5 Categories the Academy Awards Should Add
Oscar season is upon us. Submissions are going in, the big movies are going out and striking poses, and by early January we’ll know which films will be up to get the little gold naked man statues for achievement in film (or, more accurately, for having good publicists campaign for their deservedness to win an award). There are currently 24 competitive award categories, plus five special awards. Some of these, like the acting awards, Best Director, or Best Picture, are cultural lightning rods. The winners (or, more often, the losers) in these categories can spark fevered discussion among the Oscar-appreciating masses. Other awards, like the three for short films, don’t stir much of a buzz at all.
At the first Academy Awards, just fourteen Oscars were handed out. Over the course of the Academy’s 84 and counting ceremonies, categories have been added, removed, merged, split, renamed, and had their rules changed in an endless dance of tinkering and adjustment. The goal of this is to better reward the various artists who work their magic in cinema. And yet things seem to have stagnated somewhat on this front. The most recent additions to the Oscar roster are Best Makeup (now Best Makeup and Hairstyling) and the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, both introduced in 1981. That’s more than 30 years since there have been any big shakeups. Is the Academy saying that this is all they need to give out, that there are no more fields worthy of consideration? I’d strongly disagree on that point. Here are five categories that the Oscars could easily stand to add.
Best Assistant Director
This isn’t exactly a category to set the passions of Oscar devotees aflame, but it’s a position that deserves recognition. On a set, it’s the job of the ADs to make sure that everything runs smoothly. With the director guiding the overall work, it’s up to them to be hands-on and actually realize that vision, from the largest to the smallest details. They corral the set, making sure that everything runs smoothly. They have to act as “the bad guys” yelling whenever yelling needs to be done in order to keep things moving. It’s one of the most thankless roles in a movie production, so it’s about time they get thanked somehow for their work.
Oddly enough, the Academy originally agreed with me on this. There was an Oscar for Best Assistant Director given from 1933 to 1937. I say bring it back!
Best Adapted Score / Best Score
In 2011, some of the best movie scores from the previous year went ignored by the Academy because they weren’t “original” enough. Despite being brilliant and beautiful, the scores for Black Swan and True Grit were considered ineligible. If there’s no room in the current Oscar plan to reward such work, then clearly it must be changed. The “Original” qualifier in “Best Original Score” is rather odd. Can you imagine if there was only an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, with no category for adapted scripts? There needs to be room for music that draws heavily on existing sources while still being its own thing. So why not a Best Adapted Score category? Some might say that there might not be enough films in a given year worthy of such recognition. I’d agree with that and suggest that maybe an even better solution would be to drop the “Original” part and let the award simply be for Best Score.
Best Title Design
The Academy Board of Governors has an annual meeting to consider whether any new awards should be added. This category was up for review in 1999, and summarily rejected. Why? Seriously, I would love to sit down with them and learn why. It could be argued that not enough films each year try to do anything interesting with their opening credits to justify the award. Well, you know what might encourage more innovation on that front? Giving the title design people their proper dues.
Best Stunt Work
Here we have another category that has been proposed but rejected, not just once but three times (1999, 2005, and 2011)! Without knowing much about the internal politics of the Academy, I suspect that they might not want to tacitly admit that all of the coolest things you see the stars do on screen aren’t actually done by the stars. Or perhaps they simply don’t want stunt coordinators and/or stuntpeople allowed their own voting bloc. Whatever the case, nearly every year brings us at least one action movie showcasing some incredible feats and human derring-do, and yet this work goes unrewarded by the most prestigious authority in the industry. For shame.
There are already four acting categories, yet what if a movie has assembled a fantastic ensemble without any real “leads” who can be plucked out for special recognition? Think of the work of Robert Altman or Christopher Guest, whose films contain brilliant casts, dependent on individuals working as part of a greater whole. Or the Lord of the Rings series, which had a great cast which admittedly contained no standout deserving of any of the major acting awards (except Andy Serkis). There should be recognition for the good work of casting directors, who have to look at a character as written on the page and figure out just the right actor to bring that character to life. It’s a hugely important part of making movies work for the audience, and yet it gets no consideration at all.