About a month out from this year’s Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the awards, announced that in two years’ time they would look slightly different. For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, the Academy Awards will add a wholly new category, in the form of a best achievement in casting award. (The most recent previous addition was best animated feature, first awarded for films released in 2001. More recently, sound editing and sound mixing were folded into a single category.) To casual Oscar viewers, this might seem counterintuitive: the ceremony is already so long, and the Academy has already experimented with giving some awards off-air; why would it add a 24th category?
But consider this: the Oscars actually have far fewer categories than the Grammys or the Emmys, both of which hover around 100. And movies are the best! So there’s plenty of room to add more Oscars. In fact, if the Academy is in a giving mood and doesn’t want to wait another two decades and change before adding their 25th competitive category, here are five suggestions for other areas they could delve into:
Best Stunt Coordination
The Academy and various Oscar-watchers have repeatedly bandied about the idea of some kind of award to honor the kind of big, popular hits that don’t always resonate with Academy voters. Given that movies as huge as Barbie, Avatar, Inception and Star Wars have all scored best picture nominations (and the best picture category’s 10 nominees tend to assure the presence of at least one big hit), this sounds like a pointless participation trophy. However, there is a potential category that would inevitably honor some big-ticket spectacles – probably the most-requested, anecdotally speaking – and that is best stunt coordination. The lack of respect afforded to the craft of stunt work, typically though not always deployed in the service of action/adventure pictures, has been such a long-running industry grievance that the entertainment site Vulture already gives out their own stunt awards, going deep on the year’s most impressive and complicated action movies. Most likely the Oscar version would, like a lot of categories, skim the surface for the flashiest entries. But even so! Watch John Wick: Chapter 4 or Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, and try to claim that there isn’t an enormous amount of genuine craft that goes into them! And how much fun would the show be if there was another way to honor movies like John Wick without creating a weird second-tier best picture?
Related to but not necessarily the same area as stunt coordination, choreography could cover fights, dances, dance-fights, comic slapstick … really, just about anything that requires someone on-set working out movements of bodies, props and the cameras that capture them. While stunt coordination would be hard to break into without several major action sequences, best choreography could find movies like the musical version of Mean Girls squaring off against Jason Statham fight scenes from The Beekeeper. See, it’s only six weeks into the year and we already have candidates!
Best casting will honor the casting director who helps get just the right group of performers into a particularly impressive ensemble. (It’s not entirely clear what will fall under the umbrella of “casting”, given how many bigger stars in a given movie get in through their reputation, a previous working relationship with the director, or any number of factors outside the traditional casting process.) A best ensemble award, however, would honor the cast itself, taking a cue from the Screen Actors Guild, which (somewhat nonsensically) treats this category as its best picture. This year, movies with particularly deep benches like Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, Barbie, Asteroid City and May December would all be great choices here, offering a particular opportunity to honor sprawling casts where no more than a handful of actors will ever make it into the four current categories.
Best Featured Performance
Speaking of acting categories: best supporting actor and best supporting actress are quietly two of the weirdest Oscars, simply because the realities of campaigning dictate that a movie must have two or fewer leads, rarely of the same gender, with everyone else relegated to “supporting”. This means that a “supporting” performer can be a full-on co-lead, like Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl; or a scene-stealer with five or 10 minutes of screentime, like Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. Currently, the award seems more likely to go to the former – naturally, given that a lead character will have more time to develop a multifaceted character. But whether it’s a co-lead or a cameo, is this really a fair fight? A featured performance category could have specific metrics attached: essentially, best performance that takes up less than 10% of the total screentime. One-scene wonders like Viola Davis in Doubt (an Oscar-nominated performance) or Tilda Swinton in The Killer (very much not) would have their own spotlight, while leaving some necessary flexibility in the existing categories. This could also be a gender-neutral category, allowing the Academy to dip a toe into less gendered awards-giving without making a jarringly immediate switch that would scare the bluehairs.
Best Practical Effects
In an ideal world, the best practical effects would compete side-by-side with cutting-edge digital work, giving the visual effects category – which once had to scrape together a mere three nominees, and now typically gets to five without any trouble – the kind of breadth and depth this art form deserves. Unfortunately, that coexistence seems increasingly unlikely to happen on its own. This year, Oppenheimer, from practical effects aficionado Christopher Nolan, didn’t even make the category’s long list, let alone the final five. Maybe it’s time to split the category into two three-entry fields, to balance out this craft in the style of original screenplay and adapted screenplay. While this would increase competition in a digital-effects category – and probably create some conflict over what to enter where, given how often even practical-heavy movies are often using both – it might be a necessary corrective. When Ex Machina and First Man triumphed in this category, it seemed like the tide was turning toward smaller-scale efforts. Since then, the prevailing attitude seems to be bigger is better. Wouldn’t it be cool to see some mid-to-low-budget horror movie with a taste for practical gore in here? Well, anyway, a movie nerd can dream.