The Oscars face a fascinating dilemma every year. Their primary intention is to award the so-called "best" in film, but they also televise the ceremony, and they'd like for the broadcast to score high ratings. Lately, they've had some difficulty on that front. In 2016, the ratings hit an eight-year low, causing many to wonder how the Academy could possibly fix their problem. Some viewers point to the Oscar nominees, implying that since casual audiences are largely unfamiliar with them, they are less inclined to tune in to see who wins. There are other reasons for the continuous slide (the show itself is too long, etc.), but there definitely seems to be a difference between viewers' favorite movies and the ones the Academy recognizes.
To their credit, the organization has tried to broaden their horizons, most notably by expanding the Best Picture field to include as many as 10 films annually. Still, populist hits such as Deadpool (which scored several prestigious nominations this year) are left off the ballot in favor of smaller dramas that far fewer people have seen. According to Oscar-winning director James Cameron, this is a byproduct of an in-house bias the Academy has against big studio tentpoles.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Cameron candidly discussed his opinions on how the Oscars are handled, claiming that the Academy has the mindset of telling moviegoers what they "should" like, as opposed to rewarding the films "people really want to see." Cameron further elaborated, explaining why he feels this is the way things are:
“There’s definitely a bias. The Academy still has a majority of its members that are actors. Look, I love actors, but that’s how they think—they’re generally skeptical of technology. So when they see a film that’s too dependent on visual effects, they say, oh, that’s not an acting movie. Well Titanic was a visual effects movie in sheep’s clothing, you know? Yes, it had visual effects, but it was about the people and about the story. The visual effects were eclipsed by that. But if you do a movie like Avatar, the effects are right out front, and even though I felt the acting was just as good, and the story we were telling was just as good, they’re not going to reward it the same way. That’s just a fact of life. I had made a decision way before Titanic that I wasn’t going to serve two masters: I was going to put my visual cinema first. Even though I’ve spent an awful lot of time on scripts and on performance, I still love doing big, visual cinema. I doubt I’ll even get nominated again, but if I did, I’m probably going to lose to a Woody Allen movie. That’s the nature of it. So you don’t try to serve two masters.”
Cameron is one of the few blockbuster filmmakers to leave a mark on the awards circuit, as Titanic won a record 11 trophies in 1997. Avatar was also a major player, earning nominations in key categories such as Best Picture and Best Director (and winning in multiple technical categories). Still, instances such as this are few and far between. Granted, the Academy has recognized a fair number of genre pictures in the past few years (i.e. Gravity, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road), but for many, they leave plenty of strong options on the table. They don't do themselves any favors by leaving one or two spots unfilled on the Best Picture lineup, when they easily could go to an acclaimed tentpole like Skyfall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or Deadpool. Also, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the only fantasy movie to win Best Picture, even though there have been other qualified candidates in the past.
The fact that the Academy periodically nominates a Mad Max or an Inception makes it seem that they may not be as biased as Cameron is suggesting. However, many would like to see it happen more frequently, and there's no denying a larger presence of Captain America, Rey, and Deadpool would help TV ratings. It's nice that the Oscars boost the profile of works like Hell or High Water and Manchester by the Sea, but they could balance things out a little better to make the ceremony a widespread celebration of all types of films, instead of the genres the Academy is particularly fond of.
Source: The Daily Beast