On Wednesday, the Academy sent Twitter’s film community into a frenzy when they announced that there would be a new Oscar category “designed around achievement in popular film”. Obviously it is not yet clear what that means exactly, so a conclusive judgement would be unfair. It’s hard not to be a little cynical though, when this category sounds like nothing but a cheap, slightly patronising way of keeping big studios happy by giving their huge summer blockbusters a shiny award.
They’re the last people who need that award too. For all its politics, the wonderful thing about the Academy Awards is that they often shine a light on films that would ordinarily struggle to break even at the box office. Not only does the endorsement help them make money but, more importantly, it gives them exposure.
And equally, a nomination for ‘Best Popular Film’ would surely feel like a bit of a backhanded compliment to movies which, while excellent, do not quite fit into the Best Picture mould. Why shouldn’t Black Panther or Mission: Impossible – Fallout get a Best Pic nod? Is it really that hard for the Academy to acknowledge their artistic merit and technical achievements? It feels like a lazy way of including pictures not regarded as ‘Oscar films’, without having to bravely break the mould and give your Mission’s the credit they might deserve.
The great irony of it all is that the inaugural ceremony back in 1929 awarded one golden statuette for Outstanding Picture and one for Best Unique and Artistic Picture. The following year both were combined into the Outstanding Picture, which would eventually come to be known as Best Picture. This new decision is essentially backtracking 89 years.
Most frustrating is that the addition of a new category could have been the perfect opportunity to finally give credit to some underrated areas of filmmaking. Here are five alternative new Oscar categories:
Achievements in Stunt-work
This has been an omission spoken about for years and years. The stunt-people of Hollywood have been putting their lives on the line since before movies had sound or colour, yet still their incredible work goes unnoticed by the Academy. They aren’t just a bunch of fearless lunatics, they are experts in many disciplines, from fighting to parkour, and deserve some overdue recognition.
Achievements in Choreography
This could be an interesting addition to the ceremony. Choreography seems to have been reaching incredible heights in recent years, and it’s the versatility of what that constitutes which makes it fascinating. Dance choreography in La La Land, John Wick’s incredible fight scenes, Chris Nolan choreographing thousands of extras in Dunkirk or Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s crazy 15 minute takes in Birdman. Those are all examples from the last few years of remarkable choreography and are all award-worthy achievements.
Best Voice-over Performance
If you’re an actor looking for a nice golden addition to the mantelpiece, then don’t bother with animation. Vocal performances are incredibly skilled but totally overlooked in the acting categories, so why not give them one of their own? Robin Williams in Aladdin, Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo and Douglas Rain’s chilling portrayal of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey are all certainly Oscar-worthy turns.
Best Motion Capture Performance
This is an increasingly common form of acting and one which surely deserves some award buzz. Not only does it require extremely technical physical acting but, with the detail which is captured these days, it also requires extraordinarily nuanced emotional performances. The end product might be CGI but that is totally reliant on the actor’s delivery. How about Andy Serkis in The Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis in King Kong, Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes, or Andy Serkis in Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Ok, the only issue with this award is that Andy Serkis might win every year.
This is a bit of a wildcard entry that, admittedly, might be a terrible idea. After all, it has nothing to do with the actual movie as a work of art. It is also yet more endorsement of the overly-commercialised state of Hollywood. However, some of the constants of modern film conversation are posters and trailers. Perhaps some of those gorgeous posters should be rewarded, while the trailer is practically an art form in itself. Plus, it might encourage the kind of creative, entertaining marketing that Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool have produced so well in recent years.
Image Credit: pxhere