All About Oscar: Categorically Speaking

Will The Academy Ever Recognize These New Categories?

By Tom Houseman

April 11, 2012

I'm the unknown stuntman that makes Eastwood look so fine.

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Best Voice/Motion Capture Performance

The Argument For It: Animated feature films have been relevant to American culture since 1938 when Walt Disney made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and won an honorary Oscar (as well as seven tiny Oscars to go with it) for his contribution to film history. But never has an actor been considered for an Oscar for a voice performance. While it is understandable that voice actors are barred from the acting categories - voice acting is an entirely different type of performance from traditional film acting - it does not make sense that there has never been a category reserved for voice performance. Phil Harris (Baloo in The Jungle Book), Robin Williams (Genie in Aladdin), Jeremy Irons (Scar in The Lion King) and Ellen Degeneres (Dory in Finding Nemo) all gave memorable and iconic voice performances and deserve Oscar recognition.

In recent years a different aspect of this argument has become more relevant, as new technology has made motion capture performances more prevalent in movies. Andy Serkis is the poster child of this revolution, having given extraordinary performances in The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Yet, because you never actually see him on film he was not eligible for acting nominations. If the Academy refuses to allow motion capture performances to be considered for the acting categories they should at least give this type of performance its own category in which to be considered.


Last Year's Likely Nominees: Obviously Andy Serkis would have shown up in this category last year, but for which role? Given the Academy's preference for flamboyance over subtlety, I suspect that his ostentatious performance as Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin would have won out over his mostly silent but far more powerful performance as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There are not many other memorable motion capture performances from 2011, but it is possible that Mark Strong (Sinestro in The Green Lantern) would have been considered.

From the more traditional animated films, strong contenders would have been Johnny Depp as the title character in the Best Animated Feature winner Rango, Michael Caine or (shudder) Larry the Cable Guy in Cars 2, Antonio Banderas in Puss in Boots, and James McAvoy in Arthur Christmas. Would this category be split by gender as the other categories are? If so it would open up opportunities for Anne Hathaway in Rio, Selma Hayek in Puss in Boots, Angelina Jolie in Kung Fu Panda 2, and either Isla Fisher or Abigail Breslin in Rango. The actor I would champion in this category would be Jim Cummings, who is famous among voice actors but unknown outside of that circle. Last year he was phenomenal as Tigger in Winnie the Pooh and as Featherstone in Gnomeo and Juliet.

Why It Will Probably Never Happen: Notice how I had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with a list of credible contenders for this award? Some years there is a bevy of great voice performances and motion capture performances, but other years the pickings are slim. Is it worth being able to give Andy Serkis an Oscar if it means there are years when Larry the Cable Guy is seen as having a realistic chance to be nominated for an Academy Award?

From a different perspective, we've been getting the sense that the old fogies of the Academy aren't too fond of motion capture. The impression is that actors consider motion capture a threat to traditional acting and animators consider it a threat to traditional animation and CGI, which is why Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, and The Adventures of Tintin were all snubbed for a Best Animated Feature nomination. With that much animosity towards this new technology, there is little chance of a new category rewarding it being added unless it has saturated the market to such an extent that it cannot be ignored, which won't happen any time soon.

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