For Your Consideration: An Oscar for Casting Directors

Have you ever watched the opening credits of a movie and thought about the work of the people who have made that film happen? Traditional opening credits include the main actors, director, producer, writer, cinematographer, hair, make-up, and costume designers, art director, editor, composer, sound and vfx director,  and casting director. All of these artists are eligible to win an Oscar for their efforts except the casting director (The Best Picture Oscar is awarded to the producer). Casting is a field in the film industry where women flourish; is it a coincidence that contributions of casting directors are largely overlooked?

Why are casting directors the odd ones out? The Emmys now honor casting directors, and the Academy now has a branch for casting directors. Why is there still no award? Some argue that casting directors don’t make final casting decisions so they should not be eligible for an award, but by that argument cinematographers and editors wouldn’t be eligible either. Who knows whether an acting choice was the idea of the actor or the writer or the director. Does that mean actors shouldn’t be eligible because all the choices were not their own? I think the tide is turning and in about 5 years or so, we’ll see a casting category at the Oscars. I predict the casting nominees will be CDs who cast large ensemble pieces or who discover new, vibrant talent.  Also, CDs who thought of casting an actor in light could receive this honor. Another casting challenge is finding actors to portray real people from history and biopics are some of the most successful properties come Oscar time. Finally, casting multiple versions of the same person (for example a film like 2002’s Iris) could prove award worthy as well.

Let’s look back at  a few of the last 10 years and consider what would or should have been nominated and who should have won.

2005

Nominees:  Avy Kaufman for Brokeback Mountain, Sarah Finn & Randi Hiller for Crash, Chris Gray and Kimbelry Hardin for Hustle & Flow, Avy Kaufman for Capote, and Mary Venieu for Sin City

Anyone who knows me knows that I loathe Crash (seriously, I really really hate this movie. It’s Best Picture win still bothers me 10 years later)  but I definitely think that the ensemble piece would have been nominated and possibly if there were an Oscar for casting, Crash might have won that award and Brokeback Mountain might not have been robbed. My personal choice would have been Sin City, the range of talent in that film is stunning and they’re all giving top notch performances to match the cool comic style. Rutger Hauer, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Carla Gugino, Benicio del Toro, Powers Boothe, Nick Stahl, Elijah Wood, Michael Clarke Duncan… this was some cast.

2007

Nominees: Ellen Chenoweth for No Country for Old Men, Avy Kaufman for American Gangster, Laray Mayfield for Zodiac, Richard Hicks & David Rubin for Hairspray, Jina Jay for Atonement and Laura Rosenthal for I’m Not There.

This is another solid year. Casting a musical is a daunting task, and I had to give props to the Hairspray team. Children are also difficult to cast as are younger and older versions of the same person which is why Atonement, with it’s Oscar nominated turn from Saoirse Ronan, makes the list. Zodiac works so well due to the three hefty talents at it’s center (Gyllenhaal, Downey, and Ruffalo), and No Country for Old Men is still best known for it’s inventive use of Javier Bardem. For me, though, there’s no greater casting achievement than I’m Not There. It’s got Cate Blanchett as a gender bending Bob Dylan, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger as two sides of the same coin, and then Richard Gere and a little kid. Throw in chronically underappreciated Ben Whishaw and you’ve got a masterpiece.

2010

Nominees: Mary Vernieu for Black Swan, Laura Rosenthal for The Kids Are All Right, Kerry Barden & Paul Schnee Winter’s Bone, Ellen Chenoweth True Grit, Sheila Jaffe The Fighter, Lisa Miller Katz for Easy A

In a year with few true stand out films, there a few casts that draw special attention. The Kids Are All Right has some very strong performances and believable teenagers which are always difficult to cast. Also, more Ruffalo which is never a bad thing. Winter’s Bone was the breakout for now omnipresent Jennifer Lawrence, and The Fighter garnered multiple acting nominations, but I would give it to Black Swan for bringing together unexpected choices Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis along with the amazing Vincent Cassell 9and lest we forget Winona Ryder).

2013

Nominees: Sophie Blanvillain & Bahijja El Amrani for Blue is the Warmest Color, Kerry Barden & Paul Schnee for Prisoners, Ellen Chenoweth for Inside Llewyn Davis, Francine Maisler for 12 Years a Slave,  Tracy”Twinkie” Byrd & Nina Hettinger for Fruitvale Station.

This is another strange but exciting year. I’d like to point out that any repeat nominations are purely coincidental, I looked at the films released first and then looked to see who cast them. It shows that certain casting directors are always at the top of their game. So, I chose Blue is the Warmest Color because of the magical pairing or Léa Seydoux and the breathtakingly awesome Adèle Exarchopoulos. Prisoners stands out due to the top notch casting on all levels. Evry actor in that film could carry any movie. 12 Years a Slave gets a nod for “discovering” Lupita Nyong’o.  I would give the victory to Fruitvale Station mainly because of its young leads, Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz.

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