Great Movies Have Great Casts – The Atlantic

A new Oscars category will recognize casting directors, who perform a mysterious but vital component of moviemaking.
The last time the Academy Awards introduced a new category, back in 2001, it was very overdue: a dedicated Oscar for animated films. Since then, only one idea has almost broken through, in 2018—an ill-defined “best popular film” award that was triumphantly announced and then quickly shelved when nobody could really agree on what its parameters would be. Expanding the Oscars is always tricky, because there’s already so much hand-wringing about the length of the ceremony. But yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) dropped some shocking news: In two years, the show will add an award for achievement in casting.
It’s perhaps not the sexiest of honors. The winner will be a film’s casting director, and they tend to be known only by the most inside-baseball industry folk. Whereas other awards bodies such as the Screen Actors Guild give out trophies for ensemble acting, allowing a film’s big names to take the stage and rejoice, this Oscar will acknowledge the hard but somewhat nebulously defined work of putting together the entire cast list, from stars to bit players. Maybe a movie with a surprising new ingenue will receive the award—you could imagine a nomination for 2018’s Roma and its discovery of ​Yalitza Aparicio—or maybe a large-scale blockbuster (Barbie, Oppenheimer) where the casting effort is more noticeable from top to bottom.
The award is important within the industry, highlighting a profession that has long argued for further recognition. Oscar nominations are voted on by specific branches—actors vote for acting, editors vote for best editing, and so on—with Best Picture nominees voted on by everyone. Though some casting directors have belonged to AMPAS as members-at-large for decades, it was only in 2013 that they got their own branch. So the profession has traditionally had very little nominating clout, which the creation of this award will change.
The tides probably began to shift most decisively in 2019, when David Rubin was elected president of AMPAS—the first casting director to get the job. Still, the category has been proposed and rejected before. “This award is a deserved acknowledgment of our casting directors’ exceptional talents and a testament to the dedicated efforts of our branch,” Academy Casting Directors Branch governors Richard Hicks, Kim Taylor-Coleman, and Debra Zane said in a statement.
Indeed, it could prove a fun addition to the Oscar race in this heavily publicized era. Casting directors tend to be wry, zesty, all-knowing keepers of gossip and the vagaries of the creative process. The idea of adding them to the campaign trail is a lightly chaotic one; beyond that, it’ll offer more insight into a rather mysterious part of the moviemaking world, which is the point of all of the Oscar craft categories. The Academy Awards are ostensibly about spotlighting the effort that goes into making a great movie—and casting is a vital component.
The real question is: What category could come next? The idea of a “popular film” Oscar seems mercifully dead. The brief flirtation with fan voting for nonsensical concepts such as “cheer moment” and “fan favorite” for 2022’s awards was not repeated after two Zack Snyder films won those polls. Before Best Casting, the biggest change the Oscars had recently made was merging two sound categories into one, a decision that prompted some bafflement within the sound world but was largely accepted as inevitable, given the fuzzy distinction between “Sound Editing” and “Sound Mixing” for casual viewers.
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The obvious next step, in my book, is an award for stunt work. It’s the perfect fit for the Oscars: It would recognize a field that has grown in importance as action choreography gets more and more technically complex, and it would likely reward the kinds of high-octane crowd-pleasers that don’t always net much attention in other categories. John Wick’s director, Chad Stahelski, a former stuntman and stunt coordinator, has consistently pushed for a stunt-work Oscar, saying last year that talks had “made real movement forward” on the notion. “Everybody on both sides wants this to happen,” he said. “They want stunts at the Oscars. It’s going to happen. It’s just how do we do it as fair and as thought out as possible.”
Other categories that have been suggested over the years, such as Best Title Design and Best Dance Direction (which was actually handed out for three years, in the 1930s), are possibly too arcane to get serious consideration. But there is one category that could be activated in any eligible year: an Oscar for original musicals, which was introduced in 2000 and could be awarded to any movie that “consists of not fewer than five original songs … by the same writer or team of writers.” The only issue is that at least 10 original film musicals would need to be released in a year for the category to be voted on, and these days, we’re lucky to get one or two. It’s an entertaining fantasy to consider—but a bounce-back that big for the movie musical is even less expected than the return of the Oscars’ Cheer Moment.







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