The gold statues have all been handed out, the red carpets rolled up, and some of Hollywood’s best and brightest are likely still sleeping off very bad hangovers. Yes, the 2013 Oscar telecast is in the bag (see a full rundown of the Oscar winners and losers here), and while much of 2012’s great film work was recognized Sunday night, there is still one arena of filmmaking that was again overlooked: the title sequence.
For almost as long as the medium of cinema has existed, title sequences have been an important part of the movies. Traditionally used as a simple means of displaying a movie's title and to credit the cast and crew, the title sequence has evolved into an art form unto itself, often combining text, graphics, sound, animation, and music to set the stage for the movie that follows.
Elaborate title sequences became an increasingly prominent element of many films during the 1950s and '60s -- the so-called golden age of film title design -- thanks in large part to designers Saul Bass and Maurice Binder. Bass's many collaborations with legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock brought title design to the fore, The designer's iconic main titles for Hitchcock's "Psycho" and "North by Northwest" are perhaps as famous and recognizable as the films themselves. Similarly, Binder's many celebrated James Bond title sequences are in some cases more memorable than the somewhat forgettable 007 adventures that followed.
Though title sequences mostly fell out of favour with the New Hollywood generation of filmmakers in the late 1960s and '70s (since they represented a more old-fashioned mode of moviemaking), they continued to be an important part of many movies during this era. A few quiet decades later, title design experienced a bona fide renaissance in the mid 1990s due to designer Kyle Cooper's groundbreaking work on David Fincher's now classic thriller "Se7en." Cooper's macabre intro for the film set a new bar for modern title sequence design and spawned countless imitators. Since "Se7en," sophisticated film and television titles have become the norm in Hollywood. Recent high-profile films with notable title sequences include Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can," Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and Sam Mendes's "Skyfall" (which won Brit singer Adele an Oscar for the title track used in the sequence).
Despite Hollywood's long love affair with the title sequence, year after year title design as a craft continues to be ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Meanwhile, other distinctive cinematic endeavors like production design, costume design, makeup, and sound mixing have been getting recognized for decades at the Oscars.
So, why isn't there an Oscar for Best Title Sequence?
The first and most obvious reason is that, unlike almost every major category at the Academy Awards, there is no guild representing the interests of title designers. Given the varying creative backgrounds of most title designers, it's likely that many of them are already members of other Hollywood guilds (like the Art Directors Guild or the Motion Picture Editors Guild), but because there is no "Title Designers Guild" lobbying on behalf of the people who make these sequences, fighting for an Oscar category is an uphill battle.
Another reason may be the somewhat loose definition of what exactly constitutes a title sequence. It would be reasonable to expect that any nominees for a theoretical Best Title Sequence Oscar would need to meet certain criteria to be considered. Would a sequence need to be more than just text and typography? Would only main titles qualify for a nomination or could impressive end titles also be nominated? In addition to the content and length of the sequence, the way in which the film's cast and crew are credited in a piece would also need to be factored in. The various Hollywood guilds have strict rules regarding how their members are given credit in a movie; failure to meet certain standards in a title sequence can land a movie in hot water with the guilds. Any way you break it down, title designers would have to jump through countless hoops in order to get an Oscar category for their craft.
Currently the biggest forum for recognizing excellence in title design is the South by Southwest festival's Film Design Awards, which added the Excellence in Title Design Award in 2010. Until the Oscars come around, the SXSW award will remain the most prestigious prize in the field of title design.
For now, Adele's Best Song win for "Skyfall" may be the closest a title sequence gets to Oscar glory. As history has proven, though, title designers will continue to push their art form forward with or without the Academy's recognition.