It’s time the Oscars stopped idling, and gave loco-motion pictures their due

It’s time the Oscars stopped idling, and gave loco-motion pictures their due
You don’t get to be 90 without experiencing a few changes, and the Academy Awards are no exception. Of the 24 Oscar categories, most have been around since at least the 1940s, but a few are newer; the most recent addition was Best Animated Feature, added in 2001.

Others have fallen away. Best Dance Direction only lasted three years, 1935 to 1937. Best Unique and Artistic Picture went to Sunrise in 1928 and was never awarded again, which is a pity because it basically means Best Arthouse Film, and those don’t get enough Oscar love. The Academy has also rejected calls for Best Casting, Best Stunt Coordination and Best Title Design.

But we need to make next year’s Oscars the first to recognize Best Use of a Locomotive in a Moving Picture. Because for whatever reason, in two short months, 2018 has already become the year of the Train.

Most critics peg the start of the trend to Jan. 12. That was when the latest Liam Neeson action-thriller The Commuter opened, set almost entirely aboard a Manhattan-to-Long-Island express. The same week saw the release of Paddington 2, featuring a climactic steam-engine chase outside London. The next week brought Hostiles, whose final scene involves a character’s decision to get on a departing train. And the week after that gave us Maze Runner: The Death Cure, with a prisoner sprung from a high-speed train in the opening scene.

Johnny Depp in Murder on the Orient Express. Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century Fox via AP

Of course, there had already been some holdover railroadery from the previous year, courtesy of Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Murder on the Orient Express, and the Korean horror-thriller Train to Busan. And the trend only continued to pick up steam in February, which brought us Peter Rabbit (climax involves train journey to London), Black Panther (final battle on the tracks of a maglev train) and Clint Eastwood’s 15:17 to Paris, the most specifically trainy title since the Lumière brothers released Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat in 1895.

Whether the remainder of the year will have as much train traffic remains to be seen. (Ironically, there is no dedicated engine search engine online.) Trailers for Mission: Impossible 6 show Tom Cruise driving every kind of vehicle EXCEPT a train, while Ocean’s Eight seems to have a scene on a subway, which is close enough.

But sometimes trains come roaring out of the fog when you’re looking in the other direction. Holmes & Watson, Mary Poppins Returns and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald are all strong contenders for a little carriage trade.

And in any case, we need the Academy to step up before another year goes by without a train prize. If the Oscar had existed years ago, it might have meant statues for the otherwise overlooked Snowpiercer, Source Code, Back to the Future Part III and Strangers on a Train. And think of the matchups! 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express vs. The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three. A face-off between the 1987 comedies Throw Momma from the Train and Trains, Planes and Automobiles. And 1995, which not only gave us the romance Before Sunrise, but also Money Train.

Never mind the resurgence of the Western, or the future of superhero movies. Train films have been with us since the movies began, and it’s time we stopped idling and gave them their due.

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