Aside from the big prize for Best Picture, the acting awards are probably the most discussed of the Oscar ceremony. But what’s interesting is how clearly they emphasize individual work and downplay team collaboration; there is no award for Best Ensemble, although the “Best Cast” honor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards is highly competitive. It’s basically their version of Best Picture, but it seems like there could be room for both at the Oscars, to acknowledge films with big, juicy roles and crackerjack ensembles (like, say, Silver Linings Playbook) that aren’t necessarily Best Picture material.
This year’s nominees: Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Killer Joe, Cloud Atlas
The Golden Globes get a lot wrong, but here’s one thing they do right, year in and year out: acknowledging that dramas and comedies just aren’t taken with the same degree of seriousness during awards season, they separate out the comedies and acknowledge them with their own prize. In its very first year, the Oscars separated the Best Director award into dramatic and comedic categories; several comic writers and directors (including Judd Apatow) have advocated doing the same for the Best Picture prize.
This year’s nominees: Moonrise Kingdom, This Is 40, Safety Not Guaranteed, Sleepwalk with Me, Seven Psychopaths.
Best Debut Film
The Independent Spirit Awards give this one out every year, and we’ve gotta say: it makes sense. Take, for example, Benh Zeitlin, a surprise Best Director nominee for his debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild. We were as thrilled for Mr. Zeitlin as anybody, but the odds are pretty long that he’s actually gonna come out with the prize, since he’s up against the likes of Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee. But he’d handily win a Best Debut prize — and he’d deserve it; putting together a feature film for the first time is a decidedly different (and perhaps more difficult) achievement than making a picture happen when you’re Speilberg.
This year’s nominees: Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice), Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk with Me), Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
We were shocked to discover, via the wonderful documentary Casting By, that the job of casting director is the only one that gets a nod in a film’s opening credits but doesn’t have an Oscar category. The casting directors are the unsung heroes of the industry, eagerly seeking out new talent and bringing it to the attention of directs and producers. The work they do is often key, yet widely devalued and misunderstood. It’s time to set that right.
This year’s nominees: Trouble is, we’re not plugged in enough to the industry to know who the standout casting directors were this year. That’s part of the problem; an Oscar (nominated by those in the know) would help solve it.
The Best Score and Best Song categories are frequently problematic. Arcane and indecipherable rules often keep worthy nominees out of the loop, or cause oddities like last year’s two (and only two) Best Song nominees. How’s about ditching Best Song for a Best Soundtrack award, where the rules about preexisting material and elements could be a little more lax?
This year’s nominees: Django Unchained, The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, Rust and Bone
Though their jobs have been minimized (and, for the most part, diminished) by the evil hand of CGI, stunt people are still a too-often-unrewarded wing of the industry, considering that they literally risk their lives for the movies. They have their own ceremony, the Taurus World Stunt Awards, but they deserve at least an acknowledgment at the big show — and besides, wouldn’t those clips be fun to watch?
This year’s nominees: The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd, The Avengers, Skyfall, The Raid: Redemption
Best Action Sequence
Every year, there’s a weird pair of awards that are hard to wrap your head around: what exactly is the difference, many wonder, between Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing? The distinction isn’t much clarified by the clips they show, which tend to just consist of the most amazing action scenes of the year, so we say to hell with it: go the MTV Movie Awards route and just give the damn Oscar to the year’s best action sequence. There’s one that’d actually get people arguing.
This year’s nominees: Skyfall (pre-title sequence), The Dark Knight Rises (mid-air kidnapping), The Avengers (Downtown Manhattan climax), The Cabin in the Woods (all hell breaks loose), and The Raid: Redemption (basically any scene)
Best Female Director
We kid — sort of. Obviously, we shouldn’t have to sexually segregate the Best Director category for female directors to get their due. But, as we’ve noted, year after year great female filmmakers are ignored, so maybe it’s time to make it mandatory to throw some nominations their way. After all, the acting nominations are split up by sex — why not the directing category as well?
This year’s nominees: Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Sarah Polley (Take this Waltz), Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister), Julie Delpy (2 Days in New York), Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World)