Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oscar Predictions 2014: The Technical Awards

At this point, it's pretty clear to me that the Oscars are largely meaningless to everyone except the nominees. For them, they represent the respect of their peers and greater opportunities for future work, be it in more acclaimed films or taking big paycheques for terrible superhero movies. For everyone else they're a chance to see who wore what best and to act as a reference guide for what were considered the best films of a given year, as chosen by a consensus of a relatively small, self-important group.

However, just because they don't really mean anything doesn't mean we can't have a bit of fun with them. As I have every year for the past few years, I have endeavoured to predict which films will win in each and every category. Some of these guesses are more educated than others, based either on how the awards season has played out so far, how the Academy has voted historically, or just based on what I think has the best chance of winning. It's a method that has worked fairly well in the past (apart from last year which, to use a technical term, was an absolute shit sandwich for me) and I'm hoping that it will prove itself again, or that I'll be so utterly incorrect that I can excoriate myself in my round-up on Monday.

As in previous years I've divided the various categories into the Technical Awards, which you can see below, and the Major Awards, which will run tomorrow. That's enough waffling; just because the ceremony will be super long doesn't mean this article should. Read on if you want to see what I, with my very patchy record on the subject, think will win on March 2nd.

Best Short Film, Live Action


That Wasn't Me: Esteban Crespo
Just Before Losing Everything: Xavier Legrand, Alexandre Gavras
Helium: Anders Walter, Kim Magnusson
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?: Selma Vilhunen, Kirsikka Saari
The Voorman Problem: Mark Gill, Baldwin Li

Every year I don't get to see the Live Action Shorts and every year I try to predict the winner based solely on whether or not I like the name. While I'm in favour of that method and its impressive 0% accuracy rate, this year I'm going to be slightly more scientific about it by considering an outside source: each film's IMDb rating. Since most people won't have seen these films, I can only assume that some of the ratings come from actual Academy members (those who don't still think of the internet as a crazy new invention that'll never catch on, anyway) and so going with the film that has the highest IMDb rating seems a safe-ish bet. To that end, I predict that Just Before Losing Everything, which towers over the competition with a 7.7/10, will win.

Best Short Film, Animated


Feral: Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden
Get a Horse!: Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim
Mr Hublot: Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares
Possessions: Shuhei Morita
Room on the Broom: Max Lang, Jan Lachauer

If I may jump back to a less scientific method than basing predictions on what strangers on the internet think, this one seems like it will most likely go to Get a Horse! Why? One, because it's already won the Annie for Short Subject, which is a pretty solid endorsement from the animation community, but also because it's the first original Mickey Mouse short for almost twenty years, which is a novelty that none of the other nominees can claim. It's also an homage to the earliest appearances of the character and uses archival recordings of Walt Disney's rendition of Mickey. If there's one thing the Academy loves, it's celebrating the past.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects


The Lady In Number 6: Malcolm Clarke, Nick Reed
Cavedigger: Jeffrey Karoff
Facing Fear: Jason Cohen
Karama Has No Walls: Sara Ishaq
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall: Edgar Barens

Returning to IMDb ratings for this one raises a conundrum since both Cavedigger and Karama Has No Walls are sitting pretty with 8.6/10 at the time of writing. Unless theres's a surge of support for either one in the coming days, the "scientific" approach has led to an impasse. Going on subject matter, I think that Karama Has No Walls has the edge since it's about life during the Yemeni uprising in 2011, and political subjects tend to have a slight edge where documentaries are concerned.

Best Documentary, Features


The Act of Killing: Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cutie and the Boxer: Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher
Dirty Wars: Rick Rowley, Jeremy Scahill
The Square: Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer
20 Feet from Stardom: Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen, Caitrin Rogers

Dirty Wars aside, this is an immensely strong category, with films tackling a wide range of subjects in styles that veer from visceral and authentic to lyrical and heightened. Though there's lots to recommend about all of them (except, again, for Dirty Wars, which tells an important story in the most banal and egocentric way possible) none of them have quite the shattering, uncomfortable power that The Act of Killing does. Not a week has gone by where I haven't thought about the film since seeing it at Sheffield Doc/Fest last year, and I think it'd be an awful shame if a film which makes such innovative and insightful use of the documentary format was shunted aside in favour of other good (except Dirty Wars: I cannot stress this enough) but less interesting films.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects


