Daniel Mindel, cinematographer on J.J. Abrams’s upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, said in a 2013 interview with The Village Voice’s Casey Burchby: “The beauty of cinematography was that it was an amalgamation of art and science: the science of photography, or the science of postproduction, or the science of photochemical reaction with light.” For practitioners of the form, like Mindel, who’s never shot a film digitally, the choice here will be between The Grand Budapest Hotel or Ida, for how their distinctly retrograde cinematographic sense so sensually mediates our imagination of the past. But for everyone else (read: the majority of AMPAS), it will come down, as is often the case, to the film with the most cinematography: Birdman. Emmanuel Lubezki continues to push the medium from a micro to macro level, and in ways that continue to raise questions about just how the technical virtuosity of the stunt being recognized here is aided by special effects and editing. That didn’t stop him from winning an Oscar last year for Gravity, and as Birdman keeps its head mostly beneath the clouds, this is even more of a done deal.
Gravity (#1–10 of 55)
1. “MTV Movie Awards.” Katniss vs. ...uh…Solomon Northup?
“The MTV Movie Award nominations arrive hot on the heels of the Oscar ceremony. This awards show happens on April 13th. MTV, even moreso than the Globes is all about nominating big stars they think we’ll give them ratings even if they stick out like sore thumbs in their category. That’s why I have to admit shock that 12 Years a Slave shows up repeatedly in their nominations. I thought it far too sober, artistic, and adult for the awards show that kept holding the Twilight franchise up as some kind of pinnacle of filmmaking. It’s hard to consider them being nominated for the same prize, much less existing in the same universe. Gravity, which weirdly isn’t up for Movie of the Year would have been a far more MTV like choice. Honestly I can’t figure it. In some way this is a bit more like the MTV Movie Awards of yore which would give prizes to Wes Anderson before he even had a fanbase to speak of. But maybe it’s all merely a happy accident that two of the most Oscar nominated movies of the year (American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street) are also ’fun’ and so MTV responds in kind.”
1. “Alain Resnais, Acclaimed French Filmmaker, Is Dead at 91.” His death was confirmed by the French president, François Hollande, who called Mr. Resnais one of France’s greatest filmmakers.
“Memory, with an increasingly complex use of montage to evoke the mind’s unpredictable associations, became the central subject of Mr. Resnais’s films: from La Guerre Est Finie (1966) to Providence (1977). Perhaps his most innovative film of this period was the 1968 Je t’Aime, Je t’Aime, which used a time-travel premise to compose a complex series of enigmatic images and dramatic fragments spiraling through one man’s subjective experience of life.”
Below is a complete list of our predicted winners at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Original Screenplay: Her
Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Foreign Language: The Great Beauty
Documentary Feature: Twenty Feet from Stardom
Animated Feature Film: Frozen
Documentary Short: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Animated Short: Mr. Hubolt
Live Action Short: Helium
Film Editing: Gravity
Production Design: The Great Gatsby
Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club
Song: “Let It Go,” Frozen
Sound Editing: Gravity
Sound Mixing: Gravity
Visual Effects: Gravity
Like anyone who’s been covering what’s become, as the party line goes, “the closest Best Picture race in recent memory,” I’ve gone through many mental rewrites of this top-prize breakdown. The one I clung to the longest involved the word “bullshit.” It took shape, of course, after American Hustle, formerly known as American Bullshit, strutted through steam clouds of victory on nomination morning, collecting 10 nods before also claiming the SAG award for Best Ensemble (not to be confused with any costume-design kudos the film enjoyed throughout the season). Was this awfully great, unrepentantly tacky crime caper really the new frontrunner? If so, then the filmic narrative peddled by pop-culture journos since early 2013—that the year’s wealth of black-centric cinema was bound for unprecedented Oscar glory, capped off with a crown for 12 Years a Slave, the most confronting and “important” flick of the bunch—would have to be thrown out. What’s more, Steve McQueen’s insta-contender, a historical indictment many perceive as being as deep as young Patsey’s (Lupita Nyong’o) abyss of despair, would be overtaken by an epic of unadulterated shallowness. American Hustle’s win would insist, with all the fuck-it-all thump of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” that the notion of Oscar wins signifying some sort of sociopolitical responsibility is, indeed, bullshit.
