OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2014: The visual and artistic categories

  (Image: pop-break.com)

(Image: pop-break.com)

PART 3: THE VISUAL AND ARTISTIC CATEGORIES

Welcome to Oscar week 2014.  The 86th Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, are this Sunday and it's time to break down and analyze just who or what is going to be walking off the stage with an Oscar.  If you follow my website, you will know that I've been tabulating all of the minor and lead-up award winners in all of the Oscar categories since last November on my 2014 Awards Tracker.  To put it in educational terms to match this website's theme, those numbers have been by "data analysis" to predicting just what films are going to win.   It's time to make my formal predictions.  In this post, we look at the visual and artistic technical categories that include cinematography, costumes, makeup, editing, visual effects, and editing.  Let's go! 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The nominees:  Phillipe Le Sourd for "The Grandmaster," Emmanuel Lubeski for "Gravity," Bruno Delbonnel for "Inside Llewyn Davis," Pheldon Papamichael for "Nebraska," Roger Deakins for "Prisoners"

AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):  

22- Lubeski, 4- Delbonnel, 1- Sean Bobbitt, "12 Years a Slave," 1- Lubeski for "To the Wonder," 1- Bradford Young, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints"

Who was snubbed:  Even though, as you can see from the Awards Tracker numbers, this category is a blow out in the making, the biggest snub is likely Sean Bobbitt's searing camera and framing work for "12 Years a Slave."  He should have gotten nominated alone for two long takes of unflinching poignancy, the whipping scene and the hanging scene, where his camera holds you in the palm of its hand.

Happy to be there:  The surprise nominee of this group is the foreign work of Philippe Le Sourd working with Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai's epic "The Grandmaster."  It's nice to see the striking slow motion and bending shots of that film get a nod in this category.  It's a nice kudos thrown towards international cinema.

Who should win and will win:  Cinematography, like musical score, is another element I feel like a film snob about this all the time.  It's something I equally applaud and loathe when done right or wrong.  It's something I completely notice and critique from a film.  I like creative camerawork and lensing.  I admire movies that do it better than others and get away from static shots.  Normally in this category, I side with the epic scope of a big sprawling landscape over green screen trickery, but there isn't really one of those this year.  "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Nebraska," and "Prisoners" split their time well between interiors and exteriors and those shooting differences.  They all do it well, but they still seem ordinary and simple.  Instead, this is an award "Gravity" truly earns out of the juggernaut rake of technical awards it's going to steal.  The technological use of lighting, green screen, and unique camera tricks to create outer space is nothing short of phenomenal in the cinematography department.  This was a special picture in this department.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

The nominees:  "Gravity," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," "Iron Man 3," "The Lone Ranger," "Star Trek Into Darkness"

AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):  7- "Gravity," 1- "Pacific Rim"

Who was snubbed:  I know I'm showing my allegiances and tastes again, but put this down as another category where I think "Man of Steel" should have been included.  When I step back and realize how many costumes and human elements of the film where actually visual effects, my appreciation for the finished project and its creativity improves.  There is an easy film it could have bumped...

Happy to be there:  ...and that film is "The Lone Ranger."  The literal and figurative trainwreck doesn't deserve this accolade ahead of a film like "Man of Steel" or even "Pacific Rim" in this department.

Who should win and will win:  Just like cinematography, this is an award completely deserving of the team that brought "Gravity" to life.  We've seen the massive armies of "The Hobbit" before and the same guys with the science fiction tricks of "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Iron Man 3."  I loved the motion capture work to create Smaug in "The Hobbit" and all four of those films, really, have extremely good special effects, but the spacescape created from literally nothing for "Gravity" is on another level.  Go look up some of the behind-the-scenes featurettes for this film and you'll be amazed too.  Hand it the Oscar.

BEST FILM EDITING

The nominees:  "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave"

AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):  

9- "Gravity," 2- "American Hustle," 2- "Captain Phillips," 2- "Rush," 1- "12 Years a Slave"

Who was snubbed:  Looking at the Awards Tracker data, it looks like the one snub of previous award winners in this category is "Rush."  I agree that it should be there.  It tautly crafts its racing film in a smooth way that doesn't feel like a formal "Fast and Furious" knockoff and feels like real racing over street racing.  Just as a joke, I will say "To the Wonder" should get an editing award for actually getting Terrance Mallick ("The Tree of Life" and "The Thin Red Line") to deliver a movie that is under two hours in length.  Coherency is still a problem, but that editing feat alone is a small (sarcastic) miracle.

Happy to be there:  This is a category where the fancy and art-house Best Picture nominees steal nominations to fill their portfolio over more deserving technical efforts that actually involve editing.  These editing nominations for "Dallas Buyers Club," "American Hustle," and "12 Years a Slave" are resume-fillers so that they can gain more Oscar nominations to fill their posters and newspaper ads.  To sound more like a jerk, no movie over two hours should ever win or be nominated for this award, even though it happens all the time.

