Sunday, February 25, 2018

Oscars 2017: The little techies

A scene from Pixar's "Coco", likely Oscar winner
Who cares about the Oscars? Nobody, and also lots of people. It’s silly to ascribe too much importance to a self-congratulatory festival, but at the same time, the Academy Awards can help raise the profile of good movies and the talented people who make them. As long as you don’t take them too seriously, you just might end up enjoying yourself.

Plus, the Oscars are an opportunity for uninformed speculation, which is always fun. Over the next five days, we’ll be predicting the winners in the 21 feature categories (sorry, I ignore the shorts). These prognostications are the result of tireless data mining and thorough research. Or I’m just winging it.

Today, we’re running through eight below-the-line fields that can easily swing your office pool if you don’t pay attention. Let’s dig in:


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

NOMINEES
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

WILL WIN
2017 wasn’t exactly the greatest year for animation, at least not in terms of high-profile releases. Perhaps this is my own failing; of the 108 theatrical releases I watched last year, only five were animated. But only two of those five—Pixar’s Coco and the Japanese import Your Name.—were any good, and it’s not as though I ignored a ton of critically praised animated features. (For the record, I didn’t hate The LEGO Batman Movie, but it was such a downgrade from the original, it felt like a major letdown.) Anyway, Coco is winning this, and it won’t be close. Move along.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN

NOMINEES
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

WILL WIN
In a surprise, The Shape of Water recently prevailed over Phantom Thread at the guild. But maybe it wasn’t a huge surprise; The Shape of Water is a strong Best Picture candidate that’s also positioned to play well across the crafts categories. Still, Phantom Thread’s costumes are so exquisite, and so integral to the film itself, that I suspect it has this award sewn up.

SHOULD WIN
A quick disclosure: While I try to watch every live-action feature that receives an Oscar nomination—ignoring the documentary and foreign-language categories, where limited distribution makes this impossible—there are always a few that fall through the cracks. This year, Victoria & Abdul was one of those sadly neglected films. (The others: All the Money in the World and Wonder, plus a couple of the Original Song nominations.) So I can’t officially weigh in on whatever nineteenth-century garment Judi Dench fell asleep in for that movie. But I can’t imagine that its costumes, nor any other movie’s, were better than those of Phantom Thread, whose sumptuous gowns and dresses were somehow brash and elegant at once.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Atomic Blonde
Beauty and the Beast
The Great Wall
Phantom Thread
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

My favorites from this year’s costumes illustrate how quality wardrobe can enhance films in a variety of genres: the sleek ’80s garb of Atomic Blonde, the brilliantly color-coded threads of The Great Wall, the eye-popping futuristic outfits of Valerian. This category shouldn’t be reserved for mild-mannered period pieces.

The Manifesto’s winner: Phantom Thread.


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

NOMINEES
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Icarus
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

WILL WIN
I’m basically flying blind on documentaries, so I need to resort to the general critical buzz. Last Men in Aleppo earned strong reviews when it first came out, but that was way back in May. Since then, Agnes Varda’s Faces Places has premiered to massive praise; it was the only documentary to land in the top 15 on the Village Voice poll. Of course, the Academy’s tastes don’t always match up with those of critics, but I see little reason to pick anything else.


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

NOMINEES
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

WILL WIN
There are three main contenders here: The eccentric satire The Square (which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes), the grueling drama Loveless, and the character study A Fantastic Woman. I’ve only seen one of those three, and while The Square is very impressive and accomplished, it may be too outré to appeal to the Academy. I’ve heard that Loveless is punishing, so instead I’ll go with A Fantastic Woman, which I would very much like to see if a local theater is ever inclined to exhibit it. Also, in case it isn’t clear, it’s hard to pick the winners of categories where you’ve seen one or none of the nominees.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Okja (South Korea)
Raw (France)
The Square (Sweden)
The Unknown Girl (Belgium)
The Villainess (South Korea)

Don’t mistake my unfamiliarity with this category’s nominees for a broader disinterest in global cinema; American distribution of foreign-language films is so poor, it’s usually impossible for me to see most of the nominees, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting movies being made in other parts of the world. The five films on my ideal ballot are all provocative, though in different ways. Okja is an urgent allegorical fable that doubles as a propulsive thriller. Raw is a ferociously well-crafted horror film that’s also a compelling coming-of-age story. The Square is a lot of nonsense, but it’s impeccably well-made nonsense, with one hypnotic, bleakly comic scene after another. The Unknown Girl is a piercing survey of marginalization, as well as a sad and empathetic character study. The Villainess is one of the most jaw-droppingly badass action movies I’ve ever seen.

The Manifesto’s winner: The Villainess.


BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

NOMINEES
Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul
Wonder

WILL WIN
I suppose Wonder could steal some votes, given the effort it put into scarring the adorable face of Jacob Tremblay. Still, Gary Oldman’s visage is virtually unrecognizable in Darkest Hour. This award was probably guaranteed as soon as the trailer dropped.


BEST ORIGINAL SONG

NOMINEES
Call Me by Your Name—“The Mystery of Love” (Sufjan Stevens)
Coco—“Remember Me” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez)
The Greatest Showman—“This Is Me” (Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)
Marshall—“Stand Up for Something” (Diane Warren, Lonnie R. Lynn)
Mudbound—“Mighty River” (Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq, Taura Stinson)

WILL WIN
The Greatest Showman has quietly become a box-office sensation—it’s placed in the top five for eight straight weeks and still hasn’t dipped any lower than eighth—so it can’t be ruled out. Still, “Remember Me” is a lovely ditty that also features prominently in Coco’s stirring third act, so I think it has the edge.

(By the way, I don’t have a full ballot for this field, but the Academy picked the wrong Sufjan Stevens song from Call Me by Your Name. “Visions of Gideon” is a stunner.)


BEST SOUND

NOMINEES (MIXING)
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

NOMINEES (EDITING)
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

WILL WIN
Notice any similarities between these two fields? Per Variety, for the first time since the Academy expanded the Best Sound Editing category from three to five nominees in 2006, this is the first time the Mixing and Editing fields have matched up exactly. Which means… OK, I’m not really sure what it means. But with no musical in the, ahem, mix this year, it seems pointless to predict a split. Beyond that, I could make a case for any of these nominees, all of which are robust movies that use sound aggressively and visibly. It’s tempting to go with Baby Driver because it doesn’t appear in any of the higher-profile fields, which means voters may be specifically inclined to reward its technical accomplishments. (In the industry, we call this “The Bourne Ultimatum” effect.) But I’m going with Dunkirk for both, partly because it won at the guild, partly because its sound was terrific, and partly because I really like Dunkirk.


Back tomorrow to wrap up the technical fields.

No comments: