There's always a lot to complain about when it comes to the Oscars. Yes, there are those outlier years where something like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King dominates the event or a film like Gravity, District 9 or Inception makes the cut for a Best Picture nomination, but certainly the general lack of nominations for genre films in almost anything but the technical categories continues to be a sore subject.
This year's nominations list, however, contained two especially egregious oversights: Andy Serkis for Best Actor and Toby Kebbell for Best Supporting Actor, for their roles as Caesar and Koba respectively in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
OK, it's not really surprising that this didn't happen. The Academy isn't exactly the most forward-thinking organization in the world, and there's still enough of a debate over how much of a motion-captured performance is owed to an actor or to the special effects team that creates the look of the finished product. But it's not hard to look back at the movie landscape of the past year and make the argument that Caesar and Koba were two of the most compelling characters to appear in a film in 2014, with a rich, nuanced relationship that was powerful enough to render the humans appearing in the film secondary ... and a lot of that is owed to Serkis and Kebbell.
The idea of a nomination for Serkis was first floated after his astonishing debut as Caesar in 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There was some discussion back then of whether actors who primarily give their performances through motion capture needed to be part of the awards conversation. But after witnessing Serkis' work in the followup, not to mention Kebbell's, it seems clear that they absolutely need to be in the mix -- and it's a terrible oversight that they're not.
Both actors deliver fully realized, complex and emotionally resonant performances as the compassionate, haunted, conflicted leader of the intelligent ape tribe and his tormented and ultimately treacherous adviser and second-in-command. Yes, those performances are aided by the spectacular efforts of the Weta Digital team in creating the forms of Caesar and Koba over the work done by the two actors, but it is still the thespians who provided that foundation (the movie is nominated for Best Visual Effects).
Actors less aware of or less invested in the potential of motion capture might not have been capable of the same results. Serkis, of course, is the current master of the form: From Gollum to King Kong to Caesar, he has gone from strength to strength with every new character. Yet while other actors have also donned those funny mo-cap suits, Kebbell is perhaps the first to stand out almost equally to Serkis, with his Koba fully capable of going head to head with Caesar both technically and as a three-dimensional character.
So why did the Academy and the acting branch choose to overlook these performances entirely? Like anything else that is pushing the envelope and expanding the definition of a traditional art form, motion capture has come up against old-fashioned thinking about what exactly it entails and means. Academy members' average age is 62, which means they may not exactly be on the cutting edge of how technology is changing cinema. Some actors may see mo-cap as the end of their careers -- despite the evidence that it can probably change and extend a career for the better. And some in the technical branches may grouse that the work of Serkis and Kebbell is being supported by scores of unnamed and unrecognized specialists who are creating the digital costumes in which the actors do their work.
That last one may be the fairest argument against the idea, but the bottom line is this: The Academy will have to reckon with motion capture at some point. Perhaps a new acting award, or a combined acting/effects prize, is the way to go. Either way, it's time. Caesar and Koba weren't the only memorable mo-cap characters this year, either: Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn and the Marvel team did a terrific job bringing a walking tree and a talking raccoon to life as well in Guardians of the Galaxy. But it's Serkis and Kebbell who should have been mentioned for award consideration.
There are only five actors nominated in each category, and we have no doubt that all this year's nominees deserve to be where they are. But perhaps by the time the sequel to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes around in 2017, the Academy will finally live in the future as well.
What do you think? Is it time for motion-captured performances to be given consideration for acting awards at the Oscars, or do the special effects involved make them a breed apart? Let us know in the comments!