Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Let’s hear it for the stunt guy: 11 new categories the Oscars should add

As of 2015, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences hands out annual awards in 24 different categories—a televised process that usually takes around four hours. At the risk of subjecting our already-numb rears to an even longer Oscar ceremony, we’re here to propose that the Academy cast a wider net of recognition and add a few new categories to honor some of the unsung heroes of the movie industry. Apologies to your posterior, should AMPAS take us up on these suggestions.


1. Best Stunt Work

Stunt coordinators and performers have been badgering the Academy for decades to add an award that recognizes stunts, to the point that it’s become something of a cause célèbre. Creating the category seems like a no-brainer, though there’s an administrative reason why the Academy has continued to vote against adding a stunts Oscar. Stunt work is a technical category, and would require its own craft branch to select nominees, and the Academy at present just doesn’t include enough stunt professionals to form one. (As of 2011, the membership—which hovers around 6,000—included only 19 stunt people.) It’s a shame, because, aside from being the most dangerous job in Hollywood, stunt work is every bit as creative as the work recognized in any other category—from the choppy, free-for-all mayhem of The Raid 2 to the pivoting, dance-like moves of John Wick to Need For Speed’s cars stopping within inches of the camera. If nothing else, it would make for a heck of a clip reel at the ceremony. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

2. Best Soundtrack or Music Supervision

The ways that the Academy’s Best Song category fails to reflect the realities of contemporary popular music have been well documented, or at least well-complained-about. If Best Original Song isn’t up to the task of honoring the greatest intersections of film and music, maybe a new category is in order. There is precedence for an award like this. In fact, a version of it is already on the books: The categories of Best Original Song Score (covering unified groups of songs) and Best Original Song Score and Adaptation (covering groups of unified songs that may include pre-existing material), which were given most years from 1941 to 1984, morphed into the category of Best Original Musical, which has never actually been awarded. Best Original Musical is intended for a single songwriting team; with a little massaging, it could honor movies that make coherent and unified use of their non-score soundtracks. This could mean original song scores like Frozen, inventive adaptations like Moulin Rouge!, more eclectic mixes like Frank, or perhaps even compilation jobs like American Hustle or Inherent Vice. It would be worth sacrificing some technical originality to better celebrate the musical eclecticism that the current song and score categories have trouble acknowledging. [Jesse Hassenger]


3. Best Choreography

In terms of awards recognition, choreography remains an unsung craft; while experts in other fields get their annual due, these magicians of movement sweep the dust from their empty mantles. It wasn’t always this way: From 1935 to 1937, the Academy handed out prizes for Best Dance Direction, choosing from a field of seven nominees. But the award was quickly retired, supposedly because of pressure from the Directors Guild. No correlative category was ever introduced, despite the sheer abundance of worthy contenders during Hollywood’s heyday for fancy footwork. With the musical making a slow but steady comeback and a few dance films opening annually, why not finally revive the category? Actually, the smartest play would be to create a general Best Choreography award, one that could also be used to honor achievements in fight choreography (also a growth industry, what with superhero films still very much in vogue), including martial-arts work. Imagine how much cooler the forthcoming Oscar ceremony would be if it promised a showdown between Captain America and those gifted hoofers from the Step Up series. [A.A. Dowd]

4. Best Ensemble

Over the past decade, the Screen Actors Guild’s award for Best Cast has turned into the SAG’s default predictor of the Best Picture Oscar—its equivalent of the Producers Guild and Directors Guild awards. But of those guild awards, Best Cast is the least analogous to Best Picture—and it deserves to dispel that connection as its own Oscar category. An award for the year’s best group of actors would be perfect for movies like this year’s Inherent Vice or The Grand Budapest Hotel, where a hell of a lot of actors do terrific but brief work. Maybe it wouldn’t seem exclusive enough, having a cast of 10 or 12 principals all crowding the stage and getting their own statuettes. But it would certainly diversify the ways that actors can win Oscars, breaking up the strangleholds of biopics and suffering. Plus, just imagine a world where the likes of Martin Short, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jeff Goldblum could win Oscars without even having to mount expensive glad-handing campaigns, much less take Oscar-friendly roles. [Jesse Hassenger]

5. Best Casting

Periodically, Oscar reformers call on the Academy to add a “Best Ensemble” category (see above), but who would deserve that award: the actors, or the one who brought them together? Tom Donahue’s 2012 documentary Casting By makes a persuasive case that casting directors have had as much of a creative impact on some of the best movies ever made as any of the names above the title. In Donahue’s film, filmmaker Taylor Hackford pushes back against that argument, saying that casting agencies only make suggestions, and that the directors and studios make the final call on who’s in front of the camera. But there’s something to be said for keeping track of more that just the usual roster of superstars and pretty young things. A great casting agent finds the people working in regional theater, or languishing in bit parts on television, and thinks about how they’ll fit with the director, script, and co-stars. Casting directors have a vision, same as any other craftsperson who collaborates on a film. [Noel Murray]