In the absence of a de facto Best Picture frontrunner, the Oscar here usually goes to the slickest contender. This certainly explains the recent victories for The Bourne Ultimatum, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, three films whose respective visual canvases hinged heavily on their varying ranges of unorthodox editing techniques. Given this trend, the weak Best Picture favorite in this year’s race, 12 Years a Slave, will likely not garner any attention for Joe Walker’s understated work. Likewise, the acting showcase Dallas Buyers Club gains little from its nondescript editing and can also probably be ruled out. By contrast, the frenzied rhythms of American Hustle’s editing, though stylistically derivative of the Martin Scorsese films to which the crime caper owes a significant debt, fit the mold of previous winners rather comfortably. An even stronger contender, however, is Christopher Rouse’s masterfully compact cutting for Captain Phillips. Coupled with his previous Oscar win for Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum, Rouse’s recent ACE Eddie Award triumph for dramatic feature editing would seem to present a solid case for him coasting to a victory here, particularly given how much Captain Phillips derives its tension from his maximum-impact cutting. Standing in his way, however, is the technical titan Gravity. Editing may not be the film’s primary showcase, but its fluidly breathless compositional sense is as much a credit to Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger’s intuitive splicing techniques as any anything else. How far the film’s benchmark-defining pedigree will take it beyond the technical categories remains the million-dollar question, but it’s safe to say that the honors the Academy bestows on the film on Sunday will also encompass this one.
This week, the polar vortex will make an encore performance in the United States, but this upcoming Sunday, when Ellen DeGeneres signs off as host of the 86th annual Academy Awards, the collective nightmare known as awards season will be effectively over. This year,
57 56 films received nominations across 24 categories, and with the exception of The Invisible Woman, I’ve seen them all. Below is a ranked list, from most euphoric to most pungent, of those 56 films.
- 12 years a slave
- Academy Awards
- Before Midnight
- dallas buyers club
- ellen degeneres
- ernest & celestine
- get a horse
- inside llewyn davis
- lone survivor
- polar vortex
- star trek: into darkness
- that wasn't me
- the croods
- the invisible woman
- the missing picture
- the wolf of wall street
This past weekend, Gravity claimed the Live Action Film award for sound mixing from the Cinema Audio Society, one more precursor voting body whose results could prove prescient when it comes to Oscar’s March 2nd endgame. But, really, even if the CAS had tossed a lifesaver to Captain Phillips, or a dollar into the hopelessly lightweight guitar case of Inside Llewyn Davis, it still wouldn’t have changed our opinion that this statuette belongs to Alfonso Cuarón’s minimalist, outer space-set spectacle, which is poised to pick up more technical Oscars than any film since The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. Had the Coen brothers’ folksy ode to failure had more rafter-shaking pizazz (a la Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, and other musicals served well by this category), and had Captain Phillips had the hyperkinetic technical muscle of Paul Greengrass’s three-time Oscar winner The Bourne Ultimatum, there might be arguments worth having here. But there really seems to be no stopping Gravity’s craft-category onslaught, and its victories in the sound races in particular will prove that, in the cinematic silences of space, everyone can hear you scream, breathe, howl, “detach!” and hurtle toward rebirth.
It’s a good thing the Best Director category didn’t go the way of Best Picture to accommodate more nominees, because this year’s campaign has only ever been a three-man race even in its most competitive stages. The two non-contenders are Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), who’ve each enjoyed a nearly spotless recent track record for landing in the category. Payne has received nods for his last three films, while five of Scorsese’s last six non-documentary films have earned the legendary director an aisle seat at the ceremony. But with only one win between the two filmmakers (Scorsese’s The Departed) in that stretch, their nominations likely speak more to the compulsory voting habits and pre-digested tastes of Academy voters than to the merits of either Nebraska or The Wolf of Wall Street. And though David O. Russell has been on a nomination hot streak of late, with American Hustle capping a trio of Best Director nominations over the last four years for the filmmaker, his chances, which seemed much higher back when his crime caper stormed onto the scene last December, have since fizzled along with the film.
In 2010, we asked, “How do you solve a problem like Avatar? How do you hold a fluorescent, floating anemone in your hand? Well, you can’t. Because it exists in hexadecimal code on a hard drive somewhere in Silicon (or is it Uncanny?) Valley.” So we threw our vote to Sherlock Holmes and shook our heads on Oscar night when James Cameron’s Epcot Center diorama was awarded. The lesson? That Gravity, even though it’s the Mission: SPACE to Avatar’s more elaborately designed Universe of Energy: Ellen’s Energy Adventure, shouldn’t be too quickly discounted. Two years earlier, we thought the category would break toward Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood’s Wild West City attraction only to see it (rightfully) lose to Tim Burton’s Broadway-ed Dickens funhouse Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Meaning that the benefits of being a Best Picture frontrunner in this category are negligible. And so we put our money on Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina last year only to see it toppled by the Lincoln Logs of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Meaning that being a politely revered or disliked Best Picture nominee is also negligible.
- 12 years a slave
- Academy Awards
- anna karenina
- epcot center
- eric henderson
- james cameron
- Joe Wright
- life of pi
- moulin rouge
- Paul Thomas Anderson
- sherlock holmes
- steve mcqueen
- Steven Spielberg
- sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street
- the great gatsby
- there will be blood
- Tim Burton