No movie captivated moviegoers this year quite like Baz Luhrmann’s trippy Elvis biopic, and rightly so. The film captures the meteoric rise and devastating decline of Elvis Presley in a way that only Luhrmann can accomplish with raw pizzazz. This marvelous feat by one of cinema’s greatest living authors results in a dazzling and dizzying spectacle that is now considered one of this year’s Oscar favorites, likely to sweep nominations for the 2024 Oscars in artistic categories and techniques such as Best Director, Best Actor. , Best Supporting Actor, Production Design, Cinematography, Visual Effects, Makeup/Hairstyle, Costume Design and Editing, all well deserved. This could be Luhrmann’s big year, having only been nominated once for Red Mill! back in 2002.
The real draw, of course, is Elvis’ musical catalog, which Luhrmann cleverly uses to show off his rawest talent: dancing. It’s that “jiggle,” as the movie puts it, that makes girls scream, the hip swings that make parents moan, and the pelvic thrusts that infuriate politicians. Austin Butler does a great job of getting Presley’s moves right, surprisingly. This begs the question of whether the film’s choreography will be rewarded as generously as everyone else once awards season is fully underway. The short answer is no. Unless the year was 1935, 1936, or 1937, the only years the Academy awarded an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction to three films: 1936 Broadway Melody, The Great Ziegfeldand The damsel in distressrespectively.
This means that for the past 85 or so years, some of the best dance moments in movie history have been largely ignored by the Oscars as craftsmanship. It’s true. Let’s sing in the rain, Flashdance, Chicago, West Side Story (both the original and the remake), and even Baz Luhrmann’s first film, Ballroom strictly, have all been largely ignored by the Academy when it comes to dance direction, and that’s a shame. A serious shame. Where would the world be without the fingers of the mind Bring it on?
Dance scenes are often the scenes that audiences enjoy the most
What Would Cinema Be Without Patrick Swayze And Jennifer Gray’s Iconic Lift Into The Air dirty dance? Or Tom Cruise’s smooth sock slide moves Risky business? How unforgettable was Jennifer Lopez’s pole dancing with Fiona Apple’s Criminal in Hustlers? Or the luscious lifts and jazz hands of Catherine Zeta-Jones Chicago? Last audition of Jennifer Beals in lightning dance? Or Billy Elliot? Period. The truth is that dance choreography is a profession in its own right. It’s a skill that requires practice and discipline, and often the success of the film depends on the absolute perfection of these movements.
In a movie like Elvis, where the artistry of dance is at the heart of the narrative, shouldn’t the craftsman be rewarded in the same way as some of the other filmmakers who win Oscar gold? In the case of Elvis, that would be Polly Bennett, who is credited on IMDB as the movement coach/choreographer responsible for training Butler to deliver. Thanks to their collaboration, the film was able to convincingly portray the magnanimous life of Elvis. Imagine if the dance didn’t fit or wasn’t screen worthy. Would that have been enough to kill the quality of the film? Most likely.
So if the Academy once rewarded dance craftsmen with an Oscar, why hasn’t it revived the category given all the incredible dance moments that have graced the silver screen over the past 85 years? Dance direction in movies like Mary Poppins, Grease, Newsies, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, True Lies, Austin Powers, Mean Girls, A League of Their Own, La La Land, Black Swan, and Notoriety have been largely ignored. It’s not like the category never existed; he did, for three golden years, in the middle of the Great Depression, in fact. Maybe they were onto something then.
The Academy can vote to reinstate the category
And it’s not as if the Academy does not change the composition of the categories. As recently as 2019, they were toying with categories, combining the Best Sound Editing category with its sister Best Sound Mixing and creating the giant Best Sound Editing and Mixing category. The Academy is not mistaken. These two categories deserve to be brought together. It makes sense. But so does the return of the Best Dance Direction category.
Why? Because musicals, dance scenes and performances will always exist in movies, especially good when they appear in unlikely movies like Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sun. And with the rise of the Tik Tok dance star, a Tik Tok movie isn’t too far-fetched and much more likely to get butts in seats or clicks for the stream or eyes on the nearly century-old awards show, which could use some younger viewers.
To add fire to the mix, it’s particularly intriguing to look at the campaign for there being a Best Casting Director category included in the lineup, which again makes sense. So why hesitate to add categories? Dislikes of a longer TV show? Not enough talent to nominate a candidate? Unaware that YouTube and TikTok have shown people love to dance and draw stares, and marketing dollars, away from stifling award shows? Maybe they don’t want to look old and desperate and be ridiculed for looking too much like the Grammys, or even worse, the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. There are the technical Oscars, which would allow the Academy to reward the craftsman of dance. The Emmys do. The Tonys do. Even the MTV Awards do. Adding these categories would be rewarding and, above all, entertaining. After all, it’s show business, and there’s no business without the show part.
It’s too late for Polly Bennett to get the accolade she deserves for bringing Elvis’ iconic moves to the silver screens, leaving us gasping and feeling stirred by Austin Butler. And thank goodness for Baz Luhrmann, who really outdoes himself, showing how great he is at filming the body in motion. He’s to Hollywood what Fosse was to Broadway, and it’s amazing to see him shine with Elvis. And maybe that’s why Luhrmann deserves his first Best Director award, in honor of all dance directors.
Life is a Cabaret old fart, indeed. Life is a cabaret.