No matter what you think about the Academy Awards (and there is whole wide spectrum of thought as to their relevance and accuracy) there is no question that The Oscars are the pinnacle of filmmaking honors. There isn’t any other organization, ceremony, or statue in the film industry that has quite the prestige. So, it should probably piss you off that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science doesn’t offer an award for Stunt Coordinators.
Yep, you read that right. They don’t even get awards in that weird little untelevised pre-show thing that they do before the awards telecast. It’s not a passive exclusion either. Each year for more than two decades, the Academy has actively rejected the creation of an award for Stunt Coordinators.
So, since The Academy doesn’t do these masters of cinematic mayhem any justice, we’re going to pretend that they do. Like our other Oscar Prediction pieces, we’ll offer some insight into how the (fictional) nominees were chosen and who we think will win (noted in red):
J.J. Perry, Argo
Just look how busy the guy was in 2012. Argo and Django Unchained (for which he choreographed the fights) are both Academy Award-nominated films in their own right. Imagine the planning and preparation that went into just the opening sequence of Argo revolving around the raid on the American compound. He also did Safe, which had some really insane close-quarters sequences with martial arts and weaponry intermingled.
Plus, there’s that Sam Peckinpah-esque slow motion shoot out in Get the Gringo, along with the huge car stunts in the opening were iconic Mel Gibson madness. Several of the films Perry stunt coordinated in 2012 were on my list of favorite action films this year, so it’s his breadth of quality work that is so astonishing and well deserving of Oscar recognition, but with the momentum of Argo, why wouldn’t he get swept up in it and recognized here too?
R.A. Rondell, The Avengers
R.A. Rondell is Hollywood Stunt Royalty. And that isn’t a slight on any of the other nominees listed here. If you asked any of these nominees, they would probably tell you that Rondell is a legend. In his earlier days the man Stunt Coordinated such films as Top Gun and two Star Trek films. Then scatter Waterworld and the two Matrix sequels into the mix too.
In 2012 he acts as Stunt Coordinator for the biggest hit of the year, The Avengers, as well as two Soderbergh joints. The former is a miracle movie. Everything seems to have clicked right into place, but in reality nothing just “clicks” in Hollywood. The Avengers is a product of enormous hard work, and none of the dreams of writers or the director could have become reality without the stunt work from Rondell.
The third act is an all-timer. With Earth’s Mightiest Heroes battling it out against an invading alien army, Rondell coordinated a phenomenal battle sequence that must have been a logistical nightmare. And that’s just the third act. Sure, there are a lot of digital effects at play as there are in most any sci-fi blockbuster these days, but Rondell infuses hefty amounts of grounded, physical reality into these massive, CGI-laden set pieces.
Sy Hollands, The Dark Knight Rises
Sy Hollands has served as Assistant Stunt Coordinator on every Christopher Nolan film since Batman Begins. The Dark Knight Rises appears to be her biggest project to date and one of the first films she’s taken over the reigns on as the Stunt Coordinator. This in the same year she acted as 2nd Unit Coordinator on John Carter. No pressure!
At any rate, The Dark Knight Rises was the source of much geek debate this year regarding everything ranging from quality to its loyalty to the source character, but it’s doubtful anyone could argue that the sheer scope of the film was massive. With IMAX cameras in play and sequences absolutely filling the streets of Gotham, Hollands had a ton of work on her hands.
Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia, Esa W. Sie and Yandi “Piranha” Sutsina, The Raid: Redemption
The Raid was a work of such singular, earth-shattering action brilliance that it simply cannot be ignored. Director Gareth Evans clearly does things his own way, and the stunt work on The Raid is no different. IMDB lists the 3 aforementioned names as the stunt coordinators for the film (and how do two people on the same set both have the nickname “Piranha”?), and the director and two of its stars (Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian) as action choreographers.
If we are being realistic, American action films certainly have way more than just one person calling the shots and coordinating the action, but in Western productions, usually only one person gets the Coordinator credit. Here, the Academy (as envisioned by me) has made an exception to its (non-existent) rules to nominate the whole Raid team for Oscar recognition.
The film is almost wall-to-wall action ranging from gun battles down to horrific, desperate, fist fights. While the massive scale like in The Dark Knight Rises or Skyfall may be missing, the film entirely lives and dies on its non-stop action. And the detail, clarity, geography, and authenticity of the action in The Raid is revelatory and well deserving of Oscar recognition.
Gary Powell, Skyfall
Gary Powell has been the stunt coordinator for all three of the Daniel Craig James Bond films, and the stunts in those films have been absolutely stellar. But this is about 2012, and Skyfall is one of the biggest and most successful films of the year. Having earned over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, it’s clearly an audience favorite, and you don’t get worldwide praise for a James Bond film without top notch action.
From the massive opening chase sequence complete with construction equipment tearing train cars in half, to the stripped down third act with a castle defense vibe, Gary Powell’s work here is a wonderful example of how the action of James Bond’s world can succeed marvelously here in the 21 st century.
And the Award Goes To
Since you won’t hear a winner on Sunday as we’ve invented this entire Oscar category, we also get to choose who wins. Thanks to PricewaterhouseCoopers for keeping us on hold for thirty minutes, but the name inside the envelope is…
Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia, Esa W. Sie, and Yandi “Piranha” Sutsina for The Raid
It isn’t the biggest film among the nominees, but it is the most seminal in the action genre for the past decade. Conceived and crafted entirely in Indonesia, The Raid announces an entire country as a major action film hotbed, and the film should be a shot in the arm to Hollywood filmmakers. Even though the action set pieces created by each of our nominees are fantastic, I believe The Raid remains a breath of fresh air to an industry that is constantly striving for bigger and better and more. What the Stunt Coordinators did with this movie is smaller, more focused, and fantastically exciting.
I don’t know if the studio system could ever really craft a film like The Raid. These Stunt Coordinators were responsible for choreographing and organizing probably 85% of the screen time. That is how much action is packed into this film. And when you add actors who are doing their own stunts and minimal-to-no CGI work, a film like this simply takes an enormous amount of time to shoot. And who knows if Hollywood can ever afford to take a page out of these filmmakers’ book. But I vote that they try. Rahmadia, Sie and Sutsina created an action masterpiece, and what they lacked in scope and budget they more than made up for in brilliant choreography, staging, and brutality.
And since this entire piece is about celebrating great stunt coordination, here are some runners up who just missed the cut:
- Chad Randall, Act of Valor
- Paul Jennings, Jack Reacher
- Steve Ritzi, Looper
- Larnell Stovall, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
- Jeffrey J. Dashnaw, Django Unchained
Did we miss anyone? Are we dead-on? Who would you have nominated? Who deserves the win in your book? Feel free to chime in to the discussion below.