Does the Academy need a new category for unique performances?

Every year Academy Awards are given to deserving nominees in the best actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress categories. Despite some upsets here and undeserving winners there, most of the time, the argument can be made that the Academy gets these categories right.

The problem is, despite having deserving winners and more so deserving nominees, there is still a category of performances that are left out. They are the more unique forms of acting. The ones where the actor can’t necessarily be seen, but the performance can still have a major effect on the audience.

In 2013 Scarlett Johansson played the character Samantha in “Her.” Samantha was an artificial intelligence program on the main character’s computer system.

The performance was emotional, heartfelt and very honest. It never once came off as robotic or like a machine.

Samantha never seemed like simply a computer system, she was a full character that an audience could become attached to and feel for. The only difference than the rest of the actors in the movie? Johansson’s performance was voice acting.

Does the fact that she was not physically on screen lessen her performance, though? Absolutely not. Johansson deserved credit for her performance, and so do other actors in the situation of being in a more unique role.

Another role that makes a good case for this is the work of Andy Serkis as Ceasar in the films “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Andy Serkis portrayed the ape leader Caesar through the use of motion capture technology. Using these systems, Serkis’ gestures, facial expressions and mannerisms are all very well captured and help bring the character to life on screen.

In both movies, Serkis’ great work portray the revolutionary leader that Caesar is and provide a deep emotional core to become attached to as an audience.

Despite his work in this role and in movies such as “The Lord of the Rings” franchise where he played Gollum, Serkis did not receive any award nominations from the Academy. What is the breaking point to get performances that are outside the norm be recognized?

There’s no doubt that most years this category may not have much competition. It is also likely come to be known as the “voice-acting” award, since these types of performances are more likely on a yearly basis than some of the other “unique” ones out there.

I don’t think this would be too much of an issue, though. Even if the year didn’t have roles like Serkis’, I think it would be fine to honor some of the voice acting that happens in animated films on an annual basis.

Gary Oldman for example, delivered a great voice acting performance in the 2011 film “Kung Fu Panda 2.” He gave the villain character of the film so much life by building this dark, evil tone while at the same time still maintaining a level of charm and arrogance to go along with it. While just being a voice performance, it was still very impactful and important to the movie.

Oldman in the recording booth for “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

If such an award did exist, there would definitely have to be some strict rules, an actor not being physically on screen in the film, for example. Additionally, there is no doubt that there would be occasional controversies over actors being snubbed.

However, this type of award could be a benefit to performers who like to think outside the box and do things a little differently. It would also be an asset to the growing amount of CGI characters that are sprouting up in the film industry lately.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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