Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscar Prediction: The Technical Awards

Hello, and welcome to A Mighty Fine Blog's sixth annual attempt to predict the Oscars, an effort so relentlessly futile that I haven't even bothered to thing of a snappy name or acronym for it. Anyway, a merry AMFBSAAPO to you all!

Joking aside, I really look forward to this time of the year because it's a chance for me to see if my predictive abilities have improved or atrophied in the last twelve months. Having read The Signal and the Noise, I kind of hope that my predictions will be a touch better than in the last few years, though that would be no guarantee that I'm getting better. It could actually just be a sign that the Oscars are getting worse at surprising us all.

As in previous years, the predictions will be split in two. This post will focus on the Technical Awards, by which I mean the ones which are unlikely to get boasted about on future Blu-ray covers. That doesn't diminish their importance to the winners, obviously, who no doubt worked very hard, but it's undeniable that most people tend to care more about the Major Awards. So for the people who just want to know about the big name awards, there will be a separate post going up just after this one. For the cinephiles, though, this is the good shit.

Best Short Film, Live Action


Asad (2012): Bryan Buckley, Mino Jarjoura
Buzkashi Boys (2012): Sam French, Ariel Nasr
Curfew (2012): Shawn Christensen
Death of a Shadow (2012): Tom Van Avermaet, Ellen De Waele
Henry (2011): Yan England

As in previous years, I haven't seen any of these nominees, so can only really go on which one has the best name. Having now participated in voting for an actual critics organisation, I can confirm that this is a foolproof way of choosing a winner, so I can only assume that Academy members will be doing the same. Anyway, Death of a Shadow is a cool title, so why not that?

Prediction: Death of a Shadow

Best Short Film, Animated


Adam and Dog (2011): Minkyu Lee
Fresh Guacamole (2012): PES
Head Over Heels (2012): Timothy Reckart, Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly
Paperman (2012): John Kahrs
The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare (2012): David Silverman

Now I have seen one of these, and since I thought it was absolutely brilliant I have to plump for it. That film is the achingly sweet and visually stunning Paperman.

Prediction: Paperman

Best Documentary, Short Subject


Inocente (2012): Sean Fine, Andrea Nix
Kings Point (2012): Sari Gilman, Jedd Wider
Mondays at Racine (2012): Cynthia Wade, Robin Honan
Open Heart (2013): Kief Davidson, Cori Shepherd Stern
Redemption (2012): Jon Alpert, Matthew O'Neill

And we're back to going by the best name. Mondays at Racine is very evocative, and I'm sure the Academy love being evoked at.

Prediction: Mondays at Racine

Best Documentary, Feature


5 Broken Cameras (2011): Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi
The Gatekeepers (2012): Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky, Estelle Fialon
How to Survive a Plague (2012): David France, Howard Gertler
The Invisible War (2012): Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Searching for Sugar Man (2012): Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn

I'm torn on this category, both from a personal point of view and my nominally more objective position as a prognosticator. Searching for Sugar Man was one of my very favourite films of last year, a terrifically well-constructed film that is about as feel-good as a documentary can be. It has triumphed at other ceremonies and has the sort of momentum a film needs to win big at the Oscars. Yet The Invisible War, about rape in the US Military, is not only critically acclaimed, it has also led to changes within the armed forces with regards to how rape cases are handled. It's got the perfect mix of impeccable craft, engaging subject matter and genuine impact on its side. Ultimately, I think I have to side with the more populist Sugar Man, but either one deserves it.

Prediction: Searching for Sugar Man

Best Achievement in Visual Effects


The Avengers (2012): Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012): Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
Life of Pi (2012): Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott
Prometheus (2012): Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012): Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson

Who wins this category, for my money, comes down to a question of scale and artistry. Sometimes the winner is determined not by whether a film has the best effects, but whether it has the most effects, and this year's nominees are all pretty comparable in that sense. So, as far as artistry goes, no film this year implemented visual effects as seamlessly and to better artistic ends than Ang Lee's Life of Pi. In fact the only thing that might count against it is the idea that some of the effects might have been too good to be appreciated, but Lee's audacity should carry the day in this instance.

Prediction: Life of Pi

Best Achievement in Sound Editing


Argo (2012): Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained (2012): Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi (2012): Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton
Skyfall (2012): Per Hallberg, Karen M. Baker
Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Paul N.J. Ottosson

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing


Argo (2012): John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García
Les Misérables (2012): Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes
Life of Pi (2012): Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin
Lincoln (2012): Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ron Judkins
Skyfall (2012): Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson

Since I started doing these columns in 2008, I've noticed that there tends to be a direct correlation between these two categories, so for the sake of expediency I'll group them together. I could imagine Argo taking both of these if it sweeps the rest of the night, but I don't see that happening for reasons I'll get into later. With that in mind, I think that these two awards will go to the same film, and that film will be Skyfall, which is exactly the kind of seamlessly constructed action epic that tends to do well where these awards are concerned.

