I know exactly what you’re thinking. “Why do you want to make the Oscars longer by adding categories? And also the Oscars are pointless and award shows are bullshit.” I mean… yes, you’re not wrong on the second thought, but more importantly, on the first point, because I want to recognize the great work that goes into filmmaking. And even though awards are outdated, they still serve a purpose. Also everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done. And shut up.
Best Genre Films
While I’m aware of the niche awards like the Saturn Awards, the Oscars are notoriously hesitant to recognize genre films unless the film makes a huge cultural impact, see Get Out, Mad Max: Fury Road or Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The Academy doesn’t take too kindly to Horror, Sci-Fi or Fantasy outside the more technical awards like Score, Visual Effects or Sound Mixing. I’d even add comedy into that mix. They’ll get a screenplay or supporting acting nod (Tropic Thunder and Bridesmaids being relatively recent examples from over 10 years ago), but otherwise be shut out.
The bar is so much higher for genre or comedy films. They have to jump through extra hoops that don’t involve a white racist learning the errors of their ways through the help of a black character who is a supporting player in their own story. But Get Out still had to be horror/sci-fi blatantly about racism for the Academy to care. It couldn’t be like Hereditary or The Witch or any number of other recent prestige horror films (which are still about things, don’t get me wrong), and still get a nod, because horror, in general, need not apply. (FTR: Get Out deserved to be there, absolutely, but the Academy is genre-averse unless they can fit it in a box, which they could with Get Out)
Now, would this devalue the “Best Picture” category? Maybe. But the current model of a generic “Best Picture” category has created the mind-numbing sub-genre of “Oscar Bait.” Sure they expanded to 10, but it’s generally five “Oscar Bait” films and five “See, we care about genre films, too!” also-rans. By pushing “Best Genres,” you can get the Academy to start thinking of genre films as Oscar worthy.
So how do we implement the gerne awards? How do we fix the Best Picture Problem?
Step 1: Create the “Best Genre” categories. Best Drama (“Oscar Bait”), Comedy, Sci-Fi, Horror, Action. That covers the spread. We could add Fantasy and Musical in there, too, but that might spread everything too thin. You could add fantasy to sci-fi or horror, and musical to drama or comedy, but each film only gets one category. Like… Star Wars couldn’t do both Sci-Fi AND Action. Shape of Water couldn’t be both Drama AND Horror. Pick a lane.
Step 2: Each category is capped at five nominations.
Step 3: The voter then takes their top pick from each category, also bringing over their top pick Best International Film and Best Animated Film, and then we Rank Choice Vote of those seven Best Genre winners to get an overall Best Picture. The Oscars already do a ranked choice vote, or preferential vote, so this is business as usual, with an extra step. You could just rank choice every nominee, then Ctrl+F the winners. Is it extra counting/work? Yeah. But… that’s what PricewaterhouseCoopersDraperPryce does. They count shit. More Oscar money for them.
Step 4: The Best Picture nominees will be announced throughout the night, as each Best Genre winner is announced. At the end of the night we’ll have our seven Best Picture nominees, and the winner will be announced.
I don’t think this will completely fix the problem of Oscar Bait, but it’ll push the dramatic category to be a little more diverse than 3 biopics about white people overcoming an obstacle, 2 biopics about black people helping white people learn racism is bad, and then a handful of actual quality genre film also-rans.
Hell, we can cut out steps three and four, completely doing away with an overall “Best Picture,” and focus on the diverse storytelling going on in cinema. Devaluing the concept of “Best Picture,” while creating multiple possible “Best Pictures” spanning the genres could redraft the notion of what are prestige films, what are the best pictures. This would also push them to recognize great performances in genre films. Think Toni Collette in Hereditary or either Alicia Vikander or Oscar Isaac in Ex-Machina. If the films are in the conversation, then so too will be the artists who make the films.
