Friday, February 25, 2011

There Should Be an Oscar for Best Stunts

The title says it all. There really should. We often admire films that try to tone down the CG and rely on old-school stunt magic, but they never get honored the way they should. A bunch of brilliant computer geeks creating fake action on a computer can win an Oscar – and rightfully so – but for some reason the brave, brilliant, crazy souls who actually risk their lives to replicate that same action for the camera can’t. 

I suppose some will balk at the idea, since the last thing the Oscars need is another category – these are the people who relegated Jean-Luc-Fucking-Godard to a side event, remember. Plus many are already bored by the technical categories as it is (“Let’s get to Natalie Portman’s pregnancy dress already, peeh-pull!!”)  But some of us actually prefer these technical categories, because it’s there that you see the slightly-not-ready-for-prime-time geniuses who actually make so much of what we call the Movie Industry work. (Plus, come on, you can’t call yourself a real movie geek if you don’t get excited at the idea of seeing people like Roger Deakins or Colleen Atwood or Jack Fisk.) 

And believe it or not, I actually think this idea has some value to those trying to make the Oscars show more popular. For starters, a category for stunts will almost automatically (but not exclusively) widen the pool of nominees to more populist fare. That’s not to say that I’d be happy to hear the words “And the Oscar goes to…The Expendables!” -- but the fact is, people are excited by stunts. Even people who don’t like to see stunt-filled movies like to see stunts; I bet you could put together a pretty exciting clip reel of nominees. (Plus you’d get some great cutaways to George Clooney or Jack Nicholson in the audience wincing in pain as they watch some poor underpaid bastard fall off a train or take a metal rail to the chin or whatever.)

Besides, have you actually met real stuntmen? They’re pretty awesome. I bet they’d give some great speeches. Some time ago, I interviewed Kane Hodder, who, besides being a pretty acclaimed stuntman, also played Jason Voorhees in a bunch of Friday the 13th films. Imagine that dude up there accepting an Oscar. (For starters, I think he’s like eight feet tall or something.) I should also note here that there are two new stunt-related books coming out: Hal Needham’s Stuntman! My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life, which is on stands now, and Vic Armstrong’s The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman, due out in May. 

This isn’t some new idea, by the way. Many have pushed over the years for this category to be included at the Oscars. Four different organizations came together to lobby the Academy back in 2005, and the Board of Governors rejected it. (There have been pushes for lots of categories, of course, and some of them are pretty stupid.) Some have suggested that the real reason the Academy doesn’t want to give out an award for stunts (or stunt coordination) is because the stars and producers want to keep up this silly pretense that the stars are doing their own stunts. (It's there in every damn presskit you read: “I don’t know how he does it, but there Tom was, suspended a thousand feet up in the air, no harness, no net…and he doesn’t even break a sweat! His dedication is amazing!”)  I don't know if I buy that as a valid reason: The Academy did give an Honorary Oscar to the great Yakima Canutt in 1967, so it's not like they want to pretend stunts don't exist. Besides, average moviegoers know it’s not Matt Damon jumping over those buildings or whatever, even if the producer and the publicist don't think they do. 

I actually think people like the idea of stuntmen. Stuntmen are a key element in the public’s very conception of the Dream Factory – and one of the things that they feel make movies special. And isn't that what the Academy Awards are honoring, on some fundamental level, anyway?

Oh, and as I was searching around to see if anyone had covered this issue before, I found a petition here for a Best Stunt Coordinator Oscar. It appears to have been started fairly recently. Fortuitous timing? Sign it if you agree.


  1. Great piece, I completely agree. We should be doing everything we can to encourage real-life effects

  2. Thanks. Yeah, spread it around -- maybe if enough people sign that petition, the Academy will re-consider it some day.

  3. Very much in agreement. Well put.

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