By Daniel Kenealy
As we see out 2008 and welcome 2009 I thought I‚Äôd pen a few thoughts on this year technical races. Yes, they will crystallize significantly over the coming weeks as the guilds announce their nominees but it‚Äôs never too early to take a stab at some predictions.
Starting with the visual technical categories and, specifically, with my favorite category, Best Cinematography. History could be made at this years Academy Awards should the cinematographers opt to include Mandy Walker‚Äôs stunning photography from ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù. She would be the first female cinematographer nominated in the Academy‚Äôs eighty year history. She certainly has a claim to a nomination based on merit but there are two significant strikes against her. First, she is relatively new and the d.p.‚Äôs can be somewhat reluctant to welcome new faces. Second, ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù is failing to wow either audiences or critics.
Despite this many commentators, myself included, see a ‚ÄúMemoirs of a Geisha‚Äù-style showing for Baz Luhrmann‚Äôs latest offering across the technical categories. Both were eagerly anticipated films that ultimately disappointed on arrival (forgive the generalization, of course both films have their champions) yet stood out for their sheer beauty and cinematic qualities.
Prognosticators will be on safer ground predicting cinematography nominations for Anthony Dod Mantle (‚ÄúSlumdog Millionaire‚Äù), Wally Pfister (‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù), and Roger Deakins (‚ÄúRevolutionary Road‚Äù). All three movies feature a distinctive visual style. The first is incredibly bright and the movie is arguably the frontrunner for Best Picture. Pfister has a good track record having secured two nominations for his previous work with director Christopher Nolan (‚ÄúBatman Begins‚Äù and ‚ÄúThe Prestige‚Äù). Finally, Deakins brings his usual brilliance to Sam Mendes‚Äô latest drama and, following sixth and seventh losses at least years ceremony he is likely to get another shot at the gold. ‚ÄúRevolutionary Road‚Äù may have fallen short of expectations but the visual beauty of the film is beyond question. For the final two nominations I am currently predicting Mandy Walker despite the aforementioned drawbacks. Her work fits perfectly the epic style usually appreciated by this branch and ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù is as beautiful as anything Luhrmann has ever offered. Finally, I think that Chris Menges, a respected veteran, will score for ‚ÄúThe Reader‚Äù. The film has gone through its own unique troubles but, beyond that, it features what Nathanial Rogers rightly calls ‚Äògorgeous and emotionally attuned lighting.‚Äô Menges has been absent from the shortlist since 1995 despite a string of successes in the 1980s. Look for him to be welcomed back.
The biggest omission from my predictions is Claudio Miranda‚Äôs work on ‚ÄúThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button‚Äù and I omit that film with reluctance. Yes the movie is big, yes the lighting is top drawer but the digital photography ‚Äì of a type that has been snubbed before ‚Äì may not find a home on the roster. Other contenders include Deakins (once again) for ‚ÄúDoubt‚Äù although the film is arguably a tad small to feature here. More likely to upset the apple-cart is Eduardo Serra‚Äôs work on ‚ÄúDefiance‚Äù; although the film was not well received it may be able to muster some technical nominations. Serra has been nominated twice and war movies often gain some traction here. ‚ÄúMilk‚Äù and ‚ÄúFrost/Nixon‚Äù are two films primed for Best Picture nominations that could get on a roll in the technical categories and lensers Harris Savides and Salvatore Totino should not be discounted. Periperhal candidates include Tom Stern ‚Äì so far unrecognized for his work with Clint Eastwood ‚Äì for ‚ÄúChangeling‚Äù; Janusz Kaminski for ‚ÄúIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‚Äù; and Javier Aguirresarobe for ‚ÄúVicky Cristina Barcelona‚Äù.
The art direction category tends to be dominated by movies where the sets are almost characters in the movie, namely period and fantasy movies. Occassionally a contemporary movie makes the cut but it is far safer to stick to period and fantasy movies. Furthermore, fantasy movies tend to gain more traction here than in the costume design category. Perhaps the safest bet this year is ‚ÄúThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button‚Äù. Spanning eight decades and several eras the artists behind the movie are primed for nominations across-the-board. Another likely nominee is Catherine Martin ‚Äì looking for a third nomination for working alongside hubbie Baz Luhrmann ‚Äì for ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù. Baz and Catherine excel at ‚Äòepic‚Äô and although this movie features many exterior sets Nathanial Rogers is right to point out that might not be the deterrent some may think it is. So, what fantasy movies might join the fray? Many are speculating that Nathan Crowley will secure a nomination for ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù and it is certainly possible. However, whilst ‚ÄúBatman Begins‚Äù featured eye-catching quasi-futuristic production design, ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù was much more urban and the sets do not immediately command attention. If the movie has serious momentum then it‚Äôll probably secure a place but I am not convinced. The only other fantasy movie seemingly in the race is Guy Dyas‚Äô work on ‚ÄúIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‚Äù. The question mark hanging over his prospects is the CGI used to support the production design. Purists may be turned off by this and it could hinder his chances.
