As an avid fan of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, I’m thrilled to announce he’ll appear in no fewer than five movies in 2013. Much like with Jessica Chastain’s six-film rampage of 2011, "The Rock" is making an early case for Hollywood’s Most Valuable Player this year. The difference between the two? There’s no way in hell any of Johnson’s movies will be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
While arguments can be made about the comparative "quality" of each star’s filmography, the fact remains that the Academy shuns action cinema during awards season. The reasons for this neglect, and what should be done about it, must immediately be addressed for the sake of action fans everywhere. I think we deserve an answer.
So I’ll begin with a question: what would you rather see, Gwyneth Paltrow pretending to be a man so she can act in a Shakespeare play ... or Bruce Willis and his friends blowing up an asteroid? Believe it or not, the Academy chose the former when they awarded the insufferable Shakespeare in Love the 1998 Best Picture award. What did Armageddon get? Nothing. It even got robbed in the Best Original Song category, where "I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing" lost to the admittedly awesome (but notably less awesome) "When You Believe."
The reasons for this disrespectful conduct are easily explained. The Academy wants to present itself as dedicated to artistic "quality" and "integrity." Its members favor movies that deal with "serious" or "important" topics, like historical epics, period pieces, and films that address "relevant" social issues. Ironically, this quest for quality de-legitimizes itself each time it chooses a Forrest Gump over a Pulp Fiction, or a King’s Speech over an Inception.
One could easily argue that action cinema is a more telling indicator of the national pulse than any other genre. In the 1980s, for example, movies starring Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris reflected Reagan-era attempts to re-invigorate patriotic fervor better than any others. 48 Hours and Rush Hour say more about the racial discourse of their time than Crash ever could. And what better symbols are there of today’s rapid fire, video-game-logic media environment than Crank or Transformers?
The relevance of action cinema today is sadly reduced to its technical achievements. Oscar categories like Best Visual Effects are the only place these movies get their moment in the awards spotlight. Say what you will about their "artistic quality" (a relative term, at best), their importance and influence deserves more recognition.
So what do I propose? A separate Oscar category for action movies. If animated and foreign films get their currently-allotted level of glory, why shouldn’t a more prominent and arguably more influential genre have the same benefits?
I personally look forward to the day when I hear: "And the award for Best Action Film goes to ..." Maybe on that day, "The Rock" and his kind will finally get the respect action fans know they so richly deserve.