It's a great year for animal characters in movies, as I've noted elsewhere recently. And now two of the most notable performances are being talked about for Academy Awards. One is an actual beast, while the other is a man who plays a beast.
First, there's Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier who plays an Asta-like pup in The Artist (also seen this year in Water for Elephants). Begun by Movieline's S.T. VanAirsdale, the cute little canine already has a Facebook campaign and Twitter hashtag (not to mention he's skateboarding on TV for promotion) in the hopes that he'll be recognized in some capacity. Maybe the Academy can quickly devise a new animal-based category (competition could be animals in Beginners, War Horse, The Turin Horse and Le Havre), similar to the Cannes Palm Dog Award (which Uggie won this year). I think there's too many great animal performances to just honor him with a special trophy. Besides, as Awards Daily's Sasha Stone points out, Uggie wasn't even the only dog in the role (of course, it can also be said that many actors share roles with stuntmen and doubles, too). At the very least, I think the Oscars ceremony should feature an animal montage.
Then there's Andy Serkis, go-to-guy for excellent motion-capture performances, including this year's acclaimed gig as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Talk of giving Serkis consideration for an Oscar has been going on since the film's release -- not to mention in the past for playing Gollum and King Kong -- and I wrote about it in depth at the time (also elsewhere), stating that he deserves a special award, but so does veteran primate performer Peter Elliott (most recently seen in Project Nim reenactments). However, Fox is now pushing him for Best Supporting Actor in ads and trade articles, which is far less likely. One question I always ask people regarding Serkis's skills is, why doesn't anyone praise his non-mo-cap work (I loved him this year in both Burke and Hare and Brighton Rock, neither of which were great films overall). Anyway, a special award could recognize his work for The Adventures of Tintin, which he's also awesome in.
I suspect that the campaign for Serkis, which also has its own Twitter and hashtag support, is primarily to market the film's DVD/Blu-ray release in a couple weeks. Yet the debate rages on, with many upset that Serkis should even be considered alone for a performance that also required a lot of effects artists.
What are people saying about Oscar consideration for Uggie and Andy? Here's The Conversation heard around the blogosphere and Twitter:
The Artist’s wonder dog — confidant, co-star and lifesaving sidekick of the film’s exiled silent-film icon George Valentin — delivers as nuanced a performance as either leading man Jean Dujardin or leading lady Bérénice Bejo, and all while adhering most strictly to the covenants of silent-cinema storytelling. Intertitles schmintertites! From his connection to his master to his lingering close-ups and beyond, Uggie is director Michel Hazanavicius’s purest model of physical expression. That he and his trainers have yet to receive so much as an honorary nod beyond the Palm Dog prize praising the year’s most noteworthy Cannes-ine (ahem) performance is an oversight worth correcting. - S.T. VanAirsdale, Movieline
For real, guys. Join the Consider Uggie Facebook page and promote the Twitter hashtag #Consider Uggie. And who knows, if the movement is successful, Uggie may actually have some competition. There’s a dog in “Beginners” too, another Jack Russell terrier, Cosmo. And he does speak – in subtitles, no less. - Melena Ryzik, The Carpetbagger (New York Times)
Uggie might not win an Oscar, but that doesn't mean he can't receive some critical love. There just needs to be one critics group man (and woman) enough to stand up for a dog. - Christopher Rosen, Moviefone
@LouLeminick: Biggest #NYFCC disappointment: no special award for best performance of 2011, Jack Russell terrier in "The Artist.''
@WeinsteinFilms: Consider UGGIE, the wonder dog! Spread the word! Help the lovable co-star of #TheArtist get recognized!
@Phil_on_Film: Be brave, Oscar voters! Every dog should have its day!
@nia_loves_films: however wonderful that would be, I'm not holding out much hope for such diversity #Interrupersgate #Sennagate
@Maimaimaiii: I love dogs so I'll have to be a part of #ConsiderUggie
@cinemablogrpher: Best Performance by a Domestic Animal? Joining Uggie in Oscar's new category should be Arthur, Paw Paw, Inca, & Freida Pinto.
@AwardsDaily: You know it's a fairly lackluster Oscar year when the only excitement anyone's had has been the #muppetoscars and the #uggie campaign.
What he does when he’s wearing those green dots is magic. Other, more renowned conventional thesps have proved underwhelming when handed the same motion-capture opportunities. But if it was Daniel Day-Lewis who had created Caesar to such acclaim — mind you, I’m not certain Day-Lewis, or anyone, could equal what Serkis accomplished — I suspect that the debate about whether motion-capture performances deserve a fair shake at the Oscars might be very different. - Jeff Labrecque, PopWatch Entertainment Weekly
Of course, this isn’t an idle thing for Fox, since an Oscar nod for Serkis would be a newsworthy, groundbreaking thing, and consequently great publicity for a film that has already done much better business than many expected. - Russ Fischer, /Film
But the question must be asked: Why not go for best actor rather than supporting? Without Caesar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is nothing. - Scott Collura, IGN
It's tough, while agree that Serkis was phenomenal as the ape, I think the statue should be as much his as it was the dozens and hundreds of animators at WETA who made Caesar come to life. It's that sort of complication that will probably make him not win, but it would be cool to see him nominated. - Paul Tassi, JoBlo.com
Serkis provides the movement for Caesar; he brings the character to life, that's for sure. There's even a certain degree of nuance there, arguably. But, BUT: to suggest that Andy Serkis and Andy Serkis alone should be rewarded for that character is to do a gigantic disservice to everyone at Weta who covered him in pixels and made him swing. - Ali, The Shiznit
What I’d really like to see is the day when Hollywood’s beautiful people, the Paul Walkers, the Jessica Albas, the Keanus Reeve, are digitized, so that they can never age, or even have to show up to the set, while homely, classically-trained Englishmen work tirelessly behind the scenes to emote for them. We’d still get to see Paul Walker onscreen, but through the magic of performance capture, it’d be Paul Walker infused with the performance of an actor. - Vince Mancini, FilmDrunk
@filmnerdjamie: I DO hope Serkis gets a nod...just not holding my breath given Academy's snobby track-record against him.
@TheMcphailure: Yeah, I would love it of Andy Serkis got an award. I'm totally for it
@AlexJCaesar: I agree with the push to get Andy Serkis nominated for an Oscar. After seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes twice, he deserves it.
@Majiesto: The man definitely deserves it!
@ONoesUDidnt: He at least deserves consideration.
@thewetnoodle: How great would it be if Andy Serkis finally got some Academy recognition for the brilliant work he's done on a number of films?
@ScottEWeinberg: Perhaps the talent that Andy Serkis possesses is beyond the skill of the Academy to recognize.
@chas_n: Serkis' performance lacked a physical aesthetic that is inherent to "Best Actor". It's not called "Best Performance"
@davidstripinis: You can't have Andy Serkis get nominated for best actor AND call Tintin animation.
Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.