Prediction: Skyfall

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song


Chasing Ice (2012): J. Ralph("Before My Time")
Les Misérables (2012): Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer("Suddenly")
Life of Pi (2012): Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree("Pi's Lullaby")
Skyfall (2012): Adele, Paul Epworth("Skyfall")
Ted (2012): Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane("Everybody Needs a Best Friend")

Before I give my judgement on who will triumph in this category, here's a question: Who do you think has a better chance: the team responsible for one of the most successful albums of the last twenty years, whose song soundtracked one of the most successful films of the year, and which capped off a year of nostalgic appreciation of a franchise that has lasted fifty years, or the rest of these assholes? Yeah, I'd say Adele and Paul Epworth have a pretty good shot.

Prediction: Adele and Paul Epworth, for Skyfall

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score


Anna Karenina (2012): Dario Marianelli
Argo (2012): Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi (2012): Mychael Danna
Lincoln (2012): John Williams
Skyfall (2012): Thomas Newman

Every year, the Oscars seems to come down to a contest between two films which vie for most of the big awards, leaving the others to pick over whatever is left. This year, it seems to be between Argo and Lincoln, too fine films which have come to the forefront by being quality works which have managed not to offend anyone. If there is a sweep for one or the other, it will be seen in the technical categories first, though I personally think wie'll probably see a divide between the two, rather than one completely dominating. It is for this reason  think that Argo will win this one for its propulsive score. It's a lot more effective than John Williams' work on Lincoln, besides which he's won enough Oscars at this point, they shouldn't feel the need to weigh him down with more. He's an old man, he can't carry that many Oscars!

Prediction: Argo

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling


Hitchcock (2012): Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012): Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane
Les Misérables (2012): Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell

Considering how risible the makeup is in Hitchcock, and considering that "best" tends to mean "most," I think this one will go to The Hobbit, which may have been a disappointment in most areas but was at the very least incredibly well-mounted.

Prediction: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Achievement in Costume Design


Anna Karenina (2012): Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables (2012): Paco Delgado
Lincoln (2012): Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror (2012/I): Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012): Colleen Atwood

This seems like a prime example of a category that Lincoln will gobble up on its way to a sweep, but even if it doesn't win Best Picture, it has enough momentum from its other nominations that it'll probably overpower the other nominees here.

Prediction: Lincoln

Best Achievement in Production Design


Anna Karenina (2012): Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012): Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright
Les Misérables (2012): Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson
Life of Pi (2012): David Gropman, Anna Pinnock
Lincoln (2012): Rick Carter, Jim Erickson

Whilst my initial instinct was to stick with the "Lincoln will eat these up like a stovepipe-wearing Pacman" theory, I can't help but think that Anna Karenina will take this one. I can't think of another film this year (or, at the very least, a film nominated this year) that had such an innovative style to it as Joe Wright's film, which made its production design not only stunning, but central to the entire conceit of the film. It's the sort of bold work that I think will probably be rewarded for its sheer audacity.

Prediction: Anna Karenina

Best Achievement in Editing


Argo (2012): William Goldenberg
Life of Pi (2012): Tim Squyres
Lincoln (2012): Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook (2012): Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty (2012): William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor

Traditionally, Editing and Director tend to go hand in hand, and it tends to be seen as a strong, early indication of where things are going on Oscar night itself. Though there are exceptions - most notably in 2011 when The Social Network won for Editing but lost out in the major awards - it's as good a measuring stick as any. However, since one of the favourites, Argo, is not nominated for Director, there's a chance it won't win here. Yet the editing in Lincoln is not flashy or voluminous enough to be all that attention grabbing, so there is a chance that Zero Dark Thirty might sneak in and take this one. Since it's the more propulsive and pulse-pounding film, and because it's remained free of controversy, I'd go for Argo here.

Prediction: Argo

Best Achievement in Cinematography


Anna Karenina (2012): Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained (2012): Robert Richardson
Life of Pi (2012): Claudio Miranda
Lincoln (2012): Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall (2012): Roger Deakins

On two previous occasions I predicted that Roger Deakins would win for Best Cinematography, and both times I was proved wrong. Why not make it a third? He's got to win sometime, dammit. Deakins is rightly recognised as one of the greatest cinematographers to have ever lived, and his work in Skyfall is as good as anything he's ever done. The visual beauty of the film, coupled with its success and the general goodwill towards Deakins, have created the best conditions under which he might finally nab a statuette.

Prediction: Skyfall

That's the end of Part One, please check back in about an hour or so for Part Two, in which the Major Awards are meticulously picked over before a winner is haphazardly chosen based on spurious reasoning and personal prejudice, just like the real Oscars.