Friday, 13 February 2015

Oscars countdown part one: the ‘other’ awards

With the Oscars ceremony just over a week away, we look at which films deserve the gongs in the less fashionable categories.

It takes a pretty devout film buff to be able to name the winners of Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Sound Mixing from past Oscars, yet it is these more obscure awards that often determine a film’s success during awards season.

For instance, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman have received lots of press for landing the most number of nominations (eight each), thanks largely to their hauls of technical awards. The outstanding film of this year’s selection may be Boyhood, and that film remains odds on favourite to win Best Picture, but unlike these two films its virtues don’t translate as easily into particular categories for awards - there’s no statuette handed out for ‘Best Premise’ or ‘Most Audacious Idea’.

The whimsical tone of The Grand Budapest Hotel as a whole may be an acquired taste, but there can be no doubting that it excels in the minor categories it has been nominated for. Director Wes Anderson’s notorious attention to detail in realising the precise and lavish look across all aspects of the film is reflected in its picking up of Best Production Design, Costume Design and Makeup and Hair, while his long-term collaborator Robert Yeoman - one of the key individuals in creating that distinctive Wes Anderson look - is up for Best Cinematography.

On most years he would perhaps he a shoe-in to win, but when up against cinematographer-extraordinaire Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, The Tree of Life, Children of Men) and his part in constructing the near-unique huge single take in Birdman, will probably have to miss out this time round.

This peerless cinematography was the strongest and most distinctive element of Birdman, but its odd percussive soundtrack has also seen it rewarded with nominations for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Sound is perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect in film, and frequently the most unimaginative uses of it are rewarded - this year The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game are both up for Best Score despite their bland and formulaic music, while the innovative and deeply unsettling use of sound in Under The Skin and brilliant original post-punk score of Frank were overlooked entirely.

The Academy did however recognise the merits of Whiplash, nominating it for Best Sound Mixing and Best Editing, the two aspects that made its drumming scenes and live jazz performances so thrilling. And it was also pleasing to see Mr Turner nominated for its fine work in honouring the art of its subject in such aspects as Cinematography and Production Design, while Christopher Nolan’s team of filmmakers were recognised for their continued excellence with Interstellar earning nominations in four technical categories, including Visual Effects.

Notably, however, these latter two films were overlooked in each of the ‘Big Six’ categories, including Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay. Instead the screenplays of already multi-nominated films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, The Imitation Game and American Sniper were recognised, with the notable exceptions of Inherent Vice for its bold effort in taking on the apparently unadaptable Thomas Pynchon, and Nightcrawler, that also probably deserved recognition in the Lead Actor and Best Picture categories.

The films nominated for the screenplay awards are emblematic of the Academy’s trend this year of appreciating technical achievements and lighter entertainment, rather than political engagement - especially compared with the films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, which include films that grapple with weighty political themes across the world from Putin’s Russia (Leviathan) to religious fundamentalism in Mali (Timbuktu). These are both excellent films, and the only way to really justify the absence of either of them in the other categories is to interpret the Academy Awards as essentially and English-speaking-only ceremony - although that notion was complicated by the somewhat patronising nomination of Michael Haneke’s Amour a few years (and the decision to choose the vastly inferior Argo ahead of it).

Such a lack of cultural variety and politics may be disappointing, but the nominations as a whole include a pleasing amount of talent on the top of its game. Take the Best Director category. With the exception of Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game, all those nominated have all made films that feel unique to them - Bennet Miller for his sparse locations and cold tone in Foxcatcher the various technical characteristics that make up the idiosyncratic worlds of West Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman; and, best of all, Richard Linklater’s long-term commitment and warm intimacy in Boyhood. Perhaps the specific technical awards will elude Linklater, but his vision and its brilliant realisation will surely win him Best Director. 


StevesOnFilm’s picks:

Best Director: Boyhood

Best Adapted Screenplay: Frank*

Best Original Screenplay: Foxcatcher

Best Cinematography: Birdman

Best Film Editing: Whiplash

Best Foreign Language Film: Leviathan

Best Animated Feature: The Lego Movie*

Best Original Score: Under the Skin*  

Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

*These films weren’t actually nominated.

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