Monday, February 26, 2018

Oscars 2017: The big techies

A scene from the visually stunning "Blade Runner 2049"
With the Oscars on Sunday, we’re running through our predictions and preferences for all 21 feature categories. Yesterday, we looked at eight below-the-line fields; today, we’re continuing with some more high-profile technical categories. And by “high-profile” I mean “ones I care about”.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

NOMINEES
Blade Runner 2049—Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour—Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk—Hoyte van Hoytema
Mudbound—Rachel Morrison
The Shape of Water—Dan Laustsen

WILL WIN
This is finally the year. It has to be. The great Roger Deakins has previously been nominated in this category thirteen times, and he’s come away empty-handed each year. It’s fallacious to suggest that he’s been robbed—at least for his past several appearances, I would have voted for someone else—but he’s one of the best lensers in the business, consistently composing images with precision and beauty regardless of genre. It’s possible that he loses again, of course; Dunkirk and The Shape of Water are more highly regarded films, and they feature exquisite craftsmanship in their own right. But Blade Runner 2049’s imagery is astonishing. Deakins gets off the schneid.

SHOULD WIN
Setting aside the Deakins factor, I’d hardly be upset if either Darkest Hour or Dunkirk prevailed here, as both exhibit extraordinary cinematography, albeit in markedly different ways (one is lustrous, the other immense). But Blade Runner 2049 is operating on a different level. I discussed this in greater detail in my review, but it really is one of the most visually spectacular movies I’ve ever seen.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Blade Runner 2049—Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour—Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk—Hoyte van Hoytema
The Lost City of Z—Darius Khondji
War for the Planet of the Apes—Michael Seresin

Joining three actual nominees, my ballot includes two movies that take place heavily in the jungle; The Lost City of Z finds haunting beauty amid the dangers of the Amazon (and good lord, that last shot), while War for the Planet of the Apes turns a franchise blockbuster into a mythic Western.

The Manifesto’s winner: Blade Runner 2049—Roger Deakins.

Honorable mention: The Florida Project—Alexis Zabe; The Killing of a Sacred Deer—Thimios Bakatakis; Lady Macbeth—Ari Wegner; Star Wars: The Last Jedi—Steve Yedlin.


BEST FILM EDITING

NOMINEES
Baby Driver— Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Dunkirk—Lee Smith
I, Tonya—Tatiana S. Riegel
The Shape of Water—Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—Jon Gregory

WILL WIN
Most of what I wrote yesterday about the sound categories applies here as well. While it’s tempting to just take a Best Picture heavyweight (either The Shape of Water or Three Billboards), this award has skewed technical in recent years. That means I’m predicting a battle between Baby Driver and Dunkirk; I’ll take the war over the car.

SHOULD WIN
Dunkirk, obviously, though kudos to the Academy for nominating I, Tonya, which used its faux-documentary structure to add both pleasure and heft to its narrative.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Dunkirk—Lee Smith
I, Tonya—Tatiana S. Riegel
The Killing of a Sacred Deer—Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Lady Bird—Nick Houy
Molly’s Game—Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham, Josh Schaeffer

There isn’t a wasted moment in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which builds tension with every scene. Weirdly, you could say the same of Lady Bird, though the tension it accumulates is of a decidedly different kind. Molly’s Game pinballs across timelines with meticulous clarity.

The Manifesto’s winner: Dunkirk—Lee Smith.


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

NOMINEES
Dunkirk—Hans Zimmer
Phantom Thread—Jonny Greenwood
The Shape of Water—Alexandre Desplat
Star Wars: The Last Jedi—John Williams
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—Carter Burwell

WILL WIN
The conventional wisdom here is to take The Shape of Water, a very pretty score by a much-admired composer. But because picking the favorite all the time is boring—and because Desplat won just a few years ago (for The Grand Budapest Hotel)—I’m going with the upset and taking Phantom Thread. Who knows, maybe the Academy will feel compelled to compensate Greenwood for 10 years ago, when it infamously declared his There Will Be Blood score ineligible. (It didn’t deserve a nomination anyway, but that’s a whole other discussion.)

SHOULD WIN
As impressive as Phantom Thread’s music may be, it doesn’t position itself as an integral character in the film’s very fabric. Dunkirk’s does.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Dunkirk—Hans Zimmer
Hostiles—Max Richter
Phantom Thread—Jonny Greenwood
War for the Planet of the Apes—Michael Giacchino
Wonderstruck—Carter Burwell

I’m happy that he landed a nomination, but boy did the Academy pick the wrong Carter Burwell score this year; his music elevated Wonderstruck and even helped its disparate threads cohere. My inclusion of Richter’s score is a useful reminder that bad movies can still have good music.

The Manifesto’s winner: Dunkirk—Hans Zimmer.

Honorable mention: The Red Turtle—Laurent Perez Del Mar; Their Finest—Rachel Portman; Wind River—Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

NOMINEES
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

WILL WIN
OK, I should probably stop picking against The Shape of Water. It’s possible that Blade Runner 2049’s heavily digitized environments could make a push here, but The Shaper of Water’s throwback monster-movie sets should give it the edge.

SHOULD WIN
I know everyone ripped on Beauty and the Beast, but its sets were awfully impressive. Still, I’ll go with Blade Runner 2049, because there’s impressive, and then there’s that creepy yellow underground palace where Jared Leto lived.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Ghost in the Shell
mother!
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Speaking of poorly received but not entirely bad movies, Ghost in the Shell’s craft was exemplary, and it deserved recognition here. The same is true for Valerian, which created a world of indescribable color and variety.

The Manifesto’s winner: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

NOMINEES
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

WILL WIN
Twice before, the revived Planet of the Apes franchise has appeared in this category, and twice before, it’s fallen to inferior competition. Will it break the streak this year? I’m not betting on it. I’ll take Blade Runner 2049.

SHOULD WIN
This is interesting, and it opens up a philosophical debate about how visual effects should be rewarded. The FX work in Blade Runner 2049 is dazzling, but it’s also visibly dazzling; watching it, we know we’re experiencing digital wizardry. But after spending a short time in the world of War for the Planet of the Apes, we forget that we’re watching computerized creations. The apes in this movie just exist. It’s that kind of effects work that, in my view, is truly special.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Blade Runner 2049
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
War for the Planet of the Apes

We complain a lot about movies, but sweet mercy, the technology these days is just unreal. To quote C.J. Cregg: Man, the things we can do.

The Manifesto’s winner: War for the Planet of the Apes.


Check back tomorrow for analysis of four exciting new categories!

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