As much as I might complain about Hollywood film’s annual ticket-spiking, institutional horse-race, predictions are fun, so let’s do this thing. Today I’ll begin with some the technical categories and work my way up to the major awards.
Best Visual Effects
What It Covers: Technically, the award encompasses both setwork and computer-based effects, but really, this is the award for the CGI that has the most essential impact on the overall success of its film. That said, according to the actual Academy criteria, visual effects are judged by “the artistry, skill and fidelity with which the visual illusions are achieved.” So while giant aliens and mecha-battle-sharks do get recognition, it was Hugo who nabbed this award last year for creating a convincing train crash.
Who To Bet On: Life of Pi. There’s no two ways about the fact that Life of Pi leans on its effects work and pulls off its breathtaking CG seascapes, ships, and animals flawlessly. The visuals are integral to the film and have the advantage of being mostly faithful to real-life stuff, instead of outer-space or fantasy fixtures.
Who You Should Support: Life of Pi. CG. Bengal. Tiger. CG Bengal Tiger. Did you see the CG Bengal Tiger?!
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Although fan-favorite The Avengers earned a nod, the sleeper here is actually Prometheus, which older Academy voters are more likely to have seen and feel good about voting for – if Christopher Nolan’s superhero can’t get love from the Academy don’t expect Joss Whedon to do better. But the likelihood of a rolling space-station victory lap for Ridley Scott is pretty low.
Best Sound Editing
What It Covers: The award used to be called Best Sound Design, which is an easy way to think of this one. It’s for designing and manipulating audio to create distinct sound effects for a particular film. An example is the Ringwraiths’ scream: it’s actually a distortion of screenwriter Fran Walsh’s yell, but it’s been played with and crafted for the LOTR films. And don’t worry, everybody gets Editing and Mixing confused, which is probably why Hugo won last year.
Who To Bet On: Skyfall . When action movies like Inception and Pearl Harbor and frickin’ U-571 have come away with this award in the past, you better believe that the Academy is lining up to vote for a classy, cinematic action film like Skyfall. There is a wonderful interplay between sounds and silences here as well: the film does wonders with smaller zips and clangs as much as the big explosions and crashes.
Who You Should Support: Skyfall’s sonic precision is indeed breathtaking, so feel good about it winning. But Zero Dark Thirty, particularly its raid sequence, is equally exacting. The Academy doesn’t want to get tarred with politics unless they have the caveat of Sean Pean being drunk, but if you’re pulling for upsets, this is one to root for.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Life of Pi. The reason so many combat or action-heavy films win sound editing is because, especially in this age of intensified continuity, sound carries much of the narrative burden of tracking action during chaotic fight sequences. In a similar vein, sound plays a huge role in creating the believability of a fake Bengal tiger. Life of Pi is therefore next likely.
Best Sound Mixing
What It Covers: Ok, again, the basic distinction between editing and mixing is that while editing rewards the creation of sound specifically for an individual film, mixing rewards the overall blending of the sounds (ambient, dialog, canned, music, etc.) on a film’s complete soundtrack. The winner is often the same as in sound editing, but not always. Hugo took a trip to the moon with its Mixing Oscar last year.
Who To Bet On: Les Miserables. I refer you to that pretentious featurette about live-singing and you know, actors’ ability to make choices are whatever. It is technically ridiculous that the film’s entire musical orchestration is based on accompanists’ recording of music on the fly in a satellite room, gauging tempo and rhythm by how hard Hugh Jackson wanted to cry on that take. Everyone who has ever been on a set is impressed.
Who You Should Support: Les Miserables. More like Les Ridiculous.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: The closest contender to even touch it is Skyfall, because did you see Javier Bardem explode that tube station for funsies? But much like Anne Hathaway, we were all going to acknowledge the prowess of recording a live-sung and sung-through musical from the minute it happened.
Best Costume Design
What It Covers: It’s what the actors are wearing. And bear in mind, the Wikipedia page on Best Costume actually flat-out says, “..the Academy has traditionally avoided giving out the award to contemporary films” The Artist won last year, proving that while Costume does reward period detail, it doesn’t necessarily need to be Regency era, and the category is a likely bandwagoneer of major awards sweeps.
Who To Bet On: Anna Karenina. Neither of the major nominees in the category, Lincoln and Les Miserables, has overwhelming authority to nab this, and Weta Workshop is still glaring at Snow White And The Huntsman for stealing all its armor. So it’s not unlikely Anna Karenina will have a mini-sweep of the arts categories.
Who You Should Support: Look, I really like Anna Karenina, ok? It’s distinctive without being crazy over the top. All the nominees achieve the effects they set out to, though, so root for who you want.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Mirror Mirror. I know, I know, it’s not a good movie. You only saw this one because you were on a plane and you couldn’t look away. But giant golden hoop gowns and swan-head headdresses are kind of what Best Costume is for, and the film has, unfortunately, the tragic advantage of being a posthumous nomination for longtime Tarseem collaborator Eiko Ishioka. The sentiment factor may outweigh the embarrassment factor of supporting a be-frocked Nathan Lane.
Best Makeup And Hairstyling
What It Covers: Uhm, makeup and hairstyling? It’s helpful to remember that this award was created as the result of outcry that the makeup work on The Elephant Man wasn’t going to the recognition it deserved. Last year The Iron Lady won because the English have bad teeth, I guess?
Who To Bet On: Les Miserables. Hair and Makeup go through this weird double-filtration nominating process whereby nominees are pre-selected, then whittled down to only the three on which the entire Academy votes. So while films with lots of prosthetic work and intense wigs get nods, most-makeup doesn’t always translate to Oscar gold, and genre can give way to prestige picks. The Hobbit and Hitchcock are the other contenders, but Les Mis will probably get to have its cake.
Who You Should Support: The Hobbit. It’s super unlikely to win. The film’s being shunned like the kindergartener who lost Hannibal, Ms. Benjamin’s class’ beloved communal teddy-bear. But The Hobbit has 14 main characters, and they are effectively differentiated, by and large, through hair and makeup, never mind that Albino orc dude and all his minions. Not only does it include the most work, but its hair and makeup have to do the most work.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Yeah, I’d be floored if Hitchcock won. But I guess you can talk about Anthony Hopkins’ jowls if you like, because jowls is a funny word.
Best Production Design
What It Covers: Production Design used to be called Art Direction until last year. The nomenclature change isn’t important, really. What the award entails is achievement in what might properly be called mis-en-scene: sets, interiors, props, what have you. It went to Hugo last year, because everybody loves clock-gears and trains.
Who To Bet On: Anna Karenina. Like all the Art awards, Production Design favors period settings, and the closest a film can get to the sumptuary excess of Versailles, the better. Particularly intricate, gilded, or fantastical settings beat simpler, more understated sets, and Anna Karenina has the advantage of being all three, and not being too poorly received to disqualify it on the embarrassment factor.
Who You Should Support: Yeah, probably Anna Karenina. Lincoln, Life of Pi and The Hobbit are all nominated, two as period par-for-the-courses, and the other for, like, dwarven jewelry, but not only does AK provide a very lush and authoritative 19th Century look stylized to fit modern aesthetic tastes, but also there’s this giant stage. It’s a little crazy, and it works (visually, at least). A lot of that is down to the set design.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Les Miserables. It’s the other most-showy period piece on the list, but Les Mis doesn’t have that extra design dimension to deal with. The only thing to upset Tolstoy and Stoppardists would be a revolutionary outpouring of goodwill towards the musical.
Tomorrow: Non-feature films!