Oscars: Seven new categories the Academy Awards should add

From stunt choreographers to voice performers, there are many talents that go unrewarded each Oscar season 

Clarisse Loughrey
Sunday 24 February 2019 11:54
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Avengers: Infinity War: 'Thanos Snaps Fingers' - trailer

The Academy Awards dived headfirst into controversy last year, when it announced that a new category would be added to its 2019 ceremony: Best Popular Film.

The backlash it sparked was swift and brutal. Deservedly so, since the move merely placed a band-aid over the deeper issues driving falling viewing figures for the ceremony.

It was a quick guarantee that the likes of Marvel and DC would be represented, without any deeper examination as to why audiences are feeling increasingly disconnected from the yearly event.

What’s more, it seemed an implicit declaration that films like Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians could never be considered worthy of Best Picture on their own terms.

The introduction of the category has since officially been “postponed”, with the Academy noting it will now “examine and seek additional input” – effectively translating to a cancellation, albeit with the looming threat that it might one day return. There are better solutions here.

Though the naysayers will complain that the last thing the Oscars need is a longer ceremony, multiple categories have been suggested in the past that would diversify not only the kind of talent represented, but the type of film rewarded.

Here are just a few new categories that the Academy should consider including in the future.

Best Stunt Coordinator

Tom Cruise becomes first actor to perform dangerous HALO stunt in Mission Impossible

No other category has been fought for harder than Best Stunt Coordinator, with industry workers pressuring the Academy for its inclusion for over 25 years, only for the proposal to be consistently voted down. The movement has been spearheaded by Jack Gill, who boasts an extensive filmography, from the original Dukes of Hazzard TV series to 2011’s Fast Five.

While the Screen Actors Guild Awards introduced a similar category in 2008, with Wonder Woman being rewarded last year, the Academy Awards has yet to recognise the work of stunt performers, outside of a solitary Honorary Award presented to Yakima Canutt – the man who helped bring to life such iconic sequences as Ben-Hur’s chariot race and Gone With the Wind’s burning of Atlanta – in 1996.

Stunt work’s exclusion from the Academy Awards ignores how intricate and complex creating the year’s greatest action scenes can be, not to mention the fact that, despite huge advances in safety measures, stunt work can still be dangerous.

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Furthermore, it’s an obvious route towards blockbusters getting a stronger showing at the Oscars; stunt performers may not be big names (aside from Kill Bill’s Zoe Bell, perhaps), but it’s not a category that’s going to be lost on non-film fans, unlike the continued confusion over what exactly the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing is (it’s choosing the sounds versus mixing the sounds together, if you’re wondering).

Possible contenders for 2019: Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Black Panther

Crazy Rich Asians - Trailer

Best Casting Director was proposed to, and rejected by, the Academy in 1999 – but remains worthy of recognition. While we lavish praise on those who pick up the awards for Best Actress or Best Actor, it’s easy to forget that their talent could only flourish because someone else recognised their potential in the role.

Indeed, a good casting director can often make or break a potential awards contender, not only choosing the right name to sparkle as the film’s lead, but ensuring that the wider ensemble has both a sense of chemistry and balance. It’s here that, again, mainstream films would have a fair chance at the prize. The Star Wars franchise, for example, has impressed in its careful balance of familiar faces and breakout stars.

What’s particularly frustrating is that a specific branch for Casting Directors was created by the Academy back in 2013, which would suggest that the organisation at least recognises their work as an important and distinct part of the industry at large. Furthermore, casting directors remain the only crew members typically featured in the opening titles of a film that don’t have their own category at the Academy Awards.

Possible contenders for 2019: If Beale Street Could Talk, Crazy Rich Asians

Best Title Sequence

Annihilation - Teaser Trailer

The title sequence is an underrated form of artistry – one we’re often struck by at the beginning of a film, but quick to forget once we’ve been consumed by the splendour of the main event. This category was also nominated and rejected back in 1999, but seems increasingly necessary.

Imagine if the unforgettable, oily black opening credits of David Fincher’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, the work of Tim Miller and Blur Studios, had been recognised? Or Disney’s The Jungle Book remake, and its beautifully crafted storybook design?

Possible contenders for 2019: Deadpool 2, Annihilation

Best Voice Performance

Paddington 2 - Trailer

As much as it would seem right and fair that voice performers have a chance to compete for the major acting awards, in reality, it doesn’t exactly work out that way, since half of the performance is inevitably the creation of the animation or VFX team.

Therefore, it would make sense to create a separate category here, since VFX artists are already recognised by the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and animation teams are widely regarded as an integral part of any Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film win.

This is a category that could recognise both the stellar voice work done in animated film (don’t the voices behind your favourite Pixar characters deserve recognition for breaking your heart in two?) and for CGI characters in live-action film, offering the voice of Rocket Raccoon himself, Bradley Cooper, a chance to pick up another award alongside all the directing and singing he was so busy with in 2018.

Possible contenders for 2019: Ben Whishaw, Paddington 2; Shameik Moore, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Debut Film

Sorry To Bother You - Trailer

An easy way to make the Academy Awards feel fresh and relevant would be to put the spotlight on breakout talent. The Baftas, for example, already have their Rising Star Award, voted for by the public, which this year sees Jessie Buckley, Cynthia Erivo, Barry Keoghan, Lakeith Stanfield, and Letitia Wright all competing for the prize.

While the public vote inevitably renders the Rising Star Award a test of who has the largest fanbase (bonus points for those in blockbuster franchises), the Academy Awards could take a different approach by heralding the talents of first-time directors.

There is a lot of scope here. A debut film can come in many different forms, from ultra low-budget wonders, A24’s never-ending wheelhouse of indies, to actor-turned-director prestige dramas. Yet, it also frees up the awards race from its obligation to consistently dole out trophies to the established greats every time they crank out another instant classic, and from the domination of whatever studio outputs end up with most well-funded Oscar campaign.

In 2015, the Directors Guild of America created a best first-time feature category, and have since awarded the likes of Ex Machina, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Lady Macbeth, and The Witch.

Possible contenders for 2019: Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade; Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You

Best motion-capture performance

Mowgli - Trailer

It’s about time the Academy recognise Andy Serkis for his work over the years, even if that means creating an entirely new category to do it. As with voice performance, it’s hard for motion-capture actors to compete in the main categories because their work exists as a collaboration with VFX teams.

Yet, we’re only going to see its use increase in the future, and there will come a point when the Academy won’t be able to ignore motion-capture any longer. It would also, of course, serve as an additional opportunity to recognise the work that goes into blockbuster filmmaking, while plenty of bankable stars like Vin Diesel and Benedict Cumberbatch have proven eager to jump into the fray.

Possible contenders for 2019: Andy Serkis, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle; Josh Brolin, Avengers: Infinity War

Best Original Movie Soundtrack

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse - trailer

The Academy already recognises the work of composers with categories for both Best Original Score and Best Original Song, but continually underappreciated is the work of music supervisors, who collate the perfect combination of existing songs to make your favourite film moments really pop.

A separate category would have offered an opportunity to reward Baby Driver for giving its heist thriller the beats of a jukebox musical. Or it could have appreciated how Inside Llewyn Davis weaved its folk songs deep into its narrative of a luckless, hopeless musician in 1960s New York. It’s a category that spans genres, while potentially giving nods to films that might go empty handed elsewhere.

Possible contenders for 2019: Mid90s; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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