So the two leading fantasty movies have their drawbacks. For two of the remaining three slots I return to some period offerings. In my opinion the leaders are ‚ÄúThe Duchess‚Äù and ‚ÄúFrost/Nixon‚Äù, the former for its stunning, opulent design-work and the latter because Michael Corenblith has had success teaming with Ron Howard in the past and this sort of detailed, interior work has had success in the past ‚Äì for example ‚ÄúAmerican Gangster‚Äù. Other period films in contention are ‚ÄúThe Reader‚Äù, a film that demands Briggite Broch to design over several decades. ‚ÄúRevolutionary Road‚Äù has stumbled over recent weeks and, although Kristi Zea could pull off a nomination, the 1950s interiors may stray too close to the subtle for Oscars‚Äô tastes. Is it ‚Äòshowy‚Äô enough? More distant contenders include Dan Weil (‚ÄúDefiance‚Äù); Bill Groom (‚ÄúMilk‚Äù); Mark Friedberg (‚ÄúSynecdoche, New York‚Äù); and Stephen Scott (‚ÄúHellboy II: Golden Army‚Äù).
Two other strong contenders are James Murakami for his period work on ‚ÄúChangeling‚Äù. A period piece from Clint Eastwood featuring several memorable locations should not be overlooked. And Ged Clarke‚Äôs work on the fantasy ‚ÄúThe Fall‚Äù is a surprise nomination just waiting to happen. The production design was perhaps more obvious in this film than any other this season and, as such, I am calling it for the fifth slot.
In the costume design category, as I said above, period movies are more favored than fantasy offerings. ‚ÄúBenjamin Button‚Äù leads the pack once again with Jacqueline West‚Äôs work over multiple decades a surefire nominee. Veteran Albert Wolsky proved, with his nomination for ‚ÄúAcross the Universe‚Äù, just how respected he is and a nomination for ‚ÄúRevolutionary Road‚Äù seems probable. Similarly, despite the underwhelming reception afforded ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù I fully expect a nomination here for the eye-catching costumes on display. For the last slots there are numerous period offerings to choose from. I opt for Ann Roth‚Äôs work ‚Äì again over several decades ‚Äì on ‚ÄúThe Reader‚Äù and Michael O‚ÄôConnor‚Äôs sumptuous designs for ‚ÄúThe Duchess‚Äù. However both are vulnerable. Deborah Hooper dresses a huge cast led by Angelina Jolie in 1920s Los Angeles in ‚ÄúChangeling‚Äù. Sandy Powell, one of Oscar‚Äôs faves, takes on 16th century royalty with ‚ÄúThe Other Boleyn Girl‚Äù and, although the movie was poor, that often does not matter in this category. A period wildcard here might be ‚ÄúBrideshead Revisited‚Äù.
But will it be an entirely historical lineup? My guess, as you can see from the above paragraph, is that it will be. If a fantasty movie is to sneak it look to Eiko Ishioka‚Äôs eye-popping work on ‚ÄúThe Fall‚Äù. Another possibility is Lindy Hemming‚Äôs work on ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù. She won this category back in 1999 and her Joker costume was genius. But the majority of costumes in this movie are contemporary. Aside from the batsuit ‚Äì which we‚Äôve seen before ‚Äì and Heath Ledger‚Äôs costumes there might not be enough to impress her peers. Other possible nominees include Jenny Beaven (‚ÄúDefiance‚Äù); Ann Roth (‚ÄúDoubt‚Äù); Patricia Field (‚ÄúSex and the City‚Äù); Danny Glicker (‚ÄúMilk‚Äù); and Daniel Orlandi (‚ÄúFrost/Nixon‚Äù).
Best film editing has, historically, corresponded closely with Best Picture and this year may not be much different. ‚ÄúBenjamin Button‚Äù, ‚ÄúSlumdog Millionaire‚Äù, and ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù all look highly probable. The first cuts through eight decades and features war scenes that should appeal. The second and third are both ‚Äòhighly edited‚Äô by which I mean the editing is obvious. ‚ÄúMilk‚Äù and ‚ÄúFrost/Nixon‚Äù are currently my other Best Picture predictions and both are contenders here. Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill have been nominated three times in the past and Ron Howard‚Äôs latest requires its editing team to build dramatic tension by balancing the actual interviews with the behind-the-scenes goings-on. Elliot Graham‚Äôs work on ‚ÄúMilk‚Äù is solid but fails to stand out as ‚Äòobvious‚Äô and lacks any unconventional narrative. Thus I expect him to miss out in favor of Steven Rosenblum‚Äôs work on ‚ÄúDefiance‚Äù. A wartime epic with suspense and action offers Rosenblum a chance for a fourth nomination.
There are other contenders. If the Academy is in the mood for ‚Äòobvious‚Äô (read: action-based) editing then ‚ÄúIron Man‚Äù could secure a nomination given its positive reception critically and commercially. Other contenders include Tariq Anwar (‚ÄúRevolutionary Road‚Äù); Dylan Tichenor (‚ÄúDoubt‚Äù); Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson (‚ÄúQuantum of Solace‚Äù); and Dody Dorn (‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù).
Best original score is perhaps the Oscar category most resistent to newcomers and, perhaps to the music branches‚Äô relief, there are plenty of veterans for them to reward. I still consider rule 1 in the music categories to be, never bet against John Williams! Thus, despite the lukewarm reception I expect a nomination to come his way for ‚ÄúIndiana Jones‚Äù. I also feel that Thomas Newman can grab a double nomination for ‚ÄúWall-E‚Äù and ‚ÄúRevolutionary Road‚Äù. Alexandre Desplat also looks strong for ‚ÄúBenjamin Button‚Äù. For the fifth slot I am playing it safe and opting for another previous nominee, James Newton Howard for ‚ÄúDefiance‚Äù.
There are several other prominent contenders. Danny Elfman scored his one non-Tim Burton nomination working alongside Gus Van Sant and that recipe could lead to another nomination this year for ‚ÄúMilk‚Äù. Howard Shore has won three Academy Awards but his popularity remains murky outside of ‚ÄúThe Lord of the Rings‚Äù trilogy. His work on ‚ÄúDoubt‚Äù is in the mix. Other contenders include A.H. Rahman, if they‚Äôre prepared to welcome a newcomer, for ‚ÄúSlumdog Millionare‚Äù; Rachel Portman for a classy period score for ‚ÄúThe Duchess‚Äù; Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard following their reinstatement for ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù; Hans Zimmer for ‚ÄúFrost/Nixon‚Äù; Clint Eastwood, if they‚Äôre desperate to nominate him, for ‚ÄúChangeling‚Äù; and David Hirschfelder for the old school, cinematic score on ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù.
Best original song remains a mystery to almost every prognosticator but this year three songs seem highly probable: Jaiho from ‚ÄúSlumdog Millionaire‚Äù; Down to Earth from ‚ÄúWall-E‚Äù; and the title track from ‚ÄúThe Wrestler‚Äù. After that it remains a crap-shoot. My feeling is that Miley Cyrus‚Äô popularity may bring a nomination for ‚ÄúBolt‚Äù and that the final entry in the ‚ÄúHigh School Musical‚Äù trilogy might score a nod for the song I Want It All. But, I have to confess, I am somewhat clueless in this category. With names like Elton John and Clint Eastwood in the mix (for ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù and ‚ÄúGran Torino‚Äù respectively) it is murky indeed.
To wrap things up I currently see the following frontrunners for sound editing: ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù, ‚ÄúIron Man‚Äù, and ‚ÄúIndiana Jones‚Äù as obvious offerings with much technical sound work; ‚ÄúWall-E‚Äù in the tradition of many recent Disney-Pixar offerings; and ‚ÄúDefiance‚Äù as a war movie with complex battle sequences to be edited. Other contenders include, from the loud brigade, ‚ÄúQuantum of Solace‚Äù and ‚ÄúBody of Lies‚Äù and, from the Best Picture-coattail brigade, ‚ÄúBenjamin Button‚Äù.
In the sound mixing category I expect ‚ÄúIron Man‚Äù, ‚ÄúWall-E‚Äù and ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù to be joined by ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù for its blend of music and war, and ‚ÄúBenjamin Button‚Äù for similar reasons. ‚ÄúIndiana Jones‚Äù and ‚ÄúDefiance‚Äù are also contenders, as are ‚ÄúSlumdog Millionaire‚Äù, ‚ÄúQuantum of Solace‚Äù, and ‚ÄúAustralia‚Äù.
The visual effects category is sure to feature ‚ÄúIron Man‚Äù. The remaining two nominees are tough to pin-point but I expect ‚ÄúBenjamin Button‚Äù and ‚ÄúChronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian‚Äù.
Finally, best makeup ‚Äì another mysterious category ‚Äì will probably feature some combination of ‚ÄúBenjamin Button‚Äù, ‚ÄúThe Reader‚Äù, ‚ÄúChronicles of Narnia‚Äù, ‚ÄúHellboy II‚Äù, ‚ÄúFrost/Nixon‚Äù, ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù, ‚ÄúW.‚Äù, and ‚ÄúSynecdoche, New York‚Äù. My feeling is that, despite Heath Ledger‚Äôs makeup, ‚ÄúThe Dark Knight‚Äù will be seen as too simplistic whilst ‚ÄúBenjamin Button‚Äù‚Äôs CGI might make the purists frown. My predictions are thus ‚ÄúNarnia‚Äù for the intricate makeup and hairstyling; ‚ÄúThe Reader‚Äù for the subtle ageing; and ‚ÄúHellboy II‚Äù which may receive a closer look than its prequel following Guillermo Del Toro‚Äôs critical acclaim for ‚ÄúPan‚Äôs Labyrinth‚Äù.
Happy New Year everyone!