End Oscar segregation with better acting categories

(Mike Blake/Reuters) Look to my right and I see the Hollywood sign. This is all so crazy! Everybody seems so famous!

Look to my right, and I see the Hollywood sign. This is all so crazy! Everybody seems so famous! (Mike Blake/Reuters)

It’s Oscar season.

Periodically, someone emerges from the underbrush to complain that Best Actor and Best Actress categories are still separate. Why would you segregate by gender, after all? You don’t judge Best Sound Editing By a Woman and Best Sound Editing By a Man. Acting is acting. And in few of these roles is anyone required to lift large objects out of the front line — and even if they were, the consensus is that women are just fine doing that, thank you very much. And it would certainly shorten the evening.

And if there’s one thing that requires shortening, it is the Academy Awards. And certain cakes.

I love the Academy Awards. They are a tribute to excess. The Oscars are like a violin solo — the ceremony appears to go on much longer than it actually does. You glance at your watch after three hours and six Tributes To The Horse In Motion Pictures and find that 10 minutes have passed. You go into the awards a comparatively young woman and stagger out hours later, haggard and broken in spirit, as Dorothy Parker would say. Even by objective standards, it goes on a very long time. You could watch nearly half of “The Hobbit: Part 1 of 8 (in 19 Dimensions)” in the time it takes to reach from Supporting Performance to Best Picture. I know nothing is supposed to succeed like excess, but I cannot help the creeping suspicion that Oscar Wilde only said that because it rhymed. Really, excess can be a little much — indeed, a lot much. We need to be spared something.

After all, we’re all watching. This is one of those Major Awards Shows we have all suddenly agreed, with the advent of social media, that we need to watch together. With Twitter, we’re all commentators, and we have to have something to comment about. People can barely generate material fast enough for us to comment all over it, like kudzu. Look at all of us watching the Super Bowl. Look at all of us watching the Grammys. It is fun to talk about the same thing, for once, before retreating back into our custom-tailored corridors of the Internet, paved only with Things Our Friends Like and Things Our Viewing Habits Recommend.

But I’m not merely making the case to spare myself 30 minutes. I think there are better categories than Best Actor and Best Actress. As a more practical alternative to the present system, I propose giving the award to Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep in alternating years, every so often pausing to throw it into the air and force George Clooney, Hillary Swank and newcomers like Jennifer Lawrence and Ryan Gosling to scramble for it. It will combine all the joy of a bouquet toss with the added joy of not actually being at a wedding. If we really wanted to stick to tradition, we could almost give it to Streep every year and then yank it away and fling it to Natalie Portman.

The trouble with combining the two, you could point out, is that men and women in today’s Hollywood are offered, and play, different types of roles. One could reply that really, all actors are always playing different types of roles. Why not do it by height? Why not by weight? And isn’t the gender gap a problem even with the separate categories? An equal playing field might be a good incentive to create more films revolving around women like Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” whose roles don’t consist of Being Someone’s Wife While You Cry.

If you want multiple acting categories, judge the actors, instead, by something that’s actually within their control, like the number of manly tears shed or how many prosthetic noses they opt to sport.

We could simply opt for Best Acting in a Comedy and Best Acting in a Drama. (What happened to all the nominations and awards for comedies? Not the obligatory Wistful Comedies About Families Struggling With Dysfunction Whose Posters All Use The Same Font. Comedies in general. Those so seldom are rewarded, but they’re exercises in just as much skill. You can’t just cue people to laugh with a lugubrious John Williams score. It takes just as much finesse as tragedy, and much greater precision.)

If not, here are some other possible categories:

  • Best Performance By Someone Old We Are Worried Might Die Who Deserves To Win Something
  • Best Performance in a Biopic of a Person the Audience Actually Recognizes
  • Best Performance in an Artsy Movie No One Saw
  • Best Performance In A Movie Seen By More Than 100,000 People
  • Best Manic Pixie Performance
  • Most Convincing Reading of the Line “It’s An Honor Just To Be Nominated”
  • Least Embarrassing Golden Globes Speech
  • Best Acting With A Green Screen
  • Best Performance For Which You Gain or Lose Weight
  • Best Heartstring-Tugging Child
  • Best Performance In A Movie Your Parents Liked
  • Best Performance In Which Your Face Looks Really Different And Everyone Says “Ooh” At The Poster
  • Best Performance With A Director Who Was Really Hard To Work With
  • Best Weird Thing James Franco Thought Would Be Interesting To Try
  • Best Portrayal of a Recovering Addict
  • Best Surprisingly Grounded Performance In A Superhero Film
  • Best Performance in a Quentin Tarantino movie
  • Best Performance as an Inspiring Teacher
  • Best Performance With Cancer, AIDS or other Serious Disease
  • Best Performance Where You Do A Lot of A-C-T-I-N-G and Arm-Waving
  • Best Performance Where You Just Sit There And Your Eyes Get Sad
  • Best Performance With A Lot of Nudity That Was Probably Unnecessary But Not Unwelcome
  • Best Performance In A Movie That Involves Running Away From No More Than One Explosion
  • Best Musician Trying To Cross Over Into Acting
  • Best Performance By A Character That Is Kind Of Aging And Losing It And Wants To Stay On Top And Prove He Or She’s Still Got It
  • Best Performance Involving A Single Manly Tear
  • Best Performance Where You Have To Age Citizen-Kane-Style Over Years And Years
  • Best Appearance In Movie Where Dog Dies
  • Best Making Way Too Big A Deal About Playing A Gay Character
  • Best Acting On A Boat
  • Best Acting In Sandals
  • Best Acting Near Nazis or Neo-Nazis
  • Best Acting By A Young Whippersnapper Whom The Academy Wishes To Encourage

But knowing the Academy, these suggestions will backfire horribly and it will add another hour consisting entirely of the above suggestions, and cut nothing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

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