Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Oscars 2014: The Big Techies (Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and more)

We've already ripped through eight less significant (in this viewer's opinion) technical categories. Now it's time to get to the big guns. Not only are these categories independently intriguing, but their winners could also foreshadow some of the night's more high-profile awards.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

NOMINEES
Birdman—Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Robert D. Yeoman
Ida—Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lynzewski
Mr. Turner—Dick Pope
Unbroken—Roger Deakins

WILL WIN
Birdman. Lubezki is on a heater right now after winning for Gravity last year, and besides, the entire movie looks like it was shot on one freaking take. Call that technique facile if you want, but Academy voters are going to respond to it.





SHOULD WIN
Very strong field here. Birdman may be showy, but Lubezki's achievement is undeniable. The Grand Budapest Hotel is as meticulously photographed as any Wes Anderson picture, with its fastidious framing and elegant camera moves (not to mention its varying aspect ratios). Deakins finds beauty amid the squalor in Unbroken, never more so than when capturing the dwarfing bleakness of the Pacific Ocean. And Ida's luminescent black-and-white imagery is as expressive as its actors' remarkable faces. Forced to pick a winner, however, I'll back Pope's extraordinary work on Mr. Turner, which somehow honors its subject with striking visuals that are both mathematically precise and exquisitely natural.

MY IDEAL BALLOT
Birdman—Emmanuel Lubezki
Ida—Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lynzewski
The Immigrant—Darius Khondji
Inherent Vice—Robert Elswit
Mr. Turner—Dick Pope

Hard to complain when three of the Academy's five selections make my own ballot, with the other two just missing the cut (as did Seamus McGarvey's stunning work on Godzilla). The Immigrant's lighting is magnificent, with Khondji bathing everything in golden, nostalgic hues that encapsulate the film's plaintive tone. And Elswit continues his fruitful collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson (he also shot There Will Be Blood), heightening Inherent Vice's spaced-out mood with rich color and invisible technique.

My ideal winner: Mr. Turner—Dick Pope.





BEST FILM EDITING

NOMINEES
American Sniper—Joel Cox, Gary Roach
Boyhood—Sandra Adair
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Barney Pilling
The Imitation Game—William Goldenberg
Whiplash—Tom Cross


WILL WIN
Yikes. There are five Best Picture nominees slugging it out in this category, and you can make a case for each. (Well, except for American Sniper—that one's dead.) This award has skewed toward the technical in the recent past, which bodes well for a nattily crafted picture such as The Grand Budapest Hotel. Whiplash won here at the BAFTAs, and its furious cutting is essential to its depiction of the cruelties of rhythm. And The Imitation Game is a handsomely dressed and briskly paced movie, so it can hardly be ruled out.

But I'm picking Boyhood for two reasons. First, as you may have heard, it was shot over 12 years; presumably cutting a dozen years' worth of footage into a feature film involved quite a bit of work. (Interestingly, Richard Linklater has stated that the movie required less editing than typical, but I doubt Academy voters either notice or care.) Second, this is the lone category in which Boyhood isn't competing against its archrival in Birdman. (The upshot of this: If Boyhood in fact loses this category, its Best Picture chances are pretty much kaput. Just something to keep in mind during the telecast's opening hour.)





SHOULD WIN
American Sniper lurches a bit when hopscotching between the States and Iraq, and its editing never really settles into a rhythm. Both Boyhood and The Imitation Game are excellent movies, but there's little about their editing that's especially compelling. The Grand Budapest Hotel, on the other hand, is brilliantly edited, nimbly leaping back and forth in time without ever disorienting viewers. But even it doesn't compare to Whiplash's vigorous cutting, which simply shows a guy hammering on his drum set and somehow amplifies its energy a hundredfold.





MY IDEAL BALLOT
Edge of Tomorrow—James Herbert, Laura Jennings
Gone Girl—Kirk Baxter
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Barney Pilling
Interstellar—Lee Smith
Whiplash—Tom Cross

Edge of Tomorrow's editing is absolutely crucial to its central time-loop gimmick, and Herbert and Jennings clip every repeated scene at just the right moment. Gone Girl dazzles with its parallel structure, constantly keeping viewers on their toes. Interstellar is arguably too ungainly to pop up here, but its stunning cross-cutting in a late sequence affirms cinema's unique power.

My ideal winner: Edge of Tomorrow—James Herbert, Laura Jennings.




BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

NOMINEES
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game—Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar—Hans Zimmer
Mr. Turner—Gary Yershon
The Theory of Everything—Jóhann Jóhannsson

WILL WIN
This is likely a two-horse race between Golden Globe winner The Theory of Everything and BAFTA winner The Grand Budapest Hotel, though neither Interstellar nor The Imitation Game can be completely ruled out. (Mr. Turner, on the other hand, can be unequivocally ruled out.) The Theory of Everything has the more classical score, and unlike Desplat, Jóhannsson isn't at risk of splitting his own vote. Still, I keep returning to my gut feeling that The Grand Budapest Hotel is going to clean up in the crafts categories, and I think its coattails are just long enough to sweep this one into its orbit, especially given that The Theory of Everything is essentially an also-ran everywhere else except for Best Actor. Also, Desplat hasn't ever won an Oscar before, which seems absurd at this point, given that he seemingly composes the music to 20% of all high-profile releases.





SHOULD WIN
Of Desplat's two nominations, The Grand Budapest Hotel is his weaker work. It's fitting for the film's jaunty tone, but it's flighty and fidgety, as though it's uncertain what type of music it wants to be. His score for The Imitation Game is far more forceful, with a sweeping main theme and robust compositions. Jóhannsson's work on The Theory of Everything is adequate, but it's uninspired, and while Yershon provides Mr. Turner with some stirring string-work, it's far too sparsely used to make a real impact. There is, of course, nothing sparse about Hans Zimmer's triumphant, organ-based score for Interstellar, but its extravagance is in perfect keeping with that movie's gargantuan scale and epic ambition. Zimmer proves, as he did in Inception, that he is Christopher Nolan's ideal scoring partner.


MY IDEAL BALLOT
Gone Girl—Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The Imitation Game—Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar—Hans Zimmer
Maleficent—James Newton Howard
Noah—Clint Mansell

Gone Girl's eerie, ambient music elevates the movie's sinister vibe to brilliant effect; this is Reznor and Ross' third collaboration with David Fincher (they earned an Oscar for The Social Network), and it's their best yet. Howard offers a rousing score that befits Maleficent's fantastical feel. And Mansell's work for Noah is both Biblical and intimate, soundtracking both the fateful flood and the quiet spaces of doubt that lie between.

My ideal winner: Interstellar—Hans Zimmer.


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

NOMINEES
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

WILL WIN
The Grand Budapest Hotel. This one's a no-doubter. And just to keep track, I've now analyzed 12 categories, and I'm predicting The Grand Budapest Hotel to win four of them. Should I start taking it seriously as a Best Picture candidate? Hmm...


SHOULD WIN
Beyond the extraordinarily detailed fixtures of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the only nominee whose production design I really admire is The Imitation Game, with its flawless period design and its hulking proto-computer. Interstellar does create some dazzling environments, but neither Into the Woods nor Mr. Turner belongs in this category.


MY IDEAL BALLOT
Big Hero 6
The Double
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Maleficent
Snowpiercer

Animated movies never receive consideration in this category, but Big Hero 6's creation of a fictional metropolis called San Fransokyo is as immaculate as it is imaginative. The Double should have been a home run here, with its Brazil-like subterranean setting serving as its own form of analog beauty. Maleficent's ominous forest looks like it will reach out and pluck you from your seat the moment you turn your head. Snowpiercer provides a marvelous new look with each successive train car.

My ideal winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel.





BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

NOMINEES
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past

WILL WIN
Here we go again. But have I learned my lesson, or have Academy voters learned theirs? See, three years ago, I tentatively proclaimed that Rise of the Planet of the Apes would win this category because its effects were amazing. It lost (to Hugo, of all films). This year, once again, a Planet of the Apes movie sports the most remarkable special effects of any film in the field, and it's not close. But it's facing two formidable foes: Interstellar, a well-regarded prestige picture with some stunning effects of its own (it just won the BAFTA), and Guardians of the Galaxy, a box-office behemoth that might prove irresistible to some voters.

So do I stick to my guns, or do I hedge my bets? Do I choose what is right, or what is easy? Screw it. If I'm going to lose again, I'm going to lose because the Academy adapted, not because I failed to adapt. I'm picking Interstellar.


SHOULD WIN
Gee, I wonder.


MY IDEAL BALLOT
In a startling occurrence, it's the exact same as the Academy's ballot, an alignment that happens roughly as often as a solar eclipse on Friday the 13th. Good work, Academy. Don't get cocky.

My ideal winner: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.





Coming tomorrow: Posts on the supporting actor/actress categories and the screenplay categories.

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