Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oscar Technical Categories


Roger Deakins - Skyfall
Janusz Kaminski - Lincoln
Seamus McGarvey - Anna Karenina
Claudio Miranda - Life of Pi
Robert Richardson - Django Unchained

Claudio Miranda seems to have this category all but sewn up, with landmark work in a popular film, but surprises do happen - last year there was no film more jaw-droppingly visual than Tree of Life, but lenser Emmanuel Lubezki went home empty handed, losing his Oscar to two-time previous champ Robert Richardson for the lovingly rendered Hugo (hard not to be glad about that one). Life of Pi need not worry about any such upsets, though. Unlike divisive outsider Tree of Life, Pi is the second most nominated film at the Oscars, with no cause for backlash.

Miranda's only real competition is Skyfall's Roger Deakins, who has nine unsuccessful previous Oscar nominations to his legendary name. Deakins claimed the top prize from the American Society of Cinematographers, who would logically want to endorse traditional lensing, as opposed to Life of Pi's digitally enhanced approach. But the Academy has had no trouble embracing Virtual Cinematography with Avatar and even, to an extent, Hugo. Statistically, the odds in this category are always in favour of the Best Picture nominee, which also gives Miranda the edge over Deakins.

The other nominees are last year's winner Robert Richardson, for Django Unchained, frequent Spielberg collaborator (and two-time winner, for Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan) Janusz Kaminski and Seamus McGarvey, who probably made a strong bid for the prize for 2008's Atonement, but is unlikely to have enough momentum to pull off a surprise win for this year's divisive Anna Karenina. 

Conclusion: Roger Deakins is a living legend and turned in probably the most beautiful action film ever, but Life of Pi remains the most talked about visual achievement of the year.

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Skyfall
Could win: Skyfall

Original Score

Mychael Danna - Life of Pi

Alexandre Desplat - Argo
Dario Marianelli - Anna Karenina
Thomas Newman - Skyfall
John Williams - Lincoln

Though a respectable list, some of the year's best scores (The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty) have been sadly left off, but I will surely rant and rave about that elsewhere. For now, who among the safe five will claim the prize?

Like Skyfall cinematographer Roger Deakins, Thomas Newman has ten nominations to his name (think Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty and WallE), with no wins. Newman's Skyfall score is probably the most urban and inventive of the five, but his layered, urban action score is unlikely to bag him the big prize, although BAFTA thought otherwise, so he remains a threat.

Alexandre Desplat has five unsuccessful prior nominations and scored no less than nine films in 2012, including Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Moonrise Kingdom, Ruse and Bone and Rise of the Guardians. Two of these went on to be Best Picture nominees and he is nominated for the de facto Best Picture winner, Argo. Seems like a logical winner, but his vibey, suspenseful, sometimes sentimental middle eastern score simply isn't his most distinctive work.

Dario Marianelli is a recent winner for Atonement (swoon), while Spielberg staple - and five-time winner (from 48 nominations) John Williams delivered a spare, dignified score with playful Southern hayseed interludes which is surprisingly fun, but only stands any chance of winning if Lincoln sweeps. And let's not get our hopes up.

Which leaves Mychael Danna, channeling whimsical wonder, danger and Parisian / Indian vibes for Ang Lee's Life of Pi. The Oscar is his to lose.

Will win: Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
Should win: Thomas Newman - Skyfall
Could win: Alexandre Desplat - Argo

Production Design & Set Decoration:

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables
Life of Pi

A bunch of good eggs. Anna Karenina takes literal the Shakespeare adage that all the world is a stage and lets the great Russian melodrama play off entirely in sets constructed inside an old theater.

There is similar innovation in Les Miserables, which strikes a careful balance between realism and stylised theatrical sets to evoke 19th century France.

The Hobbit initially covers the same Shire ground as the Lord of the Rings trilogies, but soon explores brand new forests, Goblin caves and VIP sections of Rivendell in gorgeous detail, not to mention the awesome art-deco-ish designs of the lost Dwarf mountain kingdom. While much of The Hobbit's execution is CGI, the design remains breathtaking.

Life of Pi may seem an odd pick, considering it's mostly the story of a dude and a tiger in a boat, but the production design is a significant layer to the visual experience that is Life of Pi. Those ocean scenes were filmed in a giant water tank with bluescreen backdrops before the digital awesomeness was added; the meerkat island scenes were first filmed in a Taiwanese Banyan tree reserve before CGI rounded it out and the gorgeous scenes in Parisian India themselves leave plenty to ogle. 

Finally, Lincoln plays off in beautiful, fanatically detailed historical sets filled with significant character and period detail that helps transport us back to a critical moment in history.

