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.