By Alexander Heller
When the Oscar nominations were announced last month, every cinephile, like myself, waited in anticipation to see what films were going to be nominated and what films to watch if some stood out in their respective categories. As expected, I was both ecstatic and disappointed by what was nominated. My excitement was mainly due to the improvement in terms of the quality of this year’s films that were nominated, but my disappointment stemmed from the lack of improvement in the Oscars’ showcase.
The Oscars have dropped significantly in relevancy in recent years and their status as the end-all-be-all arbiter of what makes a film “great” is even losing footing among the Academy themselves. Getting the Academy to change anything is a monumental task in of itself, but given how desperate they are to stay in the spotlight it’s only a matter of time something equally as monumental forces their hand entirely. So, in an effort to remedy this eventuality I thought it best to levy my frustrations and list possible ways to improve the Oscars, because let’s be real, they certainly need an upgrade.
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Even out the number of films nominated for each category
Since the Academy increased the number of films nominated for Best Picture in 2009, the number of films nominated for the big award went from five to as many as ten. This was due in part to a growing consensus, both with audiences and within the Academy, that the Oscars were not being inclusive enough with the types of films that came out throughout the year, namely blockbusters, comedies, horror films, and foreign language films. There’s been solid improvement within the last 15 years, however, the same cannot be said about the other categories.
In this day in age representation matters and the Oscars have continued to fumble in that department. To mediate this issue, the other categories should be given the same nomination courtesy Best Picture receives every year. However, adding five other nominees would clutter the whole kit and caboodle so it’s perhaps best to even out the entire ceremony to no more than eight nominees per category. Adding three films for the other categories might not seem like a lot, but an increase would provide a better opportunity to showcase more filmmakers for their work while finally recognizing the growing diversity in the film industry.
Famous Oscar snubs like Denis Villeneuve, George Lucas, and Spike Lee would’ve been nominated for Best Director under these circumstances, and studios like Disney would have less of a hold on the Best Animated Feature category. Minority representation would flourish as women, people of color, and those of the LGBTQ+ community could finally be seen and heard.
Women like Sarah Polly, Patty Jenkins, and Ava DuVernay would’ve been nominated for Best Director and nearly all of the acting categories would be just as colorful and diverse as the studio system is claiming to be. There’d be no 21-year winless streak between people of color in Best Actress and a lot more than five people of color would win Best Actor.
It goes to show that if the Academy is going to nominate ten films for Best Picture, the least they can do is do the same for the other categories. I know some of them aren’t as showy as the one that draws views, but it’s disingenuous and ignorant not to do it. Better yet, maybe adding more awards is the best approach too.
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Add Best Motion Capture Performance
Recently, the Academy of Arts and Sciences has cared less about the science in its name and more about showmanship. This was made abundantly clear last year when they decided to cut the very categories that make films successful in the first place from the live telecast. This obviously ruffled the feathers of many a film buff, like myself, and it looks like the Academy has no plans of reversing this decision at the moment.
It seems the best course of action for the Academy is maybe finding a happy medium between celebrating the science that goes into movie making and the showmanship that keeps viewers engaged in the telecast. Adding a “Best Motion Capture Performance” category could be that medium. The advancements of CGI have pushed the limits of what an actor can accomplish in a real setting, and as such, the acting process had to evolve with the technology. Motion capture raised the bar and now not only are actors freely becoming the characters, they ARE the characters!
Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri from the Avatar franchise and Josh Brolin’s menacing presence in the MCU as Thanos are recent examples of motion capture pushing the boundaries of acting. But it was Andy Serkis that pushed the medium into the mainstream. Supreme Leader Snoke, Caesar, King Kong, Gollum – all of his performances showcased what an actor is capable of through motion capture and in some cases doing it better than their live-action counterparts.
In this award setting, not only would The Godfather of Motion Capture be properly recognized for his work, but other up-and-coming actors and filmmakers who mainly use motion capture to get a film’s vision off the ground. Motion capture is essential in this era of movie-making and it’s about time the Academy sees it as such.
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Add Best Voice Performance
The same argument can be made for adding Best Voice Performance as a category. The Academy highlights achievements in performances, directing, and technology, but one area that’s recently been overlooked is the recognition of exceptional vocal performances in films, particularly in animated features.
Few understand how specialized a skill voice acting truly is. It forces the actor to convey emotion, personality, and character solely through their voice and it’s a challenging task that often requires extensive preparation, research, and imagination. Voice acting is an integral part of animated features, as the actors who play these characters often play a significant role in bringing them to life, making them memorable, and resonating with audiences. They can evoke laughter, tears, and empathy, just like their live-action counterparts.
Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie in “Aladdin” is a classic example of how an actor can bring a character to life solely through their voice. Jim Cummings, who’s voiced many iconic characters, such as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, is another great example of how voice acting can elevate a character’s personality and charm just by changing their tone or mood. And don’t get me started with Mark Hamill.
