It’s Oscar week, and that means that it’s time to make some guesses about who will take home awards on Sunday night. I’ll start with the visual categories. So many pretty films, so little time… Let’s get to it, shall we?
We’ll take these alphabetically since quite a few categories are considered in the visual section. We’ll start with Art Direction and then proceed on through to Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup, and then round out the predictions with the Visual Effects category.
Best Art Direction
Art Direction is a crapshoot. Looking over the award’s history, I can’t find a noticeable pattern. Unless it’s an Oscar juggernaut like ‘Titanic’, the Art Direction award ping-pongs around from Best Picture winners like ‘Chicago’ and ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ to movies that slipped in simply because they were period pieces that demanded staunch art direction, like ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. As you can see, this category up in the air as far as consistency goes.
- ‘The Artist’
- ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’
- ‘Midnight in Paris’
- ‘War Horse’
Obviously, as you can tell by the nominees, this category tends to favor period pieces or fantasy/science fiction films. You’re not going to see a movie set in modern times (like ‘Contagion’, for example) get nominated. That’s just the way it goes.
As far as I’m concerned, all of these nominees are eligible to win this award. This isn’t like the insipid category of Best Original Song. There are no ridiculous nominees here. All of these choices exhibit strength when it comes to presenting a certain look: ‘War Horse’ with its romantic World War II style; ‘Midnight in Paris’ with its breezy changes from modern day to the roaring ’20s; ‘Harry Potter’ with its immaculate, otherworldly wizarding façade. However, these awards seem to belong to two movies. This time around, I think we’ll see ‘Hugo’ and ‘The Artist’ go toe-to-toe in most of the visual categories they share.
I think that ‘Hugo’ holds a razor-thin edge here. It’s a beautiful-looking movie and has the keen eye of Martin Scorsese behind it. ‘The Artist’, on the other hand, is still riding a wave of good will as critics and movie fans alike rave about it. The art direction in ‘The Artist’ is also masterful. It creates a bygone era of silent movies and the world they inhabited. Will the voters side with the splendor and meticulous construction of ‘Hugo’, or will they vote for ‘The Artist’ for nostalgia’s sake? It’s going to be close, but I think ‘Hugo’ edges out ‘The Artist’ here.
Next, we move on to a category that blends well with Art Direction.
Winners of Art Direction don’t necessarily take home the Cinematography award, even though that recently happened three years in a row starting with ‘The Aviator’ in 2004. After that, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ took home both honors in 2005 followed up by a clean sweep by ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’.
- ‘The Artist’, Guillaume Schiffman
- ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, Jeff Cronenweth
- ‘Hugo’, Robert Richardson
- ‘The Tree of Life’, Emmanuel Lubezki
- ‘War Horse’, Janusz Kaminski
Again, ‘Hugo’ and ‘The Artist’ are the movies to beat in this category. ‘War Horse’, though beautiful, doesn’t seem all that original. It looks and feels just like any other romanticized war movie should look and feel. ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ took up the space that I thought ‘Drive’ should’ve been nominated for, so I don’t think there’s any way it will pull off a win.
However, this is where I’m going to take the road less traveled. Yes, ‘The Artist’ and ‘Hugo’ are very visual films with extremely talented cinematographers using every trick to create one-of-a-kind experiences. One of them will probably win. But this is just one of those times where I’ve got to go with my gut and say ‘Tree of Life’. Do I think it will win? No, not really. Do I want it to win? Yes, yes I really do.
As we sat around at the Utah Film Critics Association annual voting party deciding which movies we’d pick for the year-end categories, I voted for ‘Tree of Life’ in this category when nearly everyone else voted for ‘Drive’. The argument for ‘Drive’ was that the atmosphere in that movie was everything, and the cinematography nailed it. The hallway scene in the strip club was used as an example of tremendous use of lighting. I argued that yes, that is a great example of cinematography, but if we’re going to talk about using light to one’s advantage, how much more difficult is it to use natural light rather than artificial light?
Emmanual Lubezki and director Terrence Malick command the look of ‘The Tree of Life’. The outdoor scenes in that movie are simply astounding to look at. The way they catch light moving across wooden floors or glistening off of Jessica Chastain’s face is astonishing. Cinematographers are also called Directors of Photography, and there’s no film from 2011 that is more photographic than ‘The Tree of Life’. Almost every frame could be paused, printed and framed as a still picture.
