Apparently I should have saved this post for a year later or so. Andy Serkis's lauded performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes is garnering some traction for a Best Supporting Actor bid - who is he supporting exactly? - but I think it's time we either acknowledge his motion capture performance as an a Special Achievement Award or just give it its own category.
We all know that the Academy is slow to acknowledge innovation and when they do traditionally it's too late for it to matter, but here's hoping that a burgeoning field will be rewarded soon.
In 2001 the Academy created the Best Animated Feature category, presumably, to garner attention to animated masterworks that were languishing come award season. Prior to last year's Best Picture nomination for UP only Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Film. Since the addition of that category animation has seen a renaissance of sorts. One might have hoped that films featuring motion capture could be nominated for Best Animated Feature, but, according to the Academy:
"An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of greater than 40 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time.”
So no luck for films like A Scanner Darkly, and A Christmas Carol, but will performances in these films be featured come award time? They haven't yet so far.
Performances such as Andy Serkis's work in the Lord of the Rings trilogy King Kong, Jim Carrey in A Christmas Carol and Zoe Saldana in Avatar have gone unrecognized. Brad Pitt's portrayal in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, predominantly provided by motion capture or heavy makeup, was rewarded with a nomination for Best Actor in 2008. When I saw Button in theatres two Christmases ago I never stopped and thought about the CGI it ebbed and flowed with the film. During Avatar I completely bought the concept of Neytiri as a real, feeling, being. Her voice, mannerisms, etc. sold the performance. There was no distinction between the two presentations except the Academy deemed one more viable.
Serkis never really acts so much as completely embodies Kong. The wistful look in his eye he gives Ann (Naomi Watts) as he collapses from the top of the tower could only be delivered by an actor, the dead eye effect that plagued early mo-cap could not have created that haunting ending. Carrey, always known for giving it his all in his roles was Chaplin-esque in A Christmas Carol, sacrificing his body for the end result. The Academy has been willing to correct its wrongs as of late (the ten Best Picture nods), but will they create a category for Best Motion-Capture Peformance or Best Motion Capture Film? We will have to wait and see.