Voice acting isn’t necessarily beholden to just animated films, though. Recent examples of live-action voice work include Scarlett Johanson’s stellar performance as Samantha in Her and Jenny Slate’s adorably charismatic work in Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
Critics argue that live-action performances already showcase vocal talent in general, but I’d like to counter that by saying if a small sea shell voiced by a former Parks and Rec actor can make me cry, that’s all the reason for me to give these talented performers the recognition they deserve!
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Add Best Curated Score
Everyone knows film scores are an essential part of the movie-watching experience. They set the tone, create atmosphere, and heighten emotions. Yet, the current Oscar category for Best Original Score doesn’t necessarily take into account the role of a music supervisor in curating a film’s music.
In this increasingly popular field, the job of a music supervisor is to find the perfect songs and soundtracks that complement a film’s narrative and themes. This requires a deep understanding of music and film, as well as having and cultivating strong relationships with artists, labels, and publishers. A “Best Curated Score” category would acknowledge the contributions of music supervisors as well as acknowledge the subtle art of conveying emotion through popular music.
Famous examples of curated film soundtracks include Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, The Big Lebowski, Garden State, and literally every single film directed by Quentin Tarantino. These types of films, if nominated for this particular category, would allow a broader range of music to be recognized, highlight emerging talent and provide exposure to independent artists while acknowledging popular music’s influence on film in general.
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Add Best Ensemble
For those not in the know, an ensemble cast is a group of actors who work together to create a cohesive and memorable performance in a film. These actors often have equal screen time and share a deep connection, bringing the story to life through their collective performances. And yet, despite other award ceremonies, like the Emmys, BAFTA, and SAGA, celebrating this accolade, the Oscars characteristically ignore the concept altogether. A film is more than just about a single actor or actress, it’s a collaborative process that pushes whatever story the film is hoping to convey and sometimes it takes an entire cast to illustrate said story.
Some of the best examples in recent years come mainly from blockbuster films, especially those of the sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero genres. The MCU, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings films rely heavily on their ensemble cast of characters to tell their interconnected stories, and given audiences’ predisposition for blockbusters, it would be a great opportunity to not only recognize blockbusters in a better light but the power an ensemble cast has on a film as a whole.
Critics argue Best Picture already fills that role, and while they may be right, the category is mainly a “favorite” of what they saw throughout the year and only awards those who financed the film rather than focusing on those who directly put the story in fruition.
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Add Best Stunt Coordination
Arguably one of the few would-be categories that’s gained significant traction over the years, adding a “Best Stunt Coordination” category to the Oscars would provide significant recognition for the vital work that stunt coordinators do to bring action sequences to life. Stunt work has been an integral part of the movie-making process since the days of Buster Keaton, Harold Lyold, and Charlie Chaplin, and creating a space for one of the most celebrated aspects of filmmaking would be a slam dunk for the Oscars.
It would also acknowledge the importance of safety in filmmaking and the role that stunt coordinators play in ensuring the well-being of actors and crew, whose films make A LOT at the box office. This category would be the “blockbuster award”, given how most blockbusters tend to have action sequences in them, and a great alternative to the “Most Popular Film” category the Academy almost comically cooked up in 2018.
Furthermore, a “Best Stunt Coordination” category would help to raise the profile of the stunt community and bring attention to the unique skill set required to be a successful stunt coordinator. Stunt coordination involves a combination of physical skill, technical knowledge, and creative vision, and recognizing the best in the field would encourage more people to consider a career in stunt work.
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Limit the amount of times a person can competitively win an Oscar
It goes without saying that certain actors and filmmakers with multiple awards under their belts probably shouldn’t be given a competitive seat at the table anymore. Even if they’re allowed a nomination, limiting the amount of times a person can competitively win could have several benefits for the film industry. The biggest one would be the promotion of diversity and inclusivity, as limiting wins would give more opportunities for recognition to underrepresented groups and individuals.
Another benefit is that it would encourage greater competition and a higher standard of excellence in the film industry. When a particular individual wins an Oscar multiple times, it can create an atmosphere where their recognition is expected, rather than earned. This is seen in actors/actresses like Daniel Day-Lewis and Frances McDormand who, while exceptional talents and winners in their own right, don’t need another win, least of all a nomination. By limiting nominations and wins, individuals would have to consistently produce exceptional work to be recognized by the Academy.
It would also help combat issues of favoritism and insider politics. By creating a level playing field for all individuals, the Academy can ensure that recognition is based on the quality of the work, rather than personal relationships or industry politics. Steven Spielberg is the best example of a filmmaker going against industry politics to embracing industry politics full-stop.
It is, however, important to note that any limitations on wins would need to be carefully considered to ensure they don’t unfairly restrict recognition of deserving individuals. It is also important to recognize that collaborative efforts, such as those of writers, producers, and actors, could be recognized multiple times, even if individual recognition is limited.
Now, are all of these ideas listed likely to happen? Not really, no. We’ve seen the lengths the Academy goes to completely ignoring the justified criticism they’ve been facing and even if they do decide to change, it’ll be slow – extremely slow. So in the meantime, it’s best to theorize ways we can improve the ceremony we hate to love into a ceremony worth our time and attention. And considering what happened last, there’s nowhere they can go but up.