Best Costume Design
This next category, let’s be frank, usually goes to the most showy of the bunch. He who makes the most costumes usually wins the costume award. At least, that’s how it’s gone for quite a while and I don’t see it slowing down here.
- ‘Anonymous’, Lisy Christl
- ‘The Artist’, Mark Bridges
- ‘Hugo’, Sandy Powell
- ‘Jane Eyre’, Michael O’Connor
- ‘W.E.’, Arianne Phillips
Like Art Direction, this is another category that’s usually a hotbed for period pieces. Simply put, period pieces need costumes and the costume category needs lots and lots of costumes. I didn’t see ‘Anonymous’, ‘Jane Eyre’, or ‘W.E.’, so I can’t really comment on them. That would be a problem if the other two movies, ‘Hugo’ and ‘The Artist’, weren’t in the mix. By default, the other three have just been eliminated and we’re back to the two movies that will be constantly battling each other for Oscar supremacy.
I think ‘Hugo’ owns this category too. ‘The Artist’ had great costume design, but when I think back on it, the most memorable costumes for me – from this list – came from ‘Hugo’.
Best Film Editing
- ‘The Artist’, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
- ‘The Descendants’, Kevin Tent
- ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
- ‘Hugo’, Thelma Schoonmaker
- ‘Moneyball’, Christopher Tellefsen
This is one of the most frustrating categories. I think that the Academy should give samples of the editing involved in these movies that was supposedly so phenomenal. I can’t think of one editing choice in ‘The Descendants’ that caused me to think back and say, “Wow, what editing!” Add ‘Moneyball’ to that list too.
Three of the films that I would closely relate to great editing didn’t even make this list. Those would be ‘The Tree of Life’, ‘Melancholia’ and ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’. Those movies used editing to really work for the overall effect of their story. Especially ‘MMMM’, which seamlessly intermingles the story of the character’s past and how certain events have made her the deeply disturbed person that she is today.
If I had to pick one out of these five, I’d like to see ‘The Artist’ win here. However, I still think ‘Hugo’ will run away with many of the visual awards, this one included.
- ‘Albert Nobbs’
- ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’
- ‘The Iron Lady’
Please don’t give the award to ‘Albert Nobbs’ for making Glenn Close look like a man. 1) It really isn’t all that hard to do. 2) ‘Hook’ did it better and that movie lost to ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ in this category.
‘Potter’ has to win this one because the franchise can’t get the “Now that the series is over, you can have a Best Picture” prize that ‘Return of the King’ got. The kids at Hogwarts need at least one win. Here it is.
Best Visual Effects
This is one of the categories that gets used to reward blockbuster movies that may not otherwise score any Academy Award nominations. What once used to be a three-nomination category has ballooned to five nominations, probably because every blockbuster movie released can’t help but have big budget visual effects built in.
- ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’
- ‘Real Steel’
- ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’
- ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’
Let’s run down the list and see who has a chance. ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ gets another nomination here, for a reason I’m apparently oblivious to. Visual effects should at least be understandable and coherent, neither of which describe the hulking transforming robots made up millions of whirring parts. Their fight scenes are a mess of CGI machine bits bashing into each other. There’s no way to tell what’s happening.
The Oscars this year aren’t going to be kind to giant CG robots. ‘Real Steel’ also doesn’t stand a fighting chance (har har).
Many people are pulling for ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, now more than ever after Andy Serkis’ snub from the Best Supporting Actor list. The movie did look great and surprised on many levels. I know that a lot of people, myself included, thought that the idea of another ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie sounded dopey. But once the CG action starts in that movie, you completely forget how silly you thought the movie was going to be when you first heard about it.
Truthfully, I think ‘Harry Potter’ should win this category. I really do. Its special effects were magnificent in the last installment of its storied franchise. They’ve come a long way and it shows. The battle at Hogwarts is really something. Unlike ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’, the CG action in ‘Potter’ makes complete sense and adds to the suspense and overall terror of the last 45 minutes of the film or so.
Even though I want ‘Potter’ to walk away with this award, I think that this is another win for ‘Hugo’. There’s something to be said for hype. With its leading 11 total nominations, it seems that ‘Hugo’ will be walking on air before the red carpet is even rolled out.
Just to recap, my picks for the visual categories are:
Best Art Direction: ‘Hugo’
Best Cinematography: ‘The Tree of Life’
Best Costume Design: ‘Hugo’
Best Film Editing: ‘Hugo’
Best Makeup: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’
Best Visual Effects: ‘Hugo’