The James Clayton Column: Oscar nominees for new award categories

As the Academy Awards come round again, James introduces a few new Oscar categories of his own...

The red carpets have been laid down. The suits and frocks are tailored and vacu-wrapped ready for the spotlight. The champagne is on ice. It’s awards season, folks, and the stage is set for a ceremony of glitz, glamour and gong-grabbing glory. Smiles! Flash bulbs! Stars sweeping by! String orchestras playing in a major key! Razzle-dazzle showtime! (APPLAUSE!)

The slow stream of dramatic video montages punctuated by badly-delivered autocue announcements start to wash over everyone and it all seems to be safe and standard. Suddenly: BANG! Finally inspired to action by an especially awful Seth MacFarlane joke – “Well, if Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway win tonight, they’ll be ‘Less Misérables’!” (LAUGHTER!) – Bane enters stage left.

“Let the games begin!” he mumbles before lurching forward to grab hold of MacFarlane and snap his spine in two. The assembled great-and-good gasp and squirm but Bane slams gargantuan hands down on the podium, wrestles the mic and forces them to sit in silence. “Calm down, Doctor! Now’s not the time for fear! That comes later.”

The somewhat deranged intruder proceeds to let out a rapid jumble of mumbled dialogue: “Speak of the Devil and he shall appear! Theatricality and deception, powerful weapons for the uninitiated! Behold, the instrument of your liberation!” Everyone looks unimpressed.

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Bane sighs forlornly and explains, “You see, I had the best lines in The Dark Knight Rises but all people talked about was how they couldn’t understand a single word I was saying. What’s more, we blew up an entire football stadium and didn’t even get a Visual Effects nomination. It’s so dreadfully disappointing…”

He hunches over the stand before lifting his head with a shrug to return to the pre-prepared speech. “Well, never mind! I am Hollywood’s reckoning! The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests, and cast out into the cold that we know and endure!” At this point the network cuts to Joaquin Phoenix who appears to have fallen asleep.

Back to Bane – who readers may like to know is wearing weathered combat boots, a winter sheepskin jacket designed by Lindy Hemming and a novelty gas mask which adds a nice touch of villainous menace. He stomps several times, stares crazily at the guests and dramatically proclaims: “We both know that I’ll have to kill you. Just imagine the fire!”

Then the ground shakes and a great blast rises from beneath the Dolby Theatre. Los Angeles is wiped off the map in an infernal atomic blaze and the inner centre of the modern motion picture industry is obliterated. (APPLAUSE!)

Of course, that’s probably not going to happen and I’m glad it won’t. As much as I’d like to see radical changes in Tinseltown, I’d rather they didn’t come with an epic casualty count and disproportionate levels of devastation. Nevertheless, every year when awards season rolls around I do end up feeling particular perturbed as I try and get an objective handle on the film industry. I’m definitely of the opinion that some overhauling needs to happen round here.

To look at the Oscars and other ceremonies is to observe a series of bloated frothy farces and self-congratulatory showbiz circle jerks. A prestige elite who just happen to be flavour of the day pick up prizes at parties that feel far removed from both reality and the original art that they’re allegedly meant to represent and celebrate. If the whole farrago feels predictable (and it does) it’s no wonder that over-imaginative, alienated people start fantasising about violent masked anarchist interventions to make it all a bit more interesting.

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I’m all in favour of any fresh alterations to spice up the format and would love it if they swapped red carpet for turquoise, forced presenters to sing Les Mis-style or relocated the Oscar ceremony to an alternate location. (Pakistan’s countryside looked so cinematic in Zero Dark Thirty. Let’s stage it there.)

Because people tend to be quite conservative about these things, though, I’ll put those ideas to one side and usher in a more sensible prospect: the creation of new award categories. Everyone’s happy if more prizes are presented. More people win and the necessitated longer ceremonies would appeal to advertisers and hardcore viewers at home.

I may have doubts about awards season but I am someone who loves movies and loves celebrating movies. Because of that I can’t be completely cynical and antagonistic to an annual tribute to cinema that applauds excellence in the medium. I agree that we should hail outstanding achievements in moviemaking and attempt to get in the spirit of the game.

Handing out more awards strikes me as an ideal way to do that and would also give overlooked and ignored movies more chance of a look-in. There’s the possibility it might level the playing field a little and lead to more excitement and surprise. No one gets hurt unless Bane bags a nomination and brings his army of brute goons to the party.

The Academy has a week to reappraise their merit categories and implement my suggestions to make sure 2013’s ceremony is slightly more remarkable (read: not a fancier, Americanised colour photocopy of last week’s BAFTAs and every other ceremony that’s taken place over the past month or so). Below, then, for your consideration is a list of my nominations for new award categories that should be added to the Oscar accolades… (APPLAUSE!)

