Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Rant: Why Andy Serkis Should Get an Oscar Nomination

Andy Serkis as Caesar
According to multiple sources, English actor Andy Serkis has signed on for the sequel to this summers monster hit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. 

As the brilliant chimpanzee Caesar, Serkis was covered in motion capture technology and CGI -- but not, by any means, buried beyond recognition. Thanks to his powerful performance, the character of Caesar shines through all the computer graphics, resulting in one of the finest performances of the year to date.

Serkis, who got his big break as the emotionally tortured Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has perfected the art of giving wonderfully heartfelt performances while physically obscured by technology. It will likely be years before anyone else comes close to his ability to emote through the motion capture censors.

Fox recently announced that they would be launching an Oscar campaign for Serkis (no word yet on whether or not it will be for Best Actor or Supporting Actor, although he may have a better shot in the latter category).

The potential dilemma? The Academy, and even some filmgoers, may be reluctant to nominate an actor who performed under motion capture technology.

Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about the idea of nominating someone who appears as an animated character on screen. There are some, like myself, who believe it's requires the same talent and dedication as any other type of performance, while others may deem it as something that doesn't quite feel legitimate.

The first time I can remember this "debate" coming up was in 2003 when there was talk that Ellen DeGeneres could potentially earn a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her voice work as Dory in Pixar's Finding Nemo. In the end, there was no nomination but it was, arguably, the first time an animated performance was seriously considered an Oscar contender.

With the advances in motion capture technology, the game changed. It was no longer simply "voice work" -- it had evolved into a complete and physical performance by an actor. The actor behind the technology interacts with his or her fellow cast members, performing alongside them as equals. To brush off the amount of work Serkis put into his role as Caesar would be a mistake -- the Academy already did it to him once before by snubbing him outright when he should have been considered a major contender for his performance in The Lord of the Rings.

Zoe Saldana in Avatar
With the 2009 release of Avatar it was next to impossible to listen to Oscar talk without hearing the name Zoe Saldana thrown around in the mix for the Best Actress category. I was relieved when she was passed over for  a nomination -- not only was the performance aggravatingly over-the-top, but it didn't feel right to have a film like Avatar heralded as the first to have an actor nominated for a motion capture performance. I kept thinking that, once Peter Jackson got around to directing The Hobbit, Serkis would have another shot at a nomination. I didn't anticipate the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes or the critical accolades Serkis earned in the role.

Serkis paved the way for actors who dare to venture into the physically demanding world of motion capture performance. It takes a certain level of talent to convey subtle nuances through a CGI mask. For his groundbreaking work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings (and the upcoming Hobbit films) and his motion capture performances in King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming The Adventures of TinTin, Serkis has become, without a doubt, the go-to guy for this type of challenge. 

As Serkis himself said in a recent interview with Britain's The Telegraph: "I am a bit evangelical, I know, but performance-capture is still misunderstood. Ten years down the line people say, 'Oh, so you did the voice for Gollum?' Or people go, 'You did the movements for Kong?' It's frustrating because I play Gollum and I play Kong. It is acting."

The Academy Awards need to get with the times -- and, should there still be enough open nomination spots come the February telecast, there's no better time to start than now with Serkis' performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.