I get what you're saying, but I still think that it's still an organization/group of people who make up these standards. So the initial standards and criteria are based on subjectiveness of this elite group.
Part of the reason why these criteria are set for competition related events like the Oscars so there is a standard of comparison.
For all these things, if you want to look at mastery of technique, it's much easier to judge. As for creativity---way too much subjectivity.
But part of an artist's job (any form of art) is to appeal to the masses. Sure, they can do it for themselves and many do, but almost all become famous because they appeal to a larger group of people. And that cuts down on the subjectivity a bit, because many people agree on the same thing.
I wouldn't say that they 'make up' these rules at all. There are certain things that have stronger emotional and ideological triggers. The best movies make you think and make you feel, and that's what they are graded upon. There's no rigid scoring rubric, but that doesn't mean the rules are adjusted on the fly.
For the most part, the elite critics are still grading like the everyday moviegoer. The difference is that they see such a large volume of movies that they have additional perspective absent from the typical moviegoer. They have just enough of a blasť attitude that they are not easily swayed by the 'appealing to the masses' actions.
So, you're right in a sense, there is subjectivity, but there is also a level of objectivity that makes it practical enough to rank movies. Of course, each individual may have different results from each particular movie, but that's also why the Academy isn't deciding the Oscar movies from one or two perspectives. They are attempting to establish the best possible baseline, which is really the only measurement of overall 'quality' that we can give.
Well I find the term 'best movie' subjective. For some people, it's the highest-grossing film. That is an accomplishment in itself, because you are able to make so many people dish out of their pockets to PAY to see these movies on a massive scale. But if you notice, many of these blockbusters never make it to the Oscars.
It's more like the 'best movie/picture of the year' to that group of Oscar critics. I'm not saying they formulate these standards on the fly or just randomly, but there is a good degree of subjectivity. This is why the winners of the Cannes, Golden Globes, Oscars, etc. are often different because their committee consists of different people, tastes, and criteria they want to set.
Yes, the winners are often different, but you'll see that many of the nominations are often the same. They are still picking a few of the 'elite' films out of a very large pool of films for any given year.
I'm not saying that there isn't a level of subjectivity to it, because there is, but at the very root of the issue, it's objectivity. It's one reason why you don't see home videos getting Oscar nominations, because there are certain things that go into a 'good' movie.
I think when you're dealnig with the arthouse crowd and mainstream crowd, it's really hard to define 'best' movie or 'good' movie. I wouldn't really just go by ONLY the arthouse or critics' definition because movies are made for the public to enjoy (whether there is a targeted audience is another story) and they do matter.
There is a certain "standard" for the arthouse crowd, but that does not always (and often does not) overlap with the mainstream one.
If you ask the average Joe, they probably will not consider "No Country for Old Men" a good movie at all. They'll find it boring. Many people find Wong Kar Wai's movies highly boring.
The arthouse crowd probably laughs at movies like "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" or "Legally Blonde" but they earn more money than many Oscar winners. Sometimes, the two crowds overlap like in Titanic (I would be wary to call this a real overlap....I suspect hardcore art house film critics don't consider Titanic a real quality film).
Crash and Lost in Translation were actually pretty darn good that year. But ROTK was just better. I'm a big fan though, so I'm probably biased.
Put it this way: there are a lot of movies I could watch, and a lot of things I could do, if I only wanted to be entertained for a few hours. But a true quality movie will express a meaning, will stand the test of time, and it will continue to serve as a standard that will be studied by artists and production for years to come. Years from now, film students will still be studying Citizen Kane because it, almost completely objectively, told a quality story. Years from now, when CGI outpaces it, people will forget a movie like Transformers, even though, as a cinematic experience, Transformers was better.
And you have it right, movies are made for the public "to enjoy." And that's exactly why most movies are not designed with quality in mind. The public is largely going to watch a movie occasionally, enjoy themselves, and then forget about it. A "quality" movie has unforgettable aspects. It evokes something; it means something. That's what made No Country a good movie. It wasn't necessarily the most enjoyable cinematic experience, but the movie had depth, meaning, and storytelling. That's why art critics love No Country, but it wasn't that well received at the Box Office.
