The Academy Award nominees for last year's movies were just announced, and one prominent actor's name wasn't included among them, even though he was featured to universal acclaim in one of 2011's biggest movies. I mean, of course, Andy Serkis, who played the chimpanzee named Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes through the technology of motion capture:
His performance as Caesar was vivid, nuanced, heart-wrenching. And as I wrote when Rise opened, Serkis is basically our first avatar-based movie star, renowned for the 3D digital characters he plays, though few who enjoy his performances in theaters know who he is, and still fewer (beyond dedicated geek cineastes) could identify him in real life, were they to pass him on the street. Despite the acclaim for his Apes performance, which won him a nomination by the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and despite a a lobbying effort for an Oscar nomination by the movie's studio, 20th Century Fox, which ran a "For Your Consideration" ad in trade journals for Serkis as Caesar with the headline “The Time is Now," Serkis got no nomination.
Here's where it gets interesting to me: The Academy Award nominations are made by filmmakers in their respective category. Directors nominate directors, screenwriters nominate screenwriters... and actors nominate actors. So Serkis was specifically snubbed by fellow actors. This despite his popular co-star in Apes, James Franco, lobbying for Serkis' motion-captured performance:
“What is needed is recognition for him, now," wrote Franco in an online appeal for Serkis, "Not later when this kind of acting is de rigueur, but now, when he has elevated this fresh mode of acting into an art form. And it is time for actors to give credit to other actors.” But unlike Franco, not enough actors stepped up for Serkis.
Of course, it's quite possible Serkis received a lot of votes from fellow actors, but just not enough to make the nomination pool, and this we'll never know. Though it's kind of strange that Kenneth Branagh, Nick Nolte, and Christopher Plummer got nods for little-seen movies My Week with Marilyn, Warrior, and Beginners, respectively. Then again, these actors are well-established, while the overall status of avatar-based acting still isn't fully understood, recognized, or even respected. Not entirely surprising. After all, when the era of silent movies was reaching an end, actors from that era scoffed at the work of up-and-coming actors famous for their vocal performance. (See Sunset Boulevard.) And from that perspective, at least some of the Serkis snub probably comes from actors who fear a future that may not benefit the well-known performers of today. And who fear the rise of avatar-based actors.