Best Original Acting Performance, Best Adapted Acting Performance and Best Factual Acting Performance

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I’ll start with what I reckon to be the most critical category mix-up, and it’s inspired by the distinction that characterises awards for writing (namely, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay). What I propose is the breaking up of the acting gongs into three separate categories: Best Original Acting Performance, Best Adapted Acting Performance and Best Factual Acting Performance.

It makes sense, peels away several layers of the ‘comparing apples and oranges’ thing and respects the nuances and differing demands required of different roles. It takes a special kind of actor to pull off a performance based on a real historical figure in a biopic or fact-based fiction. Embellishing a fictional figure from a literary source for the screen has its own challenges and creating a character entirely from scratch is an incredible accomplishment in itself. How do you reason whose performance is worthiest when you put Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln, factual), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, original) and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, adapted) alongside each other? You can’t, so respect them by placing them in different groups.

Acting is hard and complex. Splitting the categories to showcase the exceptional in differing styles of role would help people appreciate that and emphasise excellence in creating new characters, re-interpreting old characters from other sources or simply portraying real people.

Best Action Choreography

It’s high time that the stunt co-ordinators, physical special effects visionaries and stunt teams got a piece of the awards season action. It’s an essential aspect of the moviemaking mix that’s consistently overlooked by the Academy when, it all likelihood, it’s this area that really attracts mainstream audiences and makes film exhilarating. It takes a hell of a lot of skill, ingenuity, planning and physical expertise to make action happen. That should be recognised alongside the awards for hair and make-up, sound, production design and visual effects.

Observe how effective action-packing flicks like Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained and Argo pick up nominations for writing, direction and leading acting performances and you might see what I mean. What about those who make the magic, produce compelling, powerful violence and adrenaline-pumping spectacle? These people deserve thanks, praise and an opportunity to stand on the podium to proudly show off their scars.

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Best Animal Performance

Everybody loved The Artist but its true star – Uggie the Dog – didn’t get a gong at last year’s Academy Awards. Animals are people too (they’re not, but you get what I’m scratching at) and it’s not fair that their outstanding screen performances should be overlooked just because they’re a different species.

Time and time again we watch as non-human actors transcend their bestial status to bring great entertainment, emotional depth and added natural poignancy to the text. What’s more, to train animals for screen and pull an amazing performance out of them is an alchemical endeavour that deserves wider acclaim. The horses of Django Unchained and the creatures of Life Of Pi (at least the ones who weren’t CGI) should get more credit than a patronising pat and a few insubstantial “that’ll do, pig” platitudes from their personal handlers.

Best Picture Produced For Less Than One Million U.S. Dollars

How about taking a minute to salute budget moviemaking and super-efficient independent cinema? Giving a prize to a picture produced for less than $1million makes even more sense in this age of austerity and will provide promotion for powerful-yet-underpowered movies on a global stage. It’s amazing to think that some of the most creative, compelling and inspired features of the past year – Safety Not Guaranteed and Berberian Sound Studio, for instance -were made on meagre resources and such endeavours deserve to be lauded in the spotlight.

If anything, it’ll be a good grounding exercise amidst all the excessive grandeur and will guarantee that there’s always going to be an uplifting underdog victory story – the stuff of Hollywood dreams! – at every ceremony.

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Honorary Award That’s Purely an Excuse for a Brilliant Speech Loaded with Eccentric and Wildly Entertaining Anecdotes

Winner’s speeches tend to be clichéd and contrived. I reckon that most people watching these awards ceremonies are doing so in the hope that someone throws a surrealistic curveball and says something batcrap crazy. As such, it’s brilliant when luminaries deviate from convention and call up eyebrow-raising atypical monologues that resonate more than the usual thank you lists. Jodie Foster’s recent performance at the Golden Globes proves this.

Someone needs to save these stagey ceremonies from themselves and bring some quirky spark to the show. Thus, I say invite a veteran movie industry eccentric to collect an award just for being themselves and allow them to go off on a spontaneous free jazz verbal ramble on whatever topic they wish for ten minutes. It’s even better if English isn’t their first language. Bored now? Fear not, for here’s the sublime Bill Murray/Miriam Margolyes/Guillermo del Toro/Jackie Chan to say something weird and wonderful!

Wow. Well, that made a nice change from the speech we’ve heard Anne Hathaway deliver five times already. We’re certainly ‘Less Misérables’ now! (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE!)

James Clayton is humbled and just happy to be here on the red carpet with Abraham Lincoln and Wolverine while he cosplays as a regular guy in a tuxedo. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.

You can read James’s previous column here.

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