Can Andy Serkis overcome Oscars bias against CGI performances?

In Wednesday’s Hollywood Reporter, there is an ad imploring voters to consider the motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” The holographic insert shows Serkis transforming into a chimp. Serkis was touted for playing the computer-generated Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” films and  the titular “King Kong” (2005) to no avail. 

If he couldn’t reap a bid for “Lord of the Rings” — a trilogy that contended twice for Best Picture before “Return of the King” won the top prize — how can he get in for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes?” It’s a prequel to a decades-old film franchise that scored 80% from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

The ad has an impressive pull quote from Richard Corliss of Time who says, “Serkis gives a performance so nuanced and powerful it may challenge the Academy to give an Oscar to an actor who is never seen in the film.” That’s a bit hyperbolic since only one of 30 Gold Derby Experts predict Serkis to get a nomination. His only advocate, Jeff Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) has Serkis in third place.

While voice performances got Robin Williams a special Golden Globe for “Aladdin” (1992) and Eddie Murphy a BAFTA nod for “Shrek” (2001), animated turns and performance capture are not Oscar-friendly. “Avatar” (2009) — the highest grossing film of all time and a nominee for nine Oscars — still could not reap recognition for stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana‘s computer-enhanced performances. The only performer in the history of the Oscars to contend for playing a non-human is Jeff Bridges who was a 1984 Best Actor nominee for playing an alien, albeit in human form, in “Starman.”

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Serkis has proven himself an accomplished performer even without any digital trickery altering his appearance. He got a BAFTA bid for “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” (2010) and a Golden Globe nod for the telefilm “Longford” (2006). If he’s looking for awards attention, he should focus more on these kinds of works rather than monkeying around in a “Planet of the Apes” reboot.

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