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The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (#110 of 9)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

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.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Makeup

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Makeup
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Makeup

Last year, when The Iron Lady’s Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland stole the makeup trophy from the team behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the win not only hinted at Meryl Streep’s eventual semi-shock of a Best Actress victory, it affirmed that one needn’t be the flashiest comer to claim this award. In the recent past, the Oscar here has gone to The Wolfman, Star Trek, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but it’s also been bestowed on Frida and La Vie en Rose, proving biopic metamorphosis can out-putty the extreme and the fanciful (the latter film beat out Norbit and Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End). Such is good news for Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, and Martin Samuel, the trio of nominees who swelled Anthony Hopkins to twice his form for Hitchcock. Opinions of Hopkins’s transformation have been largely varied, with some hailing it as the suspense master’s resurrection and others finding the whole thing rather gross, but what’s certain is that the actor is all but gone beneath the makeup, which voters may see as a win-worthy feat.

Back There Again: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Back There Again: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>
Back There Again: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>

Once the distinct, familiar sense of wonder took hold, I felt a sharp pang of guilt watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, part one of Peter Jackson’s long-gestating Lord of the Rings prequel. Here’s a movie that so many, myself included, regarded with great prejudice, sizing it up as a cute jaunt that had to be seen along with the other year-end contenders, yet reeked of folly, diminished stakes, and outright opportunism, its attachment to a trilogy making excess seem like one more strike against it. But, then, as Jackson’s camera began scanning New Zealand’s topography, with majestic Howard Shore accompaniment, this arrogant miscalculator (and ardent Rings fan) sat humbled and corrected. Jackson may not boast a sterling track record post-Return of the King, and The Hobbit may have suffered a heap of development hell, passing from Jackson to (eventual co-writer) Guillermo del Toro like a certain burdensome bauble, but shame on all who doubt the enduring, enveloping power of Jackson’s Middle-earth, an immersive and comprehensive filmic world if ever there was one. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought me right back to a place I didn’t realize I was missing, a widescreen realm that seems to exist to widen the eyes.

The Lord of the Rings: Moments Out of Time

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<em>The Lord of the Rings</em>: Moments Out of Time
<em>The Lord of the Rings</em>: Moments Out of Time

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned wide recognition as one of the most significant accomplishments in the modern age of cinema. The films translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose through popular filmmaking tropes and cutting-edge technology into a stunningly visceral travelogue of brotherhood, grief, sacrifice, and storytelling itself, enlivened by the panoramic vistas of New Zealand where they were shot. However, there’s a caveat to the retrospective glow that has steadily amassed around the trilogy since The Return of the King swept the Oscars in 2004. Perhaps due to the epic scope of the project, which forms an almost 10-hour opus when connected together, the long view of director Peter Jackson’s accomplishment deemphasizes the minutia tantamount to its success.

Therefore, as we await Jackson’s latest foray into Middle-earth with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the time appears ripe for a fresh look at The Lord of the Rings films. However, rather than focusing on where and how the pieces fit into a broader mosaic of the trilogy, an inside-out approach to these movies would make for a more worthwhile account of their riches.

For this piece, I’ve appropriated the concept of Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy’s “Moments Out of Time” annual look-back at a given year’s cinematic offerings. My hope is to highlight individual moments, disconnected not just from the trilogy’s story, but also from the generally accepted account of its collective achievement. Thus, the “Moments Out of Time” concept applies beyond merely the format of highlighting specific excerpts from the movies. These moments—some of which are individual shots, others extended sequences—aren’t necessarily the best or most pivotal within a certain context for evaluating the films.