So who wins? Hard to say. The Art Directors Guild divide their awards into Contemporary, Period and Sci Fi / Fantasy categories and awarded Skyfall, Anna Karenina and Life of Pi respectively. The BAFTAs went with Les Miserables, the Golden Satellites went with Lincoln and the Critics Choice chose Anna Karenina. 

Karenina would appear to be the logical frontrunner (and could tie in nicely with its expected Costume Design win), but that could all change if Life of Pi, or Les Miserables, sweep the technical awards. Or Lincoln sweeps in general. But let's not get out hopes up.

Will win: Anna Karenina
Should win: Anna Karenina 
Could win: Life of Pi 


Jacqueline Durran - Anna Karenina
Paco Delgado - Les Miserables
Joanna Johnston - Lincoln
Eiko Ishioka - Mirror Mirror
Colleen Attwood - Snow White and the Huntsman

The inclusion of both Snow White movies is refreshing and a welcome departure from the Best Picture race. Snow White and the Huntsman's Colleen Attwood is the veteran of the category, with nine previous nominations and three wins to her name. Charlize Theron spent not a moment of the film looking less than awesome but, suffice it to say, Huntsman as a whole isn't exactly the pinnacle of Attwood's career.

Mirror Mirror's Eiko Ishioka has won previous nomination - and win - a full twenty years ago for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Mirror Mirror seems like the featherweight in the race, but its costumes are the most inventive of the bunch and Ishioka is a distinctive talent (with notable work for Tarsem Singh and Bjork) who passed away in January 2012. If anyone could pull off a surprise win, it's Ishioka. You never count out the film with the Queen.

Joanna Johnston is a first time nominee for her detailed period costumes for Lincoln. Other than Sally Field's suitably flashy get ups, her costuming is mostly on the understated side and, while they are gorgeously effective, flashy tends to win in this category. Flashy Queens.

Paco Delgado is another first-time nominee, producing stylised costumes for a huge cast that evoke the stage without pushing the point. While his Les Mis costumes certainly don't lack flash and colour, they're more on the gaudy squalor side of things, as the story demands, which is why Anna Karenina has the edge.

This is Jacqueline Durran's third nomination for her outstanding work on Joe Wright's period films (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement). Anna Karenina is gorgeous eye candy, with the costumes easily holding their own alongside the Oscar-nominated sets and lensing. With the most lavish, opulent period costumes for a large cast, Anna Karenina seems easily the frontrunner, challenged only by the inventive Mirror Mirror.

Anna Karenina and Mirror Mirror were each honoured by the Costume Designers Guild (in the Period and Fantasy fields, respectively), but Mirror Mirror failed to be nominated at the BAFTAs or the Critics Choice Awards, both of which Anna Karenina won. Mirror Mirror did, however, prevail over Karenina at the Golden Satellites. But who cares about the Satellites? The strongest case for Mirror Mirror is that the movie with the Queen in it is usually the winner.

Will win: Anna Karenina
Should win: Anna Karenina
Could win: Mirror Mirror

Make Up & Hairstyling

Les Miserables
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Squalid 19th Century Parisian suffering, Middle Earth and 1950s Hollywood. Singing squalor wins.

Will win: Les Miserables
Should win: Les Miserables 
Could win: The Hobbit

Visual Effects:

Life of Pi
The Avengers
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Snow White and the Huntsman

Who are we kidding? Life of Pi has already made it into the Visual Effects annuls. On top of that, it's the only Best Picture nominee in the list. It has had a virtually perfect winning streak so far (barring the odd Golden Satellites award for Flight, not nominated here). Think leaping whales, epic boat sinkings and Richard Parker. It's in the bag.

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Life of Pi
Could win: Avengers

Sound Editing:

Life of Pi
Django Unchained
Zero Dark Thirty

The Sound Editing award is for the sourcing and recording of original sounds for a film. War and action films tend to dominate. Expect the prize to go to one of the Motion Picture Sound Editors winners - Skyfall or Life of Pi. 

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Zero Dark Thirty
Could win: Skyfall

Sound Mixing:

Life of Pi
Les Miserables

Sound Mixing, on the other hand, is the art of taking available sounds (including those created by the sound mixing team) and blending them together into the film's scenes for optimum effect. Musicals almost always dominate this category when they are in the running, and Les Miserables is particularly worthy as it blends live singing with separately recorded orchestral arrangements for wall-to-wall singing. It also has the Cinema Audio Society's Award, and the BAFTA to its name. In the bag.

Will win: Les Miserables
Should win: Les Miserables
Could win: Life of Pi