Gravity: Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds
Iron Man 3: Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Daniel Sudick
The Lone Ranger: Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier
Star Trek Into Darkness: Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton

One of the key factors I consider when trying to make these predictions is momentum. Not merely momentum over the course of the awards season, which is important, but momentum within the Oscar ceremony itself. The big question is of whether one film will sweep the board, or if, like last year, several films will divide things up pretty evenly between themselves. Personally, I think that 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle are such strong contenders that no one of them will walk away with the lion's share, but they will each take away a few of the major awards. However, I expect that Gravity has enough momentum behind it in general that even if it doesn't take home any of the more prestigious awards, it'll probably clean up where the more technological areas are concerned. While each of the films it is nominated against created their own worlds, none managed to be quite as convincing as Gravity, and that ability to draw people into its imaginary space (then so convincingly rip it to shreds) is what will make the difference.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing


All Is Lost: Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns
Captain Phillips: Oliver Tarney
Gravity: Glenn Freemantle
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Brent Burge
Lone Survivor: Wylie Stateman

I'm going with Gravity on this one for two reasons: One, the aforementioned momentum that it has, and the fact that the film used sound (and the lack thereof) to such exhilarating effect.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing


Captain Phillips: Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro
Gravity: Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson
Inside Llewyn Davis: Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
Lone Survivor: Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow

I have to go with Gravity once more, though this time it's less to do with momentum than with the fact that I'm still not 100% clear on what the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing is, and given how often the two awards have gone to the same film in the past, I suspect that most of the Academy don't either.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song


Despicable Me 2: Pharrell Williams (music and lyrics)
Song: "Happy"
Frozen: Kristen Anderson-Lopez (music and lyrics), Robert Lopez (music and lyrics)
Song: "Let It Go"
Her: Karen O (music and lyrics), Spike Jonze (lyrics)
Song: "The Moon Song"
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: Bono (music and lyrics), The Edge (music), Adam Clayton (music), Larry Mullen Jr. (music)
Song: "Ordinary Love"

I could pretend to offer arguments why all of these songs have a good chance of winning, but let's just "Let It Go" and move on.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score


The Book Thief: John Williams
Gravity: Steven Price
Her: Will Butler, Owen Pallet
Philomena: Alexandre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks: Thomas Newman

There's a few perennial favourites in this category. John Williams is, of course, a legend in the world of film scores and has won 5 Oscars over the course of a career that has seen him nominated for a staggering 49 of the damn things. (Trivia fans might be interested to know that makes him is the most-nominated person currently living. He needs to get another 11 to overtake Walt Disney for the all-time record.) Thomas Newman and Alexandre Desplat are no slouches either, having received 12 and 6 nominations, respectively, though neither has won before. Since all three are nominated for films which don't have much traction in any of the other categories, I think Steven Price has the best chance of winning for his score for Gravity, a film which made sparing but powerful use of non-diegetic music. Also, it's always weird when the Academy nominates alternative musicians for awards, and seeing Will Butler (of Arcade Fire) and Owen Pallett (of Final Fantasy and just a ton of other great things) on this list is no different.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling


Dallas Buyers Club: Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: Steve Prouty
The Lone Ranger: Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua Casny

It may become apparent over the course of these predictions that I wasn't a huge fan of American Hustle. I thought it was very energetic and I had a good time with it, but it was also really insubstantial and was ultimately a hollow experience. The momentum it has built up as the awards season has dragged on has only made me dislike it more, which I admit is kind a silly thing, since I'm basically disliking something because other people enjoy it more than I did, but that's neither here nor there. What matters is that, as much as I didn't like it, American Hustle deserved a nomination for Makeup and Hairstyling. That's literally all it is! (Okay, I'll stop being needlessly mean about it.) But it is a film that uses the way its characters look to comment on who they are, even going so far as to open with a protracted scene in which Christian Bale carefully and methodically crafts his toupee. It's crazy to me that of all the awards that American Hustle has been nominated for, it wasn't nominated for the one it absolutely should have.

