For as long as I’ve been interested in movies, watching the Oscars has been an exercise in masochism and self-loathing. For cinephiles, it is a night of performative eye-rolling (“Can you believe THESE are the movies they’re honoring?”). Self-proclaimed populists will seize upon the night to look down their noses at the Hollywood out-of-touches (“Who’s even HEARD of these movies?”). To perhaps the majority, the ceremony is a pleasant curiosity (“The Oscars? Are those tonight?”). Despite all this, the Oscars have miraculously held onto a shred of dignity– certainly more than the desperate Grammys, the insular Tonys, or the same-five-shows-every-year Emmys. The secret, perhaps, is simply that the Oscars are still the Oscars, and as lame as they can be, they’ve remained committed to an essential level of pomp and circumstance.
At least, they have until recently. Decades of gentle ribbing appear to have instilled in the Academy a deep-seated identity crisis which, combined with spiraling Nielsen ratings (which probably have more to do with changes in viewing habits than the ceremony itself), is manifesting in a series of baffling programming changes. Announced presenters include such “mainstream” notables as DJ Khaled and professional skateboarder Tony Hawk. A “fan favorite” viewer poll was initiated in an apparent attempt to spotlight Spider-Man: No Way Home (though, the internet being what it is, there is a very real chance the webcrawler will be overtaken by the gonzo horror cult favorite Malignant or the barely-seen Johnny Depp vehicle Minimata). These head-scratchers pale, however, in comparison to the most controversial change: in an effort to cap the broadcast at three hours, eight categories will be presented and announced prior to the televised ceremony, with whittled-down speeches later “seamlessly” edited in, presumably wedged in before commercial breaks. These include five essential “below-the-line” categories– Editing, Sound, Production Design, Hair & Makeup, and Original Score– as well as the three short film categories.
There is little I can say about these changes that hasn’t been eloquently said elsewhere, or that isn’t obvious on its face. The Academy’s move (which appears to be dictated by the Disney-owned ABC) is hugely disrespectful, both to the professionals who make the movies possible and to the viewers who actually give a damn about them. Nobody who doesn’t care about the Oscars is going to be persuaded to tune in because there’s fewer of them to tune into, and many who do will likely dune out. The move probably makes some sort of sense on the cold, algorithmic level that puts Valentine’s candy on supermarket shelves by December 23rd. Like those decisions, nobody will actually be happy with the results, but numbers are numbers, and we’ve all been trained to accept that there’s nothing we can do.
Except, perhaps, for this. As a writer with a platform, modest though it may be, I have decided to direct my prognosticatorial energies exclusively toward the categories getting the short shrift. Here, the craftspeople and behind-the-camera toilers will take center stage, receiving the spotlight which is being denied them elsewhere. (For predictions and analysis of the Animated Short, Documentary Short, and Live-Action Short races, I refer you to the dogged coverage of the Hassle’s Anna Hoang). Many will likely boycott the Oscars this year, and rightly so, but, optimist that I am, I like to think we can help restore the ceremony by proving that we care about these categories just as much as the biggies.
BEST FILM EDITING
DON’T LOOK UP (Hank Corwin)
DUNE (Joe Walker)
KING RICHARD (Pamela Martin)
THE POWER OF THE DOG (Peter Sciberras)
TICK, TICK…BOOM! (Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum)
WILL WIN: Ironically, the excision of Best Editing will likely prove counterproductive to the Academy’s desire to showcase “Fan Favorite” films, as this (and other “below-the-line” categories) tends to favor the grand spectacles that are often shut out of the “big” categories. As this year’s designated “thinking person’s blockbuster,” expect Dune to win the edited-for-time Editing race.
SHOULD WIN: Much of The Power of the Dog’s, um, power derives from its insidious, methodical rhythms. It’s not the most flashily edited film of the year (that would be tick, tick… BOOM!), but it’s easily the most effectively edited.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Todd Haynes’ rockumentary The Velvet Underground is nothing short of a masterpiece of editing (courtesy of Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz), with at least two disparate images filling the screen for its entire running time, piecing together everything from performance footage and newly shot interviews to experimental films, industrial shorts, and literal found footage. The film won the award at the Boston Society of Film Critics (of which I am a voting member), and I wish other voting bodies took note.
