Thursday, February 27, 2014

If I Could Vote for the Oscars

Everytime we get close to Oscar night the big thing critics love to do is state who they think deserves to win the awards, rather than who will more than likely win.  While this post is not my predictions, I don't want to say that the films I will be highlighting in this post are the films that deserve to win more so than any other nominees, because when you get to this point where about every contender is quality work, it's all subjective as to what you liked most.  In essence, that's what this post is, it's me stating what films I would vote for if I were a member of the Academy.  As I am not, this ballot wont count, but it's always fun to play what-if games.  Now, since I have not been fortunate enough to see any of the short films, documentaries, or foreign language films, I feel it would be wrong for me to cast a vote on those categories.  As for every other category, I have seen enough of the majority to have an opinion.  So I hope you enjoy this fun little excursion, and for a full list of nominees check out this link.

Best Sound Mixing - Gravity
Many often get this award confused with Sound Editing, but they are two different entities that work towards the same goal, the soundscape of the film.  Gravity had the most impressive sound work of any film this past year, and the sound mixing was a huge part of that success.  Sound mixing is awarded to the production sound mixers and re-recording mixers, these are the guys that aren't creating the sound effects, but are rather making sure we can hear the dialogue and are mixing that in with the sound effects and music to hear what we need to hear most prominently at which moment.  It really is an art and one that shouldn't be misunderstood.  As far as the artistic process of sound mixing, Gravity utilized surround sound in the most remarkable way I think I've ever heard.  The way the sound felt as if it was jumping all around you in the theater really created this feeling of actually being there with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and made the experience of the film all the more immersive.  Truthfully, the only other film I would have considered would have been Inside Llewyn Davis for the way they mixed live musical performances onset with the stuff done in the recording studio, but Gravity trumps it just slightly.

Best Sound Editing - Gravity
As I've already said, Gravity had the best sound work of last year and a large part of that was because of the sound editing.  This award is given to sound editors and sound designers, because those are the guys that actually create and capture the sounds you are hearing.  If there is a gunshot or an explosion, they created it.  Where Gravity really stole the show this past year was in the absence of ordinary sound.  There is no sound in space, so the sound designers for this film had to create noises through what Sandra Bullock's character is hearing inside her space suit when she bumps into something or grabs hold of something.  It's a different way to think of sound and one that is highly effective.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling - Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
I hate to say it, but Bad Grandpa is who I'd cast my vote for if I could.  It was by no means the best makeup and hairstyling of last year, but it is the best makeup and hairstyling that is nominated.  Dallas Buyers Club will more than likely win due to its higher prestige cache, but majority of that work, beyond Jared Leto, was actually Matthew McConaughey's real-life weight loss.  As for The Lone Ranger, I personally found the old man Tonto makeup on Johnny Depp as very fake, almost wax museum looking, and when you compare that old age makeup to the work done on Johnny Knoxville in Bad Grandpa, it really is no contest.  Knoxville actually looks like an old man in that film and it's why it would get my vote.

Best Costume Design - The Great Gatsby
We all know what costume designers do, and for that reason it is one of the easiest technical categories for the average moviegoer to critique, because most people have their own ideas on fashion.  I for one was not all that impressed with the costumes in American Hustle, finding them to be more over-the-top Seventies than anything else.  While the costumes for The Great Gatsby were fairly extravagant themselves, the film also didn't try to be as real in tone as American Hustle did.  Gatsby's costumes benefit from the films' dream-like tone and are more what our dream version of the Roaring Twenties is, rather than what they actually were.

Best Production Design - Her
A production designers job is simple, they create the world in which the actors inhabit.  They are the ones who build the sets, who dress real-life locations to look like whatever type of world the film is trying to convey, and when you look at this criteria, no other film did that better out of the nominees than Her.  Looking at the near future design of the LA represented in this film, you can seriously buy that this world being shown before us is actually one that we might be living in by 2020 or something of the sort, and that's why it would get my vote.

Best Visual Effects - Gravity
Seriously?  Was I going to vote for anything else?  When there is a film that comes along and completely revolutionizes the the realm of effects, how can you vote for something else with good conscious?  Stealing a phrase from Stan Lee, "'Nuff said."

Best Film Editing - Captain Phillips
While I love Gravity, that film has so many long shots, the editing is not really a factor.  On the other hand, Captain Phillips is one of those films that was shot in such a naturalistic, documentary style, that the editor really had to work to shape the film.  Not only did the editor have to choose the best performances from the actors, they had to create the tension of the film, because there is very little music, and if it was poorly edited, we wouldn't know how to feel.

Best Cinematography - The Grandmaster
Another category where it's hard for me to award Gravity, purely because I don't think that films that are 90% visual effects and crafted in a computer should be eligible.  Here's the thing, there should be another category separate from Cinematography and Visual Effects to award films like Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo, and Avatar, but calling what those films do cinematography is stretching it, because very often there isn't even a camera involved in creating the pretty images.  While I do agree that lighting, coloring, and creating computer generated cinematography is an art, I still think of this category as what's actually captured onset through the use of lighting, colors, and focus, to create emotions in the audience.  That is why I would spring for The Grandmaster.  Director Wong Kar Wai has always had a distinctive approach to color and lighting, and every cinematographer he's ever worked with has managed to create some of the most gorgeous images I've ever seen, and The Grandmaster is no different.

