James Leroy Wilson's blog

Sunday, February 27, 2005

We Need More Oscars

I believe Judy Garland won an Oscar, or maybe it was a special Oscar, for Best Performance by a Juvenile in The Wizard of Oz. An article in the Chicago Tribune on great cameos make me think the Academy would do well to add both Child Performance and best Cameo performance. And another, for animated voice characterization.

Anna Paquin did win a Best Supporting Actress at the age of, what, nine? for The Piano. So did Jodie Foster in Paper Moon. But Justin Henry, who deserved an Oscar just as much for Kramer v. Kramer, did not win.

Some years ago I saw a French movie titled Collette, about a 4 year-old trying to cope with the death of her mother. And, yes, they had a 4 year-old girl playing the part. And a lot of other little kids. It was exceptional, and that actress actually won an award at an international film festival.

But some critics complained: was she really acting? Or was she being instructed and coached?

Add to this, the consideration that Paquin's, Foster's, and Henry's roles were not really "supporting" roles, they were co-leads. They were relegated to supporting-actor status because they weren't respected enough to compete in the lead category. The 13 year-old who starred in Whale Rider a year ago was the exception to the rule, but (and I haven't seen the movie) I don't think she had a co-lead; she was the sole lead.

(For the record, it isn't just children who get relegated to the Best Suporting Actor category. Dr. Haing S. Noir in The Killing Fields (winner), Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive (winner), Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction (loser), and William H. Macy in Fargo (loser) were all co-leads relegated to the Best Supporting Actor category. There are probably dozens of other examples; these are the ones that spring to mind in my limited film memory).

If there is a prejudice against a child's ability under the age of 12 (or 14, or 16) to act in the adult sense of the word, yet some children deliver great performances, it seems fitting to just create a new category for them. How about Outsanding Performance by a Juvenile. And limit the nominations to 3, so that it isn't a stretch to find decent nominations.

And also, a 3-nominee outstanding cameo performance. A minor character who steals a scene or two, maybe provides the moral center of the movie, and who may provide one of the most memorable moments in the film, without having enough screen time to even rise to the "supporting actor" category.

Finally, there should probably be some sort of recognition for outstanding voice characterization. Robin Williams in Aladdin being the most obvious. Maybe this isn't worth a yearly nomination, but some of these probably deserve special Oscars. Maybe there could be a threshold here; on every Oscar ballot, the option of writing in a deserving Oscar for voice characterization should be available. If one name appears on a certain percentage of ballots, that person wins an Oscar, and would be informed in advance to receive the award; there'd be no nominees or competition.

I'm not saying we should extend the Oscar telecast. But this would make the people we know and like, the performers in movies we've actually seen, take the center stage all the more. Not one in a thousand people have seen the nominated animated shorts, or the documentary shorts or features. But many have seen performances by famous people that go "outside the box" of traditional Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor catories. It would make the Oscars more interesting.

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