Snubbed by the Oscars

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and presumably there was an almost immediate discussion of who got snubbed by the Academy in the nomination process. No doubt over the next few days we will see the usual discussion of the “all-time” Oscar snubs. Yes, we all know how William Randolph Hearst kept Citizen Kane from winning anything other than “Best Original Screenplay” out if its nine nominations. That’s too easy. The real snubs come from things so deeper ingrained that we don’t even realize that a “snub” exists….

Snubbed on a Technicality

In the early 1950s, Louis and Bebe Barron were making electronic music and sound effects for various art films and experimental cinema. With that background, they were hired by the producers of Forbidden Planet to create about twenty minutes of sound effects and incidental music for that movie’s score. But the samples they came up with worked so well with the movie that they were asked to do the entire score.

At premieres, audiences were blown away by their work. But when awards time came around, there was a catch. The Barrons were not members of the Composer’s Union, and therefore could not be credited as creating “music” or the “score” for the movie. Their names had to appear under “Electronic Tonalities by” in the credits. And because they didn’t get the correct credit, they were ineligible for the “Best Original Score” Oscar.

(Watch the opening titles here)

To this day, their work on Forbidden Planet remains one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. It is impossible to imagine the movie with anything else, and hearing the Krell Music itself is enough to transport you to an alien world.

The Barrons never did any further work for Hollywood.

Categorically Snubbed

The only new category added to the Oscars in the past thirty years was “Best Animated Feature” in 2001. People both inside and outside the industry have been arguing for almost that long to add more categories. Jason Statham is the most recent Big Name to call for the addition of a “Best Stunt” category.

One of the complaints about the awards show that the Academy has been trying to address lately is that it is too stodgy and old-fashioned. Thus the spate of younger, “hipper” hosts. Still, things are rather dull. While the Best Sound Editing award is important to sound editors and their friends and families, who in the TV audience cares?

With a “Best Stunt” award, they will have a bunch of exciting clips to show when they announce the nominees. And wouldn’t it be great to have, say, Jackie Chan introducing a montage celebrating the great stuntmen (Yakima Canutt, Vic Armstrong, Dar Robinson, et al.) and their work?

You can’t say that one doesn’t want to encourage more and more dangerous stunts by giving out awards – the stunt industry already has its own awards. Perhaps it’s possible that the Academy doesn’t want to adopt the category because it could have meant that they might have to use the terms “Keanu Reeves” and “Oscar Winner” in the same sentence….

(In Speed, Reeves did the jump from the car to the bus himself….it’s at the 1:12 mark in this trailer)

The “We Don’t Know Where To Put You” Snub

Quick: Frank Oz as Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, Robin Williams as The Genie in Aladdin, and Andy Serkis as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy have in common?

Right! All outstanding performances that made those movies work; all denied the chance at an Oscar because you didn’t see them on screen. Matt Zoller Seitz of PressPlay argues for a new category to cover this type of work: Outstanding Collaborative Performance.

Many people, both inside and outside of Hollywood, pushed for Oz to get at least a Best Supporting Actor nomination. But the Academy said “Puppetry isn’t an art form.” For Robin Williams, neither the Oscars nor the Golden Globes have a category for voice acting, but at least the latter came up with a special award for him. In Andy Serkis’ case, the Academy claimed that Gollum was too much of an animated creature, so it didn’t count.

The Academy is really going to have to rethink this as technology gets better and better. Motion capture is being used much more often, and voice acting can potentially make or break an animated movie. True, there are already categories to cover visual effects and makeup. But as Seitz argues, the Academy (and those unions!) will get to keep those awards. He just wants to add a new one that will honor the synergy among acting, character design, makeup, and visual effects that can create a Yoda or Gollum.

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