Oh, who'll win this? Probably Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Achievement in Costume Design


American Hustle: Michael Wilkinson
The Grandmaster: William Chang
The Great Gatsby: Catherine Martin
The Invisible Woman: Michael O'Connor
12 Years a Slave: Patricia Norris

This is a really strong category this year, even if the nominees point out how limited Costume Design has become over the years. To whit, all the nominees are period pieces, suggesting that the people who vote for them value pomp and recreation of the past over more innovative movies that try to capture how people dress now or imagine what the world might look like one day. (Her, to cite an example from this year, used its design choices to better suggest things about its vision of the future.) I expect that the brashness of American Hustle will probably win out, since it's not too exuberant, which probably counts against The Great Gatsby, nor is it too stately, as most of the other nominees are. It also helps that most of the Academy are of an age where they remember the '70s pretty well - albeit through coke-tinted lenses - and familiarity will probably win the day.

Best Achievement in Production Design


American Hustle: Judy Becker (production design), Heather Loeffler (set decoration)
Gravity: Andy Nicholson (production design), Rosie Goodwin (set decoration), Joanne Woollard (set decoration)
The Great Gatsby: Catherine Martin (production design), Beverley Dunn (set decoration)
Her: K.K. Barrett (production design), Gene Serdena (set decoration)
12 Years a Slave: Adam Stockhausen (production design), Alice Baker (set decoration)

This strikes me as a microcosm for the night in general, since it sees all three of the main contenders for Best Picture - 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Gravity - pitted against each other for an award that they all have a strong claim to, even though they all approach Production Design very differently. 12 Years a Slave's is austere and not at all flashy, in keeping with its overall tone and aesthetic; American Hustle's is outrageous and gaudy (in a good way); Gravity's is technically very impressive but serves the story more than being an end in itself. Because "Best" is often a synonym for "Most" where the Oscars are concerned, I think that American Hustle might have the edge here. As with costume design, it may also come down to the fact that more Academy voters lived through and remember the '70s than have experience of being astronauts.

Best Achievement in Film Editing


American Hustle: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten
Captain Phillips: Christopher Rouse
Dallas Buyers Club: Jean-Marc Vallée, Martin Pensa
Gravity: Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
12 Years a Slave: Joe Walker

Historically, Editing is seen as the strongest bellwether for the eventual winner of Best Director; editing plays into and enhances the directorial choices so strongly that the two are inextricably linked, with Editing and Directing going to the same film more often than not. As such, it's hardly surprising that American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave all received editing nominations since they've all received Best Director nods. It's slightly more surprising to see that Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club were nominated as well since neither is represented in Best Director, but the former is a Paul Greengrass film and three of his last four films have been nominated for Editing, and the latter has the distinction (along with Gravity) of being edited by its director, which seems analogous to the way that any actor or actress who primarily gets cast as a lead will have a stronger chance of getting a nomination if they take a supporting role. Cuarón doing double duty as Director and Editor, as well as the sheer, overwhelming power of Gravity's direction, makes me think that he and Mark Sanger will take home a couple of statues.

Best Achievement in Cinematography


The Grandmaster: Philippe Le Sourd
Gravity: Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis: Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska: Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners: Roger Deakins

My usual instinct where Cinematography is involved is to plump for Roger Deakins, mainly because I'm such a fan of his work that I think a win is long, long overdue, regardless of whether I like the film in question. (I fucking hated Prisoners, so I won't be too cut up if he doesn't win this year, which obviously means that he's going to, in true "Kate Winslet in The Reader style.") However, he has not won on any previous occasion, so plumping for him this year seems even more futile. Considering that none of the other real contenders for Best Picture are nominated alongside it - Nebraska's good, but it's got no real chance of winning Best Picture, and I imagine that the fact it was shot in colour then converted to black and white might count against it - and that the use of 3D was legitimately immersive and interesting, Gravity seems like the logical choice for Cinematography. It also helps that it comes a year after Life of Pi won for cinematography which, along with Avatar, sets a strong trend of films shot digitally and in 3D winning.

Okay, that''s the Technical Awards out of the way. Please come back tomorrow, when I will run through the Major Awards.