Earlier this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that this year’s Academy Awards would include a new category for “best popular film“. The announcement was followed by a richly deserved backlash that led the Academy to quickly walk the announcement back (though they have since threatened to resurrect it in the future). The addition of this would-be new Oscar category was a pathetically transparent attempt to cultivate public interest in the Oscar telecast that achieved the remarkable feat of insulting the very audience it was pandering to. It was also likely an attempt on the Academy’s part to head off criticism of their likely inevitable snub of ‘Black Panther‘ – which Marvel has been pushing for Oscar consideration. “Sure, we didn’t nominate that silly superhero movie for Best Picture but we made up a whole new Oscar category for your pedestrian pop art! Are we not generous?”
You can’t see it, but my eyes very nearly rolled out of their sockets.
But whatever. The Academy is snobby and out of touch with the average moviegoer. Tell me something I don’t know, right? Well, while I could rant about that all day, the real issue here isn’t the Academy’s stumbling attempts to throw mainstream audiences a bone. Because whether you agree with their picks or not, they do at least acknowledge the best film, best actor, etc in a given year. The issue is that even as they make these ridiculous gestures, there are crucial parts of the movie industry that are being almost completely ignored.
Chief among those, arguably, is stunt work. That’s right. It may not have registered until now (especially given the plethora of other below the line award categories), but after nearly a century of award ceremonies, there still isn’t an Oscar for best stunts. Think about that for a moment. Think about how many films – and not just blockbuster spectacle fare – would be impossible (or at least radically different) without the hard and often dangerous work of stunt performers. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a moviemaking profession that is more underappreciated, especially given how much more likely it is to get you killed or injured than, say, operating a boom mic.
But don’t take my word for it. Speaking to Collider, ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ director Christopher McQuarrie added his voice to the chorus decrying the talk of a popular film category before making the case that if the Academy really wants to expand its award slate, they should be looking squarely at stunt performers. To wit:
“I can be diplomatic, but fuck it. There was talk of a popular film category. I’m really glad they’re not doing that, because I think the notion of that is to shy away from the fact that a—I don’t care, revoke my academy membership. What would be more effective, is I think if you’re going to introduce a new category the category should be stunts. I can’t think of a film recently that might qualify, but, that’s an art, that’s a skill, that’s a craft. Those are people risking their lives and doing things that are absolutely and utterly truly amazing and are so much a part of an experience like that. Not just in films like this. You go look at Hell or High Water. Lone Survivor. The stunts in that movie were absolutely incredible. In terms of a new category, I think you need to do that.”
McQuarrie’s not the only one making this case, with everyone from Helen Mirren (herself an Academy Award winner) to Edgar Wright arguing that stunt workers should be recognized by the Academy. But there are two sides to every story, and surprisingly, some of the loudest voices against stunt performers getting this sort of recognition are… stunt performers. The idea is that the possibility of Oscar glory might drive stuntmen and women to take riskier leaps (literally and figuratively). And given the recent uptick in stunt-related mishaps and even deaths… Well, let’s just say that’s the last thing anyone wants.