It’s a fair question. Should Keanu Reeves, star of The Matrix and John Wick and countless other films over the last three decades, have an Academy Award. Your gut is probably saying no, because Keanu Reeves does not typically make the kind of movies that merit Oscar recognition. There’s a bigger question in all of this, though, one about why we choose to give awards to certain kinds of films and performances and whether that’s really fair and right. It’s a question worth asking and it’s one we’re going to ask here. Should Keanu Reeves have an Oscar?
Let’s get into it.
Heck yes, Keanu Reeves should have an Oscar. It’s insane that he doesn’t. He’s been a legitimate movie star for 30 years and one of our nation’s greatest action stars for 25. Look at his resume: Point Break, Speed, the Matrix trilogy (somewhat diminishing returns, but still, the cultural impact alone), and now the John Wick franchise. His movies have made close to $2 billion at the box office, over $4 billion if you adjust for inflation. What has he ever done but be a solid dude and star in original action movies people enjoyed? And we’re not going to recognize that? Really? What are any of us doing here if that’s the case?
Think about it this way: The Oscars website says the awards exist to honor “excellence in filmmaking.” That’s great. I love excellent films. But at some point, this took on its own new meaning. It’s about honoring excellence in a certain kind of film, usually a very high-minded, low-ish budget, artistically enriching dramatic endeavor. And that’s fine. It’s great, even. A movie like Roma probably doesn’t exist if not for the hope of awards down the line, and there should always be a place for that type of work. We don’t have to take the statue out of anyone’s hand to give it to Keanu Reeves. We just need to find another way. We need to find a way to give Keanu Reeves an Oscar.
And this gets us to the rub. “Excellence in filmmaking” should mean more than one thing. A top-notch action movie has just as much value as a quote-unquote Oscar movie. It requires a different skill set, sure, but it still requires skill, which you can see as soon as you watch an action movie made with less-than-excellent replacements.
Look at this scene from John Wick. It’s violent and wordless but also kind of beautiful.
Do you see how Keanu moves? Do you see the intensity and the fluidity of his whole body as he glides around that house? It’s almost ballet, really, which is a heck of a thing to say about a movie in which a hitman murders the entire Russian mob because Theon Greyjoy killed his puppy. It’s true, though. I’ll concede that it’s a different kind of acting. But it requires the same amount of dedication and training, and the same effort in creating a character, and, well, it’s all pretty excellent. Trophy, please.
It’s not even just Keanu. I’m using him as an example to make a point. Do you realize that Harrison Ford doesn’t have an Oscar? Harrison Ford doesn’t have an Oscar! What kind of fancypants bozo circus are we running if we haven’t figured out how to give filmmaking’s highest honor to the guy who played Han Solo and Indiana Jones and Dr. Richard Kimble in the single most rewatchable movie of all-time, The Fugitive? That’s insane. It’s shameful. It’s shameful and insane. He’s only even been nominated once, in 1986, for Witness. Zoom out to 30,000 feet and look at it and tell me I’m wrong. Someday soon he’s going to get a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars and it’ll be nice, I guess, but it’ll feel like a consolation prize at that point. “Well, none of your widely beloved films were good enough for us individually, but you sure made a lot of them, so here you go.” I’m mad. I’m actually mad now.
What’s the solution here? I don’t know. That’s not my job. Maybe we separate out the awards into categories like they do at the Emmys or Golden Globes. Best drama, best action, best comedy, etc. Critics will argue that it would dilute the honor and extend an already bloated ceremony. To that I would say: 1) The honor is already tainted because whole swaths of the industry are being written off as unworthy no matter how much effort and skill they put into a project, and 2) figure it out. “Because it will be hard” is not a reason to allow injustice to go uncorrected. Right now, the only way for our best action stars and comedic actors to have a shot at the most prestigious award in their field is to stop doing the thing they’re great at — the thing the people love them for — to try their hand at a more serious, awards-y role. That’s not ideal.
My stance on awards shows has always been this: They’re all very silly and subjective and political, and we could do away with them entirely for all I care. But if we’re going to do them, let’s at least try to do them right. Give Keanu an Oscar. And Harrison Ford. And Tom Cruise, too, Jesus Christ. Excellence in filmmaking is excellence in filmmaking, even if it’s making films about wicked assassins and badass space cowboys. Come on.
Someone has to draw a line somewhere. It takes nothing away from John Wick or Keanu Reeves to say “it’s a fun movie and a great performance but not at the technical level of a film like Roma or The Favourite.” They’re doing different things with different goals in mind. For action movies, and especially the big-budget ones that are dominating the box office now, the goal is money. So much money. And when they pull it off, everyone involved gets very rich and gets the adoration of the public. Isn’t that enough? Not to go Full Draper on you here, but that’s the recognition you get for that type of film. That’s what the money is for.
To honor the movies with Oscars, too, would leave the smaller and artsier movies with nothing of their own. They’d be relegated to the back of the room to make room for the big shoot-em-up stars and the next-day discussion would be all about how the 55th Marvel movie swept the action categories instead of about a beautiful, moving film that could really use the bump. Can’t we let them have one thing? One night?
And adding to the ceremony is a non-starter. We just got that sucker down to a respectable a-tick-over-three-hours and we had to go hostless to do it. Now you want to add whole extra categories for action and comedy, presumably also with best male and female performances? That’s six extra awards, even if we don’t do ones for supporting roles! We’ll be there all night! No one wants or needs that.
And another thing: Is Keanu Reeves even that good of an actor? Really? He’s nice, sure, and good at what he does, but would any of his movies truly be that much worse with another replacement level actor in the lead roluuuuuugggggghhhhhh are any of you buying this? I’m not, and I’m the one trying to make the case. I think I got myself too fired up writing the stuff about giving Keanu an Oscar. Maybe I should have done the Case Against first. Eh. Whatever. Keanu rules. It’s stupid that he’s going to go his entire career and have an awards shelf with like one MTV moonman on it while Woody Allen has three Oscars. It’s not right. Fix it.
Give Keanu Reeves a freaking Oscar, geez.