Long: Oscar needs to be open to stunts and ensembles

Tom Long
The Detroit News

'Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Jurassic World" and "Furious 7": Those are the top three moneymaking movies of the year, so far.

"Avatar," "Titanic" and "Marvel's The Avengers": Those are the top three moneymaking movies of all time.

What do all six of these movies have in common, beyond making bucketloads of moolah?

All six of these films relied heavily on stunts. On people falling from the sky, flailing about in water, making acrobatic leaps and bounding through flames.

In fact, take a look at the top films from any given year over the past two decades and you'll see that the vast majority of popular movies are stunt-driven. The Batman franchise, the Lord of the Rings franchise, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Spider-Man, it goes on and on. All rely heavily on stunt men and women.

And yet here's how many Oscars have been awarded for stunt coordination: zero.

Even though stunts have been an integral part of moviemaking from the medium's very beginning, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that they even exist.

This past week, the Academy announced its annual slate of rule changes. They amounted to nothing much. They're sticking to the recent expansion of 10 potential best picture nominees, a move that was supposed to (but hasn't really) allow more popular films into the race, thus drawing a bigger TV audience.

You want a bigger TV audience? Open up a category for stunt coordinator. The clips for nominees would instantly become the most exciting part of Oscar night (excluding, of course, wardrobe malfunctions).

Stunt coordination isn't the only direction the stodgy Academy might go in. For years critics have called for an ensemble cast award. This call has only grown more relevant in recent years as fewer and fewer films are purely star-driven vehicles, both in terms of blockbusters — again look at the Furious or Avengers franchises — and in terms of prestige films (last year's "Birdman" is a particularly strong example).

Getting a great performance out of one actor is a feat and will always be recognized. But getting great performances from four, six, eight, 10 actors at once, all in sync and working off one another's rhythms and emotions, that's the stuff of magic.

And every year there are fantastic ensemble films — think "Nashville," "Pulp Fiction," "Juno," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," just about everything Woody Allen's ever done. Yet they have never been recognized as such.

There are always good arguments for tradition, to be sure, just as there are always good arguments for progress. The trick is to find the right balance.

The Academy has tried to pander to its potential audience recently by making the best picture race more inclusive. Perhaps it would find more success by opening up some truly overlooked categories. At the very least it would be fun to watch a flaming motorcycle flying across the screen come Oscar night.