As for the Oscars, they have always been a means of the studios spotlighting their prestige films rather than their popcorn movies. That will never change. The original intent of the Academy was, literally, to showcase the high brow movies that the public largely don't know about.
As I said, you can find people who find X, Y, or Z movie as their favorite. The Academy doesn't intend to find the "Favorite Film," but what film has the best overall artistic quality. Sometimes they get it wrong and the movie doesn't stand the test of time, but you can usually follow their intent. It isn't the teen choice awards.
And a lot of people liked/loved Crash, but it was still, going into the Oscars, the 5th best received movies, and possibly because of a lot of vote-splitting in a year without a dominant Oscar favorite, Crash managed to sneak in and grab the Best Picture. This has been known to happen before, and it's a statistical phenomena that will continue to happen.
Going into the Oscars, all the buzz was on Brokeback Mountain and Capote. Good Night, and Good Luck and Munich both received a few minor awards and were looked at as dark horses. No one expected Crash to sneak in and steal the Oscar, and that's exactly what it did. In hindsight, Crash did not bring as much to the film world as Brokeback Mountain or Good Night, and Good Luck, and the move was largely seen as political.
Likewise with Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan. It was seen as political posturing and not the superior movie winning out. Years from now (actually, even now), Saving Private Ryan is going to be the movie that film critics remember, not Shakespeare in Love.
And speaking of Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane was robbed by a movie called How Green was my Valley (who?).
Being an arthouse movie fan, I personally completely agree with the notion that art films are of more 'quality' than mainstream movies. Heck, I don't even go into the movie theaters that much now because most of the films I like are foreign indie films.
BUT, I think whether a movie stands the test of time really depends on who you are talking about. To some people, it doesn't matter if it has the utmost quality if they simply can't appreciate it and enjoy it. To these individuals, the 'quality' of the movie is lost.
That's why I think that you can only judge the quality of that movie when speaking in the realm of the Oscar committee. The Oscars are higher up in prestige and reputation than some of the other movie awards, but that doesn't mean they are the be-all-end-all to judging.
I guess it boils down to the fact that--yes, it's nice to have prestige, high art, etc. But at the end of the day, if you can only entertain or touch those 5% of the population (probably even less), maybe the end result isn't as great as a movie that can draw in millions.
I think the Oscars are somewhere in between the arthouse crowd and mainstream, more so leaning towards arthouse.
You will never seen Cannes giving Titanic an award. Or Johnny Depp a nomination for "Pirates of the Caribbean".
You don't need to appeal to the masses for it to be a quality work. Such an argument is argument ad populum, and is a common logical fallacy. Some works of art and media require a certain level of taste and experience to truly enjoy.
Teaching advanced quantum physics to the average guy will just hurt their brain; they have no use for it, and they are unlikely to understand it. But it is absolutely quality material, because modern physics depends upon it and continue to use to advance the field.
Likewise with movies, even if the mainstream population has never heard or seen Citizen Kane, it will continue to be one of the 'best' movies of all time, because it will continue to be analyzed in film schools everywhere and studied by autuers for its vivid storytelling and evocative method.
As I said, there is a lot of things people can do if they want to be entertained for a few hours. Some movies may be enormously entertaining, but a quality movie sticks around; the two are not the same.
Furthermore, Cannes rewarded Pulp Fiction with the Palme d'Or and gave a rousing applause to Pan's Labyrinthe, so they have rewarded some more 'mainstream' movies. The thing about Titanic is that it simply wasn't that good of a movie in the artistic sense. It was a mashed and fairly generic love story, and, from the start, was intended to be a huge box office success. It also benefited from a relatively weak Oscar year in going up against movies like Good Will Hunting and As Good As It Gets.
Don't forget that the Oscars is still a business. The Cannes will often reward a movie even if it has no hope of hitting theatres. The Oscars don't.
I can name you an overrated Oscar winner. Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love. WTF! She's awful; the Oscars is biased anyway.