,” would have a global platform.

“The films that quite often get lost are comedies,” he added.

“That might open up a can of worms … but why the hell not?”

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