Academy Board Member Says "Popular" Oscar for "Movies That Connect With People"

Albert Berger - Getty - H 2018
Amy Graves/Getty Images for PSIFF

Albert Berger, a representative of the producers branch on the board of governors for the film organization, defended the controversial, new "popular film" award, saying it's really a prize for a movie that audiences were entertained by.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a number of changes to the Oscars last week, the reforms — including an award for "popular film," the presentation of trophies during commercial breaks and an earlier 2020 ceremony — led to a swift backlash by many entertainment industry insiders.

In particular, the news that the Academy Awards would hand out a prize for "achievement in popular film" generated a great deal of head-scratching as to what the criteria to determine which films are eligible for this new award would be.

Albert Berger (Election, Nebraska), a representative of the producers branch on the Academy's board of governors who was, he says, "very involved" in the Oscars changes, defended the reforms, which he called "a work in progress," when he spoke to The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week. This comment came ahead of the New York premiere of another movie he and producing partner Ron Yerxa worked on, the rom-com Juliet, Naked, starring Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd and Ethan Hawke.

"The announcement came ahead of all the details, and I think once people hear the whole thing it'll make a lot more sense to people," Berger said. "From my point of view, it's not at all about popularity, this new award, it's more about excellence in entertainment."

Berger pointed out that, at the first Academy Awards, while Wings was named "outstanding picture," Sunrise received the award for "unique and artistic picture."

"I think it's been very much in the DNA of Hollywood motion-picture making that there's somewhere where entertainment and art meet and co-mingle," he told THR. "And I think, once [the details of the new award are] explained, people will understand better."

Berger argued that the new category isn't so much about coming up with a criteria for measuring popularity, it's about recognizing "excellence in movies that connect with people."

"I don't think it really is popular film," he said of the new category. "I think it's for outstanding entertainment, and, for me, that can mean Batman, Little Miss Sunshine, Risky Business, The Bourne Identity. Just as everybody has their own definition of entertainment, I think they also have their own definition of art. I think it will ultimately be up to the Academy members to figure out how exactly they approach this."