Who should win and will win:  Oscar prognosticators have run the numbers in the past showing that the winner of Best Film Editing has matched the eventual Best Picture winner over 60% of the time.  I think that's a reflection of that resume filling I just mentioned, but that still counts as an intriguing possible future trend-setter and predictor to how the night is going to go when this envelope gets opened.  This year, I think the technical beats the prestige and "Gravity" wins, completing its dominance in the artistic and technical categories.  Those same prognosticators might then make the call that "Gravity" will go on to win Best Picture, but I don't see that happening.  I think "Gravity" takes the "Hugo" and "Life of Pi" route from the last two years and becomes the total Oscar champ for number of trophies while not becoming the Best Picture winner.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

The nominees:  "Dallas Buyers Club," "Bad Grandpa," "The Lone Ranger"

AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):  2- "American Hustle"

Who was snubbed:  I don't proclaim to have OCD, but, as a movie fan, I hate (and I'm using the word hate here, to quote "As Good As it Gets") that the Academy can't grow a pair of balls and just nominate two additional films to make a real field of five nominees and not a wimpy three.  You mean to tell me that Oscar voters, even in this exact field, can't find two more films to honor?  I don't buy it.  The hairpieces of "American Hustle" and the sheer volume of creature work in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" would be slam dunk nominees and even winners if they could just give this category a real look and chance.  No wonder why no one notices this minor artistic categories and leaves to go to the bathroom.  Make them matter.

Happy to be there:  Because of the nominee cap at three, all of these films should be happy they made the extremely slim cut.  The happiest of all should be "Bad Grandpa."  While I won't argue that the makeup magic to turn Johnny Knoxville into an invisible old grumpy man wasn't good, it's the fact that, of all the films in the world that get to be Oscar nominees, you voters just knighted "Jackass" and tapped your sword on its shoulders.  Come on, man.

Who should win and who will win:  Without "American Hustle" and "The Hobbit" here, this becomes a consolation award towards what film of the three had makeup matter the most.  By that rationale, surprisingly, "Bad Grandpa" has a real case, but I just don't see voters piling on to give that film a trophy.  This will go to the importance of creating Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto as AIDS sufferers in "Dallas Buyers Club" before some other weird Johnny Depp character in "The Lone Ranger."  Prestige beats creativity here.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The nominees:  "American Hustle," "The Grandmaster," "The Great Gatsby," "The Invisible Woman," "12 Years a Slave"

AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):  

3- "The Great Gatsby," 2- "12 Years a Slave," 1-  "American Hustle," 1- "Blue Jasmine," 1- "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," 1- "The Invisible Woman" 

Who was snubbed:  Much like my constant side votes for "Man of Steel," I think "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is superior in technical and artistic ways to many of the nominees in some of these categories.  This is one of them.  No offense to the stock slave uniform of tattering clothes from "12 Years a Slave," but I'll fully comfortable calling the armor and intricacies of "The Hobbit" far better costume design and effort than the Best Picture frontrunner.

Happy to be there:  Just as in Best Cinematography, the nomination and acknowledgement of foreign cinema to reward "The Grandmaster" is a happy victory in itself.  It deserved these two nominations to compete with the more domestic and well-known entries.  If you get a chance to find and see the film, take it.  "The Grandmaster" is a visual near-masterpiece.

Who should win and who will win:  From both a costume volume and quality standpoint, I really think this award is solidly in the hands of "The Great Gatsby."  The nearest contender I can see is the fun 70's stylings of "American Hustle," but I think decadence wins over groovy threads.  The old joke is to take the period picture here, no matter how obscure, like "Jane Eyre" from last year, but I'm not falling for "The Invisible Woman" with "The Great Gatsby" on the board.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

The nominees:  "American Hustle," "Gravity," "The Great Gatsby," "Her," "12 Years a Slave"

AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):  

8- "The Great Gatsby," 6- "Gravity," 2- "Her"

Who was snubbed:  For the uninformed Oscar fan, production design is the fancy work that goes into creating the sets and scenes of a motion picture.  Sometimes, it is called "art direction."  As you know, with green screen and CGI, they've come a long way from old couches and dry wall paintings from your high school theater production of "Little Shop of Horrors."  In my last attempt to beat a dead horse and stand on a soapbox, I think the set design, both actual and animated, for "Man of Steel" and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" were phenomenal in the scope and scale of world building.  I think New Jersey looks like New Jersey and "American Hustle" is overrated in this category.

Happy to be there:  Considering the growing use of CGI and green screen, it's hard to find a movie that doesn't have at least a few layers of digital touch-up when it comes to settings and backgrounds.  Two of the five nominees (and eventual winner) use extensive green screen.  That would make the traditional set work on "Her," "12 Years a Slave," and "American Hustle" three of the lucky ones in the modern age to still get honored for doing it the old fashioned way.  Kudos to them.

Who should win:  It's not quite to the discerning eye I think I have for cinematography, but I too appreciate the creation of a imagined world through production design.  For as much as I marvel at what green screen can do to create a completely imagined outer space setting in something like "Gravity," I have to tip my hat to one of those three non-CGI-enhanced nominees.  If I had a vote, I would give this award to "Her."  Through smart design interior and exterior design, a very urban/organic palette, and with an eye towards its near-future setting that borders on science fiction, the production design on "Her" is subtle but substantial in creating the ambiance of that film.  It's the best of the traditional uses of production design.

Who will win:  What will win, however, is the one that dazzles with the best of both worlds.  "The Great Gatsby" uses a wealth of actual settings that are hidden by seamless CGI enhancements that are utterly spectacular.  When I first watched the film, I couldn't tell what was dressed and what was enhanced until I saw this before-and-after clip from the studio on the film's visual effects work.  I was impressed and I think it will just barely trump some of the same, equally creative work from "Gravity," solely because it still has some semblance of traditional sets compared to "Gravity"'s famed "lightbox" where not a single set exists.

NEXT:  THE WRITING AND DIRECTING AWARDS

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