6. Best Voice Acting

Every year, a plethora of performances go unrecognized by the Academy because they only involve the actors’ voices instead of their bodies, but that doesn’t diminish the artistry of the work. This award would recognize the actors that bring animated and CGI characters to life, but also provide a space for performances like Scarlett Johannson in Her. Johannson’s performance is perhaps the greatest argument for the creation of this category; the role of Samantha is built entirely around her voice, and Johannson creates a fully formed person without the benefit of a cartoon or CGI visual. This also brings up some interesting issues with the category, though. How do you weigh Johannson’s performance in comparison to something like Ed Asner in Up, which has a slightly lower level of difficulty because the character can be seen? That’s something the Academy can figure out, but there’s no denying that the skill behind these performances demands attention. [Oliver Sava]

7. Best Motion Capture Performance

Once a novelty designed to add authenticity to awkward CGI and animation, motion capture has risen to prominence in recent years thanks to improved technology and greater public awareness of the process. The most likely turning point was Andy Serkis’ work as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy; for the first time, a performer’s work in the field seemed like more than just an excuse for behind-the-scenes footage of someone wearing weird clothes and making funny faces. But as Serkis’ star has continued to rise, in movies like King Kong and the new Planet Of The Apes franchise, the inability to reward the actor for his efforts, and react to the shift in public and industry perception of the process, has lead to frustrating conversations about whether or not motion capture performing really counts as “acting” at all. The best solution would be to create a specific award to acknowledge the work of both the performer and the effects team whose collaboration often leads to such impressive results. Serkis may be the most famous motion capture actor right now, but the process isn’t going away any time soon, and an Oscar category would be a smart way to honor great and previously unrecognized work. [Zack Handlen]

8. Best Title Design

The title sequence of a film can serve as a profound and exciting framing device, so it’s odd that the Oscars still don’t have a category to honor graphic design. Christopher Walken and composer John Williams both earned nominations in 2003 for their contributions to Catch Me If You Can, but the Academy paid no mind to designers Olivier Kuntzel and Florence Deygas, whose opening titles (seen above) set the perfect tone for the urbane, playful, and heartful film that would ensue. Surely Maurice Binder earned a moment of appreciation on Oscar night for the opulent displays of sex and adventure that he composed for decades’ worth of Bond films—on occasion, Binder’s work was the best part of the movie. And then there’s Saul Bass, whose accomplished body of work, some of it created in collaboration with his wife Elaine, lent visual excitement to works including North By Northwest, The Seven Year Itch, and Casino. Yet the only Oscar statuette Bass ever took home was for directing a documentary short called Why Man Creates. Hollywood relies on the world’s best graphic designers to help films make a strong first impression, a job that important deserves recognition. [John Teti]


9. Best Animated Art Direction

The introduction of the Best Animated Film Academy Award category was largely seen as an effort to compartmentalize animated movies, in an attempt to make sure one would never win Best Picture (as Disney’s Beauty And The Beast threatened to do in 1992). But then the category actually came into vogue now that so many animated films are being made now (more than in the classic-Disney era), so it’s become a competition instead of a cakewalk. That said, since the category was introduced, the field has continued to expand radically. But where the live-action feature awards recognize that cinematography, set design, costumes, editing, writing, and acting are all different fields, Best Animated Feature stuffs all those categories under one rug. Best Animated Feature should remain as a category, encompassing storytelling, editing, and other craft points. But the visual design of an animated film is so key to its uniqueness; the best animated film in terms of story and performance isn’t necessarily the most visually ambitious, daring, or creative one. Splitting the category in two wouldn’t necessarily open the line for a further dozen animation categories down the road, but it would help acknowledge, for instance, that something as visually ambitious as The Secret Of Kells or Song Of The Sea deserves technical recognition even if it isn’t the year’s most populist and universally embraced animated feature. [Tasha Robinson]


10-11. Best Cinematography subcategories

For three decades—from 1937 to 1967—the Academy gave out separate Oscars for color and black-and-white cinematography. The splitting of the categories was actually pretty forward-thinking: Three-strip Technicolor had only been introduced to the public in 1935, and the first few Oscars for Best Color Cinematography were marked as special achievement awards, because so few color films were being made. Yet even at this early stage, the Academy recognized that color and black-and-white were two radically different formats that required different talents and skills. (Around the same period, the Costume Design and Production Design Oscars were also split into color and black-and-white categories.) At this juncture, it seems obvious that 3-D is here to stay, and considering that it represents an equally radical change in technology and technique, it makes sense to split Best Cinematography into 2-D and 3-D subcategories; the only question is how much post-conversion would be tolerated in a 3-D nominee. Conversely, Best Cinematography could just as easily be split between film and digital—a change even bigger than the switch from black-and-white to color—since so many major filmmakers remain celluloid purists, and a recent deal with Kodak has ensured that Hollywood will keep shooting on film for the foreseeable future. The only complicating factor is that certain productions—like Nightcrawler—use film stock for daylight and digital for night scenes. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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