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Oscar for a popular film? That’s a dumb idea amid some smart ones

Steven Spielberg accepts the best director Oscar for "Saving Private Ryan" in 1999. If we must have an Academy Award for a popular film, why not name it after him? | ERIC DRAPER/AP

Leave it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to mess up even when they’re getting things right.

A few questions leap to mind:

Why choose to make a major announcement about changes to the biggest night in the movie industry on a lazy summer day? Why not wait until after Labor Day, when “Oscar Season” kicks in?

You make huge, game-changing moves — but you don’t have all the specifics in place? That would be like Major League Baseball saying, “Hey everybody: We’re going to shorten the season as well as the average running time for games, and we’re adding a new wrinkle to the postseason playoff structure. Details to come!”

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have the full game plan in place before going public?

I applaud the Academy’s decision to move up the date for the Oscars, but they’re not moving quickly enough and they’re not moving it up far enough. We’re told the 92nd Oscars — honoring the movies of 2019 — will take place on Feb. 9, 2020, instead of the previously announced date of Feb. 23.

Why wait until 2020? Granted, there are myriad moving parts to accommodate, but we’re talking about the televised handing out of trophies to grown-ups, not the launch of Apollo 11. By the time we get to the Academy Awards, so many awards have been handed out at other ceremonies, the surprises are few and far between. Hold the Oscars on the second Tuesday in January — when many of the contenders will still be playing in theaters.

As for the instantly maligned “Popular Film” category, the reason it was instantly maligned is because it’s dumb and poorly conceived.

I don’t see anything wrong with honoring massive blockbusters, but this category won’t be considered as prestigious as the best picture award — and it gives voters an excuse to marginalize a movie such as “Black Panther,” an enormous worldwide hit that’s also one of the best pictures of the year, period.

Academy apologists point out the categories aren’t mutually exclusive; a picture can be honored in the popular category and get a nomination in the traditional best picture category. Hey, look at “Up” (2009) and “Toy Story 3” (2010). Those films were nominated for best animated film AND best picture.

True — but they didn’t win, and an animated movie most likely will never win, because voters know they can reward it in its own category.

Unsolicited suggestion: Name the popular category Oscar “The Steven Spielberg Award,” in honor of the father of the modern-day, quality blockbuster. Place the top 10 domestic box office performers for the year on the ballot, and let the voters choose the most outstanding popular film of the year.

As for chopping down that unbearable running time: Amen!

I’ve only been advocating for that for about two decades. To quote, well, me, in the Sun-Times in 2010:

“The … Academy would be better off if it handed out the technical and less glamorous awards prior to the big night, and then honored those winners with a quick montage on Sunday. That way you could concentrate on about 10 categories, let the show breathe a little more, allow the winners to have up to five minutes on the podium — and you’d still deliver the show in much less than three hours.”

Again, the Academy didn’t offer too many specifics, but it does appear as if they’ll be cutting the number of televised categories and taking other measures to trim the telecast by as much as half.

Cheers to that.