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The best movie stunts of 2022

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Oscars are tomorrow. Awards will be given out for acting, directing, cinematography, film editing, but none for stunts despite the fact that blockbusters, including "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," have some dazzling and death-defying stunts in them. Bilge Ebiri is a film critic at New York Magazine and a champion of the stunts industry. He joins us now from New York. Mr. Ebiri, thanks so much for being with us.

BILGE EBIRI: It's good to be here.

SIMON: You've made the case for a stunt category Oscar back in 2019. Why?

EBIRI: It was really built out of a frustration at seeing how much stunt professionals had lobbied for years to try and get the academy to recognize stunts. This is a - campaign is maybe not the right word, but it's been going on for, you know, more than three decades. The stunt professional who has really spearheaded this over the years is a man by the name of Jack Gill. He's a veteran stunt coordinator. And I wanted to highlight that not just because, you know, I feel it's the right thing to do, but I actually think - in these days when the Oscars are always worrying about viewership and things like that, I actually think a stunts category would really create great television.

SIMON: Why haven't the Oscars gone ahead and created something for stunt performers?

EBIRI: When I talked to Jack Gill about it, he mentioned a couple of different things. One of the things is - and it's an obvious one, is that the academy is generally not in favor of adding more categories to a show that they've always worried is already going on too long. Another thing that Jack said that he had heard, I think, mostly anecdotally from other people in the academy, was that there was a worry that if they introduced the best stunt Oscar, that a lot of stunt people would start getting injured in an effort to create more and more elaborate stunts to win awards and things like that.

SIMON: There are film associations that do give out stunt awards, aren't there?

EBIRI: Yes, there are. The SAG Awards actually have a stunt ensemble award that they've given out for years. Just a - several years ago, the Canada's equivalent of the Oscars, the Canadian Academy, introduced a stunt award. And, of course, at Vulture, we just inaugurated our own best stunt awards just this past week.

SIMON: Well, let's talk about some of the awards that Vulture gave out. Best stunt in an action film - the final dogfight in "Top Gun: Maverick."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOP GUN: MAVERICK")

TOM CRUISE: (As Capt. Pete Maverick Mitchell) Tell me when you see smoke in the air.

MILES TELLER: (As Lt. Bradley Rooster Bradshaw) Smoke in the air. Smoke in the air.

CRUISE: (As Capt. Pete Maverick Mitchell) Hang on.

EBIRI: Yeah, well, you know, it's a - you know, it's the big, climactic dogfight in that film because so much of the film is about the importance of actual pilots piloting these planes as opposed to drones and things like that. This sequence where Tom Cruise and Miles Teller are in this old, beat-up F-14 fighting against a next-generation fighter from, you know, an unnamed enemy country - the whole sequence kind of symbolizes the movie.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another category, best vehicular stunt - your winner, the Batmobile-Penguin chase in "The Batman."

EBIRI: What you're seeing on screen isn't necessarily always all that clear and shot in full light and things like that. And that sequence in "The Batman" is shot in the rain. It's shot from a variety of angles where you just see angles of the Batmobile.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

COLIN FARRELL: (As the Penguin) I got you. Take that, you frigging psycho. I got you (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGING REVVING)

EBIRI: It's a beautiful scene, and it's a great example of how, really, in the end, it's not just about the stunt; it's about how it's used and how it's shot and how it's edited and how it works within the context of a scene.

SIMON: You gave an overall award to a person. The name is not familiar to a lot of us, but you hope that more people will get to know about his contribution. Scott Adkins, what can you tell us about him?

EBIRI: Scott Adkins is a martial artist and actor who's been working for a long time. You know, he's often seen as a villain in bigger movies. You know, he's in one of "The Expendables" movies as one of the bad guys. But he's also an actor who has been the lead in a number of low-budget action films that - many of them have gone straight to video. A lot of them haven't had big theatrical releases.

But in the action community and in the film community, those movies have a following. And he has a following because he's capable of just doing incredible things on screen. Some people call him the human special effect. The film that he was singled out for in our stunt awards was a film called "Accident Man: Hitman's Holiday." It's just filled with incredible fight sequences that are really designed to highlight the skill of the individuals doing the fighting.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT SCENE)

SIMON: Bilge Ebiri is film critic at New York magazine and a voice for stunt artists. Thanks so much for being with us.

EBIRI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.