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
COMING 2 AMERICA (Mike Marino, Stacey Morris and Carla Farmer)
CRUELLA (Nadia Stacey, Naomi Donne and Julia Vernon)
DUNE (Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr)
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh)
HOUSE OF GUCCI (Göran Lundström, Anna Carin Lock and Frederic Aspiras)
WILL WIN: There’s a spiteful part of me that wants to see this award go to Cruella, just to imagine the Disney suits kicking themselves for shunting one of their own wins into the wasteland. But this race is between two prosthetic-heavy biopics, and given that its star has a very good shot at Best Actress, I’m going to give this one to The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
SHOULD WIN: I’m tempted to say Coming 2 America, just because it would be the most chaotic possible choice. But Dune gave us a space opera that looked unlike many we’ve seen before, with makeup deployed just heavily enough to be otherworldly.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: While I’m not going to give away the twist for anyone who hasn’t had the delight of seeing it, few practical monsters in recent years have been as memorable as Gabriel, the deformed killer in James Wan’s Malignant. The makeup category was first introduced in the 1980s to recognize the extraordinary work of monster maestro Rick Baker, and no film this year was more gleefully indebted to his legacy.
BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
DON’T LOOK UP (Nicholas Britell)
DUNE (Hans Zimmer)
ENCANTO (Germaine Franco)
PARALLEL MOTHERS (Alberto Iglesias)
THE POWER OF THE DOG (Jonny Greenwood)
WILL WIN: This may be the oddest category to cut in the interest of mass appeal: the nominees include one literal rock star, one composer who regularly sells out rock star-sized crowds, and a beloved Disney film which has been spewing out charting singles for months. I’m going to go with the former; Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood has been one of film’s most exciting composers for years, and his score for The Power of the Dog is truly haunting.
SHOULD WIN: Though Hans Zimmer is at this point in danger of overexposure, his work in Dune is some of his best, a radical mix of sounds ranging from bagpipes to Tuvan throat singing (and, of course, his signature bwooooooomps).
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: As striking as the music was in The Power of the Dog, it wasn’t my favorite Jonny Greenwood score of the year. That would be Spencer, for which Greenwood served up a mix of horror movie strings and sparse, haunting jazz fusion. Greenwood’s score effectively places us into the head of Kristen Stewart’s Princess Di, transforming her from beatified martyr to horror movie final girl.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
DUNE (Patrice Vermette, Zsuzsanna Sipos)
NIGHTMARE ALLEY (Tamara Deverell, Shane Vieau)
THE POWER OF THE DOG (Grant Major, Amber Richards)
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (Stefan Dechant, Nancy Haigh)
WEST SIDE STORY (Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo)
WILL WIN: The candy-colored carny purgatory of Nightmare Alley was one of the most immersive worlds of the year, and the fact that it snuck into the Best Picture race indicates a surprising amount of support for Guillermo del Toro’s nasty little noir fantasia. Even if this is the film’s only win, it will be a fair one.
SHOULD WIN: This is one of the strongest lineups of the year, and I honestly wouldn’t be mad if any of the nominees won. That said, the look of The Tragedy of Macbeth was truly something special, and turned the familiar material into something strange and wonderful.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Whether you love Wes Anderson or hate him, you can’t deny that his films are some of the most impeccably designed in movie history. The French Dispatch was my favorite Anderson film in years, and Adam Stockhausen’s intricate recreation of 1960s Paris (err, Ennui-sur-Blase) is perhaps his most impressive dollhouse yet.
BELFAST (Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri)
DUNE (Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett)
NO TIME TO DIE (Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey and Mark Taylor)
THE POWER OF THE DOG (Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie and Tara Webb)
WEST SIDE STORY (Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson and Shawn Murphy)
WILL WIN: Sound designers tend to reward action pictures, because they know how much of a workout they tend to be; a single car chase is a veritable orchestra of crashes, tinkles, and other foley effects the casual viewer will likely never register. So it seems like a safe bet that No Time To Die, Daniel Craig’s James Bond swan song, will make this yet another category in which ABC has rescued its viewers from watching a movie they’ve seen win an Oscar.
SHOULD WIN: One of the first things I noticed watching West Side Story was that it was one of the best sounding films I’ve seen in ages; from the opening whistles to the climactic gunshot, each noise sounds like it is authentically bouncing off the crumbling tenements of mid-gentrification Manhattan. I could listen to this film all day.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria probably wasn’t seen by enough Academy members to have a chance at a nomination (its much-discussed theatrical-only rollout is finally beginning in earnest next month). But those who do manage to catch it when it comes to town (4/22 at the Coolidge!) will see that this is a film about sound– one sound in particular– and the effect it has on those who hear it. Walking out of the theater seeing it for the first time, I felt like my ears had been re-tuned to the sounds of my environment–and if that’s not worth an Oscar, I don’t know what is.
The 94th Academy Awards – or what’s left of them – will air Sunday, 3/27, 8:oo PM EST on ABC