Amid the many controversies that have marred this year’s Oscars race and upcoming telecast, one that has been significant is the question surrounding the Academy’s designated categories. The Oscars have undergone some significant changes over the ceremony’s 89-year history. Gone are the days of Best Dance Direction and Best Title Writing, and when the Academy proposed a new category this year — the Best Popular Film — there was a justified outcry over the misplaced attempt at innovation. The main critique of the addition was that it was generally condescending, making a delineation between commercial and critical success, which, as films such as “Black Panther” have indicated, are not mutually exclusive.
Categories are a generally thorny method to use while awarding films, though they’re the cornerstone of how we collectively value work in cinema. The Academy’s categories also have an inherently hierarchical value judgment associated with them, with acting awards often trumping technical prizes in terms of mass recognition and air time. This hierarchy led the Academy into its most recent (of many) controversies, in that it attempted to remove four largely technical awards from the live broadcast. Film industry figures and the general public were understandably upset, and the awards were reinstated to the broadcast. This move, however, was a reminder of some of the prizes that, while remaining central parts of the craft of filmmaking, often get swept under the rug.
Though the act of categorizing films is still problematic, and while there won’t likely ever be a universally satisfying metric with which to judge film, the Academy is in dire need of some well-thought-out new categories to add to the awards season mix. Here are some potential additions that could make for a more well-rounded awards season experience — it’s also worth noting, however, that most of these aren’t fresh ideas and have been tossed around for years. Let’s hope the Academy catches up eventually.
The fact that cinematic stunt work has no mainstream awards recognition is bamboozling: Stunt work is outwardly rigorous, incredibly exciting and oftentimes people’s favorite part of a movie. This year’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” was touted largely for its precision stunt work and the accompanying mythos offered by Tom Cruise doing all his own stunts (i.e., flying an actual helicopter). And while Cruise as a celebrity frontman for stunt work is notable and deserving of recognition, think of all the unrecognized stunt doubles and stunt coordinators who make all of the magic happen. Your favorite fight scene, skydive or high-stakes chase was probably performed by stunt actors, and they deserve to be recognized both for their technical and narrative contributions.
Best Motion Capture
Though this category didn’t have any standouts this year, there have multiple performances over the last few awards cycles that have merited consideration for a motion-captured performance — namely that of Andy Serkis (in the “Planets of the Apes” reboot as well as in the “Lord of the Rings” series). The main argument against this category would be the limitations around a given year’s range of performances — this year, for example, would be a tough sell for this year’s lineup (Maybe, Phoebe Waller-Bridge in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” could make the list?). This category might be good on a year-by-year basis, but it’d be remiss for the film industry to not recognize performers, such as Serkis, who convey physicality and emotion within the infinite possibilities of digital animation.
New artist awards are common in other awards shows, and, for a program like the Grammys, used to be a decent platform for new artists to get recognition within the industry. Something comparable could be worthwhile to recognize in film, as giving a nod to up-and-comers in an awards format that often leans toward awarding old-hat actors and industry personnel who are established would be a welcome change. That’s not to say that actors couldn’t be considered in the Best Acting categories as well, but this could be a welcome bonus to those new to the industry.
Best Practical Effects
Good practical effects are the icing on a cake in any given movie. In a cinema landscape that’s dominated by overwhelming and sterile CGI effects that are simultaneously overstimulating and underwhelming, practical effects should be awarded at every point possible and should get their own due beyond the broad Best Visual Effects banner. Guillermo Del Toro is the current pinnacle of practical effects work in film, with his intricate, wearable monster costumes and wide variety of physically fabricated creatures. A category like this could encourage the use and development of practical effects on film, which would be an exciting new sight to see in more movies.
Camryn Bell covers film and television. Contact her at [email protected].