Each of the following 10 moments illustrates a slightly different shade of the films’ fluid realization of a complex visual, thematic, and emotional spectrum. They encompass moments large and small, every one offering a distinct flavor of Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-earth, and all magnifying the larger accomplishments of the trilogy as a whole. I’ve limited my list to 10, though dozens more could arguably have been featured.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time

The highly subjective task of compiling a list of the 10 best films of all time is nearly as daunting as the thought that plagues every film completist: How on earth will I ever catch up with more than a century’s worth of cinema? The answer, of course, is that nobody really can, and in a sense, surrendering to that truth offers a kind of liberation. We all want to devour as many great movies as possible, but there comes a time when we have to accept a certain morsel of defeat. Which is basically my disclaiming way of saying that I came at this project with a highly personal and minimally authoritative approach, selecting a group of favorites instead of stamping my feet and declaring history’s 10 best films. Contributors were encouraged to tackle their lists however they saw fit, and some have certainly delivered what they regard as the definitive cream of the crop. More power to those folks, and to those whose picks are far less populist and more Sight & Sound-friendly than mine. Ultimately, while I gave much consideration to artistic influence and chronological diversity (and winced at the snubbing of films like The Red Shoes, Pulp Fiction, My Own Private Idaho, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), there were really only 10 titles I ever could have chosen. Quite simply, these movies changed my life.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Costume Design

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Costume Design
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Costume Design

So it is that the one year we didn’t stick to our frilliest-always-wins guns here, allowing ourselves to be blinded by the sheen of Keira Knightley’s emerald green dress from Atonement, we came up short. So, Anonymous for the win, right? That’s what my gut told me the morning the Oscar nominations were announced, except it wasn’t a good sign when the Costume Designers Guild didn’t follow suit by also nominating Lisy Christl’s garbs, and the last time a film won an Oscar without the guild’s seal of approval was, inexplicably, Moulin Rouge. Though Anonymous remains, on paper at least, the likeliest seeming winner, unlike recent victors in this category about royal women (from Marie Antoinette to The Young Victoria), the film may suffer in the end from the lack of QT afforded to its single greatest asset: Vanessa Redgrave.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Art Direction

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Art Direction
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Art Direction

It may sound shocking to some that the Harry Potter franchise has never won an Oscar, despite nine pre-2012 nominations being spread across five of the films (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix couldn’t conjure a single nod). Perhaps the Academy simply hasn’t been able to brush off the pixie dust with which Chris Columbus ushered in the series, or maybe all those wins for 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King left voters feeling like they’d hit their literary-fantasy quota for the next decade. Either way, though Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 adds three more nods, including Art Direction, to the saga’s final tally, it looks like Harry and his pals are going to ride their brooms into the history books without one nude gold man in tow.

15 Famous Movie Ledges

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15 Famous Movie Ledges
15 Famous Movie Ledges

Hitting theaters this week is Man on a Ledge, a rather unsubtly titled thriller that stars Sam Worthington as a guy whose nowhere-left-to-turn predicament has him doing the old wave-down-at-the-masses bit. This isn’t the first time Worthington has flirted with dizzying precipices (his motion-captured doppelgänger braved the floating mountains of Pandora), and it certainly isn’t the first time Hollywood has tormented acrophobics. Movies have long been living on the edge, ever intent on serving up vicarious vertigo. For proof, here’s a list of 15 memorable movie ledges, from cliffs to rooftops to ominous subway platforms. Safety nets not included.

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Art Direction

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Art Direction
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Art Direction

Here’s one of those categories where the spoils usually go to whoever shows us the “most” of whatever it is they’re nominated for. So we thought this was going to be a slam dunk for Alice in Wonderland, whose maker, Tim Burton, has seen three of his films previously take this award: Batman, Sleepy Hollow, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It seemed so easy, especially since we didn’t need to have the conversation about whether voters care if an art director’s vision is realized via nails or keystrokes, what with Avatar having won this award last year. But then Alice in Wonderland lost to Inception with the Art Directors Guild, at which point we had to ask ourselves: Does AMPAS even like Burton’s latest? Yes, we know the putrid Memoirs of a Geisha was a winner here in 2005, but that film’s six nominations suggested wider AMPAS support. Also, the Rob Marshall film didn’t have to compete with a Best Picture nominee, let alone three, including one that stands a reasonable chance of sweeping on Oscar night in a more spectacular than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King did in 2004.

Will Win: The King’s Speech

Could Win: Alice in Wonderland

Should Win: Inception