Best Original Song - "Let It Go" from Frozen
When you start going through the list of songs nominated, this is not only the most traditional song up for the award, but it truly is the best.  For me, I think the nominated song should be integral to the film, and that's the case here.  Frozen would not have the same emotional punch that it has when Elsa runs away without this song, and the mere fact that it's also one of the best Disney songs in almost two decades doesn't hurt it either.

Best Original Score - Gravity
Typically I look for recurring themes and motifs in film scores (aka the musical soundtrack), funnily enough though, the film I'd vote for doesn't really have any of that.  Steven Price's music for Gravity is more about creating atmospherics through the musical accompaniment than it is anything else.  Without sound in space, the filmmakers utilized the music in a way to give a crash to that explosion or to represent the space debris whizzing past.  Then there is the finale where Price goes into full Hollywood mode with the music, telling us how to think and feel, and it feels completely earned.

Best Animated Feature Film - The Wind Rises
 This gets my vote purely because it is director Hayao Miyazaki's final film.  Miyazaki is retiring and for one of the most important figures in animation history since Walt Disney, I have to spring for his final film.

Best Adapted Screenplay - Captain Phillips
For me, considering Captain Phillips adapted and American Hustle original is a strange classification.  Both are based on true events, though I guess the real difference maker is that there is a book that the real Captain Phillips wrote that informed the film.  Personally, I found the script for Captain Phillips original, which is why I went through all of that, because the film was written in a very un-Hollywood way.  There is nothing that feels overdramatized here, it's all just a lot of well constructed moments that feel real, and anyone who has ever written anything will tell you how hard it is to write something and it not feel fake.  Billy Ray, the screenwriter, would definitely get my vote.

Best Original Screenplay - Her
This was a difficult category for me to call, because most of my favorite screenplays of last year were snubbed, but to make a long story short, that's how I arrived at Her.  While Her often falls into some of the traditional cliches of romance films, as a whole the film is fresh and innovative, primarily due to the complexities of the film's central premise.  Not to mention the near future vision that this film represents, being quite possibly one of the most realistic depictions of what our future might actually be like a decade down the road.

Best Supporting Actress - Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
It's true that you can vote for somebody in a film that you do not like, as is the case here.  The truth of the matter is that I just like Sally Hawkins as an actress so much, and in my opinion, where Cate Blanchett was chewing scenery in this film, Hawkins was bringing reality.  Sure, Hawkins' character is little more than a blue collar stereotype played to juxtapose her against her socialite sister, but Hawkins relishes in the role and manages to give it a little extra dimension.

Best Supporting Actor - Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Perhaps not the finest performance on a technical level, but Abdi would get my vote.  Now let me clarify by what I meant.  When it comes to traditional acting craft, someone like Bradley Cooper or even Jonah Hill does better work, but it's the raw, untrained nature that Barkhad Abdi brings to his performance in Captain Phillips that makes it way more emotionally powerful than any other nominee.  Here's the thing, had it been a movie star working opposite Tom Hanks, I wouldn't have believed the character, but by having Abdi there, I did.  Besides, I am always all for, not only honoring older people who may not have another shot at it, but also honoring newcomers if they do a phenomenal job, and Abdi did just that.

Best Actress - Sandra Bullock, Gravity
How can you watch Gravity and then not say that Sandra Bullock was the best actress of last year?  It's a one woman show for the most part and that's why she would get my vote.  It's hard enough in say Avatar to act to a CGI character that isn't there yet, but when you literally are the only character onscreen for most of the film and you keep us riveted for the full ninety minutes, that's the mark of a great actor.

Best Actor - Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Look, let's be honest, with Matthew McConaughey's current career trajectory, he's going to get nominated again, probably in the next two or three years, the same goes for Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale.  For those guys, with Bale having already one Oscar, it's not a matter of will they ever get nominated again, but when will they actually win it.  With Bruce Dern, it's the complete opposite.  While Dern's work in Nebraska is not flashy, it's clearly a lived in portrait of this man that truly believes he's won a million dollars.  Sure, McConaughey lost all this weight and Christian Bale found it, and perhaps Leo shows more charisma than he's shown in years, but it still doesn't change the fact that this very well might be Bruce Dern's last shot ever at an Oscar.  Let's not repeat Alfred Hitchcock or Peter O'Toole all over again.  That's all I have left to say on the matter.

Best Director - Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Pretty much copy what I said about Visual Effects and put it here.  Without Alfonso Cuaron, there would be no Gravity.  It was his intense adherence to his vision that led to the technological breakthroughs, but it was also his vision that managed to make the film more than just a special effects' showcase.  Cuaron managed to draw humanity out of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in their performances to where there is actually a heart in the midst of all the machinery.  In my book, that's the definition of a director.

Best Picture - Gravity
Come on, did you think I'd vote for anything else?  This was my favorite movie of last year, and it's a rare year where not only is my favorite movie actually nominated, but it has a legitimate shot of actually winning the award.  This might be the first time since I've been watching the Oscars that this exact thing has happened, and for that reason, and for the fact that it's my favorite film of last year, Gravity gets my vote.

So if you go by my voting, I would grant Gravity 7 Oscars out of its 10 nominations, and surprisingly enough, give Her, 2, and Captain Phillips, 3, with the rest of the field being made up by one Oscar winners.  Tune in on Sunday to see my actual predictions for the big night!

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