Of all the technical awards, including, up until last year anyway, two distinctly different awards for sound production, it is shocking and offensive that the Academy doesn’t even entertain the idea of a Stunt category. It could be because Academy members view stunts as part of action films which are populist films, not prestige films. They view the art and skill of stunt-work as “less than.” But stunt work is just as much a technical skill as cinematography or visual effects, and just as much an artistic skill as original score or actress in a lead role. Where Inception won Best Visual Effects for the hallway fight, where would that sequence be without the mind-blowing stunt work of the stuntmen actually attached to cables in the spinning room? Regardless of the perceived quality of the film, what about the record setting Leap of Faith in 2016’s Assassin’s Creed? To make no mention of Tom Cruise and the Mission: Impossible stunt team continuing to up the ante with each successive film. There is incredible work being done in the world of stunts, and the Academy’s silence on it is deafening.
Best Voice Over Performance
This is one of those arenas where the old-guard of the Academy just doesn’t quite know what to do with. Same goes for the next category. As the bar has continued to be raised over the past three decades in terms of animated films, enough so to warrant the creation of a Best Animated Feature, we also need to recognize the brilliant and careful work being put into voice work. Where would Inside Out be without Amy Poehler’s exuberance or Richard Kind’s innocence? Jay Baruchel’s tender character development and evolution as Hiccup in the How To Train Your Dragon franchise is some of the best character work of the decade. And this doesn’t even get to VO performances in non-animated films, with Bradley Cooper’s performance in Guardians of the Galaxy of particular note. Which leads us to…
Best Motion Captured Performance
This one goes hand-in-hand with Voice Over performance, and is almost a bridge to the aforementioned stunts category, as it involves unseen performers. I originally thought of this and the Voice Over category as just one “Best Digital Performance,” but who would get the Oscar for say Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy? Does it go to the voice actor Bradley Cooper, or the on-set mo-cap performance from Sean Gunn? Would it be fair to put Gael Garcia Bernal’s VO work in Coco up against Andy Serkis’ mo-cap work in War for the Planet of the Apes? I don’t think so. As the Best Animated Feature category fluctuates with eligible nominees, so could this award.
Best Debut Film
Much like genre films, the notoriously old guard Academy is hesitant to recognize young, fresh talent unless they make a HUGE impact on the pop cultural landscape. One thing I constantly hear from Oscar detractors is that “Oh, awards don’t matter, they’re pointless.” And yes… to a point that’s correct. The Academy declaring Ang Lee best director in one year doesn’t make me a fan of Ang Lee. However, the awards DO matter to studio heads when they’re looking to greenlight projects. Who won awards recently? What types of films won awards recently? Even a nomination and positive buzz is just as good as an actual win. Sometimes better, because who honestly still gives a shit about Green Book? That’s going to guide decisions in studio funding. It’s important to celebrate the upcoming, rising generation of filmmakers and talent, and shine a spotlight on them. This would go to the filmmakers who are doing new and interesting things in cinema. Regina King didn’t pick up a Best Director nod for One Night in Miami, but she could get Best Debut as a first time director.
Other Possible Categories
Best Casting would be a great award. Those great performances wouldn’t be possible without a great casting director. They’re the ones who help fit those pieces into the puzzle of the film. Would Knives Out have been as great with a different cast? I mean… possibly? But we have Mary Vernieu to thank for putting together the stellar cast we got.
Speaking of the cast, how about a Best Ensemble, like the Screen Actors Guild awards? Possibly Ana de Armas aside, there was no one real stand-out lead of Knives Out (a case could also be made for Daniel Craig). And while Leslie Odom, Jr. deserved his nod for One Night in Miami, what about the rest of the cast? HEY! I know. Best Ensemble. Acknowledge the collaborative effort.
They should absolutely in no way do a Best Popular Film. That’s literally what the money is for. That’s what box office haul and ticket sales are for. We don’t need an award for that.
And I’m really trying to find a happy medium, a halfway point, between “Lifetime Achievement” and “We’re sorry we’ve ignored you for the past 20 years, here’s a make-good award that on the surface is for this really mediocre work, but really it’s for your entire body of work.” Think Gary Oldman for The Darkest Hour, or Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, or if David Fincher wins for Mank. There’s gotta be something there, I’m just not thinking of it. But these make-good awards for OK work by Artist A take away the award for Artist B, who is deserving, and now we have to kick THAT artist’s work further down the road, which will take away from Artist C who is more deserving that year they finally make good on Artist B.