When it comes down to who we nominate for acting prizes at the Academy Awards, they tend to fall into a few different boxes. There are the biopic performances where an actor faithfully recreates the likeness, voice, and mannerisms of a famous person. There are character dramas. Some of them are quiet and contemplative. Some of them are boisterous and filled with scenery-chewing. Then sometimes we get the “instant movie star” performance where an actor — usually a young woman — bursts onto the scene with a luminous, eye-grabbing performance that takes them to a new strata of actor in the business. We’ve spent decades training ourselves to think that this is what good acting is, the kind that should be recognized.
But great acting is in every single kind of movie. Comedy and horror are the two often neglected genres with the most vocal advocates, but great acting extends out to action films, fantasy pictures, lighthearted musicals, and beyond. Plus, great performances can come from anywhere, regardless of age, race, or country of origin. It’s not just the same 15 white Hollywood stars year after year.
People adore these movies. You would be hard-pressed to find many people who dislike “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (though I happen to be one of them). Yes, they are dazzled by the action set pieces, but what makes them cry is the humanity at the core. Just because the performance qualities aren’t the sole focus or easily identifiable in these big spectacle movies doesn’t mean they aren’t there. “Gigi,” “The Last Emperor,” and “The Return of the King” couldn’t be the overwhelming awards successes they were without them.